By Ray Hickson
Trainer David Payne is adamant his classy colt Ace High can become the first horse in 24 years to claim the Victoria Derby-Australian Derby double at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
But it’s going to take another tactically brilliant staying ride from Tye Angland if he’s to emulate Mahogany’s deeds of the spring of 1993 and autumn of 1994.
Since the Derby was moved from the spring to the autumn in 1979, 21 Victoria Derby winners have attempted the double with only Dulcify (1979) and Mahogany (1994) successful.
The last Victoria Derby winner to place in the Australian Derby was Monaco Consul who ran third in 2010.
“It’s tough to win one Derby never mind two,’’ Payne said.
“But he’s on track and he’s well and that’s the main thing. It has been a perfect lead up, touch wood, and he’s a real 2400m horse.’’
After front-running wins in the Gloaming Stakes and Spring Champion Stakes last year, Ace High was pigeonholed as a horse that needs to lead to win races.
But Payne begs to differ and with barrier two in the Group 1 $2m Harrolds Australian Derby (2400m) he will be able to be ridden to the trainer’s script.
“He won’t be leading that’s for sure. Definitely not. That’s crazy,’’ he said.
“Let four or five lead him, if possible, with cover. That’s how I want him ridden.
“We only led with him in those other races because there was no speed. We’d prefer a sit. I want him ridden well and if he gets beaten fair and square so be it.’’
Ace High’s superior staying ability had him leaps and bounds above the rest back in November.
But with maturity the makeup of the Australian Derby is very different – only six three-year-olds from the 16 horses that contested the Victoria Derby are back for the grand final.
“They catch up. You’ve always got horses improving, horses coming through that weren’t at that level early,’’ Payne said.
“The New Zealand horses always improve when they get here too.’’
Ace High opened $8 favourite in TAB’s all-in market earlier this year. He’s was $4.80 favourite on Thursday to complete the rare double and has been easily the best supported horse.
Ace High's final Derby lead up run, sixth in the Rosehill Guineas on March 24
Payne, who won the Australian Derby with Criterion in 2014, has been pleased with Ace High’s four runs into the Derby though he was unsuited in soft ground after a wide run when beaten three lengths in sixth place in the Rosehill Guineas (2000m) two weeks ago.
He rounded off his preparation with a strong gallop on Tuesday morning and will get conditions to suit with Randwick rated good on Derby Day for the first time since 2006.
“A good track will be a big plus. I don’t think he likes it soft,’’ he said.
“The Randwick Guineas and Rosehill Guineas were tough runs. I think going into a Derby it is a plus, you’ve got to be fit.
“He’s bloody tough. Tough as nails. He’s won his two Group 1s but if he wins an Australian Derby we’d say he’s a fair horse.’’