Loyalty to Cuneen rewarded with win

Cuneen and La Diosa’s co-trainer, Mandy Brown. Photos: Trish Dunell/Matt Smith.
Cuneen and La Diosa’s co-trainer, Mandy Brown. Photos: Trish Dunell/Matt Smith.
There is a lot to be said for loyalty in the racing game.

And the rewards for loyalty between apprentice jockey Racha Cuneen and Ngapuke trainers Matt and Mandy Brown went both ways at Riccarton on Saturday.

La Diosa’s last-to-first victory in the 1000 Guineas gave both Cuneen and the Browns their first group 1 win and there is plenty left to come.

Other trainers might have turned their attention to a senior jockey despite Cuneen’s two wins and a third aboard La Diosa this season, but Matt Brown said that was never a prospect.

"He’s a top-notch little jockey — he’s got a lovely set of hands on him," he said.

"He’s done nothing wrong — we wanted someone who could stick with the filly right from the start."

La Diosa, ridden by  Racha Cuneen, wins the 1000 Guineas at Riccarton on Saturday.
La Diosa, ridden by Racha Cuneen, wins the 1000 Guineas at Riccarton on Saturday.
Terry Moseley had first choice on the So You Think filly at the start of the season, but opted to stay with Zigwig.

"Racha came into play and he’s ridden the filly brilliantly so we couldn’t ask for anything more."

Cuneen moved to Canterbury three years ago after limited opportunities in the North Island.

"Looking back where I was three years ago, riding a group 1 winner is a dream come true."

Cuneen had just one group 1 ride prior to Saturday, having guided Miss Seton Sands to second in the Telegraph at Trentham earlier this year.

"Having a group 1 ride on Miss Seton Sands certainly helped me with the nerves leading up to this race. I was pretty laid-back and wasn’t worried at all."

La Diosa’s breeding ensured the 1600m was never going to be a concern, and bodes well for distance features after Christmas.

"She had to be good to win today and she was — she was very good," Matt Brown said.

"That’s her racing pattern. She likes to relax and likes to get back. I said to Racha, ‘Just do your thing’,  and he said to me, ‘I’ll ride it like any other race, it’s just worth more money’, and that’s a good attitude to take."

The Browns have developed a reputation as a boutique stable, producing talented thoroughbreds from limited numbers. Black-type success has come in recent years from Soubrettes, I’m Your Venus, Peach Cove, Cora Lynn and Kullu, but La Diosa’s win in the 3yr-old fillies classic trumps them all.

"This would have to be the pinnacle," Brown said.

"Mandy has put so much dedication over the years.  I’m just rapt. I just tag along for the ride."

La Diosa now heads to the paddock for two to three weeks.

"Whether we go for the New Zealand Oaks, that’s up to the owners, but we’ll definitely consider it. There are so many options for her now."

La Diosa provided the Browns and Cuneen with a maiden group 1, but jockey Kelly McCulloch and Cambridge trainer Ralph Manning are old hands at winning the group 3 New Zealand Cup.

Manning first won the South Island staying feature in 1986 with Oak Vue, and added a second with Laud Peregrine in 1997.

Yesterday, it was the turn of the Manning-trained Pump Up The Volume, who gave McCulloch her third win in the race after Hoorang (2008) and Mungo Jerry (2014).

Part-owner Tony Coombe, a Paeroa accountant, said the build-up had not gone to plan but the camp was confident prior to the 3200m.

"We planned to give him four runs and ended up with only two so it’s huge to get him here under those conditions."

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