Derby looks a “Dundeel”

Murray Baker is hot favourite to win his second Group I Australian Derby after (It’s A) Dundeel simply annihilated his opposition in the $A500,000 M.J. Bale Rosehill Guineas in Sydney today.

The Cambridge trainer won the 2008 Australian Derby at Rosehill with Nom Du Jeu and the bookies have been hit hard with support for Dundeel as a result of his six and three-quarter-length win in the Group I 2000-metre feature.

It was Dundeel’s third Group One win, following on from his Spring Champion Stakes victory last year and his second-up victory in the Randwick Guineas (1600m) at Warwick Farm on March 16.

Dundeel became a hot topic for the Derby after the Randwick Guineas, but it is nothing like the boiling point he has reached from his Rosehill Guineas triumph.

He was sent out at the restrictive odds of $1.30 in the Rosehill Guineas and now Sydney’s autumn Triple Crown is at his mercy. He is an odds-on favourite to become the first horse since the champion Octagonal in 1996 to complete the Triple Crown with victory in the $A1.5 million ATC Australian Derby at Randwick in a fortnight.

James McDonald was quick to label Dundeel “definitely the best horse I’ve sat on” after guiding him to such an authoritative win. Sure the Victoria Derby winner and Australian Cup and Ranvet Stakes runner-up Fiveandahalfstar was withdrawn from the Rosehill Guineas, but the opposition was far from weak.

The line-up included Sacred Falls, who had won the Group I Sothy’s NZ 2000 Guineas at Riccarton last November for Cambridge trainers Tony Pike and Mark Donoghue. Now with Chris Waller, Sacred Falls tried valiantly and finished second to Dundeel today.

McDonald had to fight to maintain his place off the inside rail on Dundeel in the early stages. It was a pre-race decision not to get stuck down on the fence and have excuses for being beaten.

Dundeel settled near the rear and McDonald set him alight coming to the home turn and it was obvious on straightening he was on the winner.

“I was in an awkward spot approaching the corner and I felt some of the jockeys were riding to beat me and not going earlier,” said McDonald. “But once I asked him to go it was all over.

“He’s exceptional. That’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a horse. Man, he’s improved and I think as a four-year-old he’s going to get better. That might sound silly the way he’s progressed this preparation. He’s an unbelievable colt.”

Baker, who trains in partnership with Andrew Forsman, admits he was a bit concerned during the running today. “When he was back second last I was worried, but we know he’s got that big sprint and he can sustain it. It was a brilliant win.”

Dundeel’s record stands at seven wins from 10 starts. “He’s just kept improving from the spring,” said Baker. “I’ve trained a lot of the family and they always take a bit to get going.”

The media asked Baker to compare Dundeel with the other great gallopers he has trained over the years and he replied, “He’s right up there with The Phantom and Nom Du Jeu.”

The Phantom, an unsound galloper, was a multiple Group One winner and was placed in a Caulfield and Melbourne Cup, while Nom De Jeu was runner-up in the Caulfield Cup as a four-year-old after his Australian Derby win in the autumn.

The day rounded off perfectly for the Baker family as son Bjorn, who trains at Warwick Farm, prepared Havana Rey to win the Group II Ajax Stakes. Havana Rey has now won three of his last four starts.