Ron Leemon declared it a “dream come true” after Manawanui claimed the trainer’s first Group One success in Saturday’s $1 million Golden Rose.
Connections decided to pay a $50,000 late entry to run Manawanui ($7) in the 1400m feature at Rosehill and they were rewarded when the gelding outgunned a small but select field to topple the previously unbeaten Smart Missile ($2.10 fav) by a short neck.
Helmet ($3.80) was 3-1/4 lengths away third after his jockey Kerrin McEvoy successfully lodged a protest against Foxwedge for interference at the 600m.
Leemon, 64, has trained a small team since 1978 and hadn’t had a starter in a Group One since True Dreams finished fourth in the Railway Stakes in 1988.
He revealed he and connections had turned down a $1 million offer for the horse.
“Even yesterday they were ringing,” Leemon said.
“I’m chasing my dream. All the owners, my wife Gaye, they have been saying ‘It’s your dream, go for it’.
“It’s our dream, at our stage of our life why not enjoy it.”
In an action-packed race, Helmet missed the start and settled further back than expected while Glyn Schofield used his initiative on Manawanui and strode to the front shortly after settling.
From there Schofield knew he would be hard to catch with the two favourites back in the field, and the internationally-experienced jockey let Manawanui go in the straight and waved his whip in celebration as he held out Smart Missile.
“I was happy to ride a positive race,” Schofield said.
“He’s improved a lot from his first-up win and obviously has taken a big step today.”
While Schofield was delighted to snare Sydney’s richest spring race, he was even happier for Leemon who has been searching for a horse like Manawanui.
“He’s one of the nicest men you will ever meet,” Schofield said.
“The big stables get good horses all the time but this guy has got a team of about five or six and he’s just done everything right with him the whole way through.
“It means more personally for me because I know what it means to Ron.”
Smart Missile ran out as he set out after Manawanui and Glen Boss was adamant interference cost him victory.
“A few things didn’t go our way,” Boss said.
“Obviously at the start, Foxwedge came out about six horses and put everything skew-whiff, then at the 500 (metre mark) James McDonald in his wisdom when three wide tried to get one off the fence with two inside him.
“He just smashed me up on the fence. That’s cost me the race.”
Smart Missile was on the inside of Helmet when the interference occurred.
Stewards said McDonald on Foxwedge shifted in “quite severely”, checking Helmet and costing the Darley colt up to a margin of 1-1/4 lengths.
AAP TURF mt