The Australian Derby, staged on one of the country’s biggest days of racing, will be run at Royal Randwick in a fortnight.
But they might as well rename it the New Zealand Derby and run it at Ellerslie because the only thing likely to be remotely Australian about the race will be the name.
Donna Logan’s Volkstok’n’barrell surged to second favouritism for the Derby after his tenacious Rosehill Guineas win, arriving on the same day as his late co-trainer Dean Logan’s birthday.
Sydney-based Kiwi Chris Waller bought his Victorian Derby winner Preferment out of the Karaka sales and he clings to favouritism for the three-year-old classic after wilting late in the Rosehill Guineas.
And Murray Baker’s New Zealand Derby winner Mongolian Khan is the third favourite. Not an Australian in sight – except for Volkstok’n’barrell’s Rosemont Stud part-owner Anthony Mithen, who bought into the horse despite it being a gelding.
“A mate of mine who I went to school with is a New Zealand form expert and spotted him after he won the group 3 and said, ‘this horse is a star’,” Mithen said.
“He was a gelding, but he told me he’s going to be a weight-for-age star and said, ‘just get involved’. I thought, ‘all right’ and we got chatting to Donna and the owners and watched his replays and thought he has an unbelievable turn of foot. There was a relationship with a group of people that were pretty easy to deal with.
“The element of excitement is I reckon we’ve got the Derby favourite. I don’t know what the market says, but good luck beating us.”
Mithen doesn’t quite have the Derby favourite, but he couldn’t be happier with where Volkstok’n’barrell is heading to after the short-head win.
Knuckling down to fight it out with a vastly improved Preferment, Craig Williams managed to dispel the New Zealand Derby pain for connections after the pair outstayed Randwick Guineas hero Hallowed Crown, which suffered only his second defeat in eight starts when a tiring third.
And it was a huge relief for Logan, whose husband Dean died last month after a long battle with throat cancer.
“We got beaten in race two [at Rosehill] with Rising Romance and I thought ‘Oh no’. I was starting to get my lip down a bit,” Logan said. “It’s Dean’s birthday today so thank God I did something right.
“And I was really concerned about the quality of the horses here. They’re very, very good.”
Williams said: “At least he has had a run at that [distance in the New Zealand Derby] and ran second. Mongolian Khan is an out-and-out stayer and my horse wasn’t tough enough at the trip. With his mannerisms I’m looking forward to going into the Derby with him.”
If the smile couldn’t be wiped off the face of those across the ditch, the same could be said of Waller. His group 1 winner is right on track to complete the rare Victoria-Australian Derby double.
“He’s a stayer and once he gets to the right distance his genetics kick in and that’s what you saw today and in the Victoria Derby when he sat three wide and won,” Waller said.
“In the end the other horse was a bit too strong for us because he had a bit more race fitness and we are still a bit soft, but I can’t wait for the Derby.”
It’s a totally different course to that being taken by Hallowed Crown, which will take on the older horses for the first time in the Doncaster Mile.
“They were a bit too good for us over 2000-metres today. He still hit the line pretty well and look at the gap they put on the rest of them,” co-trainer James Cummings said. “He probably didn’t run the trip right out, but we’re still very keen to go to the Doncaster.”
News from Adam Pengilly, SMH.