For the fourth time in the past decade a capacity field is expected to be accepted for the Melbourne Cup Carnival’s three-year-olds’ classic, the 2011 Victoria Derby, with connections of this year’s clear-cut favourite Manawanui confident their galloper can face and defeat a full 15 rivals at Flemington on Saturday.
The marquee race of Saturday’s meeting, the $1.5 million Group 1 AAMI Victoria Derby (2500m), currently has 24 nominations and with the field limit for the feature being 16 starters plus four emergencies it is expected to reach capacity.
Twelve months ago top New Zealand visitor Lion Tamer, who had to put down on Cox Plate Day last Saturday after breaking their leg, raced in a 16-horse Victoria Derby field to win.
He was the third in the past 10 years to do so with the other full Derby fields being in 2006 when Efficient claimed victory, and 2005 with Benicio emerging as that year’s Victoria Derby winner.
Final acceptances revealing the official 2011 Victoria Derby field will be released on Wednesday, but already there is a pronounced favourite in the futures markets at Luxbet.
Ron Leemon’s consistent and classy Oratorio gelding Manawanui sits at the top of the Victoria Derby odds at a firming quote of $2.35, the Group 1 Golden Rose winner coming off their sixth career success from eight starts last Saturday having blown their rivals away in the Group 2 Mitchelton Wines Vase (2040m).
They may have faced just five other runners in the Vase, but Manawanui’s win was still impressive as they stepped up to 2000 metres for the first time and showed the ability to settle and come from off the speed to win over a staying distance.
In fact, Manawanui has had the luck of small fields all throughout their impressive career to date.
Prior to the Vase they ran a brave second to beaten Cox Plate favourite Helmet in the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas (1600m) in a field of eight, which was the most runners they had come up against since their opening two career starts.
Before the Guineas Manawanui enjoyed five straight turf triumphs, blessed with diminutive fields for all:
- 1st of 5 in the Group 2 Stan Fox Stakes (1500m) – Rosehill 24/09/2011
- 1st of 6 in the Group 1 Golden Rose (1400m) – Rosehill 10/09/2011
- 1st of 7 in the Group 3 Up & Coming Stakes (1300m) – Rosehill 20/08/2011
- 1st of 4 in the Barcardi Handicap (1200m) – Canterbury 07/05/2011
The biggest field Manawanui has faced up until now in nine.
On debut they ran third in a field of nine behind Do You Think at Canterbury over 1100m in March before their breakthrough victory when defeating eight rivals at the same track and distance a month later.
While the Victoria Derby assignment certainly presents Manawanui with a number of challenges including racing over 2500 metres for the first time and the possibility of 15 rivals to beat, everyone from the horse’s trainer to its race jockey are confident of victory.
Glyn Schofield continues his successful association with Manawanui on Saturday, the ace hoop having partnered with them for seven of their eight starts to date, and he more than anyone believes they can win the Derby.
“I don’t think it (a capacity field) will be a problem at all, he raced back in the field in a couple of his early races and boxed his way out,” Schofield said.
“We rode him negative in the Vase for the exact reason of getting him to settle and he relaxed beautifully underneath me.
“He went to sleep and then was still able to show his trademark finish inside the last third of the race.
“Going past the post I was struggling to pull him up which gave me confidence going to the Derby.
“He is not the type of horse that has to be ridden completely cold.
“If we draw a bad barrier he is good enough to use tactical speed to negate it and then still settle wherever comfortable.”
Bad barriers have definitely not deterred a number of the recent Victoria Derby winners with three jumping from double digits in the past decade – Lion Tamer (barrier 14 of 16 in 2010), Rebel Raider (barrier 15 of 15 in 2008) and Benicio (barrier 16 of 11 in 2005).
There are currently two other Victoria Derby hopes at single-figure odds in the Luxbet markets with the Peter Snowden-trained Geelong Classic winner Induna ($5) and Gai Waterhouse’s improving Encosta De Lago colt Niagara ($7).
Niagara was last seen running a close third behind fellow Derby-bound hopes Sabrage ($14 to win the Derby at Luxbet) and Sangster ($11) in the Group 3 Norman Robins Stakes over 2000 metres at Caulfield on October 15.
Jockey Nash Rawiller will be on their back for the Derby on Saturday and is confident Niagara will get to the distance and give the favourite a run for their money.
“He’s come a long way in a short time,” Rawiller, who rode 2009 Derby runner-up Extra Zero, said.
Stay tuned to Races.com.au for all the latest Victoria Derby field and betting updates, and in the meantime cash in on an exclusive $500 welcome bet offer this spring by signing up, depositing and quoting BONUSBET at Luxbet!