Despite being beaten by a superb staying performance from Sherwood Forest in Saturday’s Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m), connections of Two Illicit were proud of her effort to finish runner-up.
The Ellerslie classic had been billed as a two-horse showdown, and after two weeks of hype and speculation, Two Illicit started as the $2 favourite with Dragon Leap at $3.10. No other runner was in single figures.
Two Illicit was one of three runners in the race for trainers Roger James and Robert Wellwood, and remarkably, all three finished among the top six.
Two Illicit swooped into contention at the top of the straight, a similar move to the one that launched her to an extraordinary seven-length win in the Gr.2 Waikato Guineas (2000m) three weeks earlier.
But this time she had company all the way down the straight. Over the last 200 metres Sherwood Forest was simply too strong, pulling away to win by a length and a quarter.
“Obviously we would have loved to win the Derby, but to have three runners in the race and all of them finish in the top six is a great result,” Wellwood said on Sunday morning.
“We’re stoked with that. It was a fantastic effort by the team to get those three horses to the race in such good order, and I’m really happy for all of their connections.
“Two Illicit’s run was very, very good. I’m really proud of the way she went. It was an unusually hard-run Derby (run in 2:26.77, the fastest time since 1998), and we were beaten by the stronger, tougher stayer. But she tried her heart out and stayed with him all the way to the line.
“We’ll keep an eye on her for a week or two before making any plans, and we’ll just see how she’s come through it. We could potentially look at taking her to Sydney for the Vinery (Gr.1, 2000m) on March 28. – NZ Racing Desk