Desert Lightning (Pride Of Dubai) winning the $1 million Aetoeroa Classic at Ellerslie

Desert Lightning Wins $1million Aotearoa Classic

Desert Lightning (4g Pride of Dubai x Isstoora, by High Chaparral) has spent much of his career being underestimated, but there was no denying his place in the elite after the inaugural $1 million Elsdon Park Aotearoa Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie on Saturday when he defeated the hot favourite Legarto earning an invitation ticket to the $3.6million All Star Mile in Victoria in March.

The Pride Of Dubai gelding has consistently been among the very best of his generation. He finished fourth in the Group I Sistema Stakes (1200m) as a two-year-old, then returned as a three-year-old to win the Group II Avondale Guineas (2100m) and place in the Group I New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) and the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m).

Desert Lightning has not put a foot wrong since turning four, winning two of his first three starts this season including last month’s Group I TAB Classic (1600m) at Trentham. However, through no fault of his own, the false start to that race and its effect on rival runners prevented Desert Lightning from getting the credit he deserved.

Despite being a last-start Group I winner, Desert Lightning was sent out as a $14 outsider on Saturday. The market was dominated by the multiple Group I winner Legarto, who was a $1.30 favourite and regarded as close to a certainty – so much so that the TAB announced on Wednesday that futures fixed-odds win bets would be paid out in advance of the race.

But that script was turned upside down by a spectacular performance by the Peter and Dawn Williams-trained Desert Lightning.

He was slotted into second by jockey Vinnie Colgan, who remained calm despite front-runner Wessex opening up a huge margin through the middle stages of the race.

Desert Lightning dragged the field up behind that tearaway leader, then took command with a brilliant burst of speed at the top of the straight.

Legarto got out into clear air early in the run home and had her opportunity to run him down, but Desert Lightning never stopped. He maintained a margin of a length and three-quarters over Legarto, with an incredible seven lengths back to the third-placed Rudyard. The time was a slick 1:32.53 for 1600m.

“This is a very good horse,” Colgan said. “His TAB Classic win was outstanding. I know he hadn’t run for seven or eight weeks in between times, but I rode him in a gallop two weeks ago and I knew Pete had him peachy-perfect.

“I heard George Simon (commentator) say I had them in trouble down the straight, and it put a smile on my face. Legarto couldn’t have caught him today – no way.”

Desert Lightning has now had 16 starts for five wins, six placings and $1.08 million in stakes for his owners, Sarah Green and Ger Beemsterboer’s Barneswood Farm. Desert Lightning was a $190,000 purchase by Peter and Dawn Williams from Little Avondale Stud’s draft in Book 1 of Karaka 2021.

Peter Williams said his confidence was boosted by Saturday’s Gr.3 Cambridge Stud Almanzor Trophy (1200m) victory by Crocetti, who had worked in company with Desert Lightning in an exhibition gallop at Ellerslie on January 14.

“He actually worked even better than Crocetti the other day,” Williams said. “Vinnie came back after that and said, ‘Don’t you dare do anything else with him.’ I had been thinking about another trial, but after he came home in 32 seconds in that gallop, we thought we’d just keep him at home.

“It was a great win. He’s really grown a leg this year. We had a few problems with him last year, but he couldn’t do anything about it. We turned him out for a good spell at the end of the season, and that’s been the makings of him."

Bred by the Mahoenui Partnership, Desert Lightning is the best of three winners from High Chaparral mare Isstoora, an unraced daughter of stakes winning juvenile Murjana from the Twyla branch of the Redoute’s Choice family that has produced Group I winners Gathering, In Italian and Tom Kitten.

Isstoora was bred by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum and was onsold at the 2019 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale for $90,000 to Bruce Perry Bloodstock and made her way to New Zealand with a positive test to Pride of Dubai and Desert Lightning was the result of the mating.