Stokes sets the bar high

Damian Lane gets the best out of Stretan Angel (9) in the Danehill Stakes at Flemington on Saturday. 365998 Pictures: PAT SCALA/RACING PHOTOS

By David Nagel

Pakenham trainer Phillip Stokes will aim his promising filly Stretan Angel at the prestigious $2million Group-1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) after an impressive victory in the Danehill Stakes (1100m) at Flemington on Saturday.

Renowned as a slow starter with a strong finishing burst, the three-year-old daughter of Harry Angel/Stretan enjoyed a change of tactics from jockey Damian Lane to dictate the terms of the race.

Stretan Angel was on-pace throughout, and settled down for a thrilling two-horse war with popular-elect I Am Unstoppable to claim victory in the shadows of the post.

She has now had four career starts and boasts the impressive record of two wins and two seconds as Stokes progresses her through the ranks.

Races don’t come much bigger for three-year-olds than the Coolmore, with a list of winners including Vain, Manikato, Alinghi, Weekend Hussler and In Secret just to name a few.

“She’s got to go there (Coolmore) now, it’s going to be harder, but she proved that she’s up to them today,” Stokes said post-race.

“Her coat’s come on: as we do with all our horses she went up to our farm, she spent the week up there and she’s just starting to bloom now.

“I still think she’s only 85 percent, so it’s exciting going into her next run.

“We came here today knowing how much improvement we had to come, so she’s done a super job.”

Stokes said he was surprised to see Stretan Angel camped on pace after coming from well back in the field to run second to Shesallshenanigans in the Cap D’Antibes Stakes at Flemington on September 16.

“That was a surprise, she’s always out the back and you’re hoping for luck, but she jumped well today and she’s taken a lot out of her first-up run,” he said.

Lane said there was no preconceived plan to turn her racing pattern on its head.

“It’s just how things unfolded,” he explained.

“I was hoping that I could get her to begin better than she had been, but certainly by no stretch was I planning to be second in the run.

“But the opportunity was there and the pace was only steady, so it gave her a really good run in transit.”

Lane said more natural improvement would see Stretan Angel right in the mix in the Coolmore.

“Now she’s shown a bit of tactical versatility: she’s tough, she’s quick, and Phillip (Stokes) said she would improve out of the first-up run and I dare say she’ll improve again.

“She looks right on track for a Coolmore.”

Pakenham trainers made it a running double at head-quarters on Saturday with the Peter Moody/Katherine Coleman-trained Life Lessons scoring an upset victory in the $300,000 Group-2 Rose of Kingston Stakes (1400m).

The five-year-old mare put the writing on the wall with a gallant second to Cox Plate favourite Amelia’s Jewell at her last start.

“We’re thrilled with her; she’s come on well from that run behind Amelia’s Jewell, she couldn’t have done much more that day,” Coleman explained after claiming her first Group-2 victory as a co-trainer.

“She’s maintained her condition, and we brought her here today thinking she’d run very well.”

Life Lessons was given a gun ride by jockey Daniel Stackhouse and held off the $1.65 favourite Princess Grace to claim the fourth win of her blossoming 11-start career.