Trainer Lee Freedman has booked Perth ace William Pike for the ride aboard Aotearoa in next Sunday’s $1.15 million Group 1 Emirates Singapore Derby (1800m).
A regular pit-stop visitor at Kranji’s big meetings, mainly for Laurie Laxon and Freedman, and recently for Michael Clements, Pike will be at his seventh such assignment, should he be granted a short-term licence.
At his second such call-up, the 1,800-race winner actually flew in for last year’s Derby, finishing second aboard the Laxon-trained Lim’s Samurai to Infantry.
Perth gun jockey William Pike has been booked on bonny mare Aotearoa for the Emirates Singapore
Derby on July 15, picture Singapore Turf Club
Though he has yet to hit the target at his main missions, the nine-time Perth champion jockey has not returned empty-handed, with four wins picked up on the undercards.
Pike’s last cameo visit came on June 10 when he teamed up with the Clements-trained Countofmontecristo to fifth place to Elite Invincible in the Group 2 Stewards’ Cup (1400m), the first Leg of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge of which the Derby is the third and final Leg. Elite Invincible captured the second Leg, the Group 1 Charity Bowl (1600m) which Pike was not in.
Neither was Aotearoa, who has so far only contested the first Leg when ridden by Matthew Kellady, finishing eighth over a distance not made to suit.
The New Zealand-bred mare by Sakhee’s Secret then skipped the Charity Bowl in favour of a Class 2 race over 1800m last Sunday. She plugged away to a fighting second to Song To The Moon for Daniel Moor.
With the Victorian hoop electing for the Stephen Gray-trained Sky Rocket in the grand final, Freedman went for “Best from the West” Pike for Laxon’s four-time winner, two of which came under the care of the former nine-time Singapore champion trainer.
A multiple-Group 1 winner and an Australian Hall of Fame trainer, Freedman has since his move to Singapore in September won two feature races at Kranji, the Group 1 Singapore Guineas (1600m) with Mr Clint on May 26 and the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) with Circuit Land on April 27. Incidentally they were achieved with specially-hired riders for the job, Hong Kong-based Australian jockey Zac Purton (Mr Clint) and Macau-based Brazilian jockey Ruan Maia (Circuit Land).
“I’ve applied for William Pike. I’ve left it to my stable staff to look into that,” said Freedman who is the most successful Victoria Derby trainer since 1983 with three winners – Mahogany (1993), Portland Player (1996) and Benicio (2005) - and a four-time winner of the Australian Derby.
“She’s still a skinny girl, a scrawny rat, but she’s going all right. She’s working good.
“She ran on well at her last race on Sunday. I’ll just keep her fresh as there isn’t much of her.
“She will probably have one last gallop on Wednesday or something. This year’s Derby is not all that strong, and I’m not even sure if the favourite (Elite Invincible) is an 1800m horse.
“Anyway, Laurie has a high opinion of his mare and we’ll keep the faith in her, too.”
Not quite the case for Moor, though. Aotearoa is one (on Kranji Mile day on May 26) of his five winners this year, and despite his close links with the Freedmans, be it back home or at Kranji where he began a six-month licence in May, he left the mare’s corner in the end.
“It was a tough decision to make. I had to think long and hard about it,” said Moor.
“The mare ran well on Sunday, but she didn’t quite finish off the way I thought she would. Maybe it was the yielding track she didn’t handle, I’m not sure.
“In the Derby, you will have to go through the line better than that no matter what the going is like.
“In the end, I went with Sky Rocket. I will end up looking like either a genius or an idiot, but we’ll see.”
The son of Darci Brahma is a lot less seasoned than Aotearoa, having raced only seven times for three wins up to Class 3 level, but is clearly a horse going places if his smashing wins are anything to go by.
Still a novice in Group races, Sky Rocket was originally meant to race in the second Leg, the Group 1 Charity Bowl (1600m) on June 24, but Gray left him at the stables in the end, picking only Lim’s Magic, who ran seventh.