Horse Racing

Thinkin’ Big as Derby Day looms for Gai

TRAINERS Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott will know their Melbourne Cup destiny after the Derby Day meeting at Flemington on Saturday.

If results go their way, they could have three starters in the $7.3 million Melbourne Cup — or they could be left without a runner.



Their talented three-year-old Thinkin’ Big remains in Cup entries but has to win the Victoria Derby (2500m) to be any chance of starting on the first Tuesday in November.

Runway and Northwest Passage, who ran the quinella in the Geelong Cup last week, are likely to contest the Hotham Handicap (2500m) in a bid to secure Cup starts.

Bott said the first priority is to try and win the Victoria Derby with Thinkin’ Big, an impressive last start winner of the Caulfield Classic.

Tim Clark and Thinkin’ Big take out the Caulfield Classic.Source:Getty Images

In early TAB Fixed Odds betting, Thinkin’ Big is the $3 favourite to emulate his closer relation, Nothin’ Leica Dane who was trained by Waterhouse to win an epic 1995 Victoria Derby beating Octagonal.

“Thinkin’ Big’s super, he came through his Caulfield win in great shape,’’ Bott said.

“Physically he has really come on since his last start and hopefully we have got the right horse for the Derby.

“We haven’t given the Melbourne Cup a huge amount of thought with the three-year-old, we just want to get through our first goal which is the Derby but we have left the option open to run in the Cup.’’

Trainer Gai Waterhouse after Thinkin’ Big’s Caulfield victory.Source:AAP

Bott said there were no regrets about not starting Thinkin’ Big in the Cox Plate.

“The Derby is what we set out to do, what we set out to achieve,’’ he said.

“It’s a prestigious race, we would love to be able to win it and this way we are giving him his chance.

“He has had a good grounding for the Derby and he is bred to see out the 2500m.’’

Bott said Runway and Northwest Passage will be among Hotham entries.

Runway is moving closer to getting into the 24-horse Cup field but Northwest Passage has to win the Hotham to back up next Tuesday.

“Both will head towards the race, hopefully we can try and qualify at least one of them,’’ Bott said.

“If Runway can sneak into order before then we may still decide to run in the Hotham depending on what we feel is best for his Cup preparation.’’

Bowman’s Smash Hit win0:00

Horse Racing: Winx jockey Hugh Bowman has began his quest for a fourth consecutive Cox Plate in scintillating fashion with a tremendous ride to pilot the Darren Weir-trained topweight Brave Smash to victory in the $1 million Group 1 Manikato Stakes.


HUGH Bowman is making a compelling case to join the great Winx and her trainer Chris Waller in the Australian Racing Hall of Fame.

The champion jockey was at his brilliant best at Moonee Valley, producing a nerveless, textbook ride on Winx to win her fourth successive Cox Plate while his winning effort on Brave Smash in Friday night’s Manikato Stakes was also outstanding.

Bowman has now ridden 87 career Group 1 winners including majors in Hong Kong and Japan. His riding record is already superior to many of the jockeys that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame so far.

Rated among the world’s best jockeys — Bowman was voted number one globally last year — he is tactically very astute and handles pressure better than just about any rider I’ve seen.

Bowman has ridden Winx in 27 of her 29 successive wins and he has rarely got it wrong. Sure, Winx is good enough to overcome just about anything in a race but a poor ride could easily have brought her famous winning streak undone.

I’m on the Hall of Fame committee and there has been no determination about the 2019 inductees but it is going to be almost impossible to deny Bowman the coveted honour.



THERE was no prouder man on course at Moonee Valley last Saturday than Jim Bowman.

Just moments before his son brought Winx onto the course to attempt a historic fourth Cox Plate, Bowman seemed the calmest and most relaxed person among the 38,000-plus crowd.

“It’s a sport, you have to remember that, and you don’t always win,’’ Bowman said.

But as Winx sprinted clear to a famous fourth Cox Plate, Bowman reflected on his son’s achievements.

“Hugh’s done well, he gave Winx every chance and that is all you can ask of a jockey,’’ Bowman said.

“I’ve seen a lot of champions over the years, I always thought Tobin Bronze (dual Cox Plate winner in 1966-67) was one of the best, but I haven’t seen one like Winx. She’s incredible.’’


CHRIS Waller’s decision not to run crack three-year-old colt The Autumn Sun in the Cox Plate is likely to prove a masterstroke.

The Autumn Sun looked an emerging champion winning the Caulfield Guineas earlier this month and Waller was criticised for not giving the colt his chance in the Cox Plate.

Waller felt The Autumn Sun wasn’t mature enough physically to handle the Cox Plate cauldron and felt it would be asking too much of his very gifted but inexperienced colt.

It could also have had a detrimental effect on The Autumn Sun to try and race an all-time great Winx in her prime.

With the likelihood that Winx won’t be returning for a fifth Cox Plate next year, the door is wide open for her heir apparent, The Autumn Sun to continue the trainer’s domination of the Moonee Valley weight-for-age showpiece.

