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Mathew Ellerton and Simon Zahra have a genuine chance in VRC Oaks contender Aristia to end their wait for another Group One win

On the big stage at Flemington during Melbourne Cup week, co-trainers Mathew Ellerton and Simon Zahra have a genuine chance in VRC Oaks contender Aristia to end their wait for another Group One win.

Aristia stamped herself as one of the leading contenders for Thursday’s VRC Oaks for fillies after breaking her maiden in the Group Two Wakeful Stakes (2000m) at Flemington on Saturday.

Aristia will be striving to give the Ellerton-Zahra team its first Group One win since Response’s Robert Sangster Stakes victory in Adelaide in 2011.

“We haven’t hit the scoreboard in the Group Ones for a while,” Zahra said.

“We’re also sort of more known as sprinter-miler sort of trainers, so to get a staying Group One under the belt would be a good achievement for us.

‘We purchased this horse 18 months ago with First Light Racing and a goal 12 months ago was to attack this spring. So for it to come off, it would be fantastic for everyone involved.”

The stable went close to winning the Oaks with Solicit in 2013 when she led until inside the final 100m only to finish third to Kirramosa and Zanbagh in a tight finish.

Last month’s Thousand Guineas (1600m) had initially been the long-range aim for Aristia but Zahra said as time went on it became apparent the filly was looking like she would appreciate getting to 2000m.

With that in mind the stable switched focus to the Ethereal Stakes, in which Aristia finished second, and the Wakeful with the option of then going to the Oaks (2500m).

“She pulled up extremely well after the Wakeful and on Monday morning I think she looked better than she did on Saturday,” Zahra said.

“So from our point of view she has just really come on. Bring on the grand final.”

While staying the Oaks distance remains a query, Zahra said he loved the way Aristia “went to sleep” with cover in the Wakeful and believes she should get every chance from barrier four.

Aristia will again be ridden by Damian Lane who has 13 Group One wins, including 12 in the past two years.

Lane, 24, finished his apprenticeship with Ellerton and Zahra after coming to Melbourne from Western Australia in 2011 and he has maintained a strong association with the stable.

“We sort of brought Damian over as an apprentice and he’s grown and turned into a superstar jockey,” Zahra said.

“It’s been a while for us for a Group One, so for him to ride a Group One for us would be fantastic.”

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