A week after winning the Group One Blue Diamond Stakes in Melbourne, Michael Walker has returned to his homeland to steer Sherwood Forest to win the New Zealand Derby.
The Tony Pike-trained gelding caused an upset by beating the favoured trio of Two Illicit, Scorpz and Dragon Leap in Saturday’s Group One staying test.
Two Illicit and Dragon Leap were the equal favourites with 2000 Guineas placegetter Sherwood Forest sent out at $13.
It was a third Derby win for Walker, following Military Move in 2010 and Puccini in 2014, and a second for Pike, who trained Rangipo to win in 2016.
“He just outstayed them,” Pike said. “The last few races he’s been running in have been a little bit too sharp for him but I’ve always thought he would come into his own over 2400 metres.
“It’s a fantastic result and hugely satisfying.
“He was a bit of a ratbag as a two-year-old but the team have put in a lot of work with him and this season was always going to be about the Derby. It’s great when a plan comes off.”
Pike said the Australian Derby on April 4 now came into play.
Saturday’s win continued a remarkable month for Walker, who had been close to retirement because of ongoing injuries.
“Five weeks ago I was going to give it away,” Walker said.
“I was too heavy and getting sick of all the injuries. I’ve had 13 operations on my left hip, including a hip replacement.
“But I decided to stick with it and I’ve been very fortunate to have these results. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to come home and ride this horse.
“He gave me an amazing ride. He’s such a gentleman and everything I asked for, he gave.
“You have to be the best staying horse to win this race and Tony gave me confidence that I was riding that horse.”
Walker also won the Group Three Sunline Vase on the Stephen Autridge-trained Communique.