New Zealanders win Australian Derby without spectators on-course

Last weekend the current status of Asian Racing Federation countries was on display with the Group 1 Australian Derby (2400m) at Randwick, Sydney, won by Quick Thinker (AUS) trained by New Zealanders Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman, who are in total lockdown in New Zealand, and the only other Group 1 in the world over the weekend, the 64th Oskai Hai (2000m), run without spectators, as was Randwick.

With New Zealand in total lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Baker and Forsman had earlier sent runners to Australia to be cared for by Baker's son Bjoin who trains out of Sydney's Warwick Farm racecourse and training centre. When their country went into the lockdown Baker and Forsman send the rest of their stable runners off to spell and with travel restrictions in place both watched the Derby from their individual homes near Cambridge.

On Saturday, April 4th, 2020, at Randwick Quick Thinker backed-up from his victory in the Tulloch Stakes seven days ago to hold-off the very determined late finish of Zebrowski (NZ) (Savabeel) with the result replicating last week’s quinella in the prominent Derby lead-up.

In a race which saw proven Group 1 winners and market leaders Castelvecchio, Shadow Hero, Warning and Sherwood Forest all fail to deliver a genuine challenge, Queensland visitor Eric The Eel (AUS) (Dundeel) ran third with a stout staying effort over the final 200 metres.

Run in a time of 2m34.24s (last 600m in 38.39s) on a testing track, the Derby turned into a slog in which Quick Thinker displayed exceptional resolve. Sent for home from the top of the main straight by New Zealand jockey Oppie Bosson the diminutive son of So You Think had every reason to fold over the closing stages on more than one occasion, yet kept finding all the way to the line.

Though beaten into second place by Quick Thinker for the second time in a week, runner-up Zebrowski, was equally as courageous as the winner and only just failed to draw level with Quick Thinker on crossing the finishing line.

However, the record books will show that Quick Thinker did best in a titanic finish, giving the mercurial Baker his fifth Australian Derby winner.

Speaking after his winning ride, Bosson was keen to hail the talents of Baker.

“Murray Baker is a genius at getting his horses ready for this race,” said Bosson.

“He rang me yesterday morning and said the horse is rock hard fit and [that] he will run a huge race. To be honest, he pulled my arms out the whole race. He did not come off the bit until we got to about the half mile. He is hard work.

“I thought we might have done too much in the running, but then the Murray Baker fitness kicked in,” he said.

On Sunday, April 5th, 2020, at Hanshin the second favorite Lucky Lilac (JPN) improved on her runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen over 1800m last month to captured her third Grade 1 title in this year’s Osaka Hai.

The Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies victor and 2017 Best Two-Year-Old Filly landed her second Grade 1 victory last November in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2,200m) and concluded her four-year-old campaign with a runner-up effort in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase over 2400m at Sha Tin in December.

Trainer Mikio Matsunaga claimed his fifth career Grade 1 title (steeplechases included)—the last being the Queen Elizabeth II Cup with the same horse. Jockey Mirco Demuro landed his 31st JRA-Grade 1 title, the first since the 2019 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) with Loves Only You. He also won the 2018 edition of the Osaka Hai with Suave Richard, a year after the race was upgraded to G1 status.

Lucky Lilac broke sharply from a good draw but allowed race favorite Danon Kingly to pass and dictate a moderated pace and eased to third along the rails, a few lengths behind the pace setter and Jinambo who stalked the leader in second.

While keeping an eye on Chrono Genesis who made her move towards the outside route turning for home, Mirco Demuro kept the Orfevre mare to the inside, and did not miss the chance as Jinambo began to tire with 200 meters to go and slipped through to the outside of Danon Kingly, increasing her strides impressively to out-win both Chrono Genesis (JPN) and Danon Kingly (JPN) for a neck victory.

“I really miss the fans that were unable to come and watch the race, but it is always a great feeling to be able to win a G1 race. Lucky Lilac was well prepared for coming into this race after a prep at Nakayama where she found the uphill still a little tough at the finish—she was definitely very strong and fit this time. She was really sharp coming out of the gate and we were a little forwardly positioned than expected but the race went perfectly for us and she was really concentrating and taking the bit after the third corner—we were lucky to find a nice opening at the stretch. She is a mare but a not timid and has the strength to face the top males in the future,” commented Mirco Demuro.

Japan, Australia and Hong Kong are currently the only major racing jurisdictions in the world still conducting race meetings.