Andalus will head across the Tasman next month after nearly pulling off a massive upset in the Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Te Rapa on Saturday.
Punters who backed Sharp ‘N' Smart for Saturday's feature were briefly put into a state of panic as Andalus came to challenge in the final 150m.
But despite a strong fight, Andalus fell a long neck short of becoming a second 100-1 New Zealand Derby winner for Cambridge trainer Stephen Marsh following Crown Prosecutor in 2019.
A multiple black-type placegetter at two, Andalus broke through for a maiden victory at Te Rapa in January, and his run for seventh in the Group 2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) on February 18 was better than it looked after he was fractious before the race and lost three lengths at the start.
“He actually went really well in the Avondale Guineas and his jockey thought he could have gone close to winning if he got out of the gates better and had a clearer run. The run was a lot better than it looked,” Marsh said.
“Everyone knew they were going to struggle to beat Sharp ‘N' Smart but I certainly didn't think he deserved to be the price he was.
“He got caught three-wide and covered a lot of ground coming into the straight so I thought his run was very brave.”
The gelding's reward will be a trip across the Tasman for the Group 1 Australian Derby (2400m) at Randwick on April 1, and another potential meeting with Sharp ‘N' Smart.
“It took a while for the penny to drop at three and it probably helped gelding him. This preparation has been good. He's a natural staying horse and we've always thought a lot of him,” Marsh said.
“We've got a month into the Australian Derby, and all going to plan that will be his next race.
“He will handle a little bit of sting out of the track but he wouldn't want heavy rain and he'd prefer a good track.”
Andalus was by far the best-performed of Marsh's Derby runners, with Cruz Missile and Savabourbon filling the last two places in the field.
Marsh said the decision to run Savabourbon was “a real throw at the stumps” after winning a maiden 2000m race at his previous start.
However, he said Cruz Missile, winner of the Listed Gingernuts Salver (2100m) three starts back, was training very well and it appeared he wasn't happy at Te Rapa, where he had also failed in the Group 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) prior to the Derby.
“We couldn't fault him at all going into the Derby. Michael McNab came and galloped him last Tuesday and he was absolutely over the moon about how he was going,” Marsh said.
“Some horses just don't like that real sandy-based track at Te Rapa. He's had two starts there and hasn't fired a shot at all. He's obviously a hell of a lot better than that.”
Cruz Missile will be given a chance to redeem himself, most likely in the Group 3 Manawatu Classic (2000m) at Awapuni on April 1.
Marsh scored two other black type placings at Te Rapa on Saturday, saddling Sedaka to finish second in the Group 3 Sunline Vase (2100m) and Mazzolino to run third in the Listed Mufhasa Stakes (1400m).
Both fillies are set to head to Trentham in two weeks, Sedaka for the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) and Mazzolino for the Group 1 Levin Classic (1600m).
Sedaka put up a great effort in the Sunline Vase, being caught three and four-wide for most of the race from her wide draw but staying strongly to beat all but Sakura Girl, who led most of the way and didn't leave the fence.
Her form has suffered from the unseasonal rains this summer, with wet tracks not working for her. In three starts on good tracks she's produced a maiden victory and second placings in the Sunline Vase and the Group 2 Royal Stakes (2000m).
“It was a massive run. She didn't get all favours by any means,” Marsh said. “She'll go to the Oaks. All we want is for the weather to stay alright.”
Mazzolino ran boldly in her first race since winning the Group 3 Desert Gold Stakes (1600m) and should appreciate the return to 1600m for the Levin Classic.
“She was terrific at the line. She's going really, really well,” Marsh said. “She's won at the mile at Trentham and she's a bloody good filly.”
Stablemates Luella Cristina and Academy Award were fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Mufhasa. Marsh hasn't ruled out the Levin Classic for Luella Cristina, who ran creditably at just her third start, while Academy Award will probably drop down in class to seek a second career victory.
Marsh also produced a quinella at Wingatui in a Rating 75 1400m contest with Divine Sava and Miss Ella. Both will head to the Group 3 South Island Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes (1600m) at Riccarton on March 25.
Before then, he will start Lincoln King in the Group 2 Auckland Cup (3200m) and Ulanova in the Group 1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) at Pukekohe next Saturday.