By Ray Hickson
It’s only early days but trainer David Payne is excited about classy stayer Ace High’s prospects of chasing a piece of history during The Championships.
The three-year-old has been back in Payne’s Rosehill stable for a couple of weeks as he eyes becoming the first Victoria Derby winner in 24 years to also claim the Australian Derby.
Payne said Ace High has put on 25kg in his summer break.
“He looks a million dollars, he’s put on weight and has come back much stronger,’’ Payne said.
“He’s a big boy, he just had to fill out a bit. He’s put on more muscle, some of the weight will come off but you can see across his rear he’s filled out nicely.’’
Ace High became only the fourth Spring Champion Stakes winner to take out the Victoria Derby back in the spring but winning both of Australia’s premier three-year-old classics has proven an even tougher ask.
The champion Mahogany (1993-94) is one of only two, the other being Dulcify, to claim the double since the Australian Derby was moved from the spring to the autumn from 1979.
The last to place was Monaco Consul who ran third behind Shoot Out in 2010.
Payne said the reason it’s so hard to complete the double is the second wave of more mature three-year-olds add depth to the field that Ace High beat at Flemington.
So he will need to find a little bit extra to win the $2m Australian Derby (2400m) on April 7.
“I think there would be improvement in him, being a High Chaparral and looking a stronger horse,’’ he said.
“There could be something coming through the ranks still and that’s how the game goes. But he’s only been out to 2000m or more three times and he’s won them all.’’
Ace High is still about four weeks off having his first trial and by then Payne will have a better idea of the path he’ll take to the Derby.
The champion former South African trainer’s Group 1 wins prior to Ace High were with Criterion who won both the Rosehill Guineas and ATC Derby in 2014.
Criterion started his autumn in Melbourne but Payne said it’s unlikely he’ll take that path and the Group 2 Hobartville Stakes (1400m) on February 24 could be the start point.
He’s also expressed interest in trying to win a race like the Randwick Guineas to add a Group 1 mile to the colt’s CV so there’s plenty to consider.
“I don’t want to back him up early in his prep so we might have to go to a 1200m then to 1400m but we’ll work it out once we’re further along,’’ he said.
“I don’t want to start off in Melbourne, I’d rather kick him off here but there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge.’’
It could be a big carnival for Payne and owner John Cordina with promising filly All Too Soon also back in work and on an ATC Oaks path.
Plus two-year-old Toulouse, an eye-catching third on debut a month ago, has also returned from a freshen up to target the autumn.
Don't forget All Too Soon come the autumn, seen here winning at Randwick in November
Payne said there are plenty of options for All Too Soon, who was a dominant last start maiden winner over 1800m at Randwick on Melbourne Cup Day.
“We can go to some rating races and step her up slowly,’’ he said.
“She’s done tremendously as well but she was always going to be better later on.’’
A race like the Group 1 Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m) on March 31 could be her ideal target prior to the Oaks where Payne said there are some distance concerns.
“I think she is good enough, I just think the Oaks might be a bit too far,’’ he said.
“We’ll find out when we get going but I’ve always had a good opinion of her.’’