Saturday’s Breast Cancer Research of WA – Roma Cup (1200m) victor Money Matters should be even better suited in the $200,000 Group 3 Belmont Sprint (1400m) on May 29, according to jockey Joseph Azzopardi.
Azzopardi was aboard the Canford Cliffs four-year-old, a prolific winner at 10 of his 20 career starts to date, during his career-best performance as a $26 outsider at Ascot on Saturday and feels the extra furlong of the Belmont Sprint will be even more to his liking.
The pair are building a powerful partnership this season, with Azzopardi having ridden the $573,477-earner in four races which have netted victories in the Roma Cup and Listed Hannans Handicap (1400m), as well as a third placing in the Group 3 Northam Mazda Stakes (1100m).
Speaking on TABradios’s The Sports Daily on Monday morning, Azzopardi was elated to land another feature-race victory with the gelding.
“It was a great buzz,” he said.
“The horse has a close spot with me, I’ve been with him for a long time so it was good to get the job done on him.
“Early he got across without much trouble at all and, the way the track was playing, I was pretty happy with where I was in the run.”
After failing to beat a runner home under a 62kg impost first-up from a spell on April 17, Money Matters showed sharp improvement when finishing third to Cup Night in arguably the strongest ever edition of the Northam Stakes 15 days later.
He faced top quality again when stepping up to Weight-For-Age level for the first time in Saturday’s Roma Cup and, after working across from barrier eight to sit outside of the leader, the gelding displayed immense toughness to keep fighting and defeat the fast-finishing and reigning Group 1 Winterbottom Stakes winner, Elite Street, by a nose.
Whilst clearly impressed, Azzopardi says he has been somewhat surprised by just how well Money Matters has performed against WA’s best sprinters.
“In his last two runs he’s really been finding a lot on straightening,” he said.
“In the Northam Stakes they actually rolled along and he still gave a good kick and he caught me a bit off guard.
“In hindsight, I probably thought I went a little bit too early with the way he let down.
“I was mindful of that on Saturday, I didn’t want to go too early and he gave a good kick again and was obviously tough to the line.”
Asked if he thought Money Matters was up to Weight-For-Age racing prior to Saturday’s win, Azzopardi gives a truthful assessment.
“To be honest with you, no I didn’t,” Azzopardi said.
“Even two starts ago in the Northam Stakes he gave them a good shake and then for him to back that effort up again and then win the Roma Cup I think he’s definitely taken the next step.
“He’s come back better this time.”
Money Matters crossed the line in a three-way photo finish with Elite Street and Dance Music and, whilst Azzopardi was confident he had beaten one of them, he couldn’t be sure that he had won the race.
However, he was always optimistic there would still be improvement to come as Money Matters stepped up further in distance.
“I knew I beat Dance Music to my outside, it was more Chris out wider just because he had all the momentum and flashed late and probably a stride after the post he was in front of me,” he said.
“I could feel my horse digging deep and I could honestly feel him sticking his head out for the line, so I was really hopeful but I was really unsure.
“Adam and I always thought that 1400’s probably his ideal trip so, like Adam said on Saturday, 1400m to 1600 is probably his best distance range.
“If he keeps going the way he’s going I think he’ll be very hard to beat (in the Belmont Sprint) and he’ll be right in the money, anyway.”
Money Matters’ triumph brought up a winning double for Azzopardi on the day, after having earlier guided stablemate Son Son to an all-the-way victory in the Crown Perth Handicap (1400m).
The progressive Rogano three-year-old is yet to miss the placings from seven starts to date, having now recorded four wins and three minor placings.
“He was very good,” Azzopardi said.
“To be honest with you, I was never getting beat with what I got away with in front.
“We just went that steady and the horse settled really well and he was always going to impossible to catch.
“I just quickened up from the 500 and he brained them, so it was a good effort.”
Son Son now looms as a potential contender for the $100,000 Listed Belmont Guineas (1600m) on June 19 and Azzopardi feels the gelding is capable of progressing to a higher level.
“I’m not sure where Adam’s going with him but if he’s going that way then definitely,” he said.
“He gave me a good feel on Saturday and I think he deserves a stakes win.”