Bunking work for a round of golf almost cost Michael Coleman his best chance yet for a third win in the New Zealand Derby, the Matamata jockey has revealed.
Coleman teams up with the Donna and Dean Logan-trained Rising Romance in tomorrow's Gr I $750,000 TV3 New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie.
He goes into the Classic even more confident of success than he was for his two previous Derby triumphs, aboard Cut The Cake in 2003 and Xcellent the following year.
But Coleman this week admitted he counted himself lucky to have the ride after he chose to play in a Pro Am golf tournament instead of riding Rising Romance at Dargaville last November, when the Ekraar filly claimed her maiden win under Danielle Johnson.
''I rode her in her first two starts but I didn't ride her when she won at Dargaville,'' Coleman said.
''She was meant to run at Avondale but they scratched her when she drew out and went there instead.
''I wasn't that keen on going to Dargaville. I wanted to play in a Pro Am tournament that Matamata had already organised a month or so beforehand, so I was probably a bit lucky to get back on.''
Coleman was back in the saddle for Rising Romance's next start, a Listed win over Hera and Fast Dragon in the Trevor Eagle Memorial at Ellerslie, and the jockey has been careful to diary his golfing commitments around the filly's programme since.
He has ridden her to a third placing behind Hera and Costa Viva in the Gr II Eight Carat Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day, a win over Lucia Valentina in the Gr II Royal Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie on New Year's Day and a fast-finishing second behind Derby favourite Puccini in the Gr II Avondale Guineas (2100m) at Ellerslie earlier this month.
''She's kept improving all the time,'' Coleman said.
''I always thought she had potential. The Derby was a long way off earlier on but after her runs at Ellerslie over the Christmas carnival, we knew this could be her race.
''I couldn't be happier with her. Her Avondale Guineas run was great and she should have taken improvement, having not run for six weeks beforehand. She felt great and with that improvement she should be right in the mix for the Derby.''
Rising Romance goes into the Derby at just her eighth start, having won three of her seven appearances so far.
She has followed a similar leadup programme to the one the Logans used with last year's Derby winner Habibi, who also won the Trevor Eagle Memorial before racing twice over the Christmas carnival at Ellerslie then placing in the Avondale Guineas with a six-week break between races.
The similarities don't end there either, with both fillies by Ekraar, both carrying the No 16 saddlecloth and drawing barrier one.Coleman was rapt to draw the inside as Rising Romance prepared to tackle 2400m for the first time.
''Over 2400m, next to the fence - it's the shortest way home,'' he said.
''She's got enough gate speed to use the barrier and with the other speed horse - Puccini - drawn barrier three, she's going to either be following him or one spot further back from him in the running.
''She's got a great temperament and she switches off and doesn't pull in her races. She's really placid. She seems to be able to handle most conditions too if it looked like being any rain about.''
TAB bookmakers yesterday had Rising Romance as a $4 second favourite for the Derby behind $3.20 favourite Puccini, the winner of the Waikato Guineas and Avondale Guineas in his past two starts.
While Rising Romance couldn't beat Puccini last time, Coleman felt she was well-placed to turn the tables tomorrow.
''We were taking ground off Puccini and she was strong to the line,'' Coleman said.
''She got quite a heavy bump just before the corner and got a bit unbalanced so I had to steady her and balance her up again, which didn't help either. She probably could have run him a fair bit closer had she not got that bump.''
Asked to name Rising Romance's main opposition, Coleman said: ''Puccini for sure. But Weregoingtogetcha's run in the Waikato Guineas was terrific and there's Spellbinder, Glorious Lad and Blizzard who have all got chances.
''Anything can happen in these races. Rising Romance and Puccini are not the only two chances in the Derby but they look the obvious two.''
Coleman, who - besides winning the Derby twice - finished second on Down The Road in 2009 and third aboard On The Level in 2011, admitted he was going into tomorrow's feature full of confidence in the race all jockeys wanted to win.
''I expect her to win,'' he said.
''I don't like to get over the top, shouting from rooftops 'I'm going to win', but I am pretty confident.
''This is the pinnacle race for a jockey in New Zealand, I think. Probably the only one that rivals it is the Auckland Cup, but this is the three-year-old Classic. This is the one.''