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Australian Derby Preview – Achiever To Silently Strike

April 14, 2012

The significance of the Australian Derby has arguably shifted in recent years.

A mere twenty years ago, we knew we were looking at horses that would likely go on to win Caulfield Cups and Melbourne Cups. Ignore the fact that no horse has won the Melbourne Cup after winning the Australian Derby in the autumn (and the last Australian Derby winner to win the Melbourne Cup was Hall Mark in 1933). Often beyond the winners, the race produced top stayers. We were also looking at future stallion prospects.

Today, it is different. An Australian Derby victory doesn’t add much to a stallion’s profile. If anything, it is almost a negative. And the Australian Derby is now a hunting ground to find horses that can stave off the international invasion of the Melbourne Cup and our other staying features. So far, it hasn’t helped much.

Look at the recent record of Australian Derby winners in the Melbourne Cup – Shamrocker (2011) finished a well beaten 21st, as did Roman Emperor (2009). Shoot Out (2010), despite some excellent weight for age form over shorter distances, finished 13th. Nom du Jeu (2008) did slightly better, finishing eighth.

The last Melbourne Cup winner to contest the Australian Derby was Might and Power in 1997 – he finished fourth to Ebony Grosve – while the last Caulfield Cup winner who ran in the Australian Derby was Descarado in 2010 – he finished second to Shoot Out.

So it is not necessarily the winners who will be analysed in the coming months.

Nevertheless, this looks a competitive field of three year olds. Hopefully one or two of these, at the very least, could find themselves in the Cups later this year.

Just Horse Racing’s Andrew Hawkins has looked at the Derby field and compiled this preview:

1. SANGSTER (7)

Victoria Derby winner who, apart from one okay run in the Alister Clark Stakes two back, has been very disappointing this preparation. In fact, all the form out of the Victoria Derby has been suspicious. Induna did nothing this time in, Sabrage has been going ordinarily and Zabeelionaire – well, apart from an impressive maiden victory, he’s been a money muncher. So that tends to suggest the form is not good at all. The fact he’s won at 2500m is a positive, but he’d need to grow a leg on what he’s shown this preparation to be a chance. He’s a rough place chance at best – and that’s only because the trip might be what he needs. More inclined to overlook.

2. LASER HAWK (11)

Very good Rosehill Guineas winner. He’s really made the quantum leap this preparation – not that it ever looked very unlikely, but you never know until they actually make the step. He wasn’t beaten far in the Randwick Guineas before recording a tough on pace victory in the Rosehill Guineas. He’s definitely got the scope for improvement, and we could be looking at another horse in the mould of his half-brother Desert War. Now for the negatives – the pedigree has me concerned. His sire Artie Schiller was a miler, despite being by the great sire of stayers Sadler’s Wells. And Desert War was a gun at 2000m but he couldn’t run 2400m. I think Laser Hawk may be the same. It’s been proven in the past that an ability to run a strong 2400m isn’t necessary to win an Australian Derby – the likes of Shoot Out and Mahogany probably weren’t stayers. Still, I think it helps to be able to stay. Hence, I’ll be looking elsewhere. Definitely a big place chance though.

3. STRIKE THE STARS (1)

I’ve been a massive fan for ages. But every time I think he’s about to step up, he disappoints me. After the Gloaming Stakes last year, I thought he’d just win the Spring Champion Stakes – I was already counting my money, as I’d backed him at $11 prepost. But he didn’t show his usual ping and he ran a flat fifth. This preparation, I was thinking I was looking at a live Derby chance after his game second in the Australian Guineas. But he was just okay in the Randwick Guineas before running fairly in the Rosehill Guineas. I do think, on his day, he could win this. But he’s only one from eleven, which is a major concern. I do think 2400m will suit and I’m reluctant to jump off now. If he wins, I’d be incredibly disappointed if I didn’t have something on. I’ve been waiting to see him at 2400m so I’ve included him. I doubt I’ll be so forgiving next preparation if he doesn’t run to his best here though.

