When the winningest jockey in New Zealand Derby history says he believes he can add another victory in Ellerslie’s blue riband three-year-old classic then it pays to take note. Matamata rider Vinnie Colgan has his sights set on victory in the Group 1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) having first taken out the race aboard the Roger James-trained Roysyn in 1995, a feat he has then repeated on another five occasions since that inaugural success.
Colgan will be hunting Derby victory number seven at Ellerslie aboard the Roger James and Robert Wellwood-trained filly Two Illicit after the pair combined for the perfect dress rehearsal at Te Rapa on Saturday when demolishing their rivals by more than seven lengths in the Group 2 Legacy Lodge Waikato Guineas (2000m).
Although not currently nominated for the Derby, Two Illicit’s connections are expected to make a late payment to get her into a race that Colgan believes is perfect for her. “She is a very talented filly who I don’t think we have even scratched the surface on yet,” Colgan said. “The feel she gives you when you ride her is very special and I can say with certainty that there have been several of my Derby winners that haven’t provided me with anywhere near the feel that this filly does.
“I know she isn’t nominated for the Derby and is still in the Oaks (Group 1, 2400m) at Trentham, however I think the Derby would be a much better fit for her. “She has a good record and plenty of experience at Ellerslie and the three weeks between her run on Saturday and the Derby will be perfect for her. “One of her best attributes is her ability to settle in a good position in her races and then switch off and relax. “She did that again on Saturday and then showed how good she can be off a run like that.”
Colgan found himself in the unfamiliar position of dealing with some pre-race nerves before Saturday’s victory as he weighed up his tactics and his clash with two of this season’s well performed three-year-olds in Dragon Leap and Travelling Light. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep on Friday night as I was thinking about the race and how it might unfold,” he said. “Those small fields can be very tricky and tough to ride in as normal race patterns can get turned upside down.
“I was also thinking about where we might be in relation to the other two guns although that got thrown out a little when Dragon Leap had to be scratched. “It was a shame he didn’t start as it would have been a great guide to the Derby with him being the favourite for that race. “We managed to beat him at Ellerslie the first time we clashed but he is a real talent and I know he will be very tough to beat if we meet him in the Derby. “I guess the advantage is with us a little now as his preparation has had a hiccup which they will need to manage and we have been pretty much smooth sailing.”
Colgan admits he is in a good place with his riding at present as he contemplates how much longer he will continue his career in the saddle. “I’m feeling pretty good at present although the aches and pains are a little more frequent,” he said. “I’m 44 now and getting a bit long in the tooth but I’d like to think I’ve got at least another six years or so in the saddle to come.
“I find these days the injury niggles are a little harder to overcome and when you walk in the jockeys’ room there are all these eighteen to twenty-year-olds bouncing around with boundless energy but I feel I can still compete with them. “I’m really happy with my riding and my life as I have a wonderful partner and family and I still love what I do. “I think that really shows in the way a jockey rides as when you have that confidence it translates out on to the track. “When things aren’t going that well it also shows but I’m loving life and where I’m at right now.”