By Ray Hickson
There’s nothing but outward confidence from trainer Richard Litt that his star colt Castelvecchio can put the seal on his reputation by winning Saturday’s Group 1 $1m Australian Derby (2400m) at Royal Randwick.
In every interview about the three-year-old all campaign Litt has been glowing and after silencing some doubters with his Rosehill Guineas victory he’s sees no reason to change his tune.
But everybody has doubts, that’s part of being human, and when he has them about his horses Litt revealed he turns to his old boss, champion trainer John O’Shea, for advice he says has been invaluable in dealing with Castelvecchio’s rise.
Litt worked for O’Shea for three years, before O’Shea took on the head trainer role at Godolphin.
“John’s always had good horses and when I worked for him he was very good at handling things,’’ Litt said.
“When you call him it’s like he’s taking the pressure off and I’m always grateful for him helping me out.
“Every time I start to question myself or the horse I give John a call and he reassures me.
“He’s a tough man and he tells you how it is and that’s important to me. I really respect his opinion, and also my father’s (Jim) opinion though Dad’s more the relaxed ‘she’ll be right type’.’’
Castelvecchio was a dominant $2.80 favourite with TAB on Thursday for the Australian Derby on the back of proving he was back in business by claiming his second Group 1 at Rosehill two weeks ago.
Litt made one of those calls to O’Shea after Castelvecchio ran eighth in the Randwick Guineas second-up as the public questions about whether the colt had come back began to mount.
“You look at that run in so many different ways, he didn’t get the right run and things didn’t happen for him,’’ he said.
“I rang (John) and said what do you think and he said ‘you’ll win next Saturday’. That was before the Rosehill Guineas, I needed that chat and you move on.
“The connections have been fantastic, there’s been no pressure from them and they have been wonderful people to deal with and train for and they can’t do enough for you.’’
A year ago this weekend Castelvecchio ran third in the Inglis Sires’ and two weeks later claimed his first Group 1 in the Champagne Stakes.
In the spring he finished second in the Cox Plate and has been snapped up by Arrowfield Stud for when his racing career is over and Litt has also been asked to train a $1.9m Deep Impact colt – these are the kind of things the trainer had consigned to dreams.
“It’s been a massive 12 months, it’s amazing really, we’re very grateful and we don’t take it for granted,’’ he said.
“This horse is going to be very hard to top. He’s just a lovely little horse, he’s not anything you’d expect to be very good when you walk past him in the stable.
“When you get him out and have a good look at him, once he gets that saddle on his back, he’s just a different class.’’
James McDonald, who rode Castelvecchio’s sire Dundeel to a Derby win in 2013, rides the colt on Saturday and should he back up in the Group 1 $2m Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) next week Brenton Avdulla will take the ride.
Castevlecchio wins the Rosehill Guineas on March 21
In the lead up to Day 1 of The Star Championships there has been two questions Litt said has been asked more than any other in the many interviews he’s fielded – how is Castelvecchio going and who are you scared of?
“I’m scared of coronavirus and the horse is going fine,’’ is his somewhat tongue in cheek answer.
“He’s nice and fit, he’s taken good improvement, we think he will stay the distance, we would like to think the track won’t get too heavy but if it is we know he can handle it to a certain degree.
“He hasn’t been disappointing, even though people have questioned him all along.
“His sectionals always tell the truth on how well he is going and once he’s got to a suitable distance he has shown how well he is going.
“The main thing is he has taken improvement out of the Rosehill Guineas and there could be improvement to come out of the Derby.
“Whatever he has done he’s always done well. He’s always turned up for us, he’s won a race when it’s mattered, he hasn’t done too much wrong.’’