4. DARCI BE GOOD (3)

Second in the Spring Champion Stakes last year. He is another one who has been racing beneath his best this autumn. He was good when sixth in the Randwick Guineas, okay when 10th in the Rosehill Guineas and was unlucky last weekend behind Polish Knight in the Tulloch Stakes. That said, I’m not sure 2400m is his go. His breeding suggests to me that 2400m could be a stretch, and if that’s the case, I’m not sure he’d even be a chance on his best form. But this horse has been defying the odds for quite a while – I remember backing him on Doncaster Day last year when he was stepping up from 1000m at Kembla to the Listed Fernhill Handicap over 1600m. So perhaps he could have it in him. I personally doubt it, and I can’t entertain him here.

5. SABRAGE (13)

Victoria Derby placegetter who hasn’t done anything since. I’ve been very disappointed in him. He’s always shown a fair amount of talent – he won on debut at Caulfield – and he’s looked as though, the following preparation, he’d make a good horse. But this preparation, he hasn’t showed it. His best run was fourth in the Alister Clark Stakes two starts back – it was also the best run of Sangster so there’s probably a query over that form. This followed a moderate run in the Australian Guineas. Last start, he finished 11th in the Rosehill Guineas. He’d have to find a lot to make up ground on the three placegetters from that race. I’ve already commented on the terrible form emerging from the Victoria Derby. And the barrier looks a bit of a negative. I guess the only positive is that he’s shown form over the trip, but I can’t really see him improving enough to figure here. Not for me.

6. OCEAN PARK (6)

Kiwi colt who ran second in the Rosehill Guineas. This followed some promising runs in New Zealand, including a win in the Wellington Stakes and a second in the Waikato Guineas, and a very unlucky eighth in the Randwick Guineas. He looks to have plenty of scope and I think he could be a top miler to 2000m horse – if he isn’t shipped out to Hong Kong for next year’s HK Derby, which I’d say is extremely likely. We saw a Thorn Park colt fail as favourite last year – that being Jimmy Choux – but perhaps the Zabeel influence in his dam may come through. But from the Rosehill Guineas, I’d prefer to go with Silent Achiever over him. I think he’s a nice horse in the making, no doubt, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in a Cox Plate come the end of the year. That said, I do he may be found out at the end of 2400m. Place chance for mine.

7. REKINDLED ALLIANCE (5)

I could cry over his last two starts. I’ve been on both times, and both times – in the Phar Lap Stakes and in the Tulloch Stakes – he found one better. In the Phar Lap Stakes, it was Colorado Claire who held on, while in the Tulloch Stakes, he couldn’t go with Polish Knight in the concluding stages. Both runs were really good though and I think he’s on track for this race. Well, he’s going as well as he possibly can. Is that good enough to win though? To be honest, I’m not sure. I think he’s looking a gun miler to me – even though his record may suggest otherwise. He’s a full brother to Rekindled Interest, whose best distance seems to be a mile. But I’m not entirely sure how to assess him. He’s going well enough to suggest he’s a place chance, but I’ll probably look elsewhere. If you are keen on him, though, I’m not about to disagree!

8. POLISH KNIGHT (2)

A shock winner of the Tulloch Stakes last weekend. He was outstanding, coming from last at the 800m mark to circle the field and win running away. He was desperately unlucky the start before at Caulfield, when he saw a number of rumps and not much daylight. But still, there was nothing to suggest he had that in him. I was quite taken by the performance. His breeding suggests he should run 2400m on his ear, being by Encosta de Lago out of a Polish Precedent mare. However, he’s still in his first preparation, so the question is – has it all come too soon for him? Personally, I think he and Ethiopia are the two who we could be talking about as improved stayers this time next year. Still, I think he has the potential in him to run a big race here. I’ll be including him in all my multiples. Each way chance for sure.

