They say it is best to strike when the iron is still hot, and that is exactly what Damien Oliver has done on Derby Day at Flemington, guiding Queen Of The Ball to victory in the Group 3 Begonia Belle Stakes.
The Michael Freedman-trained galloper has been running in Sydney at her last three starts, but the stable chose to bring her back to Melbourne to run down the famous Flemington straight for the first time since her Coolmore Stud Stakes run on this day last year.
Followers of Queen Of The Ball would have been puzzled by Oliver’s decision to take the natural front-runner to the back of the field, but when he let her go and she let down with an explosive turn of foot in the final 300m, they would have been very happy.
As soon as Hypothetical and Dancing Alone appeared ready to fight out the finish, the daughter of I Am Invincible raced straight past them to record an easy one-length victory.
2023 Begonia Belle Stakes Replay – Queen Of The Ball | T: Michael Freedman | J: Damien Oliver
Michael Freedman and Damien Oliver have been close friends for years and Freedman couldn’t have been happier for Oliver after the win.
“It’s a huge buzz, we’ve got a lot of history, our family and Damien go back 35, nearly 40 years so being his last Derby Day and one of my first runner on Derby Day, it’s a great thrill,” Freedman said.
“He (Damien) said he wanted to do that because there’s a bit of a headwind and he just got into the perfect spot and I was rapt to see when he got to the outside how quickly she let down.
“She’s a good quality mare.
“It’s been a little bit frustrating, I think her form has been a little bit better than it looks on paper her last three starts, she just got pipped first up in the Toy Show at Randwick, the Sheraco was a bit of a mad scramble and the last race was a bit messy.
“I always felt she was going as well as she was ever going and when we saw this race down here we pulled the pin on the back end of the Sydney carnival and just targeted this race.
“I thought if she could we win this we might hang around for the How Now Stakes (at Caulfield). As long as she pulls up ok we’ll keep her going for one more.”
Damien Oliver couldn’t have kicked of his Melbourne Cup Carnival any better, and he spoke post-race after his second win from three rides.
“It’s great-to-back in time and ride one for the Freedmans, we go back a long way, both Michael and Richard have been really supportive of us this week and it’s great to team up with them again,” Oliver said.
“Michael and I were flatmates for many years right behind this grandstand so a lot of fun days back in our teenage years and early 20’s.
“I kind of thought if I could (take a sit) there was good speed around her to do it, she ran a great race here last year in the Coolmore and back to fillies and mares grade today, she’s always been a really speedy sort of filly and mare and with good speed in the race I was able to get a nice trail.
“She’s a gutsy fast filly and fortunately she was able to use that at the end of her race.
“I’d done nothing for the first half of the race so I thought I’ve got plenty to give and from where I was I was a bit obscured by what was going on the inside so I didn’t want to be too cute.”