The 2014 Australian Derby odds of Puccini have lengthened significantly in the past 24 hours, but trainer Peter McKay remains hopeful that the talented colt can return to his best form in the Group 1 event on Saturday.
Puccini opened at Australian Derby odds of $6 when the final field was released earlier in the week, but has drifted in betting after the Australian Turf Club announced this morning that the Royal Randwick track would likely be rated a heavy 8.
The New Zealand Derby winner finished a disappointing 12th in the Group 1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m) on March 29 and a number of racing experts were critical of the ride of Michael Walker; who pushed Puccini forward to challenge for the lead in the early stages of the race.
Leading Melbourne jockey Craig Williams will partner Puccini in the Australian Derby this weekend and McKay told Racing Ahead that he was disappointed with the performance of Walker in the Rosehill Guineas.
“A lot of it was the fact that if a saddle slipped on a jockey the first thing that they would say to the trainer is that happened,” McKay said.
“I was only alerted to that a little bit later after Michael had spoken to the stewards.
“Viewing the race and seeing how hard he pushed out of the gates in the first 100 metres to take Shamus Award on that was definitely not in the script of riding instructions.
“The horse is generally hearty away from the gates and we know never to fire him up because he can pull in a race.
“We thought Michael knew the horse so well and wondered why he did this on this occasion, so we had to think about the horse and change the rider.”
Williams will be having his first race ride on Puccini in the Australian Derby, but got a chance to get to know the enigmatic colt when he partnered him in a testing gallop last Saturday.
McKay said that Williams got a taste of the real Puccini, with the son of Encosta De Lago pulling during the trackwork gallop, and is confident that the talented hoop will be able to handle the colt this weekend.
“He rode him on Saturday for me on the main course proper and we galloped him up over 2000 metres,” McKay said.
“He had a little bit of trouble holding him at one stage then once he got a half-length on another horse he relaxed down for him.
“It was a good fight for him to see what the horse can do and how easy he can come back to you if you don’t fight him.”
The 2014 Australian Derby odds of Puccini lengthened after Australian Turf Club officials announced that the Royal Randwick track would be rated as a heavy eight, but McKay remains hopeful that the three-year-old will be able to handle the rain affected surface.
McKay said that Williams felt that Puccini handled the wet track last Saturday and the leading New Zealand trainer is hoping that the Rosehill Guineas failure of his star galloper was due to the aggressive riding tactics of Walker rather than the soft surface.
“His report was that he handled the track and the track that day was a heavy nine,” Puccini said.
“That is another thing we had to weight up; how much was it the track last start and how much was it the pace up front in the first 1000 metres.
“Also they are two different tracks.
“There are horses that can’t handle Rosehill, like Sacred Falls in the lead-up to the Doncaster; he couldn’t handle an eight at Rosehill and came out and won on a heavy at Randwick.
“It is a different surface and we just have to hope that he does handle this surface.”
Criterion remains a clear favourite at Australian Derby odds of $3.60, while Puccini and Anthony Cummings-trained Thunder Fantasy are on the second line of betting.