9. HOYLONNY (8)

Trainer Chris Waller has said this horse was Group 1 material. But in recent efforts he hasn’t really showed it. First up in January, he was good. But he was poor at his next start. He stepped up to 1400m and ran an alright third behind Wild and Proud, who franked the form three weeks later when he won the Hobartville Stakes on protest over the track and distance. It was at that stage that Waller seemed to change tack and he stepped up to 1800m for the Autumn Classic – he finished fourth, with fellow Australian Derby contender Ethiopia third. He then had five weeks off before contesting the Rosehill Guineas last start – and he was actually rather good, flying home from the back of the field to grab sixth. His breeding gives you no confidence about 2400m, as he is by Lonhro (whose progeny seem to be best up to a mile) out of Roedean, who was first past the post in the 2003 Blue Diamond Stakes before losing the race because of a positive swab. But his last run suggests he could be a smokey. Personally, I don’t think he can win, and I’d have him as a rough place chance only. But keep an eye on him if, unexpectedly, there’s a ridiculous amount of pace.

10. SATIRICAL BOY (4)

I’ve never really warmed to this galloper – I remember him running around in the two year old races over a mile last year. And at the time, I thought he was overrated. Now, I’ve reassessed my opinion – he was never really rated to start with. He showed nothing until he got up to 1900m this preparation, when he won two races at Canterbury over the distance. These were moderate races – a Benchmark 75 followed by a Benchmark 70 – but in the latter he carried the steadier of 61.5kg. So really, it was a good effort. Last week, he was okay behind Polish Knight – don’t quite think there was anything great about the run but it wasn’t horrible. 2400m should suit, but I couldn’t have him. Not for me.

11. ETHIOPIA (10)

I can draw plenty of comparisons between this galloper and his late stablemate Cedarberg. They both have been owned by Wyadup Valley Farm, trained by Pat Carey and Ethiopia will carry the blue and green hooped silks of the owners that Cedarberg carried to success in last year’s BMW. They are both sons of Victoria Derby winner Helenus. Cedarberg also tackled the Australian Derby in the early stages of his career, finishing sixth to Shoot Out. However, he improved with age and was on the verge of being a Cups contender last spring when he died unexpectedly. Ethiopia is still a maiden, having run three times. He ran third in the Autumn Classic behind Upbeat two starts ago before running second to Highly Recommended in the Alister Clark Stakes – beating home both Sangster and Sabrage. This race may come too soon for him but I wouldn’t be surprised if we are looking at a good stayer of the future here. Place chance.

12. ON EVERY LEVEL (12)

Well, this galloper is definitely bred to get the distance, being by Spring Champion Stakes winner Outback Prince out of a Montjeu mare. That may be the only positive I can find for him. He ran second at 40-1 in a Benchmark 75 at Rosehill – he carried the limit – before finishing last of six at Canterbury over 1900m. He wasn’t bad in the Tulloch Stakes last week, but I couldn’t possibly entertain him here.

13. SILENT ACHIEVER (9)

The sole filly in the field yet she’s arguably achieved the most. She is anything but a silent achiever. She exploded onto the scene with her win in the Championship Stakes over 2100m at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day. She then won the Waikato Guineas and the Avondale Guineas before a dominant victory in the New Zealand Derby on a wet track. She came across to Australia and was huge in the Rosehill Guineas, coming from near last at the 800m to fail by a long neck. She definitely looks one right out of the box. The only query is that she’s had a long preparation. If she turns up anywhere near her peak, I fully anticipate she’ll become the second consecutive filly to win the Australian Derby. After that, who knows? She may even be good enough to buck the poor trend of Australian Derby winners in the spring. But I’m getting ahead of myself…let’s get today out of the way first. Top chance.

SUMMARY

I think SILENT ACHIEVER is by far and away the best staying three year old I’ve seen this season. For that reason, I must have her on top. I reckon it will be a vintage year for the Kiwi O’Reilly fillies, and the best of them is only just about to return to the stables!!! Don’t worry, I’m not serious about that. But nothing I’ve seen in the preceding weeks has convinced me to change my mind. I do have to have an each way bet on STRIKE THE STARS, because I do like the horse and I’ve thought he was a Derby horse since his two year old days. I’m hopeful. I think LASER HAWK is the obvious danger, while I think POLISH KNIGHT is the fresh horse on the scene and could be the wildcard. But I’ll be cheering the Kiwis home here!

NUMBERS

13 – SILENT ACHIEVER
3 – STRIKE THE STARS
2 – LASER HAWK
8 – POLISH KNIGHT

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