Gratz Vella double highlights Gundagai card

Gratz Vella (right) landed two winners at Gundagai on Monday, and Brendan Ward (pictured) and Hayyu gave the Canberra trainer his second win.

Canberra trainer Gratz Vella has enjoyed his fair share of success at Gundagai Adelong Race Club over the years, and that was no different on Monday, with the in-form trainer landing a winning double. 

In the 1800m Benchmark 58 Handicap, Billy Owen gave Epizeel a soft run in fifth as local horse Taliano ran the field along in front. 

Turning for home, the field fanned wide and Epizeel ($9) came with a strong run four and five wide for Owen to win by 0.38 of a length from the fast-finishing Okra (Molly Bourke, $7), while in third and 1.45 lengths off the pace was Kataway (Jason Lyon, $14).

Vella praised Owen for the smart ride, and he admitted that he went out to obtain the services of the local product when racing at Gundagai. 

“Epizeel had the right weight for Billy (57kg), and I thought he knows the track and Billy always gives me 101% and it was another really nice ride,” Vella said. 

Epizeel was looking for the extra distance when contesting the nine-furlong event, and interestingly, Vella explained that the six-year-old would back-up in the 3500m Riverina Cup at Wagga on Sunday.  

“I thought he could win the race because he ran second at Goulburn last start and his last four starts have seen him progressing up in distance, and that is what he wants,” Vella said. 

“I had to bring him here today because I wanted to start him in the 3500m race in Wagga on Sunday, and with stayers, you have to get the miles into their legs, but it was still good to get that win.”

Vella and connections won their second race on the seven-race-card in the 1000m Class One Handicap, with Hayyu proving too good for her rivals.

Ridden by Brendan Ward, Hayyu ($7) sat in behind the early leaders before finishing hard and fast when four wide on the track, and the Canberra galloper held on for the win in a tight three-way finish, which saw Cheval De Frise (Damon Budler, $3.70) in second and only 0.08 of a length off the winner, while in third and beaten only 0.15 of a length was Single Swag (Mick Heagney, $11).

Vella explained that a drop back in distance and a three-week freshen-up made all the difference for Hayyu at Gundagai in the five-furlong sprint.

“She has been unlucky in her last three starts and at her last start at Moruya, the 1200m was a bit too far,” Vella said. 

“I decided to bring her back to the 1000m and keep her fresh and she raced very well, and I think there are some more wins in her, that’s for sure.”

Gundagai raced as a heavy 10 on Monday, but the feedback from trainers and jockeys was that the course proper was very safe and played fairly, which was reiterated by Vella after the meeting.

“I reckon they did a very good job today,” Vella said. 

“It is always a safe track to race on, but today, considering how heavy it is everywhere, they did a really good job and horses where winning from everywhere. 

“They were leading, coming from behind and winning on the inside and outside, which is what you want to see.”

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