By David Nagel
A big month of racing began at Ladbrokes Park on Wednesday as the racing industry continues to show the resilience that has kept its participants on track all the way through the Covid pandemic.
An eight-race card, on a good Hillside track, was highlighted by a winning double to jockey Mark Zahra, who rode Jungle Magnate and Over The Sky to victory for the in-form Mick Price and Michael Kent Jnr stable.
Jungle Magnate kick-started a great day for Zahra and the Price/Kent team when the two-year-old colt overcame the outside barrier to score a gallant debut victory in the $50,000 Two-Year-Old Handicap (1400m).
The son of Tarzino/The Love Of Money was hunted out of the gates by Zahra, sitting three wide in the early stages before finding a lovely sit behind the early leaders, Eidolon and Vancity.
Zahra sat one off the fence until the home turn, when he extracted his horse three wide and booted for the judge with 250-metres to run.
After his early battles from the wide gate, Jungle Magnate had every right to get tired over the concluding stages but held on for an impressive first-up victory.
The $8 shot held off the fast-finishing favourite, Mac ‘N’ Cheese, who might be one to follow after snagging back from a wide barrier and storming home late.
Zahra was impressed with the first-up victory when speaking to Racing.com after the race.
“Yeah, he did a good job, first time out over 1400,” Zahra said.
“I was going to ride him quiet and hit the line, but he jumped really quick and I was lucky enough to slot in there and he had a really nice run.
“He got a bit tired as you would expect first time at the races over 1400, but he did enough.”
Zahra said the youngster was well prepared, as you would expect from the Price/Kent yard.
“He didn’t put a foot wrong once I was on him, he jumped well, travelled well and gave me a strong kick. For his first time at the races, he did everything right,” Zahra said.
Zahra then had to wait until the last race on the card to complete his double when Over The Sky held off multiple challenges to score a neck victory in the $50,000 BM70 Handicap (1600m).
Over The Sky and race leader Excelleration kicked clear in the straight, with Zahra’s mount appearing to take the upper hand at the 200-metre mark.
But, as he has done before, Over The Sky stopped giving once he hit the front, and only responded when Excelleration kicked back into his eye sight. The pair had a stirring battle, with Over The Sky defeating Excelleration by a head, with the fast-finishing Smokin’ Romans a further head away in third.
Zahra wasn’t surprised, but still felt ill once his mount took the foot off the accelerator.
“He did it the other day when I got to the front, I came from back and he sort of put his head up,” Zahra told Racing.com.
“He travelled a bit closer to the speed and really travelled today and I had it in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to get there too early.
“As soon as I got a length in front, I could just feel him stop, it’s a terrible feeling, and I needed her to kickback before something came outside me and ran over the pair of us. When the inside horse kicked back and he saw her again, he fought again to the line.”
Zahra said he had a high opinion of the four-year-old gelding, who had now won four of his seven race starts.
“I’ve never hid my love affection for him, I really like this horse, I’ve liked him from day one, and he toyed with them today then and pulled up,” he said.
“I think once he learns to savage the line, he will put together a pretty good record.”
Racing returns to Ladbrokes Park this Saturday, 12 June, with Wednesday meetings scheduled for June 16 and 30.