McKay hoping for dry track for Puccini in Australian Derby

By: Mark Mazzaglia
April 8th, 2014

Matamata trainer Peter McKay is hoping for a dry surface at Randwick on Saturday to help his three year old Puccini produce a better performance in the Group 1 $2m BMW Australian Derby (2400m).

Craig Williams will be the new rider for Puccini in Australian Derby.

Craig Williams will be the new rider for Puccini in Australian Derby. Photo by Race Horse Photos Australia.

McKay brought Puccini to Sydney after winning the Group 1 NZ$750,000 TV3 NZ Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie on March 1 and the Encosta De Lago colt was sent out the $4.20 equal favourite with Dissident in the Group 1 $500,000 Rosehill Guineas (2000m) at Rosehill on March 29.

But Puccini over raced in the early stages with Michael Walker allowing the colt to race in the lead with Shamus Award before fading in the straight to finish twelfth, twelve lengths behind Criterion on the slow track.

Even though Walker reported that his saddle slipped and he had no choice but to let the colt roll forward, McKay immediately went for a change of rider and snapped up Craig Williams for the Australian Derby.

Williams was on hand on Saturday to ride Puccini work on the course proper at Randwick and reported to McKay that he handled the wet conditions well but the Kiwi trainer is still not convinced that he is comfortable on wet ground.

“I’m still not sure and hopefully we get some better weather this week,” McKay told AAP.

“I am going to ride him in the morning but we can’t use the course proper. We have to use the Kensington track which is a dead five so that won’t really tell me if he does handle the heavy.

“Craig said he did on Saturday so that’s all I can go on.”

McKay was surprised how well Puccini recovered from his tough run in the Rosehill Guineas and is happy with his progress since.

“He has done really well and tightened up a bit,” McKay said.

“I thought the Guineas might have taken something out of him but physically he is great.”

Bookmakers are expecting Puccini to put in a better performance as well and have kept him safe at $6 for the Australian Derby behind Rosehill Guineas winner Criterion, the $3.50 favourite.

Rosehill Guineas second, third and fourth placegetters Thunder Fanstay ($7), Teronado ($8.50) and Savvy Nature ($11) are all in contention while last Saturday’s Group 2 Tulloch Stakes quinella Gallatin and Singing Flame have been marked at $12 each.

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