IT'S one of the most special races on the Bendigo Jockey Club racing calendar.
On Wednesday, it took a special performance by the four-year-old Shandy to earn victory in the Donna Philpot Memorial Benchmark 64 Handicap at Bendigo racecourse.
The Matthew Ellerton and Simon Zahra-trained mare was returning to the track from a 245-day break.
Despite some queries following a disappointing first-up run at Bendigo last preparation, when well beaten by seven lengths last September, Shandy proved a more mature and formidable mare this time around, to storm to an emphatic 1300m win.
For co-trainer Zahra, the win vindicated his belief the Fiorente mare had returned to something near the form she demonstrated at her best as a three-year-old, highlighted by a pair of wins and a placing in metropolitan grade at Sandown.
"We had a lot of immaturity issues with her last time and we probably didn't her get back to her best," Zahra told broadcaster Racing.com
"Her early three-year-old day form was terrific and there looked to be a lot of improvement.
"I loved the way her last couple of trials had been and her work has been nice and strong.
"Hopefully with a good prep - and if the rain comes it's a bonus."
The win formed part of a race-to-race double for jockey Jamie Kah, who earlier saluted on the Mitch Beer and Max Hinton-trained Journeygirl in the fillies and mares benchmark 70.
Zahra said they would look to step Shandy up in grade and distance.
"She looked like she was going to get a fair bit of ground last time around ... there's a lot of upside to her," he said.
"She looks like a nice Saturday (city-grade) horse, in the right race."
Third in the race was the front-running Jarrod Robinson/Bendigo-trained gelding The Wrangler, who ran another solid race at his $13 starting price.
The Donna Philpot Memorial honours the much-loved Bendigo racing identity and former jockey, who tragically died following a track-work fall in 2017.
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