A look at the Derby

Woodlands Derby, Alex Park, 8.48pm Friday $250,000, 2700m mobile
1: Culpeka (1)
2: American Brave (2)
3: Triple Eight (3)
4: Sheriff (4)
5: Aloka (5)
6: Chase Auckland (6)
7: On The Cards (7)
8: Pat’s Delight (8)
9: Sicario (1 second line)

By Michael Guerin

Nigel McGrath isn’t giving up.

And the 16 new horses he has in his stable are proof of that as much as the two he has in Friday night’s $250,000 Woodlands Derby at Alexandra Park.

McGrath has Sheriff and Aloka in the classic, once again up against the might of the All Stars stables, who have the two race favourites in Chase Auckland and Sicario.

The latter pair relegated Sheriff back to third in last Friday’s Derby prelude, a position McGrath is not unused to.

But he and fellow Derby trainer Cran Dalgety are two southern horseman who in recent years have been able to at least on occasion halt the All Stars domination of our classics and Jewels.

Dalgety has Pat’s Delight in this Friday trying to emulate Raukapuka Ruler’s shock Derby win of 12 months ago while last season McGrath trained Dizzy Miss Lizzy to win a Jewels and Sales Series Pace over the best of the Purdon-Rasmussen fillies.

He says training is such a rare, elite era is a challenge rather than discouraging.

“It has been said by a few people before but it is like finding a way to beat the All Blacks, its not easy but its not impossible,” says McGrath.


 “We did it a couple of times in major races last season and we have done it before in Sales Series races up here (Auckland).  

“I think you can only keep analysing what you do as a trainer and keep trying to get better.

 “But of course it also comes down to what stock you have and that is why the yearling sales are so important.  

“I took 16 yearlings home this year from the sales and I bought them to win Derbys and Sires’ Stakes races, not run second or third.

 “Those yearlings are my future and my owners’s future so we are in for the fight.”

McGrath is bringing that attitude to Friday night’s Derby, saying he will instruct driver Blair Orange to use Sheriff’s barrier draw to try and stay in front of the All Stars pair.

 “I think often if you hand up you are running for second or third at best.

 “And sometimes that is fine because each horse has to be rated to its strengths.  

“But I think Sheriff is good enough to try his luck and make them work.”

 McGrath’s second stringer Aloka cost punters plenty when galloping in front in a lower grade race last Friday but he is not expecting a repeat of that problem

 “He is a place chance at least, again drawing inside the favourites help.”

While Chase Auckland lost his unbeaten record to Sicario last Friday he will open favourite for the Derby as he was forced to sit parked and should improve with the run, his first in over two months.

This Derby has real depth, incredible because it is an unusual year for our elite pacing three-year-olds with sales, sickness and exports having halved the number of stars available.

Of the 13 top juveniles who made it to the Jewels last June only two return for Friday’s Derby while Australasian Breeders Crown winner King Of Swing has been sold to Perth so the fact Alexandra Park has been able to attract nine genuine top class three-year-olds is surprising.

The classic is the highlight of a huge meeting, with two rich juvenile finals, the City of Auckland Free-For-All, Greenlane Trotters Cup and Northern Mares Classic making it the strongest Alexandra Park meeting for the rest of the season.