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Belle Savoir Blaike McDougall
Image: Bruno Cannatelli
Victorian breeder gets another shot at Oaks success with daughter of former runner-up

Barbara Saunders thought her shot at Queensland Oaks success might have passed with Rathsallagh’s narrow defeat in 2008.

The O’Reilly filly ran a huge race but was forced to settle for second place, just a long neck behind Riva San.

Fourteen years on, Saunders and her husband Barry get another shot at the title with a member of the family they now go back more than two decades with.

Belle Savoir, a daughter of Rathsallagh, is one of the leading fancies in the $700,000 Group 1 event.

“It’s an enormous thrill just getting a horse that is competitive at this level and to do in that race again is fantastic,” Saunders said.

“There’s nothing quite the same as actually planning your matings, seeing them born, hoping they’re going to have straight legs, raising them, breaking them in and following their whole journey.”

The journey with Belle Savoir can be traced back to the turn of the millennium, when Saunders developed a fascination with US stallion Assert as a broodmare sire.

A rare opportunity arose in New Zealand to secure a daughter of Assert by the name of Star Of Amarissa and while Saunders initially missed out, she brokered a deal with the buyer in the months following, after Star Of Amarissa had given birth to a filly by Dream Well.

Star Of Amarissa was bought with the express purpose of a trip to O’Reilly, a son of Last Tycoon and Golden Slipper winner Courtza.

“I just love the Last Tycoon blood and everything about O’Reilly’s pedigree is just so perfect, I thought,” Saunders said.

Rathsallagh’s racing career started in New Zealand, where she was Group 2-placed, before being brought to Australia by then-New Zealand-based trainer Russell Cameron.

The Queensland Oaks was her best effort, but she also won two races at Sandown as a five-year-old before being retired to stud.

After initially being sent to High Chaparral (twice), Street Cry and Choisir, Saunders identified Not A Single Doubt as a good match.

“Rathsallagh had huge foals. The one by Choisir was over 17 hands as a two-year-old and had the biggest joints you’ve ever seen,” Saunders said.

“So, I wanted a smaller stallion but I also wanted the Danehill blood, because she was completely free of Danehill. I saw Not A Single Doubt and I thought, ‘you’re perfect’.

Rathsallagh’s first trip to the Arrowfield stallion produced Estrella, a chestnut mare who failed to place in seven starts, with bay filly Belle Savoir the result of the return visit.

Belle Savoir won over 1100m on debut at Ballarat in March last year, but Saunders said the feedback from trainer Nick Ryan early on was that she could make an Oaks filly.

A fetlock injury meant the VRC version was not an option and sights then turned to the 2022 Queensland Oaks.

A first-up 1300m win at Sandown on March 23 was followed by a fourth placing over 1400m at Caulfield on April 9 before a trip to the runner-up stall after a 1600m race at Caulfield three weeks later.

Another narrow second, this time in the G2 The Roses (2100m) at Eagle Farm last Saturday, affirmed her status as a leading Oaks contender.

“This whole preparation has been about going for this race,” Saunders said.

“Every single race she’s run in has been with the long-term goal of this Saturday as her Grand Final.”

It will be particularly special if Belle Savoir does go one better than her dam, who died of laminitis last spring just weeks after being served by Rubick.

“She’s my future with the family now,” Saunders said of Belle Savoir.

*Existing customers only. 2nd Racing bet. Excl SA & WA. T’s & C’s apply. Gamble responsibly.
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