Racing: Aussie Derby looks a done deal

By Mike Dillon

Only the worst of bad luck could topple It's A Dundeel in the A$1.5m race today.

James McDonald will ride It's A Dundeel in the Australian Derby at Randwick today. Photo / Daily Telegraph
James McDonald will ride It's A Dundeel in the Australian Derby at Randwick today. Photo / Daily Telegraph

If you've got a query over It's A Dundeel's $1.25 price in today's A$1.5 million ($1.8 million) Australian Derby have a look at the opposition.

This is no downgrade of It's A Dundeel, who is a 3-year-old of outstanding class with a sprint completely out of the ordinary. And you can only beat what shows up.

But as a contest this won't go into the books as a vintage year.

Shane Dye pointed out at Tuesday's Cambridge barrier trials that when he won the Australian Derby in 1997 on the Graeme Rogerson-trained Ebony Grove he beat Intergaze, Might And Power and the AJC Oaks winner Danendri.

"That was an era in Australia of outstanding 3-year-olds," said Dye.

To emphasise that point, Ebony Grove's 2400m time of 2.28.83 is second as an all-time record only to the mighty Octagonal, who clocked 2.28.41 the previous year.

Ebony Grove will not be remembered as a great, but Dye rates him one of the best he rode.

"He could do anything, the problem was he did it only every 10 starts.

"When I rode him in the Melbourne Cup he was last at the 800m and weaved his way through them to get up in behind Might And Power and Doriemus at the 200m. He could probably have got past them and won, but he couldn't quite see out the 3200m."

Phar Lap, Tulloch, Kingston Town, Octagonal, Bonecrusher and Dulcify have their name on the Australia Derby roll call.

They have not yet bred the horse that bad luck couldn't beat, but only the worst of that could topple It's A Dundeel today.

He won't have to be as good on the day as the six horses mentioned above provided he brings his Rosehill Guineas form to Randwick.

The Mick Kent-trained Philippi is the second favourite at $8 and you have to go out to $15 to the third elect Hippopus.

It certainly looks like a done deal. •Trainer Murray Baker always had an ace up his sleeve as he put a frustrating Melbourne spring behind him and steered his star colt It's A Dundeel toward today's Australian Derby.

And when he played the card, it worked to such stunning effect that it turned It's A Dundeel into one of the shortest-priced Derby favourites in the history of the Randwick race and left his trainer reflecting on what might have been.

Baker added blinkers to his colt's raceday kit for last month's Randwick Guineas, the horse's second run this time in. It's A Dundeel scored decisively in the Warwick Farm race and then won even more impressively in the Rosehill Guineas two weeks later, earning himself the prime position in Derby markets.

"In Melbourne he was getting too far back, even in the Derby down there he lost his chance by giving those other horses too much start," Baker said. "But I always had the option of the blinkers.

"We knew he'd show more speed with them on because we'd tried him in them in New Zealand and always had them there as a tool."

It's A Dundeel had arrived in Melbourne last spring unbeaten in his first five starts, including the Spring Champion Stakes, only to finish second in the Mitchelton Wines Vase at Moonee Valley as a $1.30 favourite.

He went out favourite again in the VRC Derby and again got way out of his ground, running home strongly to finish seventh behind Fiveandahalfstar.

But Baker resisted using the blinkers on It's A Dundeel at that stage of his career due to a concern that they could make the colt race too keenly.

For the same reason, Baker had considered removing them for the 2400m of the Derby, but has adopted a policy of not altering a winning formula. Victory in the Derby would give It's A Dundeel his fourth Group One trophy of the season, a feat that would place him among the elite.

If there is one concern it is the distance, but Baker is not a doubter.

"He ran on very well in the Derby in Melbourne, one of the best in the race," he said. "He's stronger, bigger and better now. There's really no reason to think he won't run it out."

Baker isn't looking too far ahead for It's A Dundeel, but he hasn't ruled out a run against older horses in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) on the final day of the Randwick carnival.

•Leading jockey James McDonald's Sydney autumn carnival will be cut short after the Australian Derby meeting at Randwick today.

McDonald lost an appeal against the severity of a suspension for his Golden Slipper ride and he will miss the Doncaster Mile and Sydney Cup meetings.

He will ride It's A Dundeel today but he will be sidelined if the top colt takes on older horses at weight-for-age in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick on April 27.

- additional reporting, AAP

- NZ Herald

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