IN 2010 the long-standing John McKenna Memorial was first run over the middle distance of 595 metres at Sandown Park. Previously, the Group 2 event had been conducted over the stayers’ journey from its inauguration in 1971 until 2009.
The race had always been a major attraction for the best stayers in Victoria and when it was raised to Group 2 status in 2002 it began to bring in even more interstate raiders.
The 2005, 2007 and 2008 McKenna Memorials were all annexed by interstate raiders with Malfoy (NSW), Miss Grub (Q) and Fallen Zorro (T) respectively taking the race.
The 2009 series took place with two heats run on 18 June over 715 metres at Sandown Park, coinciding with four semi-final of the 515-metres Laurels Classic.
The first of the two McKenna heats featured a terrific field arguably headed up by Queen Lauryn. She had won six of her previous seven starts, including a victory in the Albion Park Gold Cup (Group 1) at her last outing, downing Mantra Lad by half a length. Also in the field was the ageing Tasmanian champion Chinatown Lad.
Unfortunately, both Queen Lauryn and Chinatown Lad were withdrawn before the heats and it was left to the rising star Amity Bale to make it four wins on end as she defeated the second reserve Bees Wax by just over five lengths in what proved to be a best of the night 42.13. Octane Al was third while first reserve Hughes Bale finished fourth to make the final field.
In the second heat, the undoubted standout was Mantra Lad who had won at three of his previous four starts, although West Australian Red Shilling, with four wins from her previous five races and Kulu Warrior, with three wins from his last three starts, all against much weaker company, were in form.
Punters rallied to Mantra Lad as the class dog in the field, but the $1.50 favourite began only fairly from his box four draw and was checked at the first turn. Kulu Warrior and Wot Price Pink had a great duel up front but the latter proved far too strong in the run home and prevailed by three lengths in 42.28 from the fast finishing Headley Bale with Mantra Lad boxing on solidly to take third from Oodles Rocks.
Punters opted to send Amity Bale out as the $2.10 favourite for the final while Mantra Lad was a solid second elect at $3.20.
The race itself proved to be an almost one-act affair. Mantra Lad bounded out of box five and led all the way, setting a new second section record of 15.74 and a third section record of 30.52. The Graeme Jose-trained stayer crossed the line two and a half lengths clear of Amity Bale with Kulu Warrior a further four and a half lengths back in third place. Mantra Lad’s winning time of 41.91 broke the previous race record of 42.04, set the previous year by Fallen Zorro. It was also the second-fastest time run over 715 metres at Sandown and just 9/100ths outside the track record of 41.80 set by Total Denial in 2002.
The victory was Mantra Lad’s 17th in 41 starts and third in six starts over the Sandown 715 metres trip. He would go on to amass $455,985 from 26 wins and 17 placings in a 56-start career.