Baker’s milestone not quite a Dundeel

FOCUSED: Cambridge colt Dundeel will shoot for his second Gr I win in tomorrow’s A$1.5 million Victoria Derby.
FOCUSED: Cambridge colt Dundeel will shoot for his second Gr I win in tomorrow’s A$1.5 million Victoria Derby.

Cambridge trainer Murray Baker is chasing his 10th Australian Gr I win in Melbourne tomorrow. He discusses Dundeel’s Victoria Derby prospects with racing editor Aidan Rodley.

Murray Baker is looking for a perfect 10 performance from Dundeel in tomorrow’s A$1.5 million Victoria Derby.

The Cambridge trainer currently sits on nine Gr I wins in Australia and tomorrow saddles the High Chaparral colt as a $2.50 favourite for the 2500m Classic at Flemington.

FINE FORM: Cambridge trainer Murray Baker discusses Dundeel’s chances at Wednesday’s
Victoria Derby barrier draw press conference.
FINE FORM: Cambridge trainer Murray Baker discusses Dundeel’s chances at Wednesday’s Victoria Derby barrier draw press conference.

Baker won his first Gr I race in Australia when The Phantom edged out Royal Creation and Zabeel to claim the 1990 Underwood Stakes (2000m) at Caulfield.

Eagle Eye provided Gr I wins in the Ranvet Stakes (2000m) and Sydney Cup (3200m) in 1992, Prized Gem won the 2002 Brisbane Cup (2400m) and Dowry won the 2004 South Australian Oaks (2500m).

But it has been the last five years that Baker has reasserted his training prowess in Australia’s biggest races, winning the 2008 Australian Derby with Nom du Jeu (2400m), the 2010 Victoria Derby with Lion Tamer (2500m), who returned the following spring to win the 2011 Underwood Stakes (1800m) before Dundeel produced the most recent highlight in taking out the Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) at Randwick.

‘‘To win any big race over here is a big thrill and it’s also a big challenge because the competition is so hot,’’ Baker said from Melbourne yesterday.

‘‘Any big win, especially at carnival time, is satisfying because they are so hard to get. The Derby wins were tremendous. Nom du Jeu’s win was an outstanding win because he came from last and obviously Lion Tamer’s win was spectacular.’’

Baker is shooting for his third Gr I Derby win through Dundeel, but he notes that he won the now defunct Gr II Wellington Derby (2400m) with Sir Vigilant in 1985 and has produced The Phantom for a second placing in the 1989 South Australian Derby, Harris Tweed to run second in the 2009 Australian Derby and On The Level to finish third in last year’s New Zealand Derby.

Dundeel, who races in Australia as It's A Dundeel, won his first five starts before suffering his first defeat at the hands of Derby rival Super Cool in last Saturday’s Mitchelton Vase (2040m) at Moonee Valley.

However, Baker is convinced Dundeel has benefited from his first run left-handed that day and that he made the right decision to run, despite the defeat.

‘‘I’m sure it was. I know he got beaten but he still ran his last 600m in 34.9 [seconds] and he hadn’t run for three weeks so he was probably a little bit fresh,’’ Baker said.

‘‘It was just the way the race was run - just a sprint from the 700m. He’ll be suited by the bigger track. There’s no doubt he’s taken benefit from that run.

‘‘He’s done well in Melbourne. He’s eating better. New surroundings often with a colt they brighten up because it’s something different for them. We’re happy with him anyway. He seems to be right on target.’’

Australian-based Cambridge jockey James McDonald rides Dundeel tomorrow as he has done in all his starts so far and Baker has no plans to alter his backrunning style of racing as he goes into his campaign target race.

‘‘He’s exactly where we want him. This is the target race and he seems a happy colt. He’s bright and all the indications are that he’s trained on and we can only go by that,’’ Baker said.

‘‘It’s a big field and there will be a few stragglers there but his pattern is to run back and we just have to hope there’s a bit of speed on. 

‘‘The only worry is that you don’t know if he’s coming to the end of it. He’s had the four hard races in Sydney and the one here. But all the indications are he is fit and raring to go.’’

Dundeel will attempt to become the fourth straight Waikato-trained winner of the Victoria Derby after the Michael Moroney-trained Monaco Consul in 2009, Lion Tamer in 2010 and the Trent Busuttin-trained Sangster last year.

But Baker is loath to take any guide from Lion Tamer’s win.

‘‘They’re two entirely different horses. Lion Tamer was one of those horses that could win from near the lead, right out the back, at any distance. This guy is just a deadset stayer with a great finishing burst and the 2500m should suit him. He’s not an over-big horse and he’s got that very good finish on him. He knows when to go and he can hit another gear and he tries very hard.’’

Baker believes Dundeel’s stamina will be his biggest asset for the Derby and he can recite the stoutness credentials of the colt’s maternal pedigree right back to his fourth dam Sugar Doll’s sire, Irish Derby runner-up Sucaryl.

He also quipped to an Australian reporter this week about the commanding record of Zabeel as a broodmare in reference to Dundeel being out of the Zabeel mare Stareel.

‘‘All the hedge fund managers in New Zealand are saying ‘buy gold or a Zabeel mare’,’’ Baker said.

‘‘I’ve got no doubts he will stay the distance. He has a dour pedigree and everything tells me this is what he is looking for.’’

Baker and co-trainer Andrew Forsman currently lead the trainers’ premiership and have strong representation today and tomorrow, with three runners at Tauranga today, just one runner - Dundeel’s half-brother Vaayala - at Te Awamutu tomorrow, and four runners at Awapuni tomorrow, including Jeu de Cartes in the Listed Feilding Gold Cup, Lady Kipling and Pellegrini in the Listed Redcraze Bowl.

Baker gained his 1000th domestic win when Neo won last Saturday’s Gr II Wellington Guineas, but he played down a recent quote published on website, suggesting Dundeel had changed his plans to quit the sport.

‘‘I was planning to retire soon - probably when I trained my 1000th winner - but I might keep going while I have nice horses like him in the stable,’’ he was reported as saying.

However, yesterday he said he had no plans to give up training.

‘‘What else am I going to do but shrivel up and die? No, I’ll keep going and as I said earlier this week I just want to see an increase in stake money in New Zealand for owners. The costs are just enormous and it’s just got to be addressed.’’


Baker’s nine

The Phantom, 1990 Underwood Stakes

Eagle Eye, 1992 Ranvet Stakes

Eagle Eye, 1992 Sydney Cup

Prized Gem, 2002 Brisbane Cup

Dowry, 2004 South Australian Oaks

Nom du Jeu, 2008 Australian Derby

Lion Tamer, 2010 Victoria Derby

Lion Tamer, 2011 Underwood Stakes

Dundeel, 2012 Spring Champion Stakes

Waikato Times