Australian Race Report: No Match Race This Time

Amalfi, from the first Southern Hemisphere crop of Carnegie, landed the Victoria Derby (Aust-I), the Darley-owned shuttler successful with his first runners in a long-range classic. The Flemington Derby, at 2,500 meters, is the first of three in Australasia, followed by the New Zealand Derby (NZ-I) in Auckland in late December, and the Australian Derby (Aust-I) in Sydney in the fall.

The 148th Derby also secured a flagship victory for Darley in the first year it opened for business in Australia with four stallions, headed by Singspiel. It was bittersweet, coming less than 48 hours after the Maktoum family lost Oh So Sharp to laminitis in England.

Carnegie won the 1994 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I) at three and four, respectively, before heading to Shadai Farm in Japan. He joined the Trelawney roster in New Zealand's Waikato in 1997, Haunui Farm also involved.

To secure the $1.25 million (Australian funds, $636,125 U.S.) Derby, Amalfi (5-1) overpowered 60-1 longshot Zarek in the final strides to win by a nose. It gave leading rider Damien Oliver another major success eight days after he'd won a drama-charged W.S. Cox Plate (Aust-I) on Northerly. He'd won this Derby on Nassipour's son Redding nine years ago.

Pentastic, from the first crop of Pentire, rounded out the placings at 50-1 as another classic "match-race" bit the dust. Ante-post betting summed up opinion with Ustinov at 11-8 and Viscount at 9-4. Amalfi, and another Carnegie son, Sircarn Damon at 16-1, were the only others under 20-1 of the dozen starters.

Ustinov was bidding to give Bart Cummings a sixth Derby in Melbourne, and secure a landmark victory for his sire, Seeking the Gold, and dam Let's Elope. The latter, the 1992 Australian Horse of the Year, won the Mackinnon Stakes (Aust-I) between famous victories in the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups (both Aust-I). She was later grade-I-placed in the U.S.

Viscount, a colt by Quest for Fame, arrived at the Derby off a courageous third-place effort to Northerly and Sunline in the Cox Plate. The older horses beat up on him in the final stages at Moonee Valley and this time he was playing against his own age.

A fiery track militated against the favorites. The off-track catch-cry that all have to handle the conditions works in reverse, but the quite heavily-topped Ustinov would just "not let go" according to rider Patrick Payne. Cummings was critical that Payne hadn't ridden him closer to the pace, but the jockey said the colt just wouldn't stretch out. They finished fourth, beaten three lengths.

John Hawkes also expressed disappointment that Kerrin McEvoy had "chosen to be beyond midfield" at the final bend on Viscount, who was found to be lame after his seventh-place finish. They remain top chances for the Sydney Derby on March 30, but Nov. 3 wasn't their day.

For Amalfi's handler, Peter Moody, it was his first southern Derby attempt since the 32 year-old gained a training license in Brisbane three years ago. Amazingly, this is the first winner with a Queensland-based crew in almost 150 years.

The winner of four of six starts, Amalfi is raced by Ron and Judy Wanless. Judy naming the $110,000 (New Zealand funds) yearling for her favorite Italian resort city which gives its name to the coast south of Naples.

Ron's father, Merv, owned, trained, and drove harness horse Lucky Creed to an Australian record 22 straight wins in the 1970s and is still talked of in revered tones.

Zarek seemed likely to pull off about the biggest ever Derby surprise for his provincial Victorian clients of conditioner Geni Gillis with her first Derby Day runner. Ridden by Sunline's regular partner, Greg Childs, the son of sprinting sire Keltrice responded gamely when challenged. Zarek blinked first, however, and was pipped at the line.

It was a big Derby Day for Fairy Bridge and her No. 1 son Sadler's Wells. Perugino, a Danzig half-sibling of Carnegie's sire, gained another group I winner when Sudurka outsped his opponents in the Salinger Stakes over a straight 1,200 meters. The remaining feature for the 93,000 on hand, the Mackinnon Stakes (Aust-I), produced a stunning upset as La Bella Dama led wire-to-wire at 45-1. Led by Sunline, the daughters of Desert Sun are clearly his mainstay. Ridden by Scott Seamer, the 4-year-old filly held out another distaffer, Hill of Grace, by a neck, Emission a head away third. Universal Prince provided a bigger shock by finishing 11th, seven lengths back.