Source: Racenet by Ray Thomas

Espiona finally lived up to the hype and provided trainer Chris Waller with one of the few Sydney Group 1 races to elude him at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.

The $600,000 Coolmore Classic (1500m) is invariably one of the most competitive majors every season and it was no different this time as Espiona, Pride Of Jenni and Sheeza Belter waged a thrilling three-horse war to the finish.

But this was Espiona’s day.

The mare once unfairly called “the new Winx”, finally realised her potential with a narrow win and giving Waller a feature-race treble on the opening day of the Golden Slipper Festival.

Waller had prepared big-race winners with Zougotcha (Group 2 Phar Lap Stakes) and Shinzo (Group 3 Pago Pago Stakes) before Espiona’s Coolmore Classic.

“Espiona has been a bit of a head-scratcher,” Waller said.

“She was a pin-up girl after her first couple of runs, particularly after she blew them away one day at Flemington.

“There’s been tough times since but confidence is the key. She got that winning feeling again last start and they sense it and can then can do amazing things.

“Is a special win for Denise Martin and Star Thoroughbreds as she is a huge supporter of our stable. She’s just a pleasure to train for.”

Espiona ($8), ridden by Michael Dee, got through on the inside to score by a half-head from the very game Pride Of Jenni ($31) who made a gallant bid to lead throughout with Sheeza Belter ($12) a head away third.

Annavisto ($5) had to do a lot of work from her wide barrier but was a beaten horse before the home turn and jockey Nash Rawiller, fearing something could be amiss, eased her out of the race.

Waller admitted there was times when he despaired that Espiona would ever deliver on the promise she had shown earlier in her career.

“We did lose faith in her a bit,” the Hall of Fame trainer said.

“But that happens, that’s sport, you just can’t give up.

“They retain their ability, you just have to find the key again. We took her to Sandown to win the Mannerism Stakes and I’m sure that gave her confidence.

“It’s super rewarding when you can turn their form around and win a big race like this – and we have not won a Coolmore Classic before.”

Espiona gave Waller his 143rd career Group 1 win but the champion trainer reserved special praise for Dee after the trainer and jockey combined for their third major success this season after wins in the Caulfield Cup (Durston) and Victoria Derby (Manzoice) last spring.

“Michael Dee is the new Glen Boss,” Waller said.

“He doesn’t get fazed, he listens to you intently, he’s a hard-worker, and he’s a natural lightweight. We have a great record with Michael this season.”

Dee told Waller he feared Espiona was going to get run down near the line but praised the mare’s determination.

“I thought Sheeza Belter had us but Espiona’s tough, she just kept trying,” Waller said.

“I did have instructions to try and stay off (the rail) and come down the outside, but as soon as the gates opened I did go to the fence.

“The tempo was on and she seemed happy and relaxed in the run and we had a lot of room there in front of horses.

“Then coming into the straight she absolutely grabbed the bridle and was very strong up in behind them. It was just a matter of switching to the inside and she exploded.”

Waller said Espiona is now likely to be given her chance in the Group 1 $4m Doncaster Mile (1600m) at Royal Randwick on April 1.

Espiona stopped the clock at 1min 27.62sec which compared favourably to the longstanding race and track record set of 1min 27.21sec set by Shindig in 1998.

Pride Of Jenni was responsible for the fast tempo and her effort to hold on for second was outstanding.

“She was brave in defeat,” said jockey Robbie Dolan.

“We had to do the donkey work in front and it felt like she was getting tired in the straight but when they came at her, she really stuck her head down and fought right to the line.”

The Team Snowden-trained filly Sheeza Belter tuned up for the All-Star Mile with the closest of thirds.

“She ran fantastic,” said jockey Willie Pike.

“Unfortunately we weren’t beaten very far but she went great.”

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