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Group racing took pride of place at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day and it was the Jamie Richards’ trained mare Avantage who took centre stage with a sterling performance in the Group 1 Railway which saw her claim the fifth Group 1 victory of her career.

Avantage ($2.10), had to work hard to finally see off the persistent challenge of last year’s Railway winner Julius ($19) and her market rival Levante ($2.70), beating those two quality runners home by just over a quarter-of-a-length and a length respectively.

Richards had indicated a small pre-race concern that Avantage might be ‘a bit vulnerable’ first-up … she was resuming after a two-and-a-half month break … but he need not have worried. The mare was certainly tested but never shirked the task in a pressurised run down the home straight and was strong all the way to the line.

She needed to be.

The defending Railway champion Julius, who had set the early gallop, found something extra again when Avantage, who had tracked Julius throughout when getting the run of the race on the rail, loomed alongside him and put her head in front halfway up the straight. He came back at Avantage, but Opie Bosson kept Avantage’s mind on the job and she was able to hold her narrow lead to the line.

Levante, for her part, was flying late, finishing best of all, but she simply was left with too much ground to make up in the straight after having lost her way early in a race that was not run to suit her. She was always well back and was a full eight lengths back in the sweep to the turn and in last place turning for home.

Levante was then switched widest of all and, not having done that much work early, she was full of running and powered home in real, eye-catching fashion but, taking into account from where she launched her finishing effort, third place was always going to be the best result she could achieve.

Still, Levante certainly lost no friends in her first attempt at Group 1 level.

Avantage’s race-record rubber-stamps her outstanding ability.

She won her first four races in a row and seven out of her first eight starts. That run of victories included a Group 1 win in the Sires Produce and a big win in the Karaka Millions (both in 2018). Other Group 1’s that followed were the Telegraph, the Haunui Farm, the Bonecrusher … in a rush of wins in January, February and March 2020 … and, of course, now the Railway.

The Railway win was Avantage’s twelfth career success from twenty-two starts. She also has seven minor placings to her credit and has only finished out of the first three placings on three occasions.

To date, Avantage has raced four times in Australia where she won a Group 3 race and finished third in the Group 2 Arrowfield Stakes behind Classique Legend and Jonker.

All being well, Avantage will now look to add another Group 1 win to her list of credits as Richards has indicated that he will set Avantage the challenge of defending her title in the Telegraph at Trentham in a fortnight.

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