Age Of Fire has one thing going for him - well, two actually - enormous talent and a bombproof temperament.

And those two qualities are going to go close to carrying him to victory in the $1 million Vodafone Derby at Ellerslie.

If you think ability alone is the big deal it's not. Age Of Fire has that extra quality that turns it from a bottle of chardonnay to Krug champagne - he does just enough to win and look after himself.

Two starts back at Ellerslie he looked extremely vulnerable when last on the home bend, but ground away determinedly and got the decision on the line.


In the $225,000 Grant Plumbing Levin Classic on Saturday a wall of horses again faced him rounding the Trentham home turn.

Opie Bosson and Age Of Fire fit like blueberries and yoghurt.

With style, but not panic, Bosson angled the favourite across the heels of at least six horses and from the centre of the track set a course for the winning post. Horse and rider knew what had to be done and with no apparent urgency, despite the group one prize, they edged past Belle du Nord and Savvy Coup in the closing 100m.

It was simply "give us the money and let us go home".

Age Of Fire displays the same lack of histrionics after his races. "He's a dream," says co-trainer Steve Autridge, "he never turns a hair with his races. He got home to Matamata at 1am and ate most of his overnight feed." That's what Derby winners are made of.

Although betting nearly two months out from a race always has its dangers, the $7 the TAB was offering yesterday about Age Of Fire for the Derby looked, if not overs, very decent. He is the joint early favourite with the Nigel Tiley-trained Demonetization, who has had Derby contender tattooed on him since his maiden Tauranga win.

Belle du Nord, considering she was less than one length from Age Of Fire at Ellerslie, drifted late to a remarkable $18 and finished a gallant second, bravely outstaying southerner Savvy Coup. Vinnie Colgan was suspended for 10 racedays and fined $750 for excessive use of the whip before the 100m.

Colgan was not the only one fined. Jason Waddell was fined $600 and suspended for eight racedays for excessive whip use in winning the Anniversary on Wait A Sec.

And there lies a problem with the whip-use rule. As much as anything, the rule emanated from Australia, where animal rights groups receive disproportionate coverage and power. In Australia, before we adopted a variation, it was as much for public perception as anything.

Racing at the top end, as Saturday's was, is run under white-hot conditions and jockeys come under massive pressure.

Take Colgan on Belle du Nord who, for a few strides 100m out, appeared she could hold Age Of Fire out.

For a beautifully bred filly like she is, a group one victory as a 3-year-old is in a residual sense worth at least $1m, with today's top-end yearling prices possibly even three times that much. That's a lot of pressure and with heat and exhaustion taking over counting the right number of whip actions from the 100m is not easy.

In an even tighter three-way finish in the group three Anniversary, Jason Waddell and Wait A Sec were in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out fight to the last stride.

And if you can claim you knew Wait A Sec had won on the line you were only guessing. One less strike by Waddell and the result could have been different.

That's pressure and it's why we will never see a whip-rule charge after a Melbourne Cup.