It is the $1 million Vodafone Derby that has everything except the one thing Ellerslie punters need.

They don't have doubt.

And that means punters like you will have to make a choice. It is easy to think this may be a straight choice between boy and girl. Dragon Leap and Two Illicit. Of course, it is not quite that simple.

This is New Zealand's premier race after all, a group one $1 million classic and there are some good horses and outstanding horsepeople standing between the two favourites and their page in the history book.


Horses such as Scorpz, Sherwood Forest and Reggiewood would all be worthy Derby winners and in a normal year you wouldn't be getting double figures about any of them.

But this no normal Derby.

It pits a filly who won the Waikato Guineas by seven lengths in a time comparable to out best weight-for-age horses the same day against a horse who has won the Auckland and Avondale Guineas in his last two starts, both times seemingly effortlessly.

It is Derby fairytale stuff.

Two Illicit, a Trelawney home-bred trained by the Derby master Roger James and ridden by the king of the classic Vinnie Colgan against Dragon Leap, a A$1,050,000 sales purchase trained by two of the most astute preparers in the industry and ridden by Jason Waddell, a man having a season to rival even the superstar Opie Bosson.

The bookies can barely split them and punters will struggle too. Because this is a Derby lacking doubt. Most derbies at Ellerslie have doubt. Few horses who contest them have raced over 2400m before and you never really know until they do.

Usually there is at least one thread you can pull to unravel a horse's chances: it won't stay, they can't train, he or she can't ride, it must be getting tired, it has never raced on the track ...

Often punters will make them up just to clarify their mental picture. It is called confirmation bias. That means seeking facts to back up what you already believe. Talking yourself into something.


Confirmation bias in racing is the black hole that swallows your money. But even those looking for that nugget of punting reassurance face a problem today. Because it is impossible to pick holes in Two Illicit or Dragon Leap.

The filly has been sensational her entire short career but dramatically so once she has stepped up to 2000m. Her Guineas victory was that of a Derby winner and even when she was beaten by a flying Jennifer Eccles over 1600m on Boxing Day she was only getting warmed up the last 50m.

She might actually be a great filly in the making.

So why isn't she favourite?

Because Dragon Leap has just as much X-factor, maybe a little more. Not that X-factor can be tangibly measured. He has jogged past really good horses in Riodini (two starts ago) and Scorpz and Sherwood Forest (last start), possessing the turn of foot that has us dreaming he could be anything.

It took one ride for champion jockeys James McDonald and Opie Bosson to fall in love with him. He is almost so brilliant that he doesn't quite look a Derby horse but the way he relaxed, sprinted and then eased down over 2100m in the Avondale Guineas it is extremely hard to believe he won't cop an extra 300m.

He would have that day, he probably will today. No doubt to be found there. So we move on, running out of ways to split two special three-year-olds for what is the Grand Finale of a remarkable domestic three-year-old season.

Draws? Surely Two Illicit has an advantage here. Barrier five versus Dragon Leap's 12.

Maybe. But this is a Derby where some of the bolters will want to get forward, some of those drawn wide. Five could be a good draw or a draw that gets you shuffled back. Impossible to know.

So we are almost out of options to split our potential hero and heroine.

Even if you believe this 16-piece puzzle can be reduced to a two-horse race, you still have to choose. Boy vs girl. Cambridge vs Matamata. Maybe this will help.

After speaking to the trainers of all the major players this might be the most important Derby quote, from former champion jockey Lance O'Sullivan, who doesn't say a lot of silly things and co-trains Dragon Leap.

"The scary thing is he is better than he was last start. The Avondale Guineas has definitely brought him on," says O'Sullivan.

"I have no doubts about that."