Top three-year-old stayer Western Empire (NZ) (Iffraaj) was sent out a strong $1.30 favourite for Saturday’s Gr.2 WATC Derby (2400m) and duly obliged despite covering plenty of ground in the run.
The Grant and Alana Williams-trained three-year-old has won five of his past six starts, and despite his obvious talent is not yet the complete package.
Bred and raced by leviathan owners Bob and Sandra Peters, Western Empire had won Derby lead-ups the Lex Piper Stakes (1600m), JC Robert Stakes (1800m) and Melvista Stakes (2200m) – all at Listed level.
Jumping from the outside barrier under William Pike on Saturday, Western Empire didn’t settle in the early stages but still showed his class to run out a ready winner over Gr.3 WA Oaks (2400m) placegetter Temptacion (All Too Hard).
The Peters colours have been carried to victory in the WATC Derby on 11 occasions.
“It didn’t look too good today when he was pulling so hard early and I thought he was going to get trapped wide,” Bob Peters said.
“He was wide around the corner, so he has done a good job really. He has been up a long time.”
Peters revealed the Derby winner had been booked to go to Melbourne for the Gr.1 Australian Guineas (1600m) had he won the Listed Challenge Stakes (1500m) but a steady pace on that occasion back in early February was his undoing, finishing third.
“He will have a good spell now and we will bring him back for our races here in the Summer,” Peters said.
“I don’t think he is ready to go East yet. Most likely he will stay here (in Perth).”
By former Haunui Farm shuttle stallion Iffraaj, Western Empire is out of Gr.2 Perth Cup (2400m) winner Western Jewel (Jeune), whom Peters raced.
Recent winners of the WATC Derby include Regal Power (2019), Gatting (2017) and Delicacy (2015) who have all gone on to become Group One winners.
Jockey William Pike, who has won the Derby on nine occasions, believes there is plenty of upside with the versatile gelding.
“I think it was a true staying test and the form is good out of the race,” Pike said.
“On paper his wins at the mile and 1800m have looked more impressive, winning by bigger margins, but it is probably a bit early to say what his best distance will be.
“He will go for a spell and it has to do with how he comes on mentally. If he comes back that same fiery horse then a mile might be his go, but they tend to chill out a bit after they have been up over ground.”
Western Empire has now won A$580,000 in prizemoney, with five wins and four placings from his ten starts. – NZ Racing Desk