Starcraft's Irna prepares for a fruitful spring

There’s no mistaking how trainer Ron Quinton feels about the brave and classy mare Crafty Irna. His store of adjectives is fully utilised when he talks about her. 

“She’s one of our favourites, she’s a doll, she’s just so honest…she’s very sound, she’s a beautiful mare…gee, she’s a lovely mare!”

The good news for fans of the rising 6YO daughter of Starcraft is that she is back in work, and her owners (Tony Andreacchio, Jane Brandis, Charles Dowsett, Paul Fitzgerald, Peter Kearney, Thomas Lamond, Clemence Lee, John Osmond, Ian Stark, Antony Thompson & Paul Young) have no plans at this stage to send her to stud in 2013.

There’s every reason to think that 2013/14 could be an excellent season for Crafty Irna. Both Starcraft and her dam Zirna hit top form in the second half of their racing careers. 

Her spring campaign last year was excellent, adding $216,655 to her bank account with two wins and three placings from five starts, all but one of them in Group or Listed stakes company. Ron names Crafty Irna’s final two runs in that campaign, her ATC City Tattersalls Club Cup LR win and  VRC Matriarch S. G2 third placing, as career-best efforts.

Most importantly, she has returned to training in great heart. Ron says, “She looks sensational.”

Crafty Irna’s 2013 spring programme will be similar to last year, beginning with the ATC Toy Show H. LR over 1300 metres, and then possibly the 1600-metre La Gioconda S. at Wyong which she won in 2012. Although her first-up record over sprint distances is very good – her previous campaign openers include seconds to Red Tracer and Dystopia –  her victories have all been at 1500-2400 metres.   

That, and her sustained power style of racing make Crafty Irna a little unusual among Starcraft’s best progeny, most of whom display their sire’s explosive acceleration at 1200-1600 metres – think brilliant 2YO and 3YO sprinter Star Witness, New Zealand filly We Can Say It Now and Group 2 winner Hallowell Belle.

It also distinguishes Crafty Irna from her dam, 2003 Singapore Horse of the Year Zirna, bred by the late Jim Campin and raced by Eric Watson, whose bloodstock interests are managed by Westbury Stud’s Russell Warwick.  

Zirna showed plenty of ability in her first two seasons of racing, winning and running second to Our Egyptian Raine in a Listed Race at two, and third in the ARC Eight Carat Classic G2 as a 3YO. However, Russell suspected she would prove more effective if she could be held up during her races and saved for a sharp final sprint. 

That change of tactic proved instantly successful and Zirna won three of her six starts at four, including the Te Aroha JC NZ Thoroughbred Breeders’ S. G1 over 1600 metres. 

The prospect of a million-dollar bonus encouraged Russell and Eric to pursue an unprecedented campaign for a Group 1-winning mare. They sent Zirna to Singapore trainer Malcolm Thwaites for a tilt at the Patron’s Bowl-Derby Trial-Derby treble. 

She won the Derby Trial and placed in the other two races, so missed the bonus, but she so impressed Thwaites that he urged Eric and Russell to leave her with him for the Raffles Cup (1800m) and Singapore Gold Cup (2200m), both carrying domestic Group 1 status. 

Ridden by Mark du Plessis, Zirna won both races in classic drop-from-the-clouds fashion and added more than $S1 million to her earnings. (Watch Zirna’s 2003 Singapore Gold Cup here.) 

Russell says of Zirna, “She’s a lightly framed, neat mare, not much more than 15.2 hands, but she raced with the attitude of a 16.2 horse. She was tough, but in a lovely way with a very good spirit.”

Zirna is as valuable in the matron’s paddock as she was on the racetrack, leaving four fillies that have sold for a total of more than $1.1 million. Crafty Irna is the best of them, but rising 5YO Raziyya of Sydney (by Redoute’s Choice) is proving as progressive with age as her mother and half-sister.

Trained in Singapore by Michael Freedman for owner Mark Read, Razziya of Sydney has won three races up to 1800 metres this year and earlier this month ran a strong fourth in Better Life’s Singapore Derby 2000m Sgp-1.  

Zirna has since had a further three fillies. Rising 3YO Snow Petal (by Bernadini) has just returned to the stable of Peter & Dawn Williams in New Zealand with an Oaks preparation in mind. Her rising 2YO filly by Encosta de Lago was purchased from the Bellerive Stud draft at the Inglis Australian Easter Sale for $170,000 by Tim Noonan, an original owner of Crafty Irna, and will be trained by Ron Quinton.

Zirna, who is based at Bellerive, has an outstanding 2012 filly by Snitzel, is in foal to Encosta de Lago and is booked again to Snitzel this spring.

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