The 2014 Australian Derby has always been the major target for Criterion this preparation and trainer David Payne believes that the talented stayer is at his peak for the Group 1 event at Royal Randwick this weekend.
Criterion performed consistently throughout his entire racing career and broke through for a well-deserved win at Group 1 level with an outstanding performance in the Rosehill Guineas (2000m) at Rosehill Gardens on March 29; racing away from the rest of the field to score dominant three and a half lengths victory.
Payne was thrilled with the performance of Criterion in the Rosehill Guineas, but told RSN this morning that he believes the son of Sebring is in even better shape heading into the 2014 Australia Derby on Saturday.
“He is very good and I could not have him better,” Payne said.
“He is really honest and tough, he is a really tough bugger.
“Nothing worries him, from a baby nothing has worried him, and nothing fazes him.
“I have never had him better and fitness wise I think that he is better than the Rosehill Guineas.
“That is my feeling and I think he has peaked at the right time, but now we have to contend with the track.”
Criterion appeared to relish the slow Rosehill Gardens track in the Rosehill Guineas, but the Royal Randwick track is expected to be even wetter; with Australian Turf Club General Manager Of Racecourses Lindsay Murphy announcing this morning that the track is set to be rated a heavy 8.
The soft surface will turn the 2014 Australian Derby into a true staying test, but Payne does not believe that will be a problem for his star galloper who worked home strongly from the back of the field to finish fourth in the Group 1 Victoria Derby (2500m) during the 2013 Spring Racing Carnival.
“We know that he gets the trip, but he has never been on that sort of trip and the Randwick surface is different to the other tracks,” Payne said.
“We don’t really know on that sort of going, but whatever we have run him on he has always tried his best.
“I am sure he will handle it.
“He has run the Derby distance in Victoria and he was still finishing it off.”
Criterion is currently a clear favourite in 2014 Australian Derby betting markets at a quote of $3.70, from New Zealand Derby winner Puccini ($7) and Rosehill Guineas runner-up Thunder Fantasy ($7).