The return of my weekly specials comes this Saturday, 29 June, at Caulfield.
Winning a spring classic is life changing for most owners, but winners of the VRC Derby have had a torrid run beyond their $1 million victory.
On Saturday, Polanski became the latest victim of the Derby curse after sustaining a severe pastern injury which has almost certainly ended his racing career after just 10 starts. It comes on the back of a spring campaign which took in five races totalling 9100m, from distances of 1200m to 2500m.
Whenever spring comes around and discussions are had about the Melbourne Cup, trainers are often hesitant about taking four-year-olds to the two miles. The generic response is they’ll give it a crack but they’ll be a much better chance the following year.
Developing as a stayer takes time and with the VRC Derby positioned at the beginning of the Southern Hemisphere racing season, the toll of a Derby campaign is proving too much for many of these colts and geldings.
To say the strenuous spring campaign as a developing three-year-old contributed directly to the injury is a brash generalisation, but it’s becoming all too familiar among VRC Derby winners.
History shows that three-year-olds can run the distance and fully recover, which is why I’m pinning the poor careers of Derby winners as a curse.
The traditional Derby campaign takes in the Norman Robinson Stakes over 2000m and Moonee Valley Vase over 2040m before completing the VRC Derby over 2500m.
These three-year-olds are essentially running 6540m in the space of a month, which is more than a lot of Melbourne Cup-bound horses.
The 2012 Derby winner Fiveandahalfstar had run 7800m in a month by the time he’d won the Derby. He was able to kick on into the autumn but the heavy staying load eventually took his toll.
He hasn’t raced in 12 months and has been ruled out of the current season.
Sangster, the 2011 winner, returned in autumn a shadow of his former self, running 15th in the Australian Guineas, 16th in the Rosehill Guineas and ninth in the Australian Derby.
After that, an eight-month spell was required for him to recover, ruling out a Melbourne spring campaign.
Lion Tamer (2010) had to bypass autumn after his Derby win and looked like he would kick on for an illustrious career until a tragic accident in the 2011 Cox Plate saw him put down after the race.
Monaco Consul (2009) never won another race after the Derby and was retired a year later to stud duties, but is yet to sire a Group 1 winner.
Rebel Raider (2008) looked spent in autumn when he went to Sydney, where he ran 17th in the Randwick Guineas and 11th in the Australian Derby before bouncing back to win the South Australian Derby.
He then raced only another six times before retiring to stud, where his exceptionally low stud fee reflects his stallion success.
Kibutz (2007) was able to kick on after his Derby win but failed to place even once in his 16 subsequent races. He ended his career running around in Listed class where he still wasn’t competitive.
We have to go back to the 2006 Derby to find a winner who was able to continue their career for a few years and win without any major interruptions.
Efficient went on to win the 2007 Melbourne Cup as well as taking out the 2008 Turnbull Stakes. Following the Turnbull, lingering injuries led to a two-year injury-enforced layoff when he looked at the peak of his career.
Efficient’s success has to be somewhat attributed to owner Lloyd Williams’ mantra of light autumn campaigns, something most Derby winners forgo in chasing the riches offered in autumn.
Looking at stayer success from the other lens, Makybe Diva was the best of the decade and she only had one race as a filly – and that was at the end of her season as a three-year-old.
Viewed would have to be considered one of the more successful Melbourne Cup winning stayers of the past decade and his three-year-old season did not take in any Derbys.
In fact, he was a very average three-year-old and did not develop into his body until he turned four which seems the norm among successful stayers.
VRC Derby campaigns have produced a whole lot of tired and injured horses since Efficient’s 2006 win. Whether the race is cursed or not, perhaps it’s one of those million dollar shots worth passing up.