Winning Saturday’s Group 2 Legacy Lodge Waikato Guineas isn’t a critical element of Dragon Leap’s campaign, according to Matamata trainer Lance O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan, who trains the rising star Pierro three-year-old in partnership with Andrew Scott, has made it clear that this month’s Group 1 $1 million Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie is the first of two big goals.
But while Saturday’s Waikato Guineas (2000m) at Te Rapa is a stepping stone to the Derby and the Group 1 Australian Derby (2400m) at Randwick on April 4, Dragon Leap undoubtedly has the class to continue on his winning way. “He certainly hasn’t gone backwards (but) it’s a bit of a gap between runs and whatever he does Saturday, there’s certainly a lot of improvement in the horse,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s certainly not primed for this. This is not the grand final. We want to ride him to get the trip and hopefully it’s all a part of the learning curve for him. He’s not a flashy trackworker but he certainly looks well in condition.”
A winner of two of his three starts so far, including an emphatic last-start win in the Group 2 Auckland Guineas (1600m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day under champion jockey James McDonald, Dragon Leap will face off this weekend against the only horse to have beaten him so far – Two Illicit. That day, Dragon Leap veered out in the shadows of the Ellerslie winning post and cost himself victory in the Listed Trevor Eagle Memorial (1500m) but Two Illicit has since proven herself a filly of the highest quality, winning the Group 2 Royal Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie last start after her second placing to Jennifer Eccles in the Group 2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m) on Boxing Day.
TAB bookmakers have installed Dragon Leap as a $1.95 favourite for the Waikato Guineas ahead of last-start Group 1 Levin Classic (1600m) winner Travelling Light at $2.50 and Two Illicit at $4. O’Sullivan walked Dragon Leap to the raceday tie-up stalls during the Matamata races on Sunday as another learning experience for the horse and said he took it all in his stride. “The great thing about the horse is his attitude,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s like an old horse to do anything with and it’s just a matter if he can progress to where he’s relaxed and he settles and as his distances increase, that’s what we want to see.
“His grand final is to run in and be competitive in a Derby so we want to see him settle and to be looking to be running on towards the finish on Saturday. If he finishes in the top three, we’d be happy with that and know he’s on track for his main targets which are coming up.”
O’Sullivan said Dragon Leap would go straight into the New Zealand Derby on February 29 without another run after the Waikato Guineas, in which Jason Waddell takes the reins for the first time, and then likely go to the Australian Derby for his following start. “We only have him while he’s a three-year-old. All going well, we’re hoping to take him to Australia after the New Zealand Derby if he gets that far.”