By Ray Hickson
Khoekhoe has four lengths and change to make up on his major dangers in Saturday’s Group 1 $2m Bentley Australian Derby (2400m) but trainer Matt Cumani is confident it’s within the colt’s reach.
The key will be jockey Craig Williams putting the three-year-old in a position where he can do a little less work than he did in the Rosehill Guineas two weeks ago.
Cumani said though the five weeks between runs may have left him a little on the vulnerable side going into that race when he arrives at Randwick that won’t be an excuse.
In the Guineas, Khoekhoe took the field up to the leader Grandslam and took over on the turn and while he raised the trainer’s hopes for a few strides he weakened late to be beaten 4.4 lengths by Mo’unga. Derby favourites Sky Lab and Montefilia filled the placings.
“I gave him a hell of a shout at the 250m, I think I got a bit too excited there,’’ Cumani said.
“I should have seen it coming the way he stopped because he’s a horse that likes to chase a bit. He hasn’t had much experience being out in front by himself.
“He was just doing a little bit too much in the run, I’d prefer him being midfield with a little bit of cover. In the end he was out in front doing a lot of the work with Grandslam but I loved the way he stayed on.”
Khoekhoe runs sixth in the Rosehill Guineas on March 27
Cumani deliberately bypassed the Victoria Derby in the spring, despite Khoekhoe’s eye-catching second in the Vase at Moonee Valley, to focus on the Randwick classic.
He said if he had his time over he probably would have trialled the colt before the Guineas, given the meeting was pushed back a week, but is adamant that won’t affect his chances on Saturday.
“I’ve always thought of him as a horse that wants a Derby distance and nothing I saw in the Guineas suggested otherwise,’’ he said.
“We skipped (the VRC Derby) on purpose because he wasn’t quite ready. It’s helped that we haven’t overtaxed him in any campaign and he’s a horse that will improve into his fourth and fifth years.”
Craig Williams is known as a master tactician and Cumani is relying on the champion hoop to ensure Khoekhoe, $10 with TAB, is the one doing the attacking at the 200m not trying to hold on.
He said in an ideal world he’d have liked barrier five to seven in the Derby but will happily take three and leave it to Williams who is chasing his first Australian Derby.
“I was worried if he breaks well again, which is a new thing for him, as I don’t want to see him up near the front,’’ he said.
“I’d like to see him with cover, sitting pretty in a position to adjust depending on the tempo of the race.
“To be in touch but not doing the work in front and I think we can hopefully get there from three.”
Randwick Guineas winner Lion’s Roar has barrier 13 to contend with on Saturday and his trainer John O’Shea is also thinking the Rosehill Guineas form will come to the fore this year after four years of dominance from the Tulloch Stakes winners.
Lion’s Roar, $9.50 with TAB on Wednesday, also drew awkwardly at Rosehill and after being held up in the early part of the straight weaved through to run fourth less than two lengths from Mo’unga.
“The form has been pretty consistent,’’ he said.
“Montefilia and Lion’s Roar quinellaed the Spring Stakes and were third and fourth in the Rosehill Guineas and neither had a great deal of luck.”
O’Shea said he has a small concern about the 2400m but if Lion’s Roar is going to run it out strongly it will be as a three-year-old.
“The key is I’m looking forward to getting back to Randwick,’’ he said.
“He relaxes, I think he will get 2400m at this level but I think ultimately he will prove to be a good 2000m horse.”