Vin De Dance (left) withstands the challenge of Mongolianconqueror in the New Zealand Derby.
Terry Henderson’s 30-year dream was finally realised at Ellerslie this afternoon when Vin De Dance snatched victory by a nose from Mongolianconqueror in the $1 million Vodafone New Zealand Derby.
“I don’t normally get emotional but right now I can’t help myself,” said the seasoned Victorian, who heads the OTI syndication operation that has won countless feature races across Australasia in both equine codes.
“The New Zealand Derby is a race I’ve been trying to win for 30 years and to finally do it – and win it with this horse – is the realisation of a dream.”
Part of Henderson’s emotion was the Kiwi connection – a New Zealand-bred horse trained by reigning champions Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman and still part-owned by his breeder Luigi Muollo. Just eight days ago Wellington-based Muollo had the huge misfortune to lose his young stallion Jakkalberry following severe colitis attack.
“Luigi’s a great guy and I felt so sorry for him when Jakkalberry died,” continued Henderson. “We bought this horse off him at the Karaka Ready to Run Sale and I’m so pleased that he decided to keep a share.
“He’s not here today, but I’m sure this win will help him feel a whole lot better.”
Vin De Dance, a son of The Oaks Stud stallion Roc De Cambes, raced in Melbourne last spring and returned home after finishing fifth in the Moonee Valley Vase. A third placing in the Avondale Guineas was his third start since resuming and he paraded today in capital order for his big test.
Jason Waddell, a supremely talented rider whose maturity was capped by his recent marriage to his long-time partner Anna, played his part to the letter. He settled the big bay in third place one out behind a steady pace set by Irish Flame, put him right in the race to ensure a staying test and didn’t panic when other runners swept up wide with 800 metres to run.
Waddell had Vin De Dance poised to strike as soon as heads turned for home, with Mongolianconqueror tracking through directly behind him and the favourite Danzdanzdance attempting to clear traffic after the reshuffle in positions.
Meanwhile Danzdanzdance’s stablemate Endowment, one of those involved in the sharp forward move, was still in front with 200 metres to run. Vin De Dance and Mongolianconqueror were looming large, however, and settled down to a no quarters battle.
Heading into the final 100 metres Vin De Dance held a neck advantage but his rival wasn’t going away was they went head-to-head in the final strides. They hit the line locked together, with the deciding factor which horse’s head was in front on the wire.
Neither Waddell nor Mongolianconqueror’s jockey Michael McNab knew which horse had won and it took the judge John Craig to confirm Vin De Dance the victor by a nose.
The friendship between both jockeys was obvious as they were pulling their mounts up, offering hearty back slaps to each other and then embracing after weigh-in.
“I’ve looked at the replay and one stride I’m in front, then you’re in front,” said McNab. “Right on the line you’ve got the bob in – it was that close – but good on you mate, you deserve it!”
For the Baker/Forsman stable, it was a second New Zealand Derby in three years to go with the 2015 win by Mongolian Khan, who ironically raced in the same Inner Mongolia Horse Industry colours as today’s runner-up.
And like Mongolian Khan, Vin De Dance is likely to head to Sydney for the Australian Derby. “First of all though, we’ll celebrate tonight!” said Henderson surrounded by a horde of jubilant Australian syndicate members and supporters.