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 New Zealand Gallops News 
Saturday, February 18 2017

The connections of promising three-year-old Excalibur face a nervous wait over the next 10 days to find out if they have secured a start in the $1 million Gr. 1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie on March 4.

Trainer Shaune Ritchie thought a win in the last race at Ellerslie yesterday would be enough for the Tavistock gelding to sneak into the Derby field, and Excalibur duly obliged with a dominant performance. The equivalent race was won last year by What's The Story, who made the Derby field and ran second to Rangipo.

However, the result of the Gr. 2 Retina Specialists Avondale Guineas earlier in the day has thrown a spanner in the works which could see him now sit outside the final field for the classic.

Before yesterday's racing, Excalibur sat in 21st position on the Derby order of entry, with the $13,500 available to the winner of the Rating 65 event potentially leapfrogging him into the top 18. But with the first four home in the Guineas all now exempt from the Derby ballot, he has been pushed back down the rankings and will need several above him to drop out of contention.

“At this stage we think he might just squeeze into the field, provided a couple who have said they won’t run do drop out,” said Ritchie.

“It will get a little tougher if Gingernuts pays the late entry fee, as that’s one more ahead of us. We will keep our fingers crossed as our bloke is coming right exactly when you would want and we think he is a live chance.”

Ritchie was delighted with yesterday’s performance, which came off the back of a promising run for sixth in the Gr. 2 Waikato Guineas.

“He went nicely at Te Rapa in a good field, so we thought he would be hard to beat dropping back in grade,” he said.

“He has a lovely action but he does a few things wrong and wanted to knock off when he hit the front. When the other horse came up on his inside he got back on the job pretty smartly and went to the line very strongly.

“That’s what you want to see with the Derby in mind and we know he is rock hard fit and won’t have a problem with the distance.”

One of those who has complicated the Derby picture for Excalibur is his stablemate Redeem The Dream, who fought doggedly in the Avondale Guineas to secure his Derby start.

“I think he could be the real smokey in the Derby as he has been behind the eight ball so far in this campaign,” Ritchie said.

“He had some enforced time off before resuming on Karaka Million night over 1400 metres and then stepped straight up to 2100 yesterday.

“He didn’t chuck it away when they challenged him in the Guineas and can only be better for the run. We will pour the work into him now and he will also go into the Derby as a chance in what looks a really even field.”

Posted by: AT 03:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email