By Ray Hickson
Prolific Australian Derby winning trainer Murray Baker says he can make a case for all four of his runners in Saturday’s three-year-old classic at Royal Randwick.
It’s not just an example of a trainer being diplomatic, Baker said under the right circumstances he can see any of the quartet handing him a fifth Group 1 $2m Harrolds Australian Derby (2400m) but you get an inkling that he does have a pecking order.
Baker and co-trainer Andrew Forsman saddle up Vin De Dance, who was second across the line in the Rosehill Guineas but demoted to fourth on protest, Tulloch Stakes placegetter Weather With You, Mission Hill and Mongolian Marshal.
“They are pretty handy, that’s why we are here. We think they are all a chance,’’ Baker said.
“We can’t really split them, we were talking about it this morning and they are a very even bunch. I think it is a Derby with a bit of depth but the field is very even.’’
Pressed a little further, Baker said he concedes the Derby has come up a bit too soon for Mongolian Marshal but he’s adamant both Weather With You and Mission Hill are major improvers on their first Sydney starts.
Mission Hill, a $12 chance with TAB, was beaten three lengths in the Rosehill Guineas (2000m) two weeks ago and Baker talks about him in glowing terms.
He said the gelding should have won the Avondale Guineas back in February and had to work a bit too hard in the New Zealand Derby, beaten three lengths.
“I think he has a good chance, it was a very good run the other day,’’ he said.
“His last three runs he’s had no luck at all and before that he had picket fence form.
“He’s a pretty fair horse and we certainly think he’s an improver. He’s done well over here and he’s really thrived.’’
Weather With You ($19) shrugged off a disappointing effort in midweek company at Warwick Farm to put up a brave effort in running third in the Group 2 Tulloch Stakes (2000m) last Saturday.
He drew 14 on that occasion and Punters Intel showed he worked hard early, running 11.25 from the 1800m-1600m and 12.14 from 1600m-1400m, but from barrier one in the Derby will be afforded a kinder run in transit.
Baker said the gelding is a lot more settled than he was in the spring when he ran sixth in the Victoria Derby.
“He’s a big improver and we think he will get the trip,’’ he said.
“He pulled a bit in the Victoria Derby and it took him forward. He was only 3.8 lengths from Ace High in the Derby, he hung in there until about the 100m then they ran him over.’’
Of course Vin De Dance ($9), the New Zealand Derby winner, was second across the line in the Rosehill Guineas and Baker said he’s the physically strongest of his Derby contingent.
Vin De Dance is second across the line and Mission Hill seventh in the Rosehill Guineas on March 24
Despite being demoted to fourth, Baker said the run was still a good pointer to his Derby hopes.
“He hadn’t raced for three weeks so he looks good to me, he’s tightened up and is fit,’’ he said.
“He’s got a good barrier and can run on the pace. He won’t lead but he should be handy and I think he should stick on all right.’’
As for Mongolian Marshal ($21), the outside barrier will force jockey Craig Williams to ride the High Chaparral gelding back in the field.
He ran fourth in the Tulloch Stakes last week at his first try at the 2000m.
“He badly needed the run, it was his first start for a month. He’ll get back and we will see if he stays,’’ Baker said.
“It has probably come up soon enough for him because we took a while to get him going in NZ.’’
Baker won his first Australian Derby back in 2008 with Nom De Jeu, followed by It’s A Dundeel (2013), Mongolian Khan (2015) and combined with Forsman last year with Jon Snow.
He said Jon Snow is currently in the spelling paddock and will be aimed at the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in the spring.