From the moment Danehill colts Kempinsky and Elvstroem staged their Derby-prep war at Moonee Valley, they dominated discussions for the 149th Victoria Derby (Aust-I). Such prep performances invariably incur an awesome weight of expectation.
The sobering point after their in-unison bravery over the final 600 meters of the 2,040 meters Valley Vase (Aust-II) was that it came a mere seven days before the Nov. 1 Derby was enacted over 2,500 meters at Flemington. Surely their protracted duel would see at least one of them bottom-out before the big day.
Oct. 25 might have been that big day for the colt named for Paul Elvstroem, a four-time Olympic gold medallist in sailing for Denmark. The third born son of Australian Oaks (Aust-I) winner Circles of Gold (Marscay--Olympic Aim) was a Cox Plate (Aust-I) entry, but culled by the selection panel. It wasn't the first time he had faced rejection.
Frank Tagg offered the mid-November foal at the 2002 Australian Easter yearling sale. The breeder was pleased with his trade at $330,000 (Australian funds) to Bede Murray--the trainer behind 2001 Australian Derby winner Universal Prince. But the champagne flow ceased in a hurry when the colt failed post-sale X-rays, along with around 30 others including the $1.4 million sale high by Danehill. A shell-shocked Tagg sent his horse to Tony Vasil's barn and took on a few partners.
There were no such problems with Kempinsky's $800,000 (New Zealand funds) transaction at the New Zealand premier sale. Walter Alteri bought the brother to Viking Ruler, both from Australasian Oaks (Aust-I) winner Tristalove, and named him for the hotel chain.
On his way to the Valley, Kempinsky rushed into third behind In Top Swing in the Caulfield Guineas (Aust-I), after the 1,600 meters classic developed into a sprint home. Elvstroem was also unsuited, his fifth costing him a Cox berth. As things turned out, Kempinsky again finished ahead in the Vase, but only by a short head.
Damien Oliver was reunited with Elvstroem for the Derby, the 'Oliver factor' outweighing the fact the colt is still actually a 2-year-old. He ran a 5-2 elect with Kempinsky drifting to 4-1 and equal second favorite with Noble Red. Penitentiary, at 9-1, was the only other of the 14 Derby starters under double figures.
Face Value ruined his chances by fighting Patrick Payne. He allowed him to lead but over-racing saw him spent at the final bend, despite leading to within 450 meters of the wire. Noble Red finished two places ahead in fourth but could not accelerate in the stretch, the pair split by Penitentiary.
Woodman grandson Our Bahare (16-1) ran a bold race to head the outclassed division in third place, after his rider made a swift mid-race move to be with the leaders.
It came down to the Danehills, fighting for the right to provide the deceased Coolmore kingpin with his fourth win in Australia's oldest group I classic. Kempinsky settled well for Kerrin McEvoy and tracked the leader. Oliver's mission in the $1.25 million race was to settle Elvstroem and give him the last crack. It nearly came unstuck early as he threw his head around, but Oliver put him to sleep in ninth at the rail, the fizz nicely sealed.
Kempinsky looked the winner in mid-stretch, although McEvoy was left in front earlier than he would have liked. But the Mick Price-trained entry appeared free and clear, until the patient Oliver unfurled his mount. This time the skirmish was brief and Kempinsky couldn't respond, the margin 1 1/2 lengths. Our Bahare headed the rest a farther 3 1/2 lengths away. Although 5.3 seconds outside the race mark, the 2:38.99 was highly creditable on the slow track.
Frank Tagg and his co-owners cannot believe their luck, a failed X-ray has left them with a very valuable colt.
This Derby day also saw a rare 3-year-old win in the Mackinnon Stakes (Aust-I). Casual Pass (Snippets--Raami's Magic) led the older horses throughout in the $500,000 weight-for-age event at 2,000 meters to be the first of his age to win since 1948. Pentastic closed late to be a half head away at the wire. Fields of Omagh, the Cox Plate hero the previous Saturday, was another 2 1/4 lengths away in third.