The blinkers will go back on Sacred Elixir on Saturday, as trainer Tony Pike searches for the improvement the horse needs to win the $1 million New Zealand Derby.
Sacred Elixir has not run in blinkers since racing keenly when unplaced in the Caulfield Guineas in the spring but worked in blinkers at Ellerslie yesterday morning.
"He travelled well with the blinkers and worked OK," said Pike, who is seeking successive Derby victories, after producing Rangipo to win last year, with stablemate Raghu third.
Sacred Elixir had long been at the top of the Vodafone Derby market but was usurped by Savile Row after Sacred Elixir finished seventh, as a $2.40 favourite, in the Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie at his last start.
The Guineas result has dented Pike's confidence leading into the Derby but he still believes his Victoria Derby runner-up can win.
"He has definitely improved since the Avondale Guineas and he's going well enough to be a decent chance [in the Derby]," Pike said. "But he's not flying like he was in Melbourne.
"He looks fantastic and we can't fault him condition wise. But is he going as well as he was in Melbourne [in the spring] - probably not.
"On his best form, he probably would have won his last start and he needs to find a couple of lengths [improvement]. But a good barrier would be a help."
Pike also considers that Sacred Elixir had some excuse for his Avondale Guineas performance. "The track conditions probably didn't help him and nothing really made ground out wide."
Sacred Elixir has also had the A$2 million Australian Derby in Sydney on his programme since his spring exploits but the Sydney trip will hinge on his performance this weekend.
"Saturday will tell us a lot," Pike said. "He might be feeling the effects of his preparations in Brisbane and Melbourne, in which case he might need a good break."
Sacred Elixir's class is not in question though history suggests that winning form is the best form for the Derby. Of the 11 NZ Derby winners since the race was transferred to March, seven won their previous start and three others were placed, with the Avondale Guineas winner going on to win the Derby in four of the past five years.
The exception to the rule was the 2010 winner Military Move who ran fourth in the Waikato Guineas and fifth in the Championship Stakes (then run on the date now occupied by the Avondale Guineas).
Savile Row was a $4.50 favourite for the Derby yesterday with Sacred Elixir at $5. Camino Rocoso shortened from $8 to join Avondale Guineas winner Gingernuts on the third line at $7. Avondale Guineas placegetters Mongolian Wolf and Charles Road were at $10 with Waikato Guineas winner Wyndspelle at $12.
Australian visitor Rising Red, who will be ridden by Mick Dee, was at $14, after being at $61 before winning in Melbourne last week.
Johnathan Parkes, who rode Gingernuts in the Avondale Guineas, has gained the Derby mount on Highlad, who will be among five Derby runners for the Baker-Forsman stable. Matt Cameron will ride Jon Snow with Jason Waddell on Camino Rocoso and Mark Du Plessis on Mongolian Wolf.
Pike nominated a dozen horses for Derby day at Ellerslie, with Rangipo, Snowdrop and Auckland Cup favourite Chenille among his other runners.
Rangipo, who has not raced in New Zealand since his Derby triumph 12 months ago, and Snowdrop will be rivals in the $100,000 Darley Plate (1200m), with Chenille completing her Cup buildup in the $50,000 Nathans Memorial (2200m).
- NZ Racing Desk