Weir stands up to powerful NSW attack
DARREN Weir, Melbourne's champion trainer, is standing in front of a surging "blue tide" at Flemington on Derby Day.
NSW-trained horses are early favourites in five of the nine races on Saturday, including Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott's colt Thinkin' Big at $2.80 for Saturday's Group 1 $2 million AAMI Victoria Derby (2500m).
But Weir has a powerful presence on Derby Day and is Victoria's best hope of preventing NSW trainers from dominating the opening day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
He will saddle up 15 starters on Derby Day, including Ladbrokes favourites in three feature races - Land Of Plenty ($4.20) in the Group 1 $1 million Kennedy Mile (1600m), Amphitrite ($4.60) in the Group 1 $500,000 Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) and Verry Elleegant ($2.00) for the Group 2 $300,000 Wakeful Stakes (2000m).
Weir, who trained a national record of 489.5 winners in 2017-18 and is on track to smash that mark this season, is hoping to build on his four Group 1 wins so far this spring.
"We've got a nice team ready for Cup week but obviously the racing is absolutely top quality so you need a few things to go your way,'' Weir said.
"But we have two good chances in the Derby as well as the other Group 1 races so we will be going to Flemington hoping for the best.''
It's almost a case of Weir versus NSW with Thinkin' Big leading the Premier State charge in the Victoria Derby that also includes the James Cummings-trained Aramayo, the $6 second favourite.
NSW's other big-race favourites are Chris Waller's boom three-year-old Zousain ($3.80) for the Group 1 $1 million Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m), Cummings also saddles up Ranier ($5) in the Group 3 $200,000 Carbine Club Stakes (1600m) and Osborne Bulls ($3.80) for the Group 2 $300,000 TAB Stakes (1200m), and trainer David Pfieffer's brilliant mare I Am Excited ($3.70) in the Group 3 $200,000 Furphy Sprint (1100m).
The only race at Flemington on Derby where Weir or a NSW trainer does not have the early favourite is the Group 3 $300,000 Lexus (Hotham) Stakes (2500m) where English stayer A Prince Of Arran heads betting at $4.80 ahead of Waller's consistent stayer Brimham Rocks ($6).
Weir's two Victoria Derby runners, Extra Brut and Savoie, are at $9.50 and $10 respectively for the three-year-old classic with the trainer confident both will be competitive in the classic.
Extra Brut impressed with three successive wins including the Listed UCI Stakes over 1800m at Flemington before his sixth to Derby favourite Thinkin' Big in the Caulfield Classic, stablemate Savoie is backing up after his close second to Stars Of Carrum in the Vase at Moonee Valley last Saturday.
"Extra Brut is getting back to Flemington which he should like,'' Weir said. "He did run a bit below par last time at Caulfield but his win before that (at Flemington) was really good.
"Savoie ran well at Moonee Valley and deserves his spot in the race. The 2500 is a small question mark there but he's going to present a really, really fit horse.''
Weir's four Kennedy Mile runners include Land Of Plenty and Cliff's Edge who are racing in career-best form.
Land Of Plenty finished fast to win the Group 1 Toorak Handicap at Caulfield last start while Cliff's Edge was a tough winner of the Group 2 Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley last Saturday.
Outstanding three-year-old filly Amphitrite, winner of her four starts this spring including the Group 1 Thousand Guineas, is taking on the older mares, including her stablemate Kenedna, in the Empire Rose Stakes.
Amphitrite is attempting to become the third successive three-year-old filly to win the Empire Rose Stakes after I Am A Star (2016) and Shoals (2017).
Verry Elleegant is the hottest favourite on Derby Day. The highly promising filly could not have been more impressive in overpowering her rivals to win the Ethereal Stakes at Caulfield last start.
"We were toying with the idea of backing up at Moonee Valley last Saturday but I spoke to Jarrod (McLean) on Wednesday and Thursday morning and Jarrod made the statement I'd be happy to be running her if The Oaks was on today,'' Weir said.
"We think giving her that extra week will help her and then I think she'll back up no problem at all. She needs to run. It will be hard for to over-race like she did her previous start and run out a strong 2500m.''
Weir, who trained $101 bolter Prince Of Penzance to a famous Melbourne Cup win in 2015, is hoping to have at least three runners in Tuesday's big race.
The trainer has already secured Cup starts for Red Cardinal and Tosen Basil with both stayers going straight into the Flemington two-miler, while stablemates Yogi, Gallic Chieftain and Sixties Groove each needs to win the Lexus Stakes to make Tuesday's field.
"I've got two definite runners in the Cup and if one can win the Hotham (Lexus Stakes) they will run. It's the only way they can get in,'' Weir said.