The in-form Craig Williams will be the new rider for Puccini when the Kiwi colt lines up in the Group 1 $2m BMW Australian Derby (2400m) at Randwick on April 12.
Williams replaced Michael Walker who was dumped after Puccini faded in the straight to finish twelfth to Criterion in the Group 1 $500,000 TAB.com.au Rosehill Guineas (2000m) at Rosehill last Saturday.
Walker had also been aboard the Encosta De Lago colt at his three previous starts for three wins including a victory in the Group 1 NZ$750,000 TV3 NZ Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie on March 1.
While Williams was more than pleased to pick up the Australian Derby ride on the Group 1 winning three year old, Walker wasn’t very happy to be dumped after the Rosehill Guineas failure.
Matamata trainer Peter McKay wasn’t happy that Walker had Puccini up challenging the leader Shamus Award but Walker had been a victim of circumstances with his saddle shifting forward at the 1700m mark hampering his control of the hard pulling Puccini.
The stewards report backed up Walker’s defence and read “He (Walker) said that approaching the first turn when the pace was genuine he endeavoured to restrain his mount, but it commenced to overrace, which resulted in his saddle shifting forward and placing him at some disadvantage. Stewards were able to ascertain that M Walker’s saddle had slipped forward near the 1700m.”
Puccini’s New Zealand form has been impeccable and Williams rates the three year old as one of the top three chances in the Australian Derby.
“I don’t know what transpired but he’s a good ride to have in the Derby,” Williams told AAP.
“I did my video tapes of Puccini before we competed against him and I saw he is a high-quality staying three-year-old,” said Williams who rode Irish galloper Gordon Lord Byron to victory in the Group 1 $1m George Ryder Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill last Saturday.
“I’d say the number one and two choices in the race would be Criterion and Thunder Fantasy.”
The David Payne trained Criterion ran away with a comfortable three and a half lengths win over Thunder Fantasy in the Rosehill Guineas and both will be hard to beat again.
Criterion’s dominant win at Rosehill have forced bookmakers to post the Sebring colt as the favourite for the Australian Derby with Laddbrokes.com.au putting his odds up at $3.60 ahead of Puccini and Thunder Fantasy both at $7.50.
Gold Coast trained Teronado ran a nice race to finish third to Criterion and is next in the betting at $9.