Kiwi horseman Murray Baker looks to have uncovered a genuine hope for the Victoria Derby 2016 in Highlad who won on debut at home in New Zealand this week.
Baker, who trains in partnership with Andrew Forsman out of Cambridge, won the 2010 edition of the $1.5 million Group 1 Victoria Derby (2500m) at Flemington in an upset with Lion Tamer (12/1).
He could be back in Melbourne this spring during the Cup Carnival for a shot at a second VRC Derby trophy, spruiking the potential of his nicely-bred High Chaparral colt Highlad.
The up-and-comer kicked off his career on Wednesday at home at Avondale for a quarter-length win over Kamikaze Rebel in the West Brook Winery Maiden (1200m).
While he only had a narrow margin to spare on the line, the strength of the victory over the sprint distance convinced co-trainer Forsman to continue on the path towards the Victoria Derby down under on October 29.
“He covered a fair bit of ground in the run so it was a very good effort,” he told the NZ media on Wednesday speaking of the Australian-bred galloper.
“Right from when he was an autumn two-year-old we’ve had the VRC Derby in mind so we’ll see how he goes in his next two or three starts and we’ll try and get him there if we can.”
The official Victoria Derby nominations close at 12:00pm (AEST) on September 20, 2016.
Baker also enjoyed two Group 1 wins in Australia last season with the since-retired Mongolian Khan winning the Caulfield Cup and Turn Me Loose taking out the Emirates Stakes.
Iffraaj stallion Turn Me Loose also raced in Melbourne and Sydney over the autumn, his best result a win in Caulfield’s Group 1 Futurity Stakes (1400m) over Stratum Star in late February.
He was last seen running a disappointing second last (14th) behind star mare Winx in the Group 1 Doncaster Mile (1600m) at Randwick on April 2 as a $26 chance.
Speaking to Racing Ahead on RSN this week, Baker said they were hopeful of bringing him to Melbourne again this spring despite being slightly behind in his preparation this time around.
“He might make the end of the carnival, hopefully we can get him there at some stage,” he said.
The other major player for the stable targeting elite level success this spring is Saracino who heads towards an October 8 run in the $1 million Group 1 Caulfield Guineas (1600m).
The Per Incanto colt has had three runs at home to date, breaking his maiden status last Saturday with a smart win in the Group 2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at weight-for-age at Te Rapa.
That was the three-year-old’s first since his third in the Group 1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce (1400m) on a Heavy (10) track from early April.
Baker has pencilled in a run at Flemington on September 10 in the $200,000 Group 2 Danehill Stakes (1200m) for Saracino who is currently rated a $17 chance in the all-in Caulfield Guineas odds at Ladbrokes.com.au.
Fellow Kiwi Sacred Elixir is the $9 favourite in futures Caulfield Guineas betting, the Tony Pike-trained galloper a Group 1 winner in Brisbane from the winter as a two-year-old in the J.J. Atkins at Eagle Farm.
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