Vinnie Colgan, the most successful rider in New Zealand Derby history, will continue his association with Two Illicit in the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie on Saturday week.
Trained by Roger James and Robert Wellwood, Two Illicit has recorded four wins and two placings from six starts and is the only horse to have beaten Saturday’s Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) winner Dragon Leap in his four starts. She did so second-up at Ellerslie last November when defeating him by a short neck in the Listed Trevor Eagle Memorial 3YO (1500m).
Colgan has got a good handle on Two Illicit, being aboard the daughter of the 2011 New Zealand Derby winner Jimmy Choux in her last four starts for three wins and a second.
The pair were a fast-finishing runner-up to comprehensive last-start Group Two winner Jennifer Eccles in the Gr.2 Eight Carat Classic (1600m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day, then decisively won the Gr.2 Royal Stakes (2000m) on the same track on New Year’s Day before sealing her late entry for the New Zealand Derby with a highly impressive win in the Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) at Te Rapa, scoring by seven and a half lengths from last start Gr.1 Levin Classic (1600m) winner Travelling Light.
Dragon Leap was to clash with Two Illicit in the Waikato Guineas, but an elevated temperature led to his withdrawal and his Derby dress rehearsal transferred to Saturday’s Avondale Guineas.
“He (Dragon Leap) would have had to have been at the top of his game if he had run in the Waikato Guineas and, even then, I don’t think he would have beaten her,” Colgan said. “She was unbeatable that day.
“She should have won all of her last four starts. Knowing her better now, in the Eight Carat I should have moved turning for home instead of waiting.
“She’s got an amazing turn of foot and she can keep it up for a long time. She can sprint for 400m and she runs through the line.”
Colgan has won the New Zealand Derby on six occasions, the first three (Roysyn in 1995, Zonda, 1997, and Hades, 1999) for James, to whom he was apprenticed. He then won on Sydney visitor Redoute’s Dancer in 2007, Habibi in 2013 and, most recently, Rangipo in 2016.
Habibi is the last filly to win the New Zealand Derby and that year she beat another top filly, Fix. In the past three years only one filly, Danzdanzdance, has taken on the males in the feature and she finished a highly creditable third two years ago.
Habibi went on to be placed in top company in Australia, the United States and Canada, where she was a Listed winner and runner-up in the Gr.1 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (2400m) at Woodbine.
Asked to compare Habibi with Two Illicit, Colgan wastes no time with his answer.
“Two Illicit is way better,” he said. “She goes to sleep in her races and you can put her anywhere then she trucks into it. And she’s got that amazing long sprint at the end.
“Zonda is the best male I’ve had going into the Derby and she’s the best filly.”
Colgan has kept close tabs on Two Illicit and echoes James’ feelings going into the New Zealand Derby.
‘She’s flying,” he said. “I’ve paceworked her a couple of times and I’ll gallop her this week.” - NZ Racing Desk