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Star Kiwi mare primed for Flemington feature

A sparkling trackwork gallop at Flemington on Tuesday has given Matamata trainer Jamie Richards all the assurance he wanted from stable star Melody Belle as she heads in to Saturday's Gr.1 $A1 million Empire Rose Stakes (1600m).

The Commands five-year-old mare is a $3.40 favourite for the weight-for-age fillies and mares feature despite drawing barrier 13 as she chases the tenth Group One win of her career.

"She's in good form," Richards said.

"She worked well at Flemington on Tuesday morning on the course proper. It looked to be very good, strong work and Craig Thornton and Brad Taylor, who has been a big help to us in Melbourne, were both impressed with what they saw. They are very happy with her.

"We were going to give her a jumpout at Flemington last Friday but we didn't think she needed She didn't look like she needed it and her weight is good.

"With her recent racing, she's very fit and the month between runs is fine for her dropping back to 1 m. She doesn't let us down and her record suggests she's one out of the box."

Bred by Marie Leicester and raced by the Fortuna Melody Belle  Syndicate, Melody Belle has won 14 of her 24 starts, including the Gr.2 Queensland Sires' Produce Stakes (1400m) at Eagle Farm as a two-year-old.

She was bought by Te Akau principal David Ellis for $57,500 at the 2016 New Zealand Bloodstock Premier Yearling Sale from the draft of Haunui Farm and has topped $2 million in earnings.

In October, she became the first horse to win the Hawke's Bay weight-for-age triple crown of the Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m), Gr.1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) and Gr.1 Livamol Classic (2040m).

"Her draw is a bit awkward for Saturday but she will enjoy the roomy Flemington track," Richards said.

"There doesn't look to be a lot of speed in the race but one thing we know about her is she can relax off the speed and quicken just as well as she can if she takes up a good spot closer to the speed. She's very versatile and we'll just leave that up to Opie (Bosson, jockey)."

Richards has made no firm plans for Melody Belle after the Empire Rose Stakes but was open to the possibility of backing up in Saturday week's Gr.1 $2 million Mackinnon Stakes (2000m), also at Flemington.

"If she was to win very impressively we would give thought to backing up in the Mackinnon but we've never backed her up before," he said.

"She's been up a long time and done a bit of travelling, so we'll put her first whatever happens. But she's in good health and sound and that's been her biggest attribute right through. Touch wood, we've never had to treat a joint or had a problem with her."

Meanwhile, closer to home Richards has runners at New Plymouth on Friday and at Awapuni and Pukekohe on Saturday.

"Prise De Fer and Weaponry will run at Pukekohe. They've got big weights but they are two nice progressive horses," he said.

Other upcoming stable engagements will see Aotea Lad tackle the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld NZ 2000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton on Saturday week and Folk Dress contest the Gr.1 gavelhouse.com NZ 1000 Guineas (1600m) at Riccarton a week later, with Al Haram earmarked for the Gr.3 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup (3200m) the same day.

In A Twinkling, a winner at Te Rapa on Monday, will prepare for the Gr.3 Ssangyong Counties Cup (2100m) at Pukekohe on November

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