The ideal draw, impressive recent form and preparation from one of the best trainers in the business all indicate that Peter Snowden’s Domesday gelding Backgammon could be hard to beat in this weekend’s SA Derby at Morphettville.
Three-year-old Backgammon enjoyed their first black-type win last spring, hanging on to take out the Listed Myer Spring Fashion Stakes (1800m) at Flemington on Crown Oaks Day.
At their first two runs this prep Backgammon failed to find form, but when Snowden chose to send them over to Adelaide for a campaign specifically targeting the $350,000 Group 1 SA Derby (2500m) the galloper begin to show his ability.
In his debut run in South Australia Backgammon finished less than a length away third to fellow Derby rival Echoes Of Heaven in the Listed Port Adelaide Guineas (1800m) on April 16 from a wide barrier 13 draw.
Last start they improved again, coming within a half-neck of another Derby contender, the Mark Kavanagh-trained Kittens in the Group 3 Chairman’s Stakes (2020m) on April 30.
The 2011 SA Derby, one of two premier showdowns on the Morphettville card this Sunday, drew a capacity field of 17 starters plus one emergency and Backgammon came up trumps with gate three in the draw.
To be ridden by Mark Zahra, Backgammon is currently sitting on the second line of Derby betting behind last-start VRC ST Leger Winner Right Of Refusal ($3.80).
“Everything has fallen into place with him all prep,” Darley’s Melbourne foreman and son of trainer Peter, Paul Snowden said.
“Each run he has improved and while it is his first start 2500m metres all indications are that it is going to be right up his alley.”
Snowden is seeking back-to-back wins in the SA Derby having prepared last year’s winner, Viscount gelding Kidnapped.
Kidnapped came into the 2010 SA Derby on the back of a narrow third place finish in the Chairman’s Stakes, further improving Backgammon’s claims as he ran second in this lead-up race.
This year’s Chairman’s Stakes third placegetter behind Kittens and Backgammon was Echoes Of Heaven, another top elect in the SA Derby odds.
Over the past two decades, eight of past 20 SA Derby winners finished first or second in the Chairman’s.
Although Backgammon hasn’t displayed quite the same ability or turn of foot as their Group 1 winning stablemate Kidnapped, when comparing the two Snowden stated Backgammon’s ability is best seen when they get a clear run.
“Kidnapped was a better class of horse because he had a bit better turn of foot whereas Backgammon is a one paced stayer,” he said.
“You have got to put him (Backgammon) in the race at the half mile and let him keep picking up.
“He is not the sort of horse who can be held up and then expect him to sprint again.”
With the good draw for Sunday Backgammon should get the space he needs in the Derby and connections are confident he will be competitive.
“We’re very happy with the horse and last week’s run has really brought him on again,” Snowden said.
“We can’t put a lid on him now, he’s jumping out of (his) skin.
“It is just very pleasing to see him pull up that way leading into his grand final.”
Other three-year-olds in the market include the two Morphettville winners who defeated Backgammon earlier this season, the Mick Price-trained Echoes Of Heaven ($6.50) and Redoute’s Choice filly Kittens ($8.50).