Nervous Derby wait with Excalibur

Peter Mitchell (right holding the rug) with his other happy owners after Excalibur won at Ellerslie yesterday.

Peter Mitchell (holding the rug) with his other happy owners after Excalibur won at Ellerslie yesterday.

Peter Mitchell has an anxious wait until he knows whether he has another chance to attempt to emulate the New Zealand Derby win of his champion Bonecrusher.

Excalibur, a three-year-old son of Tavistock, races in the same colours as the mighty Bonecrusher, with Mitchell being part of the group which races the promising stayer.

Bonecrusher won the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas before going on to beat Flight Bijou and his NZ 2000 Guineas conqueror Random Chance in the 1985 NZ Derby and Excalibur has also picked up a win on Avondale Guineas in the final lead-up to a possible start in the 2400-metre Ellerslie classic.

But there remains a doubt whether Excalibur has done enough to get a start in the Gr.1 $1 million Vodafone NZ Derby at Ellerslie on March 4.

Trainer Shaune Ritchie thought a win in the last race at Ellerslie yesterday would be enough for Excalibur to sneak into the Derby field as the horse scored in dominant fashion. However, the result of the Gr. 2 Retina Specialists Avondale Guineas earlier in the day has thrown a spanner in the works which could see him now sit outside the final field for the Derby.

Before yesterday’s event Excalibur sat in 21st position on the Derby order of entry with the $13,500 he won potentially leapfrogging him into the final 18 starters for the race. But with the first four home in the Guineas all now exempt from the Derby ballot he has been pushed back down the rankings and will need several above to drop out of contention.

“At this stage we thought he might just squeeze into the field provided a couple who have said they won’t run do drop out,” said Ritchie.

“It will get a little tougher if Gingernuts pays the late entry fee as that’s one more ahead of us. We will keep our fingers crossed as our bloke is coming right exactly when you would want and we think he is a live chance.”

Excalibur in full stride at Ellerslie yesterday as he pushes his case for a Derby start.

Excalibur in full stride at Ellerslie yesterday as he pushes his case for a Derby start.

Ritchie was delighted with yesterday’s performance which came off the back of a promising run for sixth in the Gr. 2 Waikato Guineas.

“He went nicely at Te Rapa in a good field so we thought he would be hard to beat dropping back in grade on Saturday,” he said.

“He has a lovely action but he does a few things wrong and wanted to knock off when he hit the front yesterday. When the other horse came up on his inside he got back on the job pretty smartly and went to the line very strongly.

“That’s what you want to see with the Derby in mind and we know he is rock hard fit and won’t have a problem with the distance.”

Excalibur is part of the famous Belle family and was bred by Warwick Spring. He is a son of Strabelle, a Stravinsky mare who one race, a 1200-metre sprint at Te Rapa, when prepared at Cambridge by Gregor Robson.

One of the horses who has complicated the Derby picture for Excalibur is his stablemate Redeem The Dream, who fought doggedly in the Avondale Guineas to secure his Derby start.

“I think he could be the real smokey in the Derby as he has been behind the eight ball so far in this campaign,” said Ritchie.

“He had some enforced time off before resuming on Karaka Million night over 1400 metres then stepped straight up to 2100 metres yesterday.

“He didn’t chuck it away when they challenged him in the Guineas and can only be better for the run. We will pour the work into him now and he will also go into the Derby as a chance in what looks a really even field.”

– NZ Racing Desk