Magical day for Marsh camp

Congratulations: Australian Oaks winner Sofia Rosa with Troy Harris, Stephen Marsh and Marsh's girlfriend, prominent Kiwi jockey Danielle Johnson, soaking up the atmosphere on a special day.

Congratulations!! Australian Oaks winner Sofia Rosa with Troy Harris, Stephen Marsh and Marsh’s girlfriend, prominent Kiwi jockey Danielle Johnson, soaking up the atmosphere on a special day.

Sofia Rosa more than made up for her waywardness in the NZ Oaks when providing Cambridge trainer Stephen Marsh with his biggest thrill in racing in Sydney yesterday.

Sofia Rosa threw away the Gr. 1 Wellfield NZ Oaks at Trentham four weeks earlier when checking the original runner-up, Fanatic, in the final stages and was relegated from first to second. And for a fleeting moment Marsh feared the same was going to happen in yesterday’s Gr. 1 $A1 million Australian Oaks when she ducked inwards inside the final 150 metres.

But rider Hugh Bowman wasn’t about to let the Oaks slip from his grasp and he straightened the tough filly and drove her to the line to score by a half-length from Ambience (ridden by James McDonald).

Marsh had taken the Oaks relegation of the chin, agreeing the interference by Sofia Rosa had cost Fanatic the race, and he didn’t play on the result. However, he has let his feelings be known since the Australian Oaks triumph.

“It was very hard losing the New Zealand Oaks,” said Marsh. “It was a huge disappointment and I was trying to console myself by saying winning the Filly Of The Year was some consolation. Now winning the Australian Oaks makes up for everything.”

Marsh doesn’t hesitate when claiming Sofia Rosa to be the toughest horse he has been associated with.

“She’s definitely the hardest I have trained,” he said earlier today. “Even this morning when I walked her out she tried to bite, kick and jump on top of me. There’s never a dull moment with her.

“She’s so tough. She ate up everything last night and was free as a bird this morning. I joked that she we should be looking for a race for her next weekend.”

Bowman climbed aboard Sofia Rosa for the first time yesterday and he soon realised how hard she was to handle. “I’ve ridden some difficult horses in my time but this one takes the cake,” he said. “She is so temperamental, but she’s got some fight.”

Marsh admitted during the early stages of the race he was a bit concerned when Sofia Rosa was caught three-wide, but he had confidence in Bowman.

“I left it up to Hugh,” said Marsh. “He came up with the plan to ride her where she was happy. She was comfortable travelling out there with a bit of cover.”

Marsh was quick to praise his travelling foreman and trackwork rider, Troy Harris, for playing such an important part in the success of Sofia Rosa.

“Troy deserves a medal for the all the work he has done on this filly,” said Marsh. “She is so tough and hard and Troy takes it all. I don’t know how he does it.”

Harris, a top apprentice who is now successfully competing as a jumps jockey, rides Sofia Rosa in her work and has been at her side throughout. He accompanied her to Sydney last spring for a two-race campaign which resulted in a sixth in the Gr. 2 Tea Rose Stakes and a seventh in the Gr. 1 Flight Stakes.

Marsh admits that first Sydney trip was the making of Sofia Rosa, who has developed since the Aussies first laid eyes on her.

“It helped her,” he said. “She settled in good this time. I was originally going to send her over here three days before the Oaks but decided to come 10 days previous in the hope she might bloom with the weather here. She did and basically that’s how I’ve got her to peak twice.”

Sofia Rosa, a daughter of Makfi, was bought by Wairarapa bloodstock agent Bruce Perry on behalf of his major client, Lib Petagna, for $65,000 at the 2014 Select Yearling Sales and had won almost $200,000 in prizemoney and four of her nine starts (including the Gr. 2 Mongolian Khan Royal Stakes and the Gr. 3 Little Avondale Lowland Stakes) going into yesterday’s Australian Oaks. She added a further $A600,000 to the kitty with her latest win and now heads to the spelling paddock for a well-earned rest.

“She can have a really good spell and maybe we could look at the Caulfield Cup for her,” said Marsh. “She’s better left-handed.”

Marsh and his team can take a bow for a wonderful achievement in getting Sofia Rosa to peak at the biggest carnival in Sydney.

Marsh would be quick to point out it wouldn’t have been possible without the attitude and resilience of one tough cookie, a filly who gave Petagna and Perry the first leg of a magical Group One double when preceding the triumph of Lucia Valentina (a former Marsh-trained mare) in the $A4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes.