Orchestral chasing Derby triumph

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Winning a New Zealand Derby (2400m) is nothing new for Roger James, with the trainer looking to extend his in the Classic to an even half dozen at Ellerslie on Saturday, while training partner Robert Wellwood will be looking for his first.

Tidal Light (1986), Roysyn (1995), Zonda (1997), Hades (1999), and Silent (2012) currently fill Kingsclere Stables' honour roll of New Zealand Derby winners, and they have a $1.40 chance in Orchestral to enhance their record this weekend in the Trackside-sponsored contest.

Wellwood is now into this sixth season training in partnership with James, and while they have had plenty of success in that time, including a Group 1 Queensland Derby (2400m) victory with , a New Zealand Derby has so far eluded him, and he is keen to change that on Saturday.

“When I first started with him (James) I said, ‘you have got to teach me how to win a Derby'. We have done it in Queensland, but I haven't done it in New Zealand yet, so hopefully this year is the year,” Wellwood told TAB NZ.

“Any Group One or $1 million race is extremely special, but the New Zealand Derby is certainly one I want to tick off and hopefully carry on the tradition for Kingsclere Stables.”

Orchestral looks the horse to do it, having accrued an enviable record of four wins and two placings from seven starts.

Her only unplaced run came in her sole spring outing when 10th in the Group 3 Gold Trail Stakes (1400m) at in September, and Wellwood said the decision to put her aside has been a masterstroke.

Orchestral has subsequently been runner-up in the Group 3 Bonecrusher Stakes (1400m) at in December before winning her next three starts, including the $1.5 million Karaka Millions 3YO (1600m) and the Group 2 (2100m).

“In the spring we weren't going the right way and fortunately we had the support of the owners to back off her and it is paying dividends now,” Wellwood said. “I think that is why we have got her in the order we do at this stage of her career.

“Craig (Grylls, jockey) was a bit blown away after the Guineas. He said he thought he was going to win and then got to the 200m and he said she kept accelerating, got to the 50m and she accelerated more and gave him an incredible feel. Hopefully he is saying the same after the Derby.”

Grylls also has a proud record in the Derby, having won it aboard Crown Prosecutor in 2019 and Rocket Spade in 2021.

James is delighted to have another exciting Derby prospect and believes Orchestral will lap up the 2400m with her two-kilogram against the boys.

“She had her first run over ground in the Avondale Guineas, she ran through the line, and I am very confident a mile and a half will be right up her alley,” he said.

“We are aware that she has become a bit of a public figure. It is so good for racing if we share the journey and give a lot of people joy, hopefully.”

Like Wellwood, the Derby has always been the pinnacle race in New Zealand for James, who would love to add another to his mantle this weekend.

“It was the race when I got my trainer's ticket that I most wanted to win, so I am never going to get sick of them,” he said.

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