Day At The Track

Brennan trainee ready for $200,000 Derby

09:59 AM 06 Apr 2017 NZST
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Michael Brennan
Michael Brennan

Victorian-bred harness racing gelding Im Rockaria has overcome a worrying setback and is poised for a bold showing in the $200,000 Sky Racing WA Derby at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

He has recovered fully from an infection under a cavity in a tooth which caused him to race erratically and finish a distant last in a field of 11 at his latest appearance, in a Derby prelude three Fridays ago.

Trainer and part-owner Michael Brennan is bubbling with confidence after Im Rockaria finished a head second to experienced stablemate Naughty Maravu in a 2185m trial at Pinjarra on Sunday morning when he dashed over the final 800m in 56sec.

Im Rockaria’s prospects soared after he drew the prized No. 1 barrier on the front line in the 2536m Derby and champion reinsman Gary Hall jun. signified his confidence in the gelding when he chose to drive him ahead of highly-promising three-year-olds El Barcelona and Herrick Roosevelt, who are prepared by his father Gary Hall sen.

Brennan, who purchased the son of Rocknroll Hanover for just $16,000 at the Victorian yearling sales, has had only one previous runner in a WA Derby --- Im Victorious, who started from the No. 1 barrier and was driven to an all-the-way victory by Justin Prentice five years ago.

“This year the barrier draw is a big help, we’ve got the right driver and the horse has got over the little issue we had with his mouth,” Brennan said.

“Im Rockaria is ready to go and he has all the qualities needed to win a Derby. He’s strong and he’s fast and I think he is 100 per cent spot on. He loves leading and has never been beaten when he has led. The distance is no problem at all. He’s a really good stayer and he’s got super high speed to go with it.

“Obviously, Mitch Maguire is going to be very hard to beat, Herrick Roosevelt has been super impressive and Runrunjimmydunn was most impressive in winning last Friday night. It is by no means a one or two-horse race. There is a lot of quality and this is one of the more even Derbies in recent years.”

In his trial on Sunday morning Im Rockaria was driven by Nathan Turvey and he raced three back on the fence before finishing strongly to be second, a head behind Naughty Maravu, an M3-class pacer who set the pace with Brennan in the sulky.

“At his most recent start, in a Derby prelude, Im Rockaria tracked up three wide (from the 1100m to be fifth at the bell) and hung in really badly,” Brennan said. “Later we discovered that he had an infection under cavity in a tooth and Gary couldn’t steer him.

“This problem is the reason why he hasn’t been able to race over the past three weeks. We had to treat him quite heavily with anti-biotics and we’ve tried a bit of different gear to take the pressure off the jaw.

“His win two starts ago, in the Battle of Bunbury, was super.” In that event Im Rockaria enjoyed an ideal passage, one-out and one-back, before starting a three-wide move 800m from home. He surged to the front at the 500m mark and went on to win by more than three lengths from Rock Diamonds.”

Im Rockaria, who has earned $137,275 from ten wins and three seconds from 18 starts, has already won a group 1 feature event, having been successful as a two-year-old in the Pearl Classic at Gloucester Park last June.

He is owned by Brennan and his wife Lara, Cam Byers and Dave Skelton (who were part-owners of Im Victorious), Michael Maxwell and Cameron Maggs, who broke in Im Rockaria in Victoria.

Im Rockaria is the ninth foal out of Vitness, whose second foal Twelve Paces earned $263,058 from 27 wins and 20 placings from 68 starts. Twelve Paces won a heat of the Victoria Derby at Shepparton in January 2007, beating Triple Vance and Lombo Pocket Watch. He then finished fifth behind Lombo Pocket Watch in the final at Moonee Valley.

Mitch Maguire, prepared by leading trainers Greg and Skye Bond, is handily drawn at barrier three on the front line and looks set to fight out the finish. His form is outstanding, having won at ten of his past 11 starts in a glittering career of 18 starts for 12 wins and two placings for stakes of $197,373.

He completed his Derby preparation with an all-the-way win from barrier one in the 2536m group 2 Western Gateway Classic last Friday week. He was favourite at 10/1 on and after a third quarter of the final mile in 28.4sec., he just held on in a final section of 29.3sec. to beat the fast-finishing Maczaffair by a half-head at a 1.57.3 rate.

“He overraced and that probably took the sting out of him,” said reinsman Ryan Warwick. “People shouldn’t want to measure him on that performance. Mitch Maguire beat Im Rockaria at Pinjarra four starts ago (when Mitch Maguire worked hard in the breeze).

“I’m confident in the horse and the 2536m won’t worry him. I keep going back to his Pinjarra run three starts ago (when he galloped in a stand and made up a huge amount of lost ground to win easily). It was a phenomenal performance and I rate the horse highly. His record is hard to fault and I can’t see any reason to discount him.”

Herrick Roosevelt, who has drawn poorly on the outside of the front line, will be driven by Kim Prentice and Chris Voak has been engaged to handle El Barcelona from the outside of the back line.

Herrick Roosevelt has raced only four times for two wins, a second to Mitch Maguire (from the breeze) and a last-start third from the breeze behind Mitch Maguire and Maczaffair.

“He’s going super,” Prentice said. “I have sat behind him once, in a trial a couple of weeks ago. It was only a jump out, but I love the horse. The biggest problem on Friday night will be holding him out of the mobile because he is inclined to get keen. We will be trying to slot in somewhere.”

El Barcelona won for the fifth time from 12 starts when he led from the No. 1 barrier and held on to defeat Handsandwheels and Heza Head Honcho last Friday night. Handsandwheels, to be driven by Aiden de Campo, is nicely drawn on the inside of the back line and certainly has sound place prospects.

Clint Hall will drive Runrunjimmydunn, who was produced in fine fettle for a first-up victory in WA last Friday night. The gelding is awkwardly drawn at barrier six, but will have many admirers after his runaway seven-length victory over In Nyrobi, rating 1.56.4 over 2130m last Friday night. “He’s a pretty good horse and I’ll be putting him into the race at some stage,” Hall said.

The Mike Reed-trained Maczaffair is a talented performer who has won at eight of her 18 starts and impressed last Friday week when she was tenth at the 600m and seventh with 250m to travel before flying home to be a half-head second to Mitch Maguire last Friday week.

The WA Derby was first run in 1917 and a filly has been successful only six times, with those winners being Hilda Grattan (1948), Happy Mint (1950), Swahili (1962), Hill Oro (1969), Via Vista (1981) and Whitbys Miss Penny (1991).

Champion reinsman Chris Lewis will be seeking his sixth win in the classic, after victories behind Trunkey Maseratti (1994), Saab (1998), Talladega (2000), Argent Treasure (2008) and In The Force (2009). He will drive the Ross Olivieri-trained Lord Willoughby from barrier No. 2. Lord Willoughby is improving steadily, but has won only three times from 17 starts. 

Ken Casellas

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