Some wagering operators have already opened betting on the 2019 Cox Plate including TAB Fixed Odds which has installed The Autumn Sun as $6 favourite.


PETER Tighe, a part-owner of Winx, said Chris Waller deserves particular recognition for his ability to ensure Winx was at her peak for the Cox Plate every year.

“It has been a week where nothing has gone wrong,’’ Tighe said after Winx’s win last Saturday.

“In fact, it has been four years in a row where nothing has gone wrong with the mare and her preparation.

“Chris Waller has got it down pat — he sure knows how to win a Cox Plate.’’


AQUA D’Ivina, the mare who cheated death earlier this year, is now poised to make her mark on the Melbourne spring carnival.

Trainer Matthew Smith said he is keen to set the promising mare for the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes after her courageous win at Royal Randwick last Saturday.

Smith conceded it has been “a long road back” for Aqua D’Ivinia, who suffered a serious bout of colic last summer and almost died.

“She needed surgery and it was touch and go there for a while,’’ Smith said. “So, to see Aqua D’Ivina win so well at Randwick was very exciting for everyone involved.’’

Smith said Aqua D’Ivina, who improved her race record to four wins and three seconds from seven starts, will be given her chance in the Matriarch Stakes in two weeks provided she continues to train on well.

“It might seem we are aiming a bit high but I’ve always had a big opinion of her, she has showed us a lot at home,’’ Smith said.

“At the start of his preparation, we only had four races picked out for her ended with the Matriarch and she has come through the first three so well. Provided she eats up and trains on well, we will take her to Melbourne.

“She has such a good pedigree (Pierro-Aqua D’Amore) that if we can get some black type with her, then she is an extremely valuable broodmare.’’

Trainer Gary Portelli after Single Bullet’s win on Saturday.Source:AAP


GARY Portelli’s training effort to get Single Bullet back into winning form is also worthy of mention.

Single Bullet has been the cause of some real frustration for Portelli because of his inability to turn potential into performance but his brilliant, fast-finishing in win in the Chandon S Sprint at Randwick was an indication of what this talented sprinter is capable of producing when right.

Portelli changed Single Bullet’s training program, sending the sprinter back to the races off a freshen up but without a lead-in barrier trial and it worked spectacularly with the four-year-old scoring his first win in 18 months.

Meanwhile, Portelli said promising juvenile Time To Reign, a half-brother to 2017 Golden Slipper heroine She Will Reign and a brilliant debut winner at Randwick earlier this month, is likely to race next again at Rosehill this Saturday.


SKY Boy, who races in the colours of the late Dato Tan Chin Nam, is emerging as a real Villiers Stakes hopeful after he continued his form surge at the Randwick meeting.

Trainers Anthony and Edward Cummings are being rewarded for their patience with the lightly raced gelding showing considerable promise and scoring with authority over 2000m.

“He didn’t quite come up last autumn so we didn’t push him and sent him back to the spelling paddock,’’ Anthony Cummings said.

“We are seeing the benefit of that now because he has developed further. I’m planning to give him two more runs and then go to the Villiers.

“If he can win the Villiers then that gets him into the Doncaster Mile next autumn which is where we want to head with him — we think he is that good.’’


BRENTON Avdulla, Sydney’s reigning premier jockey, missed the first five weeks of the Sydney season due to Japanese riding commitments but he is quickly rising up the premiership rankings.

Avdulla was in brilliant form at the Canterbury night meeting with five wins and backed that up with a win on Coruscate at Randwick and is back into the Sydney top 10 with 12 winners.

Tommy Berry has quickly slotted back into Sydney racing after a season in Hong Kong and after his Randwick double on Single Bullet and Sexy Eyes, he has vaulted to third on the premiership standings with 22 wins behind leader James McDonald on 33 wins.

Jockey Jason Collett rides Aqua D’Ivina to victory at Royal Randwick.Source:AAP


With Ron Dufficy


It’s not easy jumping in grade and distance but Aqua D’Ivina did it in nice style lifting to another level. She has been very well handled to date and I don’t know if I want to charge into backing her in a Stakes race over the Flemington Carnival but connections have something to work with in the Autumn.


After refusing to settle and going out far too hard Man Of Peace did a sensational job still fighting out the finish after being gassed early. If he settled better he would have won.


Royal Celebration has been unlucky running into the wrong horses so far this preparation but he got the job done well winning well on Saturday. If they go to the Hilton On The Park on the last day of the Flemington Carnival he could be a sneaky chance at odds as he’s peaking at the right time.


A few candidates for honours here but Tommy Berry is back in the zone with a winning double. His professionalism and attitude is second to none.


Monday: Tamworth

Tuesday: Grafton

Wednesday: Randwick Kensington

Thursday: Gosford, Sapphire Coast

Friday: Moree, Wagga Wagga

Saturday: Rosehill Gardens, Newcastle, Dubbo

Sunday: Goulburn, Muswellbrook

Originally published as Thinkin’ Big as Derby Day looms for Gai

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