Baker’s derby stocks rise

Hugh beauty: Jockey Hugh Bowman will ride Usainity for Kiwi trainer Murray Baker in Saturday’s Grand Prix Stakes. Photo: Jenny EvansNew Zealand trainer Murray Baker admits that the performances of his two three-year-olds in the Grand Prix Stakes at Doomben on Saturday will give him a significant insight into his stable’s prospects of winning two derbies with different horses in the one season.

Baker said his two hopefuls, Usainity and Ambitious Champion, had settled in well this week in their lead-up to the $150,000 Grand Prix Stakes.

Both horses are being aimed at the Queensland Derby on June 8.

Ironically, both three-year-olds are by Zed, a son of Zabeel who Baker trained. The little-known stallion is becoming a rags-to-riches story in New Zealand breeding.

Zed, a $400,000 yearling, was luckless during his two years of racing and was retired to stud. But interest in the staying stallion declined to such a level that the horse was forced to cover Clydesdale mares instead of thoroughbreds.

”He was only put to a very small stud and I think after a couple of years he wasn’t getting many mares so he went over to serving Clydesdales, but all of a sudden he’s come good and siring winners all over New Zealand,” Baker said.

”I trained the horse myself and had a lot of time for him, but he was badly injured as a yearling and again hurt as a late three-year-old which completely ruined his career and his commercial profile.”

Zed will stand this season for $4500 at a bigger and stronger stud on the North Island.

”He really suits those breeders and farmers who like to get a young horse and give them a year in the paddock so they can mature and grow,” Baker said. ”And he’ll probably be very popular this year after being on a smaller stud where he didn’t get the opportunities.”

Baker has had a successful season, headed by the performances of Australian Derby winner It’s A Dundeel.

”He’s been home in New Zealand for about three weeks and we hope to have him back in Melbourne for a race like the Cox Plate later in this spring,” he said.

Remarkably, Zed could have up to three starters in the Queensland Derby if another Kiwi – Survived – joins Usainity and Ambitious Champion in the group 1 race.

”Usainity was a terrific run here the other day and has really gone on from that run whereas Ambitious Champion scored a fantastic win at Te Rapa back at home the last time he went to the races and he’s jumping pretty much in grade for this.

”Unlike my other three-year-olds he’s a bit green and a bit raw but he’s a real stayer and I like the things he’s doing at such an early stage.

”He’s owned by Hong Kong clients who also own Ambitious Dragon, who is one of the best horses in Hong Kong, and after this bloke finishes in Queensland he’s likely to also head to Hong Kong for the rest of his racing days.”

Ambitious Champion will be ridden by Kiwi hoop Jonathan Riddell, while champion jockey Hugh Bowman will be aboard Usainity.

”It’s a nice place to be in to have two good three-year-olds both looking to run in a Queensland Derby,” Baker said.

”But this year I think you’ll find the standard of three-year-olds that are competing in the derby will be very good so it could be a very tough race to win.”

Clearly the horse to beat for the Baker pair will be the John Singleton-owned filly Dear Demi, who showed that she’s at the peak of her form at the last-start win at Doomben.

Queensland officials are hopeful that rain stays away from the huge Doomben fixture on Saturday.

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