Bella Vella Logs On To Group One Success

An online purchase from the 2019 Inglis Digital Monthly April Sale, Bella Vella wins the Group One TAB Classic Robert Sangster Stakes at Morphettville (Atkins Photography)


The victory of Bella Vella in Saturday’s Group One TAB Classic Robert Sangster Stakes over 1200m at Morphettville is a sign of the times.

Indeed, the 5YO mare’s upset win represents everything that is good, great and up-to-date in Australia’s thoroughbred industry.

Much has been written already on how Bella Vella, a relatively obscure mare who only returned to racing after failing to get in foal, was sold for just $22,500 at the 2019 Inglis Digital Monthly April Sale.

Purchased by John Kelton, a professional punter who also raced 2012 Group One Mackinnon Stakes winner, Alcopop, a syndicate was formed among close mates, including Adelaide trainer, Will Clarken.

The change of scenery has obviously worked wonders with Bella Vella who has currently won six of 11 starts for Clarken and the vast bulk of her $634,360 in earnings.

Despite coming into Saturday’s race with two in succession – comfortable wins and Moonee Valley and Morphettville – Bella Vella was a $41 pick for the TAB Classic, particularly in light of such company as 3-time Group One winner, Sunlight, and the brilliant, Away Game, who was seeking to become the first 2YO since pattern racing was introduced in 1979 to win at the elite level against older rivals.

(Ironically, Bella Vella’s sire, Commands, won the 1999 Group Three, weight for age, Missile Stakes on his final day as a 2YO).

However, there was to be no denying Bella Vella as she bounced straight to the front and held the line despite a late surge from last year’s Blue Diamond winner, Lyre.

It was the first Group One success for Clarken, who has saddled up feature winners such as Cosmic Alert, Steel Frost, Mio Dio, Molto Bene and Cavaloce in the last five years, but the Morphettville-based trainer was quick to defer credit to his stable crew and fellow owners.

“Group Ones are so hard to get and it’s all about the teamwork that goes into it,” Clarken points out. “After she was purchased at the Digital Sale by John (Kelton), David Jolly put the syndicate together and it’s terrific because the ownership group has a lot of my close mates in it like John, Pat Kelton and Lachie Weekly. They were with me from the start when I had five horses and now the stable has 55 … they’ve stuck through thick and thin.

“What’s pretty special too is that Bella Vella is raced in my father’s colours … he’s no longer with us but he was a really passionate racing person.”

Bred by Graham Watson and among 80 stakes winners for the late Australian Champion Sire, Commands, Bella Vella hails from the Stormy Atlantic mare, Forget The Weather, who was purchased by Glenn Burrows’ Willow Park Stud for US$50,000 at the 2011 Keeneland November Breeding Sale.

Forget The Weather is a half-sister to three stakes winners, while the 2nd dam – Blushing Groom stakes winner Wedding Picture – is the dam of four black-type winners and granddam of Champion Turf Female, Forever Together.

“I had taken a real shine to the mare’s credentials,” Burrows recalls. “She was lightning quick on the track, winning two races over five furlongs on turf – one of them by seven and a half lengths – and the closest they got to her was in the barriers.

“Her sire, Stormy Atlantic, has produced over 100 stakes winners, but a good swathe of them are on turf which is not quite as fashionable in the States as it is here obviously, so I was able to get her relatively cheap.

“You have to keep in mind though that it costs in excess of $40,000 for the flight alone, so you need to be extremely particular with all mares that are imported.

“Fortunately, Bella Vella was a cracking type herself and, to be honest, I thought she would have made a bit more than the $100,000 Paul Moroney paid at the 2016 Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling Sale.

“You’d have to say the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Even though Forget The Weather is no longer on farm, I’m ecstatic for the new owners of both Forget The Weather and Bella Vella.

“Bella Vella broke 55 seconds for the race at Moonee Valley in March and I cheered myself hoarse in the Group One!”

Originally trained by Mike Moroney (notching up a maiden win at Pakenham), Bella Vella also won twice for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, prior to a shift to Matthew Vella.

Seemingly destined for a career as a broodmare, Bella Vella was covered by Criterion in 2018, but failed to get in foal and, hence, made her online debut where she was snapped up by Team Clarken.

It’s the digital gift that keeps on giving though …

After being sold at the 2017 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale for $40,000, Forget The Weather made her way to the same venue two years later and would be purchased – in foal to Shooting To Win – for $20,000 by Fionnuala Timoney.

Having worked in Ireland and New Zealand and for a number of Hunter Valley stud farms, Timoney divides her time between her role as Bloodstock and Client Communications Manager at Coolmore Australia and in growing her own personal bloodstock portfolio, Calvados Bloodstock.

“I’ve only got the two mares at the moment, along with a share in exciting young Snitzel stallion, Jukebox,” Timoney explains. “I had a budget of $30,000 when I bought Forget The Weather, so considered myself extremely lucky to get her for $20,000.

“As luck would have it though, I sold Forget The Weather’s Shooting To Win weanling – a colt – for $25,000 in last week’s Inglis Digital Sale. How’s that for timing,” Timoney adds with a laugh.

“Actually, the wonderful thing is that the Shooting To Win colt was purchased by Justin Carey, who looks after the resident foaling unit at Coolmore.

“Justin is thrilled with Bella Vella’s Group One: he’s already syndicated the colt out to family and friends, including his father in South Africa and a friend in Japan.

“Obviously things would be a lot different if I was selling the colt THIS week, but Forget The Weather is in foal to European Champion 2YO, Churchill and, on the back of Saturday’s Group One, she’ll likely visit Snitzel or Fastnet Rock this spring.”

HOOFNOTE: Willow Park Stud will offer two mares at this Friday’s Inglis Chairman’s Sale: the Group One runnerup, Perfect Rhyme (in foal to Exceed And Excel) and the well-related Irish mare, Zone Regard, in foal to American Pharoah.

“Forget The Weather is the third mare we’ve imported who produced a stakes winner with her first foal,” Burrows reveals. “Zone Regard is in foal for the first time and we’ll actually be offering a dozen North American mares – all carrying their first foals – at the Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale in July.”

Bella Vella with trainer Will Clarken and connections (Atkins Photography)

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