Cambridge trainer Stephen Marsh picked up his maiden Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) title at Ellerslie on Saturday but not with the horse that many felt would provide that honour.
Marsh saddled up two runners in the Vodafone sponsored contest with punters favouring Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) placegetter Vernanme as his main winning chance. That overlooked the credentials of stablemate Crown Prosecutor who had disappointed in his previous two runs since winning the Gr.3 Wellington Stakes (1600m) back in November.
In a muddling run affair that saw several of the fancied contenders, including favourite Surely Sacred, settle well off the pace, Crown Prosecutor and rider Craig Grylls took advantage of a perfect run in the trail throughout to spring a major upset.
Grylls guided the Medaglia D’Oro gelding into the clear at the 300m mark and dashed to the front to join Te Akau Racing representative, In A Twinkling. The pair set down to a fierce battle over the closing stages that went in favour of Crown Prosecutor who closed at a princely $105 on the tote.
Grylls was struggling to take it all in as he made his way back to the Ellerslie birdcage.
“Emotions are pretty high,” he said.
“He had won a stakes race before, but his form wasn’t the best coming in.
“He’s been a little off the boil, but Stephen and his team have done a great job and I couldn’t believe it.
“The plan was to go forward but he was green down the straight the first time as he tried to duck out a couple of times.
“He was good when he got a bit of cover and they didn’t go overly hard.
“Turning in he travelled up underneath me then he just kept grinding away and fought it out to the line.”
Marsh, who emulated his father Bruce who took out the 2000 edition of the event with Hail, was trying hard to keep his emotions in check as he accepted congratulations after the race.
“It just feels outstanding,” he said.
“I know he was one of the roughies of the race and we know how hard it is to even have a horse in the Derby.
“I don’t usually get given colts to train and we have, so this is the race you want to win as it’s the best race on the calendar.
“I’m just rapt, I’m blown away.”
Despite the outside odds for his charge, Marsh did have an inkling he could prove competitive in an even line-up.
“We had him hard fit ready and I said to Craig to go forward as he can out-tough them,” Marsh said.
“Nothing had gone right for us last start and he was a stakes winner.
“He (Grylls) rode him perfectly as they went hard and he sat in behind them, so it was a great win.”
Runner-up In A Twinkling was brave in defeat with international rider Glen Boss thinking he may have had the race won half-way down the home straight.
“He was a bit slow out and there was a lot of action going into that first turn,” Boss said.
“I was three-wide with cover for most of the race and I started to edge forward at the half-mile as he’s that type of horse.
“I felt like I had the winner beat the whole length of the straight, but he kept fighting back and pulling out a little more, so full credit to him.”
Awapuni raider Platinum Invador fought nicely for third with race favourite Surely Sacred also making up good ground for fifth after being held up when the field quickened at the 800m.
Crown Prosecutor is raced by Huntingdon Lodge Ltd.’s Harvey and Linda Green and long-time Marsh stable client, Lib Petagna and has now won two of his seven starts for $644,625 in stakes earnings.