O'Brien rates Rockferry an Xcellent Derby hope

Less than a week after Bart Cummings won the Cox Plate with the most inexperienced horse in the race's history, trainer Danny O'Brien suspects he will achieve a similar feat in Saturday's Victoria Derby with Rockferry.

The brother to four-time Group 1 winner Xcellent had his first start just six weeks ago and goes into the $1.5 million classic at just his fourth start, but a normally cautious O'Brien yesterday could not hide his confidence in the horse.

''That was clearly the best he has ever worked,'' O'Brien said after the colt worked over 1600 metres on the course proper at Flemington yesterday morning.

''A month ago, he would run around like a drunken sailor doing that work alone on the course proper but he's learned quickly and handled it all very well. It's been an ideal preparation for him.''

The Cox Plate was So You Think's fifth race start and no Victoria Derby winner in modern times has had any less than five starts going into the classic. But O'Brien insists Rockferry can do it after just three runs.

''He's been on a steep learning curve and still has had just three starts,'' he said. ''I didn't want to run him in races that weren't suitable and so we stepped him straight up to 2200 metres at his second start because staying is what he's about.

''The derby is the right race for him. He's the one three-year-old in the race that will be most suited by the derby distance and recent history tells us that the three-year-old that stays the trip best, wins the race.

''We saw that last year with Rebel Raider and before that Kibbutz and Efficient.'' Rockferry worked over 1600 metres in one minute 51.69 seconds. ''I thought it was outstanding work,'' the trainer said.

O'Brien purchased the brother to former star stayer Xcellent at last year's New Zealand Premier sales for $550,000 after staving off bids from several other interested parties, including Xcellent's former connections.

Mike Moroney, who trained Xcellent to win a New Zealand Derby and run third in the 2005 Melbourne Cup, said yesterday that a few of the owners of the now-retired multiple group 1 winner were keen to buy Rockferry.

''He was a very nice horse but I thought that once we'd gotten over $400,000 it was going to be expensive because a lot of the Pentires that I've had, including Xcellent, needed gelding,'' Moroney said. ''We still went to $500,000 before we dropped out.''

Rockferry won a Geelong maiden over 2200 metres two starts ago and then was luckless in the listed Geelong Classic over the same trip a week ago.

Jockey Hugh Bowman, who rode him at Geelong, was adamant the colt should be going into Saturday's derby off a win. ''He should have won at Geelong, no doubt at all. I just ran into a dead end on him at the corner. It cost me the race,'' he said.

Rockferry will bring up O'Brien's first Victorian classic if he can live up to expectations.

''He's definitely the best chance I've had of winning a Victoria Derby. Over the last few years I've had a few run in it but none as good a stayer as him.

''Villain ran fourth two years ago and Buffet finished fourth last year.''

Three main contenders for Saturday's derby will not be paid up at final acceptance time today. Trainer Peter Moody confirmed he would bypass Saturday's classic with his still maturing AAMI Vase winner of last weekend Hanks and Danny O'Brien has similar thoughts with Vase runner-up Spacecraft.

Also, Perth galloper Bridgestone, who ran a strong fourth in the Norman Robinson Stakes at Caulfield on October 17, will miss the derby after he was found to have a respiratory infection.

Story by Andrew Eddy, to view full Age story click here

Photo by Age Photographer Vince Caligiuri

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