Riff Rocket lifts off in Derby

Source: ANZ News, by Daniel Harrold

Coolmore’s former shuttler American Pharoah (Pioneerof The Nile) became the first US Triple Crown-winning stallion to sire an elite-level winner in Australia since the great Secretariat (Bold Ruler) when the Chris Waller-trained Riff Rocket held off all challengers to land the $2 million Victoria Derby (Gr 1, 2500m) at Flemington.

The Chris Waller-trained gelding was stepping up to the top level for the first time, having scored impressively in the Super Impose Stakes (Listed, 1800m) on October 7 before a last-start second in the Caulfield Classic (Gr 3, 2000m) just a fortnight ago.

Sent off the $2.20 favourite under James McDonald, who had been aboard for his last two outings, Riff Rocket improved from the rear of the field entering the final 600 metres and, asked for full effort 300 metres from home, stayed on well down the centre of the track to lead close to home, holding on narrowly from the fast-finishing Apulia (Fiorente), who had won the Moonee Valley Vase (Gr 2, 2040m) a week previous, to score by a nose. The pair pulled a length clear of the third-placed Sunsets (Dundeel).

This win handed Waller back-to-back success in the race and third overall, following on from Manzoice’s (Almanzor) triumph last year and Preferment’s (Zabeel) win in 2014. 

“The race unfolded beautifully in terms of where James positioned him,” Waller’s assistant trainer Charlie Duckworth said. “Everything looked like it was going to plan and on the turn it almost looked like he was coming off the bridle a little bit early.

“That gave us a little bit of a worry and I thought we had the horse on the inside covered but the eventual second-placegetter challenged us late and being so far away the horses lose their sense of it but coming into today no one is sure whether they’ll stay the 2500 [metres].

“It was a serious moment of silence when they hit the line, we weren’t quite sure whether we’d got there and done the job or not, the Kepitis family, Woppitt Bloodstock, they’ve obviously really stepped into their own in terms of ownership and they’re just fantastic people to deal with and this will mean absolutely everything to them.

“It is called Derby Day and this is the Group 1 you want to be winning on the day and we’ve been fortunate to go back-to-back.”

A homebred for Debbie Kepitis’s Woppitt Bloodstock, Riff Rocket was foaled and raised at Coolmore and provided McDonald with a first win in the Derby.

“It was a real test of stamina, I think the three best horses came away and it would’ve been a great spectacle to watch but I’ve been blessed with a couple of really close photos and this is another one that I thought I was done to a dinner on the line,” the winning rider said.

“I was so happy with the first half of the race, it’s a real test for young horses, when I’ve seen a bit of movement up front, I was happy with the position and because of his electric turn of foot which he had a flat spot last time… I was cursing myself because he got there really quickly and was a sitting duck and I was lucky to get away with that one.”

Riff Rocket (3 g ex Missile Coda by Smart Missile) is the only winner from two to race out of the Smart Missile (Fastnet Rock) mare Missile Coda, winner of five of her 13 starts and runner-up to Savanna Amour (Love Conquers All) in the 2018 running of the Hinkler Handicap (Listed, 1200m) at Doomben.

A $400,000 buy at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, Missile Coda is out of the Lonhro (Octagonal) mare Rain Melody, a three-quarter sister to I Believe, who is the dam of three-time Group 2 winner and Group 1-placed Rain Affair (Commands) and dual Listed winner Ranges (Shooting To Win), and a half-sister to Listed scorer Walk Alone (Honour And Glory).

Missile Coda has a two-year-old Nicconi (Bianconi) filly named Codetta and was covered by Home Affairs (I Am Invincible) last spring.