February 20, 2021 7:00 pm.
It was a tale of two victors as Perth raider Celebrity Queen and unheralded three-year-old Portland Sky dead-heated for first in a desperate drive to the line in the Group One Oakleigh Plate.
Close finishes have become a common occurrence at Caulfield in recent weeks and this time judge Paul Egan was unable to split the first two horses home in a high-stakes race.
The victory by Celebrity Queen delivered prominent owner Bob Peters, jockey Willie Pike and trainers Grant and Alana Williams another Group One for their collection.
On the other side of the winner’s stall, the victory gave apprentice Teo Nugent his first Group One win and trainer Matt Laurie his second.
Nugent said the last 50 metres seemed a long way with ‘the wizard of the west’ in Pike blowing down his neck.
Portland Sky’s Oakleigh Plate triumph was a big thrill for the youngster, who started riding four years ago under the tutelage of Laurie.
“The emotions are coming but it is a great thrill. He had a great turn of foot when I asked him,” Nugent said.
Laurie said he had always had a big opinion of Portland Sky ($10) and was happy to back his judgement by running the horse in the Oakleigh Plate.
Laurie’s other option was to start Portland Sky in the Zeditave Stakes against his own age, also on Saturday’s program, which he said in hindsight would have been easy money.
“In the end we thought if he doesn’t perform, we won’t have lost too much but if it comes off, there’s a lot of reward,” Laurie said.
“I’m glad we took the punt.”
The Oakleigh Plate was a first Group One victory for Celebrity Queen ($9), who has now won seven of her 13 starts.
In a tight finish, Kemalpasa ($41) was a short neck away third.
The Danny O’Brien-trained Paradee made it three wins on end when she led throughout in the Group Two Peter Young Stakes (1800m).
Paradee will now get her opportunity at Group One level in the Australian Cup at her next start.
O’Brien’s stable representative Ben Gleeson said Paradee had thrived since her last-start win at the Magic Millions carnival in January.
Paradee ($5) held off Shared Ambition ($5) by three-quarters of a length with Homesman ($4.80) a short half-head away third.