The introduction of shuttlers and the vast improvement in the breeding industry in New Zealand over the past 10 years are starting to pay big dividends for the Kiwis now. This was showcased on a heavy turf track at Royal Randwick in Sydney April 26, when two Kiwi-bred and -trained horses ran first and second in the Aus$1.8 million (U.S $1.7 million) group I David Jones AJC Australian Derby.
Not since 1986 had a Kiwi horse won the 12-furlong Derby. This year, the best bred horse in the race saluted. Nom Du Jeu (by Montjeu out of group I winner Prized Gem), conceived, born, raised, and trained in New Zealand, saved ground the whole way around, staying on the rails throughout and sprinting stylishly over the last two furlongs, when a saloon passage presented itself along the fence.
Jockey Jeff Lloyd, who is from South Africa and just moved his entire family to Australia in December last year following an escalation of violence in his hometown, could not believe what had just occurred.
"This is the best and biggest win of my career," Lloyd said. "I know I’ve ridden a lot of group I winners back home in South Africa, but this is my first one in Australia, and it’s a race so rich in history; it’s the best."
Lloyd has been a star since arriving in Australia and is already ranked among the best in New South Wales. He picked up the ride on this visiting Kiwi raider from trainer Murray Baker, who brought two runners over for the race. His other horse, Rios, ran a plugging eighth in the field of 16.
Second home was the talented Kiwi Red Ruler (Viking Ruler—Ransom Bay, by Red Ransom), who is part-owned by the Hong Kong Jockey Club chairman Ronald Arculli. He had been racing well in New Zealand, placing in that country's recent Derby, and he hit the front upon straightening in this race, too, but could not hold his compatriot out.
"If the track had been dry, he would have. He was beaten only because he didn't feel free in the wet going at all," claimed his rider, Craig Newitt.
First local home was a Victorian named Littorio (Bellotto—Our Centasea, by Centaine), who was sensationally backed into favoritism. He was worse than midfield throughout in a slowly run race, and his dour effort suggests he's a genuine Melbourne Cup (Aust-I) threat later this year. Corey Brown rode him.
Last week's group I Rosehill Guineas winner Dealer Principal was fourth, and his run was top notch. "He could not get in early, so I slid forward hoping to get an easy run in the lead, but they attacked him throughout. To finish fourth when he was out on his legs was a super effort. He'll be some sort of horse in six months," said his rider, Peter Robl.
Guillotine, the younger half-brother of last year's Melbourne Cup winner Efficient, battled on gamely for fifth.
But it was Baker's Boy who was the most impressive. "He's six months away from being an outstanding racehorse," claimed Baker of his lightly-raced winner, who now has earned $1.2 million in purse money.