Vinnie Colgan, the most successful rider in New Zealand Derby history, is happy not to have to make the call between the rides on possible superstars Two Illicit and Dragon Leap going into the 2020 edition of the big G1 at Ellerslie on Saturday week.
Colgan will continue his association with Two Illicit, but he got a further line on Dragon Leap and fellow Derby contender Scorpz when he was a late replacement for Jason Waddell aboard the latter in Saturday’s G2 Avondale Guineas over 2100m at Ellerslie.
He guided the Stephen Marsh-trained Scorpz into second, a length and a half behind Dragon Leap, who reconfirmed his place at the top of the TAB’s fixed odds market for the $1 million 3-year-old Classic, displacing Two Illicit, with Waddell switching from Scorpz to him as his Derby mount.
“I’m glad I don’t have to make the call between Dragon Leap and Two Illicit,” Colgan said. “He [Dragon Leap] has got Derby written all over him. He was off the bridle, trucking all the way, and Opie [Bosson] didn’t have to do much on him. I’m sure there was a couple more lengths there if he had squeezed him.”
Colgan was satisfied enough with Scorpz’s effort, but was quick to make a comparison with Two Illicit.
“It was slowly-run and he over-raced and was never off the bridle,” he said. “He went a nice race, but it’s nothing like the feeling Two Illicit gives me.”
Trained by Roger James and Robert Wellwood, Two Illicit has recorded four wins and two placings from six starts and is the only horse to have beaten Dragon Leap in his four starts. She did so second up at Ellerslie last November, when defeating him by a short neck in the listed Trevor Eagle Memorial 3YO (1500m).
Colgan has also got a good handle on Two Illicit, being aboard the daughter of the 2011 New Zealand Derby winner Jimmy Choux in her last four starts for three wins and a second.
The pair were a fast-finishing runner-up to comprehensive last-start G2winner Jennifer Eccles in the G2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day, then decisively won the G2 Royal Stakes (2000m) on the same track on New Year’s Day before sealing her late entry for the New Zealand Derby with a highly impressive win in the G2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) at Te Rapa, scoring by seven and a half lengths from last-start G1 Levin Classic (1600m) winner Travelling Light.
Dragon Leap was to clash with Two Illicit in the Waikato Guineas, but an elevated temperature led to his withdrawal and his Derby dress rehearsal transferred to Saturday’s Avondale Guineas.
“He [Dragon Leap] would have had to have been at the top of his game if he had run in the Waikato Guineas and, even then, I don’t think he would have beaten her,” Colgan said. “She was unbeatable that day.
“She should have won all of her last four starts. Knowing her better now, in the Eight Carat I should have moved turning for home instead of waiting. She’s got an amazing turn of foot and she can keep it up for a long time. She can sprint for 400 metres and she runs through the line.”
Colgan has won the New Zealand Derby on six occasions, the first three (Roysyn in 1995, Zonda 1997 and Hades 1999) for James, to whom he was apprenticed. He then won on Sydney visitor Redoute’s Dancer in 2007, Habibi in 2013 and, most recently, Rangipo in 2016.
Habibi is the last filly to win the New Zealand Derby and that year she beat another top filly, Fix. In the past three years only one filly, Danzdanzdance, has taken on the males in the feature and she finished a highly creditable third two years ago.
Habibi went on to be placed in top company in Australia, the United States and Canada, where she was a listed winner and runner-up in the G1 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (2400m) at Woodbine.
Asked to compare Habibi with Two Illicit, Colgan wastes no time with his answer. “Two Illicit is way better,” he said. “She goes to sleep in her races and you can put her anywhere then she trucks into it. And she’s got that amazing long sprint at the end. Zonda is the best male I’ve had going into the Derby and she’s the best filly.”
Colgan has kept close tabs on Two Illicit and echoes James’ feelings going into the New Zealand Derby. “She’s flying,” he said. “I’ve paceworked her a couple of times and I’ll gallop her this week.”