Saving goes all the way again at The Valley
By Ben Caluzzi
In 2004 Andrea Leek made history by becoming the first female jockey to ride a jump’s winner at Adelaide’s Oakbank Carnival. She then followed that by becoming the first ever female rider to win the prestigious Australian Grand National Hurdle, partnering tough jumper Team Heritage to victory for her husband and trainer John Leek.
Leek was duly awarded the ‘lady of racing’ that year and enjoyed great success in the next few seasons, primarily in the feature jumps races and highweight events. Unfortunately, in 2009 she suffered a badly broken ankle – a career ending injury that put a stop to her race riding, but one that opened another pathway.
After years of helping her husband out with his training operation, Andrea Leek officially took up her own license in April 2021. In just nine months, she has already had five winners from only 22 starters and with more horses to come – she is sure to be making serious inroads on the Victorian Training Ranks soon.
Responsible for three of those victories is bold front-running stayer Saving, a product of Cox Plate winning sire Savabeel who Leek was able to secure from previous connections with owners that stemmed some 13 years ago.
Small in stature but mighty where it matters most, Saving has had an unbelievable first preparation under Leek and continues to get better with each run despite now being six years of age. His first run under new caring was on Ladbrokes Cox Plate Day in 2021, where he ran just a plain sixth placing in a Benchmark 0-58 at Yarra Valley, but since then his form has only headed north.
He has placed in races at Moe and Sandown and won at Traralgon, but most importantly he is now shooting for his third victory here at The Valley on Saturday, a track he has grown a strong affinity with given his suitable forward racing pattern.
“It’s a great frontrunning track. He’s nippy around those corners,” Leek says.
“You get an advantage (being in front) and every advantage makes you a winner.”
There are no doubts Saving is now in the best form of his career, and Andrea and John Leek’s 73-acre property is good reason why that may be the case. A short 10-minute drive from the Pakenham Racecourse, the Leeks have beautiful big spelling paddocks, a full 2500-metre grass and dirt track and another 800-metre uphill grass track – an environment their horses are clearly thriving in.
“It’s just brilliant. I think that’s where we shine.
“You can take a horse that hasn’t had this country environment and it’s probably what’s happened with this fella. It’s a really happy environment for them and we love it too.”
Saving has had eight runs this preparation in a long campaign that goes back to October 23. He will have a well-deserved break after Saturday, but Leek is hoping he still has one big effort to give as she seeks her first Saturday metro victory as a trainer.
“This is his finale. We never really thought we’d make it to a Saturday, so we’re pretty proud of him.”
Now with a rating of 71, Leek admits this is likely Saving’s final chance to race in Benchmark 70 company before he is weighted out of races and forced to step up in grade. With 60.5kg allocated for Saturday’s assignment she will again use 2kg claiming apprentice Thomas Stockdale, who produced a brilliant front-running steer on him last time to win.
Saving will drop back to 2500m from 3000m last time out but is already a winner at the track and distance earlier this preparation and should thrive if afforded a similar run. There will be no secrets about the jump and run tactics Stockdale is likely to employ again, and Leek will just be hoping he can hold the front and stave them off once more.
When asked about his best qualities as a racehorse, Leek says he is a “beautiful horse” who knows when it is time to go, and victory on Saturday will only propel her training career forward again.
“He only knows one way and that’s to go and keep going.
“He’s got a heart that’s bigger than himself. He’s only a little horse, there’s not much of him.
“He just loves to do it. He’s a competitor and he’s enjoying his racing.”
Let’s hope for Leek’s sake, he again enjoys his day out on Saturday at The Valley.