By Ray Hickson
Trainer David Payne has never shied away from a challenge with his classy filly Montefilia and he simply won’t hear of her being beaten in Saturday’s Group 1 $2m Bentley Australian Derby (2400m) at Royal Randwick.
Only nine fillies in the 160 years of the Derby have beaten the boys, the latest coming in 2011 via Shamrocker, but Payne is prepared to gamble on his filly being a superior stayer.
“We’ve beaten them before and it’s a $2m race, to be honest I think we are better than them,’’ Payne said.
“I’ve never had her better and if we can get some luck in running she is going to be hard to beat.”
Of course Montefilia beat the colts in the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) back in October a week after downing Hungry Heart in the Flight Stakes over a mile.
Payne has signalled his intention to take some of the luck out of the equation by instructing jockey Jason Collett to take advantage of drawing barrier four and settle Montefilia well and truly in the first half of the Derby field.
In the Rosehill Guineas, her second run since the spring, Montefilia was near the tail of the field coming to the turn and reeled off the race’s fastest last 600m (35.91) and last 200m (12.15, Punter's Intelligence) to run third behind Mo’unga and Sky Lab.
“Second-up you could only add a couple of lengths to her because no matter how much you work them they have to race,’’ Payne said.
“She was catching them at the end so she is a better filly today.
“She’ll be handy, three or four lengths off the leader is all we want. The other day she was too far back to make it up.”
Montefilia was a clear $3.70 favourite with TAB on Friday in the Derby and interestingly she’s only second favourite ($4.50) behind Harmony Rose for next week’s Australian Oaks.
Payne confirmed all going well she’ll back up in the Oaks and believes the market has it right – in the Derby at least.
“I’d be surprised if she wasn’t favourite on her form and her runs, I’m sure they all saw her last run and she’s going to be the improver out of the race,’’ he said.
“If she comes through it well she will go to the Oaks. They have to be tough, she has the right attitude, nothing worries her and she’s really laid back.
“She doesn’t take much out of herself. She’s had a good grounding and she’s ready to go.”
New Zealand Derby winner Rocket Spade is the new kid on the block in Saturday’s race and will be attempting to join Mongolian Khan (2015) and Bonecrusher (1985) as NZ-Australian Derby winners.
Jockey Kerrin McEvoy said he can’t fault Rocket Spade’s credentials from across the ditch but is wary the second and third placegetters from the NZ Derby, Milford and The Frontman, have so far failed in Sydney this autumn.
“You have to question the form lines given the other horses haven’t shown up but maybe they didn’t travel well or their campaigns ended,’’ he said.
Montefilia runs third in the Rosehill Guineas on March 27
“It’s in the back of your mind and he didn’t beat them by a great margin but he has solid winning form. I’m hoping this horse is still on an upward curve.”
Instead of tackling a Rosehill Guineas or Tulloch Stakes, Rocket Spade ($9 with TAB) was sent back to a mile on March 27 and carried 60.5kg to an easy win at Tauranga.
That tells McEvoy the colt, a winner of five of his nine starts, is well above average.
“He’s held his form from that win, they dropped him back in trip and he showed he was versatile enough to do that,’’ he said.
“He’s drawn a good gate, handles the cut in the ground and he stays the trip. We know that box is ticked.”