By Ray Hickson
In South Africa, David Payne was no stranger to Group 1 glory.
With a team of more than 120 horses in work at any time he was a dominant force and won every Group 1 South Africa could offer.
But since he decided to downsize and move to Australia in 2002 the majors haven’t been as regular and that’s part of the reason a win by Ace High in the Group 1 $500,000 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) at Randwick on Saturday would be special to him.
The other part is the three-year-old is owned by John Cordina who has raced horses with Payne since 2003 but is yet to have a Group 1 winner.
“I’d love to win a Group 1 for him. He’s so loyal and he’s stuck with me through thick and thin,’’ Payne said.
“James Bester really got me going when I came here with Dante’s Paradiso.
“Then he introduced me to John Camilleri who gave me Unearthly (first Australian Group 1 winner) and John introduced me to John Cordina who is his cousin.
“We’ve been close a few times, Gallant Tess was placed in five Group 1s and probably should have won a Coolmore and Centennial Park was just beaten by Danleigh in a Chipping Norton.’’
Ace High was purchased for $130,000 as a Derby prospect and with his last start win in the Gloaming Stakes earning him favouritism for the Spring Champion that investment is looking good.
The 2014 ATC Derby with Criterion is Payne’s last Group 1 winner. Criterion also won the Rosehill Guineas for Payne while his other Group 1s came with Unearthly (Flight, 2003) and Master Of Design (TJ Smith, 2012).
Ace High reacted to being ridden on the speed in the Gloaming and outstayed his rivals over the 1800m and Payne said the extra 200m is only going to help. Three of the last five Gloaming winners have gone on to win the Spring Champion.
“He’s bred to run it right out,’’ he said.
“If there’s no speed we’ll go forward for sure but if there is speed he can sit just off them. It doesn’t worry him, he’s adaptable.
“We’ve had no hiccups, touch wood, we go in with a good chance and what will be will be. As long as he gets his chance that’s all I’m worried about.’’
Not only does Payne train the Spring Champion favourite he also prepares the outsider of the field in $41 chance Colesberg.
The gelding was beaten eight lengths by Ace High in the Gloaming and Payne said he’ll find it hard to turn the tables but is in A1 condition.
“It was hard for him to make ground from last the way that race was run,’’ he said.
“He’s peaking at the right time. That’s all you can do, try to have them ready on the day and he seems fine.’’
Payne is expecting an improved performance from The Mighty Fed in the Group 2 $500,000 Roman Consul Stakes (1200m) having overcome a troublesome virus.
The Mighty Fed won successive races in April but has failed to fire in two runs back though was only beaten 3.7 lengths in the Heritage Stakes.
“I would have liked another few weeks with him but he’ll run a much better race,’’ Payne said.
“He got a virus and then he had a relapse and that’s what knocked him around. He wasn’t at his best in those couple of runs.’’