Cambridge Stud’s rising star sire Almanzor has stolen the show on one of Australasian racing’s greatest stages, picking up his first Group One winner with first-crop son Manzoice (ex Choice) in the Gr.1 Penfolds Victoria Derby (2500m) at Flemington.
Heading into Saturday’s A$2 million classic, the New Zealand industry had been confident of making a significant impact through the likes of last week’s Gr.1 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) hero Sharp ‘N’ Smart and multiple Melbourne stakes winner Mr Maestro.
The finish of the Derby did indeed carry a strong Kiwi flavour, but it was the overlooked $20 chance Manzoice who upstaged his more-fancied rivals with a supreme display of stamina.
The finish developed into a battle between two expat Kiwi jockeys, as James McDonald drove Sharp ‘N’ Smart out to a clear lead in the straight and appeared to have opened up a decisive break on the $2.90 favourite. The only threat was Manzoice, warming up out wide on the track in the hands of Michael Dee.
Sharp ‘N’ Smart gave his all again, but this time he couldn’t quite hold out the Chris Waller-trained Manzoice, who surged past in the final 50m to score by half a length.
It continued a special spring for Dee, who won the Gr.1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) with Durston earlier this month.
“If you said to me before this spring that I’d have two major Group Ones coming up, I’d probably laugh,” Dee said. “It is pretty surreal and hopefully it can continue.
“This bloke probably had to do it a bit tougher than Durston. He didn’t get that position where he could avoid getting bumped throughout. He’s done a great job.
“I really have to thank Chris Waller and his team. Once again, he’s presented this horse here in tip-top shape.
“Walking around the yard, I thought he was certainly a Derby horse. He’s just so calm, got such a big stride on him, and it all panned out. He was very strong.
“I was very happy early, and then the tempo came out of the race. It just got a bit tricky from the mile onwards, when we were getting pushed around by horses inside and out.
“We were just starting to edge toward the outside, and he really let down strongly when we got into the clear.
“He’s a big, strong horse, and he was able to buffet his way out. I was always confident he was going to be strong the last furlong too.”
The Derby-winning colt was bought for A$340,000 by Chris Waller Racing and Mulcaster Bloodstock as a yearling.
His six-start career has now produced two wins, two placings and more than A$1.4 million in stakes. His only two times out of the placings were a ninth in the Gr.3 Ming Dynasty Quality (1400m) in September and a strong-finishing eighth in last week’s Spring Champion Stakes.
“Terrific performance from the horse,” Waller’s assistant trainer Charlie Duckworth said. “This has been the plan all the way through, and things haven’t worked out with wide draws and wet tracks, but we’ve stuck solid with the plan we set out to do.
“He’s a horse who I think will improve more with racing. He’s still a bit doughy mentally and doesn’t really know what he’s all there for, which is why we’ve got the winkers on – the exact same gear that Preferment wore when he won the Derby for Chris a few years ago. Maybe it is the magic winkers that got the job done today.
“It’s terrific for the Flannerys, who own the horse and who just stepped into ownership in the last couple of years. They’ve been loyal to us and been investing a good sum of money.”
Manzoice was bred by the Blenheim-based Stephanie Hole and is one of 13 winners from 36 runners to date from Almanzor’s first southern hemisphere crop.
Himself a triple Group One winner in Europe, Almanzor is also the sire of Karaka Million 2YO (1200m) winner Dynastic, along with stakes placegetters Virtuous Circle, Andalus and King’s Crossing, and he was New Zealand’s leading first-season sire and leading sire of two-year-olds in 2021-22.
The dam of Manzoice is the Mastercraftsman mare Choice, a winner of the Gr.3 Eulogy Stakes (1600m) for New Plymouth trainer Robbie Patterson.
Choice is the dam of two winners from two foals to race, and she made a return visit to Almanzor last season.
Meanwhile, McDonald believed Sharp ‘N’ Smart should lose no admirers for his gallant second placing in Saturday’s Derby.
“He went brilliant, just got a little bit lost in front,” he said.
The victory provides a special boost to Lot 57 at the New Zealand Bloodstock Ready To Run Sale at Karaka next month, with a Shooting To Win half-sister to Manzoice being offered through the KB Bloodstock draft.
Almanzor will be represented by six lots at the sale that runs over two days on November 16 & 17. – NZ Racing Desk.