There has been unprecedented media coverage over the past week in Australia about the seemingly incredible amount of bad luck champion jockey Damien Oliver has had in group I races since last November. He has ridden just one group I winner in that time, but has amazingly been placed 19 times – 10 of them as the runner-up, with one of them narrowly in the Melbourne Cup.
And he has been growingly frustrated by his record.
"It was getting to the point when people started to think I could land a winner at this level anymore," he said.
But the draught broke at Royal Randwick May 3 when he steered a 45-1 outsider home in the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 10 furlongs. Conducted on a heavy track, he had the visiting Victorian galloper last early in the field of 10, but saved enormous ground as they rounded the bend for home by staying on the rails.
Up over the Randwick rise he roared at his mount, who reached the early leader Desert War with a furlong to travel and strode clear. His mount Sarrera (Quest For Fame—Zamsong, by Zabeel) dug deep from that point on and held them all at bay over the final furlong. Chasing him home was last week’s group I AJC Derby winner, the emerging staying star 3-year-old Nom du Jeu (by Montjeu) with the raging hot very much in form odds on favorite Tuesday Joy (by Carnegie) a plodding third.
Old Desert War, the winner of $3.5 million in stakes, led them from barrier rise but could not pull off the fairy tale ending, winding up fourth. This was his last race start--he’s raced 45 times--and he won this event last year.
"He led and bowled along nicely and ran really bravely," claimed his jockey, Blake Shinn. "He just wasn’t good enough on the day." His trainer Gai Waterhouse, who has loved and trained him throughout his entire six year career said, "I just hope he gets given to somebody who loves eventing because he deserves a great home and a career in show jumping. He’d be a star at it."
Desert War won five group I races in his time.
But this was Sarrera’s first group I win and his day. His trainer, Michael Moroney, planned this assault two months ago, saying the known wet tracker was targeted at the race because the long term weather forecast stated that Sydney would be very wet in May. It was correct but the track, although heavy, wasn’t as wet as the trainer wanted. "No, it was soft but I wanted it to be very heavy and I thought it would go against us because it wasn’t. Still, Damien rode him perfectly and he won most impressively," said Moroney.
Saturday’s victory takes Sarrera’s record to seven wins and eight placings from 32 starts and his career earnings total $699,750.
Second home was New Zealand 3-year-old Nom du Jeu, who backed up after his grueling 12 furlong win at this very track last week. Coming back in distance and taking on weight for age class was a big ask, but this rising star raced his way into Melbourne Cup contention with a gutsy effort. "That was a great effort with him showing a lot of character on the quick back up and at his first crack at weight-for-age," jockey Jeff Lloyd said about Nom du Jeu.
The overall time for the race was 2:03.50, and they ran home the final three furlongs in :36.89.