Comeback jockey Jason Waddell marked his Avondale Guineas mount Camino Rocoso down in his black book the first time he rode the horse.
"I rode him in a piece of work [at Cambridge for trainer Murray Baker] about a month ago," Waddell said. "I didn't know who the horse was but I made sure I found out after I got off him.
"He was impressive and he impressed me even more when I rode him at the Te Aroha trials after that."
Waddell had been keen to ride Camino Rocoso at Ellerslie at the Karaka Million meeting late last month but lost out to leading Sydney jockey Hugh Bowman.
Camino Rocoso had recorded an easy maiden win at Ellerslie in early December and was a stylish winner of a special conditions maiden 1600m at the Karaka Million meeting.
That brought the horse into contention for the New Zealand Derby and Waddell grabbed the chance when the mount for the Avondale Guineas and the $1 million Vodafone Derby became available last week.
It was not a case of Waddell lacking other options and he still plumped for Camino Rocoso, who has yet to race past 1600m or in black type company, despite winning the group two Waikato Guineas (2000m) on another obvious Derby hope in Wyndspelle.
"It was a tough decision because I'm close to the connections of Wyndspelle and Camino Rocoso would have been the only horse I would have got off Wyndspelle to ride," Waddell said.
"But I've been pushing for the ride on Camino Rocoso since I first sat on him.
"I was probably always leaning towards Camino Rocoso but I also spoke to a few other people, whose opinion I value, and they agreed with me.
"The Derby is worth a million dollars and Camino Rocoso is still on the way up. I'm pretty excited about riding him on Saturday [in the Avondale Guineas at Ellerslie.]
"He's still a bit fresh and will improve with the race but he's some horse. He looks great and is a big, strong horse, with a great attitude.
"He's only had three runs this campaign and they have been well spaced."
Waddell only returned to race riding in the New Year, following a 12 month disqualification, but has already recorded 12 wins, with the Waikato Guineas triumph the high point.
He has also had 20 minor placings and has finished in the first three in almost half of his 69 mounts.
"Things are going great and I couldn't be happier. I'm riding at 56kg comfortably and I'm not having to worry about light rides and being dehydrated on race day."
Waddell hopes to make a mark in two classics next month, as he will also partner Devise in the New Zealand Oaks at Trentham.
Camino Rocoso will be having his first middle distance run on Saturday but is bred to go over ground.
A son of the Melbourne Cup winner Shocking, Camino Rocoso is a half-brother to the group one BMW (2400m) winner Littorio, who was also placed in the Victoria Derby and Australian Derby. New Zealand Derby placegetter Seascay is another close relation.
"We think he will stay and we are happy with him," Baker said. "We think he's a pretty fair horse and both his wins have come at Ellerslie. But we will know more after Saturday."
Baker and his training partner Andrew Forsman have three genuine Avondale Guineas hopes, with Highlad and Mongolian Wolf joining Camino Rocoso.
Highlad, who will probably race without blinkers, needed his Waikato Guineas run and any rain would help the High Chaparral gelding, who raced well, but without luck, at the Melbourne spring carnival.
Mongolian Wolf is another making his middle distance debut but has won three from six and has won both his starts since being gelded. "No one is talking about him but I think he's a big chance of getting some of it," Baker said. "He has a staying pedigree and once we gelded him, he has gone forward all the time."
- NZ Racing Desk