Emotional Derby win for Cambridge

Roger James (pictured) could not contain his emotion after he landed another New Zealand Derby win for Cambridge.

James prepared the exciting filly Silent Achiever to bowl the colts and geldings in the Group I $750,000 Telecom New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie today and for Cambridge it was close to a quinella.

Carrick, trained by Tony Pike and Mark Donoghue, was fighting out the finish with Silent Achiever after looming up with a likely challenge down the outside of the field, but the Group I 2000 Guineas winner Rock ‘N’ Pop spoilt the Cambridge quinella when beating Carrick by a head.

It was the second win in three years for Cambridge-trained horses, following on from Military Move’s victory in 2010 for Shaune Ritchie. And between times Historian, prepared by Carrick’s trainers, was a gallant second in the classic behind Jimmy Choux.

Silent Achiever was all the rage for the Derby, even before James and owner Kevin Hickman confirmed they would make a late Derby payment.

The O’Reilly filly had created a huge impression when winning in her second start then charging home for third behind Planet Rock in the Group II Eight Carat Classic and winning the Group II Radio Live Championship Stakes.

Vinny Colgan had been Silent Achiever’s regular rider, but a fall from Durham Town in the Telegraph Handicap at Trentham resulted in an injury which called for a change of rider.

James McDonald was quickly filling in for Colgan and it has been an unbeaten run for horse and jockey with wins in the Waikato and Avondale Guineas confirming Silent Achiever was definitely the horse to beat today.

But the threat of a weather bomb and rain which hit Ellerslie had James close to a nervous wreck as he waited for the start of the Derby. And when Silent Achiever raced away to a two and a half-length win, James shed tears of relief and joy as he headed down to greet his new stable star.

“I had been hellish nervous since the rain started,” said James. “She only had one quiet gallop last Tuesday, under instruction, and when the rain came I started to double-doubt myself. I’ve felt ill all the way through to the race.

“I was just so nervous. I thought she was the best horse in the race, but worried she would be robbed of the win by the track.”

Explaining the tears, James said “They’re a mixture of utter relief and joy.”

James had no hesitation in rating Silent Achiever against some of the best he has trained.

She’s right up there with the best horses I’ve had,” he said. “I’ve always said Zonda was the best, but she’s up there with him.”

Silent Achiever has become James’ fifth New Zealand Derby winner. The first was Tidal Light when he was training in partnership with Jim Gibbs, an inductee into the NZ Racing Horse Of Hall last night. James’ other Derby winners have been Zonda, Royson and Hades, all ridden by Colgan, who also won on the Australian-trained Redoute’s Dancer.

McDonald celebrated his first New Zealand Derby win today and he “over the moon” with the victory. “The Telegraph win (on Guiseppina) was special, but I’d have to say this is on top now,” said McDonald. “I can’t describe what I’m feeling. She’s an amazing filly.”

Silent Achiever settled back further than planned. “She slipped coming out of the gates quiet badly,” said McDonald. “I wanted to be handier, but I ended up three-wide.”

Silent Achiever made her run coming to the home turn, along with several others runners, and the pacemaker Shuka was swamped. Carrick then emerged down the outside, but the classy filly kicked again strongly in the centre and was simply too good for the opposition.

James will let Silent Achiever get over today’s big win before confirming the next step, but it’s likely she will head to Australia. “Before today it was a possibility and now it’s a probability,” he said, wiping away more tears.