ROYAL Descent ended more than two years of frustration and near-misses with a magnificent comeback win against a star-studded field at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
The Group 2 $250,000 Warwick Stakes (1400m) lived up to the pre-race hype, producing a memorable contest and outstanding runs from so many spring carnival hopefuls.
But when looking for the best run in the race — don’t look past the winner, Royal Descent.
It has been 29 months, 19 races, 10 minor placings, including six at Group 1 level, since Royal Descent last won a race — but trainer Chris Waller sprung to the defence of the sleek, near-black mare.
“She is the last horse I would ever call a non-winner,’’ Waller said. “I know that is what her form suggests but you would not get a horse that tries as hard as this mare. She has been so gallant in so many races, almost setting weight-carrying records in races like the Epsom.
“Even though she is a six-year-old now, she hasn’t had a lot of racing and she has never looked better or stronger than she does now. She is in for a good spring.’’
Royal Descent ($5.50), ridden by Hugh Bowman, overwhelmed Pornichet ($4.80) to win by one-and-a-half lengths with Messene ($11) getting through late for third, a neck away.
The Warwick Stakes, the traditional Sydney spring carnival starting point for the elite gallopers, was a race of many highlights — and one lowlight:
Royal Descent became only the second mare this century to win the race after Private Steer in 2004.
Waller trained the first, third and fifth placegetters. Doncaster Mile hero Kermadec finished fast out wide to just miss a place.
Pornichet was superb in defeat, racing up on the speed before holding off all but Royal Descent.
Burbero, winner of the Missile Stakes earlier this month, shattered a foreleg near the home turn and had to be put down.
Bowman said his confidence grew the moment he was legged into the saddle prior to the race.
“I haven’t ridden Royal Descent a lot but I’ve ridden her enough to realise she was in the right frame of mind and was ready to go today,’’ Bowman said.
“She’s been narrowly defeated in so many races and to get a win, I know it’s a Group 2 but against this calibre of horse, it’s no surprise.
“We got a great run. I was always going to. Chris (Waller) had the mare in tip-top order today, although I do think she will improve with the run.’’
Sydney’s reigning premier jockey and trainer then had an interesting exchange after Royal Descent’s win.
“She is happy, she is healthy, she can gallop, and she has you (Waller) looking after,’’ Bowman said.
“And you riding her — it’s a pretty good combination,’’ Waller replied.
Waller said Royal Descent will follow a similar program through to the Group 1 George Main Stakes next month.
“The George Main is ideal,’’ Waller said. “The Epsom, for $1 million, we have to look at it but she might get too much weight.
“I said to [owner] Gerry Harvey we will use Epsom Day whether it be the Turnbull or Epsom to decide where we go, whether we go further or whether we come back for a Myer Classic.’’
Waller described the run of Beaten Up as very good and was delighted with the return of Kermadec.
“I thought Kermadec was very good,’’ he said. “He was a good five or six lengths off Royal Descent turning for home and he got to the line very strongly. His last 50m was very sharp.
“He will go to the Chelmsford Stakes or possibly the Makybe Diva Stakes next.’’
Gai Waterhouse and Blake Shinn were as happy as you could expect after finishing second with Pornichet.
“He went brilliant,’’ Shinn said. “We worked across into a nice spot and he settled beautifully. The winner had a dream run on our back and she’s a genuine Group 1 horse. I felt at the top of the rise we were going like the winner.
“He kicked strongly, got a little tired late but all the signs are he’s come back in extremely good fashion and I’m really positive about him going forward.”
Jay Ford, rider of Messene, said his horse is also one to follow.
“Obviously second-up second up off a long break he’s improving in the right direction. Had a good blow and will strip fitter again,’’ he added.
Royal Descent was the second leg of a treble for Waller on Saturday.
Earlier, Amicus returned to her best form and is set for a lucrative spring campaign after her powerful win in the Group 3 $125,000 Toy Show Quality (1300m).
Bowman said Amicus showed her class in an exciting finish to run down Echo Gal.
“She’s a quality horse and there is no substitute for class,’’ Bowman said. “We probably didn’t see the best of her in the autumn but it is hard for them in the autumn, they’ve got to take on the older mares.
“She looks to have come back at four and looks in good order. She trialled well recently and has kicked off very well. There is good improvement in her, too.’’
Amicus had a disappointing autumn campaign with five unplaced runs and had not won a race since her Group 1 Thousand Guineas success 10 months ago.
But Amicus ($6) has regained her winning habits, wearing down Echo Gal ($4.60) to score by a neck with Wine Tales ($3.80) a luckless third, a half length away.
Waller said it was pleasing to see Amicus back to her best.
“She has always been a very good horse,’’ Waller said. “She is a Group 1 winner already and wasn’t beaten very far in the Coolmore against the older mares last autumn.
“It’s not all about your first up run. It’s important but it is a long road ahead and we want to head to Melbourne at the end of the Sydney preparation but this is a great start.”
Jim Cassidy helped Waller complete his treble when riding Loophole to victory in the Randwick City Mayor’s Cup.
Cassidy had not ridden a winner since partnering Press Statement to success at Rosehill on May 30 but he missed all of June and July with injury.
“It’s good to get the monkey off my back early,’’ Cassidy said after his win on Loophole.
“This is only my third Saturday back and I’ve only had a few (12) race rides so it’s nice to get that winning feeling again. The body feels great now and I’m looking forward to the spring carnival.’’