Prolific New Zealand horseman Murray Baker is back chasing his fourth success with six nominations for the Australian Derby 2017 this Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival.
The Championship nominations for the 10 feature races run at Royal Randwick Racecourse on the first two Saturdays of April closed on Monday including those for the $2 million Group 1 BMW Australian Derby (2400m).
Overall entries for The Championships attracted 6% more than those taken by Racing NSW and the Australian Turf Club (ATC) at this stage last season.
“After just three years The Championships has developed a prestigious brand as the grand finals of Australian racing and the growing interest supports that,” Mr Peter V’landys AM, Racing NSW’s Chief Executive said on Monday.
“The Championships has not only captured the imagination and attention of the participants, but also the public.”
The autumn’s premier staying race for three-year-olds, the Australian Derby nominations drew a bumper 133 young hopefuls and runs on Day 1, April 1, 2017.
Among the promising gallopers in the mix are six from the Cambridge stables of Baker and his co-trainer Andrew Forsman.
Baker has prepared three previous Australian Derby winners with Nom Du Jeu (2008), It’s A Dundeel (2013) and most recently subsequent Caulfield Cup champion Mongolian Khan (2015).
This season his contingent features the likes of undefeated Shocking gelding Camino Rocoso, Group 1 performed colt Highland last seen running eighth in the Group 1 Victoria Derby (2500m) during the Melbourne Cup Carnival and Jon Snow who ran third in the Group 1 Levin Classic (1600m) at home in mid-January.
Baker and Forsman have also nominated for the unraced duo of Mongolian Legend and Mongolian Wolf, as well as smart Savabeel filly Nicoletta.
In total 11 fillies feature in the ATC Derby nominations this year, with the majority more likely to be saved for the following Saturday’s Group 1 Australian Oaks (2400m) against their own kind.
Key fillies that could take on the boys include the Crown Oaks winner Lasqueti Spirit and runner-up Harlow Gold, as well as the Chris Waller-trained Golden Rose second placed Omei Sword.
Waller is yet to prepare an Australian Derby winner, but is in with a nine-strong team this autumn.
His notable entries include Criterion’s half-brother Comin’ Through and last year’s Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes fourth placegetter Veladero.
The Hawkes Racing stable won the race back in 2007 – co-trainer John Hawkes also winning with Headturner (2006) and Octagonal (1996) – and they’re back in 2017 with four entries.
Their headliners are Victoria Derby third placed So You Think colt Inference and Group 1 Caulfield Guineas winning Choisir colt Divine Prophet.
The first two past the post in the Group 1 Victoria Derby (2500m) at Flemington last Melbourne Cup Carnival are also nominated for the Australian Derby.
The James Cummings-trained winner Prized Icon will be after the double and Tony Pike’s second-placed New Zealand visitor Sacred Elixir who won Brisbane’s Group 1 JJ Atkins (1600m) in the winter will also be back down under.
Other top early Australian Derby entries include Bjorn Baker’s upset Geelong Classic winner Captain Duffy and Gai Waterhouse’s Hobart Guineas – Tasmanian Derby double winner Northwest Passage.
The 2017 Australian Derby first acceptances close on Tuesday March 7 followed by final declarations revealing the field of three-year-olds on March 28.