VRC Derby Day is one of the biggest days on the Australian horse racing calendar, and this year’s edition looks to be one of the best in recent years. A massive nine-race meeting is set down for decision at Flemington, with all nine of those races at Group level. Headlining the action is a trio of Group 1 races: the Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m), VRC Derby (2500m), and Empire Rose Stakes (1600m). A perfect spring day is forecast, and with a track rated a Good 4 and the rail in the true position, every runner will have their chance. A massive day of racing is set to commence at 12:20pm AEDT.
Keep reading for our free race-by-race preview and quaddie selections for VRC Derby Day 2023
Race 1: Group 3 Carbine Club Stakes (1600m)
The Group 3 Carbine Club Stakes (1600m) is the traditional opener to the Melbourne Cup Carnival, and it is impossible to go past Brave Mead. The Ciaron Maher & David Eustace-trained colt was a soft Caulfield winner on October 21 in a field that is no harder than what he faces on Saturday. Jamie Spencer takes the steer from barrier five and if he can lob in the one-one position upon settling, Brave Mead could have the race sewn up a long way out from home.
Win and you are in to the 2023 Melbourne Cup (3200m), that is what is on offer for five of the seven acceptors in the Group 3 Archer Stakes (2500m). Ladies Man was a dominant winner in the Group 1 Livamol Classic (2000m) on October 14 and looks well-placed to bring his New Zealand form to these shores. The six-year-old gelding has a thunderous turn of foot for a stayer and despite not winning at a distance further than 2200m, he has shown that a trip like this is right up his alley. Dean Yendall will have Ladies Man building through his gears 600m out, where he should blouse his rivals inside the final 100m and book his spot in the Cup on Tuesday.
Dancing Alone has built an impressive record thus far, winning six of her first seven starts, and can claim her first black-type success on Saturday. The I Am Invincible mare was a smart Flemington 1100m winner two runs back, before smashing her rivals at the Caulfield 1100m on October 18. She returns to the Flemington 1100m and with Billy Egan on board from barrier 10, can lead from barrier to box.
Chain Of Lightning returned with an eye-catching third in the Group 2 Schillaci Stakes (1100m) and can go on with the job in the Group 3 Rising Fast Stakes (1200m). She was taking off substantial ground off Uncommon James and eventual Asfoora at Caulfield, to suggest the step up to 1200m second-up is ideal. She has two wins from three second-up starts and in a race that is going to be run to suit those with a sit off a hot speed, Chain Of Lightning should prove too hard to hold out.
Our best of the day comes up in the Group 2 Wakeful Stakes (2000m) when Zardozi looks to build on her dominant win in the Group 2 Edward Manifold Stakes (1600m). The three-year-old filly put 1.5 lengths on her rivals that day and looked every bit a VRC Oaks (2500m) chance when only getting warm through the line over 1600m. The extra 400m on Saturday looks perfect and as long as James McDonald can find a spot midfield with cover from barrier 10, Zardozi should prove too powerful for her rivals over 2000m.
Often referred to as a stallion-making race, the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) has assembled a massive field of 19 three-year-old sprinters. The trifecta from this year’s Golden Slipper will line up in the event, while several other Group winners will feature. Cylinder heads the market at +340 indicating how open an affair the Coolmore Stud Stakes is for 2023.
First run in 1855, the Group 1 VRC Derby (2500m) is one of the most prestigious races in Australia. Chris Waller is hunting a second straight win in the race as Riff Rocket jumps as a short-priced favourite. Moonee Valley Vase (2040m) quinella Apulia and Verdad are looking to cause minor upsets, whilst there looks to be a few chances that horse racing bookmakers might have missed at a price.
The third and final Group 1, the Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) as always has attracted an even field of mares for the $1 million event, and this year is no exception. Hope In Your Heart is one of the most consistent mares in the country and looks set to break her Group 1 maiden at the ninth time of asking. The Kerry Parker-trained five-year-old was beaten two-lengths in the Epsom Handicap (1600m), before finishing on the heels of Kovalica and Think It Over in the King Charles III Stakes (1600m). She will a bit of luck from barrier one considering she will be towards the rear of the field upon settling. Hope In Your Heart has an elite turn of foot and with even luck, should prove too good for her rivals in the Empire Rose.
The inaugural running of The Damien Oliver (1400m) (formerly the Linlithgow Stakes) brings a close to a jam-packed Derby Day. Ayrton returned a smart winner in the Listed Weekend Hussler Stakes (1400m) and in doing so looks to be back to somewhere near his best. He loves the 1400m, having won four times and placed on a further two occasions from 10 goes and can build on that record at Flemington. He will need some luck early from barrier 17 under Mark Zahra, but if the pair can hold a spot in the three wide line with cover, Ayrton can send us home a winner at a nice price.