Te Rapa test for Derby favourite

Rocket Spade
Rocket Spade will contest the Fasttrack Insurance Handicap (2100m) at Te Rapa on Wednesday. Photo: Trish Dunell

Exciting three-year-old Rocket Spade is tackling older horses at Te Rapa on Wednesday as part of his preparation for the Group 1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m).

Rocket Spade, trained by Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott at Matamata, is the favourite on the TAB futures market for the Derby following his victory in the Group 2 Auckland Guineas (1600m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.

In previous years the Group 2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) was run on the first weekend of February, giving trainers with Derby-bound three-year-olds the option of running their horses in both this and the Group 2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) two weeks later as lead-ins to the Derby, a further two weeks after the Avondale Guineas.

However, the Waikato Guineas is now run on the second weekend of February, just a week before the Avondale Guineas, and with O’Sullivan and Scott not wanting him to run on consecutive weekends leading into the Derby, they decided to contest the Fasttrack Insurance Handicap (2100m) on Wednesday instead.

“There’s no other race for him,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s just in a difficult space because we want to give him two runs over ground before the Derby.”

Rocket Spade will carry 62kg at Te Rapa, giving weight to all his opponents, none of which is younger than five, and O’Sullivan said his colt doesn’t need to win to stay on the Derby track.

“He hasn’t been to the races for five or so weeks, it’s his first run over ground, and you look at the weight he’s got to carry compared to older horses. You wouldn’t really expect him to win,” he said.

“Really, if he ran third or fourth I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed first run over ground. The most important thing for us, we just want to see him put his head down and settle. If he does that then we know he’s got a future going forward running over a trip.”

Provided Rocket Spade gets through that race well, he will then head to the Avondale Guineas on February 20 as his lead-in to the Derby on March 6.

The O’Sullivan-Scott team should still be represented in the major Te Rapa races on February 13, however, by the promising filly Force of Will and the veteran stayer Charles Road.

Force of Will made it three wins from four starts in the Group 3 Desert Gold Stakes (1600m) at Trentham on Saturday and she will get her chance to be tested over ground at Te Rapa in either the Legacy Lodge Waikato Guineas or the Group 2 David and Karyn Ellis Fillies’ Classic (2000m).

“She certainly had form on the board going into the Desert Gold, but being by Power, we weren’t too sure about her running the mile,” O’Sullivan said.

“Going into the next race we’re going to be exactly the same. Will she run 2000m? Until you try them you don’t know.”

Million-dollar earner Charles Road, now a seven-year-old, is likely to run on the same card in the Group 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m), as he begins another campaign aimed at major staying races.

“He’s been fantastic for the stable. Probably his best days are behind him but he’s a very honest horse,” O’Sullivan said.

O’Sullivan is less sure about another quality stable runner Summer Passage, who pulled up sore after tailing the field in the Group 1 Sistema Railway (1200m) on New Year’s Day.

“We’re not 100 percent sure where we’re going with him. He’s never really been the soundest horse in the world. He’s good at the moment but we’re just playing it by ear.”

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