Waller and McDonald
Top jockey James McDonald will team up with champion trainer Chris Waller in the Victoria Derby. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
  • horse racing, harness racing

Derby favourite Riff Rocket to lap up pressure: Waller

Shayne Hope November 3, 2023

Chris Waller expects favourite Riff Rocket to appreciate the pressure and intensity of the $2 million Victoria Derby as the stable chases a third win in a decade in the famous race.

Master trainer Waller triumphed in the 2500m Group 1 contest with Preferment in 2014 and again with Manzoice last year.

Riff Rocket claimed favouritism for Saturday’s renewal after an effortless victory in the Listed Super Impose Stakes (1800m) two starts ago, when he bolted clear to win by five-and-a-half lengths.

But he was then beaten as a short-priced favourite, off a moderate tempo in a small seven-horse field, in the Group 3 Norman Robinson (2000m) at Caulfield.

Waller believes Riff Rocket is primed to bounce back on his return to Flemington against 15 rivals in the Derby, with the son of American Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to again be ridden by champion jockey James McDonald.

“It was a little bit disheartening for him to get beaten last start but we’ve made excuses openly that there wasn’t the intensity or the pressure in the race,” Waller said.

“We will see that in a Derby. As they leave the barriers straight in front of the stands for the first lap, it’s a quick run to the first turn and that will create a bit of tempo.

“Then it’s all about conserving energy and finishing off strong. He’s very good at conserving energy.

“Then we’ve seen that he does have that turn of foot here at Flemington with a nice, long straight where they build from a long way from home.”

 Jockey Mark Zahra steers second-favourite Apulia in the Victorian Derby. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

Top jockey Mark Zahra will carry hot form to Flemington after piloting Caulfield Cup victor Without A Fight followed by another four winners at Moonee Valley last Saturday.

Zahra will ride second-favourite Apulia in the Derby for Lindsay Park trainers Ben, Will and JD Hayes.

The son of Melbourne Cup hero Fiorente won the Group 2 Vase (2040m) last start at Moonee Valley and will jump from barrier three, two stalls inside Riff Rocket.

“He’s got to back up three weeks in a row and that’s probably a bit of a question mark,” Zahra said.

“But I think it’s a very thin race and you can rule out probably three-quarters of the runners as winning chances.

“With the barrier draw I think I’ll get a good chance to follow Riff Rocket everywhere and see if we can run past him.”

Waller has won each of the three Group 1 races on Derby day more than once and has strong chances in all of them again on Saturday.

Golden Slipper winner Shinzo is second-favourite to Godolphin’s Cylinder in the Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m), while favourite Atishu and fellow fancy Princess Grace will line up in the Empire Rose Stakes (1600m).

Waller expects a competitive edition of the fillies and mares’ race but likes his chances with McDonald aboard Atishu.

“We know she likes Flemington, she’s matured a lot since last year and she’s a Group 1 winner since then,” Waller said.

“The race does look to suit.”

Flemington curator Liam O’Keefe said the track was rated a Good 4 on Friday and expects it to stay that way for Derby day.