Hawkesbury trainer Mike Van Gestel recalled jockey Blake Spriggs for Cheeky Bella at Bathurst on Monday – and he didn’t let him down.
Spriggs, having his first ride on Cheeky Bella in nearly 15 months, seized the initiative on the six-year-old mare, letting her stride to the front from her inside barrier in the Benchmark 60 Handicap (1400m). She travelled strongly in the lead and Spriggs had the race parcelled up when he stole a winning break on the home turn.
Continuing a remarkable run for Hawkesbury trainers in the opening weeks of the new year, Cheeky Bella ($2.90), with 54kg and a decided 7kg advantage over All Things In Time ($3.40), was never threatened in the straight to make it two victories from her last three starts. The $2.40 favorite Eva Jean was third.
It was the Murtajill mare’s fourth win from 44 starts, and her record could be even better. She has been placed on 13 occasions (eight of them seconds). Spriggs had ridden Cheeky Bella only twice previously; both times on her home track when second and fourth respectively on November 16 and December 4, 2016 respectively.
Van Gestel afterwards said he had not given Spriggs definite instructions as he legged him aboard: “The small field (five starters) suited her and though she is not really a front-runner, Blake did the right thing in taking her to lead when she jumped well from the inside,” he said. “Cheeky Bella doesn’t like being cluttered up in her races.”
Cheeky Bella scored first-up over 1300m at Orange in a Benchmark 49 Handicap on January 30, then never got into the race at Bathurst when sixth of nine to Iona Nicconi in a Benchmark 60 (1300m) against her own sex on February 11. She drew awkwardly that day and, after being second last approaching the home turn, was the widest runner on straightening.
“Cheeky Bella has done a good job for us, and hopefully she can win another race or two,” Van Gestel said. “But she is getting close to reaching her level.”
Cheeky Bella has faced the starter eight times at Bathurst for two wins and three placings. Spriggs said he was “never nervous” on Cheeky Bella in the run and paid tribute to Van Gestel for turning his mount out in excellent condition.