The cream rose to the top late in the day at Ellerslie when four-year-old mare Two Illicit issued a powerful statement to her spring rivals with a commanding fresh-up victory over 1400m on Saturday.
Racing in the Trelawney Stud silks, Two Illicit is raced by Brent and Cherry Taylor, Faith Taylor, Jane Taylor and Scott Malcolm.
A multiple stakes winner during a three-year-old campaign that culminated in a runner-up finish in the Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m), Two Illicit was kicking off her spring campaign following a quiet trial over 1100m at Taupo last month.
The Roger James and Robert Wellwood-trained galloper was installed favourite in the race that also featured her New Zealand Derby conqueror, Sherwood Forest who was also making his raceday return.
Jockey Leith Innes, who was having his first ride aboard the Jimmy Choux mare, kept her well out of trouble towards the rear in the early stages before asking her to improve approaching the home bend.
Sneaking an inside run in the straight Innes pushed the go button at the 250m and Two Illicit burst to the front before easing down over the last 100m to win comfortably by just on two lengths from the late closing Nasha Riva.
Innes had spoken with Vinnie Colgan, who had ridden Two Illicit throughout her three-year-old season, to get some pointers on the mare and was suitably impressed with her effort.
“She was obviously the class horse of the field and we thought she would handle that track as she is very light on her feet,” he said.
“I hadn’t ridden her before so I wasn’t sure what to expect and how well she was going but, in the end, she won it very easily.
“She jumped and didn’t really travel that great for the first 300m but once I found some space it was all over a long way from home.
“I think the best thing was that she got a pretty easy run without tearing the guts out of her going forward.
“I understand she is heading to the Windsor Park Plate (Gr.1, 1600m) on the second day at Hastings and on that performance I have a lot of respect for her and wouldn’t want to be on anything else in the race.”
Co-trainer Roger James was also delighted with the run and how his charge handled the circumstances of the race.
“Class always comes out but you have to give her a fair bit of credit,” James said.
“She carried 59kgs for a spring four-year-old mare on a track that was against her fresh-up, so it was a pretty good effort all around.
“When I saw them going at breakneck speed and she was completely off the bit I thought the leaders had to come back to us at some stage.
“I could see on the turn she was starting to travel and Leith said when he gave her a squeeze, she came up underneath him very quickly.
“I think people forget what she did last year was all on one preparation and I think she is a stronger mare this year.
“She has pulled up so well so fitness wise I’m not sure what improvement she will make but she will be better suited by the good track that she is likely to get next time.”
James confirmed Two Illicit would now head to Hastings for the Gr.1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) on October 3. – NZ Racing Desk
Given a gun ride by @leith_innes, last season's NZ Derby runner-up Two Illicit ($2.30) makes a winning return for @Roger_JamesNZ and @RobertWellwood pic.twitter.com/rwwvWhlNx0— TAB Racing (@TAB_Racing) September 12, 2020