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There is no a tougher staying test in a horse’s classic year than the gruelling 2500-metre Victoria Derby trip at Flemington for the early three-year-olds.
Kevin Moses, who partnered Stylish Century to a runaway Derby win in 1989, walks you through what the jockeys will be thinking during the pressure-cooker $1.5 million race on Saturday.
Pre-race and the start: Much like the Caulfield Cup, the Victoria Derby start is smack bang in front of the racegoing revellers. It can often be a hot and steamy atmosphere with a crowd of 100,000-plus crammed into Flemington. Perhaps there is no other race on the calendar where there are as many questions over the runners’ staying ability. Using up extra energy pre-race is a no-no here. The start is tricky as the dash to the first turn is only short. Many a Derby favourite has perished before they’ve even left the first turn.
“You just don’t need bad luck during this race, perhaps more than any other,” Moses says. “I drew wide and that’s why I didn’t want to set [Stylish Century] alight and get him running into that first turn.”
Heaps of question marks here. Watch the speed descend from some of the outside gates with Royal Standing, Moonovermanhattan, Magicool and The Mighty Jrod all a chance of going forward. Kerrin McEvoy, drawn awkwardly in barrier 11 on Hampton Court, might get a drag in behind one or two, but he won’t want to be planted wide into the first turn.
The first turn: Long sweeping first turn as the field makes its way down the Maribyrnong River side on a 45-degree angle. Unlike Moonee Valley, if you get caught wide around the turn out of the straight you will be using plenty of petrol.
“You’ve just got to take your time to get around that first turn and gradually get going,” Moses says.
Those who are concerned about their horse not seeing out the trip will be looking for a soft run, perhaps smothered back midfield or worse on the fence rounding the first turn.
Heading to the top corner: There is a straight run of almost 600 metres along the river side. Those jockeys not happy with their position will be desperate to rectify that where they can. This part of the trip presents the best chance, with Moses stressing the tempo of the race is crucial to having your horse in a rhythm.
“If there’s a bit of speed on early it helps everyone because they can settle, but if they go quiet it makes it harder for other riders to get into their position and if they go fast they just spread them out that little bit on this part of the trip,” he says.
“The day I won the Derby everyone thought I would lead and I didn’t lead until the 1600. Everyone just went so slow. When I got to the 1000 I settled down and went a bit faster. They went so slow and Stylish Century used to lead by five and six lengths all the time so I took him to the lead.”
Expect the speed to slow dramatically here as the pacesetters look for a breather, possibly paving the way for a jockey trapped three wide to go forward.
The side: This is after runners hit the top bend and is a gradual turn stretching from the back straight into the home straight. It often means some runners become a little unbalanced around here, especially the ones who are low on reserves and Sydney-trained horses possibly unfamiliar with cornering on their Melbourne leg for so long. As much of the field will be yielding ground at this stage, it is imperative to be following a runner who will be taking you into the race.
“A lot of the time you’ll see the jockeys travelling well start to make their move just under the 1000,” Moses says. “The main thing is staying out of trouble at this point and if you’re lucky enough to be on the best horse it helps.”
This long bend will start sorting out who will be in the finish and who won’t, but you don’t want to be improving around the field too early as you can be exposed for a long time. Watch the backmarkers travelling well edge their way into the race rather than blast into it.
The home turn and straight: Regulation bend with famous long straight, near on 500 metres, to follow. Riders will be told to count to 10 – and then do it again – before pressing the button if they have plenty of horse underneath them. It is no surprise to see the field broken up at this point as the ones who don’t stay the journey weaken.
“It’s like anything in life … it’s all about timing,” Moses says of the time to really put the foot to the floor. “It’s like kicking a ball, hitting a ball – everything’s about timing.”
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