Following famous footsteps

Cherry Tortoni heads to Spring Champion Stakes

Cherry Tortoni will follow in the footsteps of close relation and champion racehorse Tie The Knot, when he heads to Royal Randwick on Saturday to contest the Group One Spring Champion Stakes over the 2000m. Photo: Racing Photos.

Local breeders Sandy Tait and Jill Nivison will take a walk down memory lane on Saturday when Cherry Tortoni steps out in the 2000m Spring Champion Stakes at Royal Randwick. 

It was 23 years ago this month that Tait and Nivison watched on as their champion racehorse Tie The Knot, at only his third start, won the same event and earned his first Group One victory in the process. 

It would only be the beginning for Tie The Knot, who would go on to race 52 more times, winning 18 times and earning over $6 million in prize money.

Cherry Tortoni, who has an impressive pedigree himself, is closely related to Tie The Knot, being by Irish sire Night Of Thunder, and out of Tortoni, who is out of Whisked, the Group One winning mare and the dam of the aforementioned champion.

Tait, who proudly bred both runners, said the Spring Champion Stakes was a traditional pathway to the Victorian Derby, a race that Tie The Knot finished second in way back in 1997, and a race that Cherry Tortoni has long been set for.  

“The plan is for him to go to the (Victorian) Derby really, the Spring Champion Stakes is the starting point, then he will run in the three-year-old race on Cox Plate day, the (Mooney Valley) Vase and then the Derby,” Tait said. 

“That is a pretty traditional way to take a horse to the Derby.”

The three-year-old is a $6 chance to win the $1 million race on Saturday, and Tait said he deserved to be in the market, after starting his career with three straight wins, including a victory in the Listed Taj Rossi final, before spelling and returning with a third placing in the Listed Exford Plate and a second placing in the Group 2 Stutt Stakes.

“He’s won three, including a listed race and won two at Flemington, which is not easy to do,” Tait said. 

“He is in in a top-class stakes race and it will be hard. I hope he runs well.”

The Patrick Payne trained runner was originally set for the Caulfield Guineas, which is held on the same day, but weather and opposition forced the trainer and breeders to head to Sydney instead.  

“That’s why we have come to the Spring Champion Stakes instead of the Caulfield Guineas; it’s a very tough race this year,” Tait said. 

“We are going where we think we can win. Plus, I think it is going to get really wet in Melbourne and Pat (Patrick Payne) said he is better on a firmer surface, so we will go to Sydney.”

Despite taking on the Sydney Group One race, Tait didn’t expect any easier time, suggesting Group One racing is as tough as it gets. 

“It’s a hard game at the top level and it’s never easy to win a race as good as this,” Tait said. 

Payne, who had a strong affinity with Tie The Knot as a jockey, riding him towards the end of his career, most notably winning the 2001 and 2002 Chipping Norton Stakes during the champions record breaking run in the feature event, explained that he didn’t originally plan to come to Sydney with Cherry Tortoni. 

“Early doors we had no intention of bringing him up there for the Spring Champion and were keen just to head to Caulfield, but it is a lot more achievable now,” Payne said.

“With coronavirus and the borders, it was definitely why we weren’t looking that way, but we are happy to take him up there now.

“I think he is better on top of the ground and there is a lot of rain predicted later in the week in Melbourne, which we were keen to avoid as well.”

Connections have decided to utilise travelling jockey Ryan Maloney for the ride too, with the popular hoop booked to ride Alligator Blood and picking up the ride on Cherry Tortoni after having previously ridden for Payne in Victoria. 

“I rode a bit for (Payne) after I became a senior jockey,” Maloney said. 

“As a young rider, I used to drive him and Brett Prebble mad, just asking them things about riding, trying to pick up little things.

“It would be nice to think it could go full circle on Saturday and win a Group One for him.”

In what could be an omen of success for Cherry Tortoni, the Tait and Nivison colours were proudly on show at Wagga on Saturday, when his half-sister Torsiton prevailed in good fashion in a 1200m Maiden for trainer Tim Donnelly and jockey Kayla Nisbet. 

“She is obviously pretty good filly and a half-sister to Cherry Tortoni,” Payne said. 

The mare that is by Reset and out of Tortoni, was originally trained by John Thompson, but has since found her place in the Donnelly yard. 

“Tim trains some horses for me in the country and we thought she would be better to go back to the country and win some races,” Tait said. 

“City racing is pretty competitive and we want to win a few races. She is a pretty valuable mare to us. 

“We will try and race her for a while and breed her to the best possible stallion we can afford.”

The Tait and Nivison partnership with Tim Donnelly paid even more dividends on Saturday, with Pushkar recording his second career win from 14 starts in the 1200m Benchmark 50 Handicap, but this time apprentice hoop Henie Ede booted home the victory. 

“He is a game little horse and he is a handy country horse,” Tait said. 

“He has won two this time in and we hope we can pick up three.”