Nominations for the $2 million Group 1 Penfolds Victoria Derby (2500m) and the $1 million Group 1 Kennedy Oaks (2500m) closed at 12pm (AEDT) today, with 63 horses and 48 fillies respectively staking their ambitions to win Victorian racing’s pre-eminent events for three-year-olds.
With just 16 places on offer in both the Derby and the Oaks, which take place at Flemington on Saturday, 30 October and Thursday, 4 November respectively, the race to make the starting line-ups in the two time-honoured contests will intensify in the coming weeks.
The feature race on the opening day of Flemington’s world-famous Melbourne Cup Carnival, the Derby has been held since 1855 and will this year feature Penfolds as the title sponsor for the first time.
Denis Pagan wrote one of the greatest chapters in the race’s fabled story when he trained Johnny Get Angry to Derby glory in 2020, and the former AFL Premiership coach will now attempt to go back-to-back having entered Byerley Handicap (1800m) placegetter Turn It Up Tommy for this year’s edition.
Chris Waller holds a typically strong hand as he bids to win his second Derby, with five gallopers entered including Head Of State, the Coolmore-owned colt who rocketed into calculations with his impressive last-start win in the Group 3 Gloaming Stakes (1800m).
Waller’s fellow Kiwis Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young also have a live Derby chance with Forgot You, one of five horses entered from the couple’s Cranbourne stables. Forgot You, who is part-owned by prominent pair Ozzie Kheir and John O’Neill, recently scored back-to-back wins at Moonee Valley including in the Group 2 Aspect Kitchens Stutt Stakes (1600m) under regular jockey Daniel Moor.
Forgot You is currently the second favourite for the Derby behind Gunstock, trained by Mick Price and Mick Kent Junior, who hold three nominations. The son of Tavistock only has one win to his name, but caught the eye when he motored home from the back of the pack to grab third in the Listed Super Impose Stakes (1800m) at Flemington last Saturday.
Whilst the Oaks would appear to be her main target the winner of the Super Impose Stakes, El Patroness, is also entered for the Derby and, should she take her place, would attempt to become the first filly since Frances Tressady in 1923 to win the race. El Patroness is one of seven horses nominated for the Derby by Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m) winner Danny O’Brien, the highest of any trainer.
The one horse already guaranteed a start in the Derby is the Symon Wilde-trained Gundec who flashed his staying credentials with a tough maiden victory in the Penfolds Victoria Derby Preview (1800m) at Flemington on 22 September, earning him a ballot exemption.
For the full list of nominations for the Penfolds Victoria Derby, please click here
Anthony Freedman returned to prominence when Warning won the Derby in 2019 and the renowned horseman, who now trains in partnership with his son Sam, would appear to have a strong chance of claiming this year’s Oaks with either Elusive Express or Zouzarella.
After opening her career with back-to-back wins including in the Group 3 Atlantic Jewel Stakes (1200m), Zouzarella is the firm favourite for next week’s Schweppes Thousand Guineas (1600m), after which Freedman Racing will determine whether or not she progresses towards the Oaks.
Elusive Express was a last-start winner in Saturday’s Group 2 TAB Edward Manifold Stakes (1610m) at Flemington, where the minor placings were filled by her fellow Oaks nominees Yearning (trained by Team Hawkes) and Glint of Hope (Busuttin and Young).
Whilst the Freedman surname is synonymous with Australian racing, Jerome Hunter will be less familiar to most but he could become a household name should his filly Barb Raider take out this year’s Oaks.
With her two-length triumph in the Kennedy Oaks Preview (1800m) at Flemington on 22 September securing her a ballot exemption in the Oaks, the daughter of Rebel Raider has shot to the head of the betting markets.
Danny O’Brien experienced success in the Oaks with Miami Bound in 2019, and the Flemington trainer’s four-strong arsenal for this year’s renewal includes another Balmerino Racing-owned filly in Kapalua Sunset, who won a Kyneton Maiden over 1875m by some seven lengths last month.
The Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott stable is another who is no stranger to Oaks success having won in 2017 with Pinot and they have Saturday’s Group 1 Darley Flight Stakes (1600m) winner Never Been Kissed and last start Listed winner Queen of Dubai among their 2021 entries.
Biscayne Bay, part-owned by the successful Australian Bloodstock syndicate, is one of two fillies entered for the Oaks by the all-conquering Ciaron Maher and David Eustace partnership, whilst Chris Waller’s two representatives include Hinged, a recent arrival to the master horseman’s stable from Queensland, where she won five of her seven races. On her second outing for Waller, the daughter of Worthy Cause finished a close second to Never Been Kissed in the Flight Stakes.
To view the full list of nominations for the Kennedy Oaks, please click here