Marvellous Marva for feature
SURROUNDED by top jockeys on three horses from the yard of champion trainer Wayne DaCosta, female apprentice Mellisa Ward will have to display nerves of steel aboard Philip Feanny's grey mare, MARVELLOUS MARVA, in this afternoon's co-feature, the 1820-metre Mark My Word Trophy.
Always a stickler for weight, Feanny has handed three-kilo claimer Ward her biggest assignment to date, a shot at winning her first open allowance race since she first started riding two years and eight months ago.
The former champion trainer's hands were forced after the scale predictably moved two kilos up to 57.0 on MARVELLOUS MARVA when she stepped back down in class for the Mark My Word as the top-weighted horse at 55.0 kilos, sex allowance included.
As a result, Ward's three-kilo claim, worth its weight in gold for Feanny, will have MARVELLOUS MARVA carrying 54.0, but piloted by the least-experienced rider in the race, Ward, who has so far been on 14 winners from 293 rides, 13th among 15 active apprentices.
On the contrary, DaCosta, who has ganged the race by fielding three of six runners in the event, has top jockeys from three generations on his horses - HOVER CRAFT, DYSFUNCTIONAL and SUPERTRONICS.
Champion apprentice and leading rider, Anthony Thomas, is aboard an improved DYSFUNCTIONAL at 54.0 kilos, level with MARVELLOUS MARVA, having recently finished a respectable third behind stablemate SEEKING MY DREAM and return-winner ANOTHER BULLET at 1500 metres.
Champion jockey Omar Walker has the leg up on HOVER CRAFT, who, similar to DYSFUNCTIONAL, was outclassed by stablemate SEEKING MY DREAM in his last race, but had lost narrowly to PERFECT NEIGHBOUR in his previous event, the Bonnie Blue Flag, and was a winner before that, beating DONTAE at a mile.
SUPERTRONICS appears the least fearsome of DaCosta's trio but the six-year-old won at 10 furlongs two Saturdays ago with Gary Richards. DaCosta has formed a lethal combination with veteran Richards in recent weeks, striking at good odds, the latest being YAYA'S DREAM at 7-1 last Saturday.
Ward has won once astride MARVELLOUS MARVA, a non-winners-of-three event in which she got into trouble down along the rail in the stretch run, but had a ton of horse under her and had time to change course before the wire arrived.
Both rider and mare have improved considerably since, especially MARVELLOUS MARVA, who reeled off a hat-trick to move from overnight allowance to grade one between November and January.
Despite Ward's relative inexperience, MARVELLOUS MARVA's rapid improvement cannot be ignored. The mare's first race in grade one was a literal baptism of fire, facing WILL IN CHARGE and SHE'S A MANEATER at 1820 metres in which the mile and 25 yards split was run in 1:40.3. Straightening six lengths off that pace, no wonder MARVELLOUS MARVA was left standing when the big horses kicked in the stretch run.
DaCosta, who recently assumed leadership of the trainers' title race from Anthony Nunes, is bound to have his horses take MARVELLOUS MARVA and her young rider on a relay. However, the mare has improved and is five pounds lighter than her main rival, HOVER CRAFT, who she had beaten easy enough on December 30 at 1400 metres, though in receipt of nine pounds.
DYSFUNCTIONAL will try stealing the race with 54.0 kilos but that depends on whether UNCLE TAF turns up, which would make controlling the pace difficult for Thomas.
Should Ward stay out of trouble at the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch, her three-kilo claim should make the difference in the stretch run.