John Harms on Derby Day

We all love Derby Day. And we all know that preparation is important. This year the best preparation you can make is to create some room in your wallet. Because there is value everywhere, especially in the main race, all day, and across the whole carnival. Well, that’s how it looks now.

The Derby is always an intriguing race because it’s about promise and possibility and hope: the promise that a young nag is going to be a champion; the promise that an inexperienced thoroughbred will have the strength and stamina to run out the 2500m; the possibility that despite being the progeny of a sprinter yours will stay; the hope that the race is run true to form.

It’s a stage for the blue-bloods. In the Australian imagination the Melbourne Cup is the race of the battler. More so in the past, but even now, there is a belief that you can get a solid campaigner in at the weights and they can have a crack at the superstars. The Derby is about finding the best horse, and to find out which brave owner has spent their money wisely. It’s about bloodlines and the future.

But, in the Australian context, it is also about the moment. So there has always been an element of democracy to this race as well. The best three year old is the best three year old whether he munches on paspalum on the banks of the Condamine or gets put to bed with port and slippers in some thoroughbred hotel owned by sheiks and queens and mining magnates.

Some trainers will just have a crack.Take bush trainer Austy Coffey for example. He has Batistuta which hadn’t seen a racetrack until a month ago when he debuted at Murtoa on Turnbull Stakes Day. He finished 6th of 8, beaten 9 lengths. A fortnight later he was entered in another maiden at Mildura, this time over 1800m, and won beating Khan The Tiges (of course). He continued to thrive. His performance to finish third in a Swan Hill distance race was enough to prompt Austy and his owners to bring him to the Vic Derby for his fourth start in a race. I like that. I like that they’re having a go. They’ll always have the story and I like barracking for a story. Although the yarn’s always been more useful when at the pub having a beer than it is when paying the electricity bill.

If it’s the electricity bill that motivates you, best we look at some of the chances. It’s a Dundeel threw this Derby wide open when he failed to chase them down (as you would have expected a $1.25 favourite to do) in the Vase last week. He did have to circle them, but it was a small field, and Super Cool had to go around a few as well. I like how Super Cool kicked. He looked to have plenty of fight in him.

The other race of interest in sorting out this Derby is the Norman Robinson which was a real scrap involving crowding and bumping and a protest. Hvasstan took it out and will be right in this. He stretches out nicely. But it’s hard to work out what to do with a horse like Honorius who should stay and was caught in that scrimmage. One running on in that race was Subiaso and it is interesting that S. Arnold is back on.

It’s a tough Derby, which means there is value floating about. The favourite has lost my trust and apart from the bush horse I’m going to have a little nibble at Super Cool.

Well before the Spring Carnival last year a mate of mine got onto me with a huge spruik for one he’d spotted: Lucas Cranach. He backed it at $200+. I had a bit of $140. He did so well that his little son, born in the summer, has been named Lucas. He wanted to call him Lucas Lucas I’m told.

This year the spruik has been for Gatewood. Shuffled back in the Caulfield Cup he then ran sprinters’ sectionals in the Geelong Cup and has to win this Lexus/Hotham Handicap to get in to the big one. That’s nice motivation and he’s a huge chance. A watch on Bart’s Dare To Dream.

Those of us who are backing up on Ocean Park (you beauty!) in the Mackinnon will probably try to find some exotics , especially coupling him up in doubles. And, once that wallet is full, it might be a nice way to finish with a bang on Spirit of Boom.

Good punting, and may Austy Coffey and his crew have a terrific time in the Big Smoke.