Stradbroke Handicap Day is just one sleep away and Flemington trainer John Sadler knows there will be no hiding from Queensland Derby favourite Shootoff when he saddles up Heidilicious in the three-year-olds classic.
Graeme Rogerson’s Duelled gelding Shootoff has been at the top of the odds for this Saturday’s $500,000 Group 1 Queensland Derby (2400m) since their impressive last-start fourth behind Scenic Shot in the Group 1 Doomben Cup (2020m) on May 21.
Derby favouritism firmed for Shootoff after the fellow Rogerson-trained three-year-old Scarlett Lady scored an emphatic victory in last Saturday’s Queensland Oaks, and now the punters and public are backing the Kiwi-based trainer to score back-to-back elite levels in Brisbane.
A rival trainer that is well aware of the danger Shootoff presents in this year’s Derby is Sadler.
“Shootoff is the horse to beat and always has been,” Sadler admitted.
Sadler will be represented in the Queensland Derby field by his well-bred Zabeel filly Heidilicious, who currently occupies the third line of betting for the Eagle Farm feature.
He knows, however, Heidilicious faces a tough task tomorrow even after the non-acceptance of glamour New Zealand runner Scarlett Lady.
“I think he (Shootoff) would beat the filly (Scarlett Lady) had she started and it’s no easier for us with Scarlett Lady not there,” Sadler said.
“I would rather see Shootoff not run.”
A winner of two of her six starts to date, the most recent being a half-length victory in a mile handicap against her own type at Sandown Lakeside in early May, Heidilicious was one of the big winners in the Queensland Derby barrier draw.
With the favourite out in barrier 12, Heidilicious and jockey Jim Byrne are expected to get a gun run from barrier three on Saturday.
In her final Derby lead-up, Heidilicious ran fifth beaten five lengths by Scarlett Lady in last weekend’s Queensland Oaks, a good result after she played up in the barriers and bungled the start.
It was these same notorious bad gate manners that failed Heidilicious two runs back in the Group 3 The Roses (2020m), the filly rearing at the start of the race before making up lots of ground to come within three and a half lengths finishing sixth again to Scarlett Lady.
Sadler will have two barrier attendants and make use of a barrier blanket with Heidilicious in Saturday’s Derby to counteract this, the filly’s talent too good to waste with another bad start.
“We were going to stop with her after the Oaks but she came through the race so well we trialled her with the barrier blanket,” Sadler said.
“She passed a few slow horses in the straight in the Oaks and we’re just hoping for the best with her on Saturday.”
Adding to Sadler’s hopes in the Derby on Saturday is the fact his other contender, second emergency The Chevron, is now just one spot away from sneaking into the field.
Connections of the Michael Moroney-trained Quarterbar announced this morning that the last-start Doomben winning colt would be scratched from the Queensland Derby due to a tendon injury.
Quarterbar was rated a $21 chance in the Derby markets and was drawn in barrier 14.
Sadler now needs just one more scratching from the race for Savabeel gelding The Chevron to gain a start, the galloper drawn ideally in barrier four with Steven Arnold on standby for the ride.
“I’d love to get The Chevron into the Derby,” Sadler said on Thursday.
“It’ll be a shame if he doesn’t get a run and he’d run a hell of a race if he was there.”
Last start The Chevron ran an unlucky seventh beaten three lengths by Turnitup in the Group 3 Grand Prix Stakes (2200m) at Doomben on May 28.
After getting away slowly from the barriers, The Chevron was badly blocked for a run in the Grand Prix and Sadler believes if given a chance in the Derby, the horse would show plenty of improvement making them a nice $8 pick in the odds.
“When he ran seventh in the Grand Prix he never got a crack at them and he would have hit the line strongly with a clear run,” Sadler said.
Sadler also said if both Heidilicious and The Chevron started in the Derby, the gelding would be his pick of the two.
“I’d say (The Chevron) for sure,” Sadler said.
“I was actually a bit disappointed with Heidilicious in the Oaks.
“I know she got home alright, but she got a lovely run after missing the start.
“I don’t think it harmed her chances all that much.
“She got a lovely cart into the race behind the winner.
“The winner put four lengths on us pretty quickly.
“All we did was pass a lot of tired horses.”
The Chevron has also been accepted for the $300,000 Group 2 Brisbane Cup (2400m) at Eagle Farm on Saturday as a back-up, but Sadler said he would be disheartened if this was the path they were forced to take.
“The Brisbane Cup is a race that has lost all interest since it came back to 2400 metres (from 3200m),” he said.
“I’m not being biased but one of the best races in Australia is the Melbourne Cup and one of the reasons is that it’s over two miles.
“There’s always intrigue in a 3200 metre race and the Brisbane Cup used to be like that.
“Years ago everyone used to talk about the Brisbane Cup but not anymore.”
Michael Moroney’s imported stayer Glass Harmonium is odds-on favourite in the Brisbane Cup odds and looks a soft target for the last-start Eagle Farm Cup conqueror.
The Chevron, drawn in barrier eight, is a $10 Brisbane Cup chance.
Regardless of Saturday’s results, Sadler is hesitant to lay out a confirmed Spring Carnival campaign for the emerging runner, but said he would likely be too immature for a Melbourne Cup berth this year.
“I’ll be guided by Saturday but I doubt if The Chevron would be mature enough this year to run in the Melbourne Cup and the Sandown Classic probably looks the best suitable race for Heidilicious,” he said.
The $350,000 Group 2 Sandown Classic (2400m) runs in mid-November and was won for an unprecedented fourth successive time by veteran galloper Zipping last year.