Military Move beats Corporal Jones (8) and Handsome Zulu. Kenton Wright www.raceimages.co.nz
The hype, the pomp and the palaver that surrounds the richest derby in the southern hemishphere, came to a climax at Ellerslie racecourse in Auckland on Saturday.
Derby prospects are discussed as they emerge, virtually from the outset of their three-year-old season, seven months earlier, but in the end it can only come down to one.
Right place, right ride, right preparation, everything has to unfold in unison, and for Military Move (3 B. G. Volksraad – All Night Party, by Just A Dancer), trained by Shaune Ritchie for Steven Kit Sing Lo and ridden by Michael Walker, the stars aligned for him to take out the $2.2m, Group I, Telecom NZ Derby over 2400 metres.
Purchased for $110,000 at 2008 New Zealand Bloodstock Ready to Run Sale by bloodstock agent Phill Cataldo for Hong Kong trainer Armond Lee, after initially selling as a yearling from the draft of his breeder Windsor Park Stud, Military Move ended up in the care of Ritchie after an ownership change and he is managed by Queensland bloodstock agent Paul Bellingham.
Ritchie said, “He showed talent from day one. He’s a lovely horse. A good kind bugger and possesses a great turn of foot.”
Never further back than fifth in seven starts after winning on debut, Military Move finished third in the Wellington Guineas on an unsuitable wet track, before being worn down late when second to Katie Lee (Pins) in the 2000 Guineas.
Notable when running fourth in the Waikato Guineas, then fifth in the Championship Stakes, both won by Zarzuela (Zabeel), as lead-up races to the derby, he was considered a much better chance by his trainer than the $26 quote with bookmakers, and duly shortened to pay $15.80 & $3.60 on the day.
Aided by a good draw, Walker sent Military Move forward from the outset and after a 400 metre run down the straight, he positioned him in the trail behind Time Keeper (Stravinsky) with a lap to run.
With the more fancied runners further back in the field, the winning off the race came when Walker shot his mount past the tiring pacemaker at the 300 metres to establish a three length advantage and was never in danger thereafter before scoring comfortably by one length.
From last of the fifteen, the performance by second placed Corporal Jones (Pentire) was herculean, as rider Zac Purton had to bring him very wide on the track, around the badly hanging favourite Monaco Consul (High Chaparral), who finished eleventh.
Handsome Zulu (Handsome Ransom) raced right up to his good looks when coming out of midfield to finish a nose away in third, while the highly touted filly Zarzuela overcame a slow start and a journey at the tail of the field before unwinding in the straight for fourth, one and a half lengths away.
Time Keeper finished fifth, ahead of Martial Art (Tiger Hill), who found the line solidly for sixth.
Run in a shower of rain, after some morning precipitation, the time for the 2400 metres was 2:27.91, last 600m 35.95.
Across the line, Maori jockey Walker emphasised his emotion with a pukana (poking out his tongue) and cut a few dance moves while still in the saddle, to the delight of the crowd.
Walker was almost killed when falling off a cliff while pig hunting in May 2008 and the derby victory went some way toward the fulfilment of his dream.
Walker said, “My dreams always been to win a derby and an oaks in New Zealand. I’ve got my derby.”
While shedding tears of joy, Walker continued by saying, “I had the best run. I knew I was going to win at the top of the straight. I galloped the horse Tuesday and I thought I could win, honestly win the race, but I was only the pilot. Mr Ritchie, the training he has done has been fantastic. Probably no one thought this horse could stay, maybe a mile or 2000m, but not stay. He deserves all the thanks.”
For Ritchie, the win continued a family tradition after his father, Frank Ritchie, trained the mighty galloper Bonecrusher (Pag-Asa) to win the derby in 1985, strapped by young Shaune.
Coincidentally, Bonecrusher was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame at an awards ceremony the night before.
Ritchie said that while Military Move was destined to be trained in Hong Kong, and aimed at the Hong Kong Derby, he was hopeful of taking the horse to compete in the Rosehill Guineas and AJC Derby over the next couple of months.
Winning jockey Michael Walker unsaddles Military Move