Nobu has been installed as the clear favourite to surge to victory in the Group 1 Queensland Derby at Eagle Farm on June 8. He delivered a hugely impressive performance to reel in Carif in the 2000m Mizuno Handicap and that followed a strong victory at Kensington earlier in May. He will now bid to extend his winning streak to three races when he lines up alongside several superstar stayers at the Queensland Derby. It carries a prize pool of $600,000 and the prestige associated with winning the race is high, so it always attracts a strong field.
The Queensland Derby was inaugurated all the way back in 1868, when W.E. Parry-Okeden secured the princely sum of 50 sovereigns when his horse, Hermit, beat the likes of The Rake, Escapado and Goshawk to salute at Gayndah. It moved to Eagle Farm in 1871 and it has been held there ever since, apart from a brief transfer to Doomben a few years ago when the course was undergoing renovation. Lough Neagh, Kingston Town, Strawberry Road, Rough Habit and Freemason are among the leading lights of the Australian horseracing scene to secure victory here over the years.
Kembla Grange trainer Kerry Parker earned his first ever Group 1 win last year when Dark Dream saluted. It was a powerful performance that saw him outstay Heavenly Thought and Youngstar in a tense final 600m. Parker had been unsuccessful in 18 previous Group 1 attempts and he was overwhelmed by a mixture of joy and relief. “I have had six placings in Group 1s and I have now got that one on the mantlepiece,’’ he said. “We have a small stable so we don’t have many runners. I have been a bridesmaid a few times but it was nice to get one home. I am tipping there will be a party tonight.”
Dark Dream was a consistent performer last year and he went off as the $4.20 favourite to win the Queensland Derby. Ruthven, who won this race in 2017, was the $3.50 favourite, and Nobu will aim to become the third favourite in a row to triumph here. He crossed the Tasman Sea in the hope of winning the New Zealand Derby, but the trip ultimately ended in disappointment. Yet, trainer, Chris Waller believes that experience was the making of Nobu. “He came back from New Zealand a different horse,” said Charlie Duckworth, Waller’s racing manager. “He’s really turned into a professional.”
The team brought him back to Sydney and he gave an eye-catching performance when finishing second over 1550m against older runners at Kensington. He enjoyed the step up in distance when winning over 1800m at the same track on May 4 and that put him among the favourites for the Queensland Derby. The odds on him then dropped considerably after his victory in the Mizuno Handicap at Randwick.
The Peter and Paul Snowden-trained Carif looked a certain winner when he powered into the lead 200m out, but it was ultimately a phenomenal effort from Nobu to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a late kick. The big question for punters is whether Nobu can continue to excel when he steps back up to 2400m after he was unplaced over that distance in the New Zealand Derby. Yet his fitness looked superb in the Mizuno and that will provide Waller and his team with great encouragement.
If you take a look at the horse racing futures, you will see that Nobu is the favourite for the Queensland Derby, ahead of Carif. It will be interesting to see how Carif responds to that agonising defeat in the Mizunon and whether he can turn the tables on his foe over a longer distance. Jockey Josh Parr admitted Carif still has a lot to learn after throwing away victory in that race. “He hit the front and didn’t know how to go on with it, but he’s a nice horse in the making,” said Parr.
Mr Quickie, Scarlet Dream, Etana and Fun Fact are among the other hopefuls expected to vie for glory at the Queensland Derby. Declares War is another interesting runner after finishing strongly to score with 60kg at Flemington last time out, on his second start as a gelding. Bjorn Baker’s Fun Fact earned an exemption from the ballot for the Queensland Derby when he won the Group 3 Grand Prix Stakes over 2200m, so he is sure to be a popular choice among punters. Barriers 4 and 8 have been the most successful over the past 35 years, while 13 and 15 have been the least successful, which is worth keeping in mind when the draw is announced.