In-form jockey Jason Waddell has been confirmed as the rider for Dragon Leap in the Group 1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie on February 29. Dragon Leap’s co-trainer Lance O’Sullivan had advised last week that Waddell had been offered the ride on the $2.20 Fixed Odds favourite for the blue riband three-year-old classic with Waddell confirming he had accepted the mount on Sunday morning.
While delighted with the opportunity presented to him, Waddell admits he was left with a slightly hollow feeling after making his decision as it meant he had to forego the ride on the Stephen Marsh-trained Scorpz who is also a leading contender for the race. “It was a very difficult decision to make as I didn’t want to let anybody down,” Waddell said. “On one hand you get the chance to ride the clear favourite for the race who could be a truly freakish talent and on the other was a horse I have a lot of belief in and is from a stable that has shown a lot of faith in me in the past.
“Added to that was the fact that there is no guarantee I could stick with Dragon Leap when he goes to Australia whereas I had that assurance with Scorpz. “I put a lot of thought into the decision and even after I made it, I was still feeling a little hollow afterwards.”
Waddell made sure he spoke with Opie Bosson, who was aboard Dragon Leap in his effortless win in Saturday’s Group 2 Avondale Guineas (2100m), before making his decision and was sold on the Pierro gelding’s qualities following their chat. “Opie was full of praise for the horse after riding him on Saturday,” Waddell said. “He was super impressive in the way he reeled them in and the sectionals he ran on Saturday and the thing I liked the most was he did it without really being asked for a serious effort.
“In terms of a lead-in race it was perfect as he didn’t have a gut-buster so the next two weeks won’t be spent recovering from Saturday, rather he will come on a lot with the run and should be spot on for the Derby. “It’s a privilege to be able to ride a horse like this and I am really looking forward to it.”
Waddell was absent from the riding ranks on Saturday after feeling unwell but is confident he is ready to resume this week. “I probably picked up a bug from the kids who have been sick this week,” he said. “It came on top of two very hot days riding at Te Teko and Te Aroha so I think it just all caught up with me. “I’m feeling much better today (Sunday) and I’m ready to get back to work this week. “There are some big days coming up and I want to be firing on all cylinders.”