Zanbagh delivers an ideal Oaks entree

Zanbagh, ridden by Blake Shinn, wins the Keith Nolan Classic at Kembla. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI
Zanbagh, ridden by Blake Shinn, wins the Keith Nolan Classic at Kembla. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Zanbagh's vice-like grip on the Australian Oaks - and a bid to emulate her mother's heroics - strengthened as the outstanding filly landed Guy Walter an unprecedented fifth Illawarra Mercury Keith Nolan Classic (1600m).

All the rage in Kembla Grange's Sensational Sunday feature, Zanbagh profited from a heads-up ride from Blake Shinn to rush to victory in the $200,000 Group 3 feature. It gave the wily veteran Walter his fourth win in the race in the past seven years.

The event launched the career of subsequent four-time Group 1 winner Appearance two years ago and it may be only a matter of weeks before Zanbagh joins the list of major winners.

She'll start favourite for the Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m) on Golden Slipper day before tackling the Australian Oaks (2400m) - a race dam Wild Iris won - a fortnight after that. And prominent owner Sandy Tait reckons Zanbagh will be every bit as good a hope as winning as her dam.

"I think she probably could be [better than Wild Iris]," said Tait, who raced arguably Walter's best horse, Tie The Knot. "She's got a more electric sprint, which you need at the end of a staying race.

"She's always been a very attractive filly with a very good temperament. She's maybe on the small side a little bit and her mother Wild Iris was a very solid and stocky type of filly, [Zanbagh's] more refined.

"She probably gets that from [her sire] Bernardini and it's worked out an amazingly good cross."

Walter's love affair with the Keith Nolan Classic started with Floria way back in 2002, but it's in recent years he's had a near monopoly on the fillies classic.

He won it in 2008 with Bernicia, backed it up with Slapstick a couple of years later and then toasted Appearance's success two years after that. And another two years on? It was only going to end one way.

"It comes at the right time for three-year-old fillies and I've got a lot of three-year-old fillies," Walter said when quizzed on his outstanding record in the race. "It's the right distance at this time.

"You can get horses like Bernicia, Appearance that are top-class milers and then you get one like this that is on her way to the Oaks."

Punters rallied to support Zanbagh late in the Keith Nolan, crunching her into $2.60 favouritism. It was hardly surprising, but perhaps the manner in which she won might have raised a few eyebrows.

Shinn, who chalked up his fourth winner for the day including three for Walter, elected to take up a forward position in the run on a day where back markers never fired.

It belied Zanbagh's usual racing pattern, but worked wonders as the filly improved from the 600-metre mark before speeding to a one-length victory from Gai Waterhouse's Role Model ($21). Metaphorical ($18) was a nose further back in third.

Shinn's canny ride was triggered by a string of frontrunners dominating the earlier races at Kembla.

"The Oaks has been the goal all along and she means a fair bit to the stable, this horse," he said.

"I thought she had to come here [on Sunday] and win this race and she did a great job. She was gallant and it's a great relief and a big thrill to win this race.

"This is a step along the way and it's important to them to tick this box going forward."

Bookmakers immediately responded to Zanbagh's fighting win, slashing her price to win the $1 million Australian Oaks.

"We've trimmed her from $4.60 into $3.60 after the race and she'll be very hard to beat in the Oaks," Glenn Munsie from said.

Role Model impressed on her Australian debut for Gai Waterhouse and jockey Tim Clark expected Tulloch Lodge to stalk Zanbagh all the way to the Oaks.

"Running first up a mile you'd suggest [the Oaks is up her alley], but whether she'll get the trip I'm not sure," he said.

"It was a good run first-up at the mile. She trialled well and she's got good form overseas."


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