Trainer Chris Waller is tipped to take out the Group 1 $2 million Victoria Derby (2500m) for a third time with the master horseman saddling-up Saturday’s favourite Riff Rocket.

Riff Rocket

Riff Rocket is the three-year-old to beat in the 2023 Victoria Derby this weekend at Flemington. Photo: Ultimate Racing Photos.

Waller won the VRC Derby in 2014 with Preferment and was also successful in the feature race on the opening day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival last year with Manzoice.

On Saturday he has his consistent American Pharoah gelding Riff Rocket jumping from a favourable barrier five draw with the talented James McDonald retaining the ride.

McDonald has ridden the horse for his two latest starts when a 5.5 length winner at the track in the Listed Super Impose Stakes (1800m) before a narrow loss as the beaten odds-on favourite in the Group 1 Caulfield Classic (2000m) on October 21.

Back at Flemington now and fitter for his first Group assignment the up-and-comer is expected to relish the extra distance and sits top of Victoria Derby betting at $2.45 and firming at Ladbrokes.

Close second favourite at current Victoria Derby odds of $3.90 is the Ben, Will & JD Hayes-trained Apulia also drawn well in barrier three.

J Mac and Mark Zahra will partner Gold Trip and Without A Fight respectively as two of the best backed stayers in next Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup field and could also be fighting out the finish in the Derby.

Zahra partners Fiorente colt Apulia who is bred to stay being a son of a former Melbourne Cup winner and who brings in the confidence of a last start win.

After an eighth to Riff Rocket in the Super Impose the galloper finished fourth in the Caulfield Classic and then raced again when showing his class with a two length Group 2 Moonee Valley Vase (2040m) win last Saturday.

He now races for the third straight Saturday and is rock hard fit for his grand final.

Despite a capacity VRC Derby field just one other runner is at single-figures for the win with Verdad at $7.50 in gate four with Jye McNeil in the saddle.

Untapped Justify gelding Verdad is trained out of Cranbourne by Robbie Griffiths & Mathew de Kock and is after his second win at career start number five.

He is a dual Group 2 runner-up having finished second best in the Group 2 Stutt Stakes and Group 2 Vase with a credible sixth at a big price to Griff in the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas (1600m) in between.

Others at a more generous quote but still being kept relatively safe in the markets include the Andrew Gluyas-trained Air Assault ($14) and the upset Caulfield Classic winner Sunsets ($14) for Trent Busuttin & Natalie Young out in gate 16.

The Penfolds Victoria Derby is set to run as Flemington Race 7 at 4:20pm (AEDT) on Saturday’s nine-race, all-Group event program.

2023 Victoria Derby Field & Barriers

No Last 10 Horse Trainer Jockey Barrier Weight Probable Weight Penalty Hcp Rating
1 242×12841 APULIA Ben, Will & JD Hayes Mark Zahra 3 57kg 88
2 1262 VERDAD Robbie Griffiths & Mathew de Kock Jye McNeil 4 57kg 76
3 x6551x4413 AIR ASSAULT Andrew Gluyas Ben Allen 6 57kg 74
4 17×1212 RIFF ROCKET Chris Waller James McDonald 5 57kg 80
5 4×5251241 SUNSETS Trent Busuttin & Natalie Young John Allen 16 57kg 80
6 2569×80772 MAKE A CALL Peter & Paul Snowden Ms Jamie Kah 15 57kg 64
7 23116 GOLD BULLION (NZ) Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott Opie Bosson 13 57kg 70
8 78×13 GATES Peter G Moody & Katherine Coleman Luke Nolen 14 57kg 70
9 1203 KOSGEI Trent Busuttin & Natalie Young Blake Shinn 12 57kg 64
10 01054 BULAWAYO Pat Carey & Harris Walker Ms Celine Gaudray (a) 7 57kg 63
11 3×4214 SACRED EAGLE Symon Wilde Jordan Childs 2 57kg 63
12 7×4311 ROGUERY Lloyd Kennewell & Lucy Yeomans Billy Egan 1 57kg 66
13 9612 MERCANTE Nigel Blackiston Damien Oliver 11 57kg 63
14 417 TO BE FRANK (NZ) Ciaron Maher & David Eustace Jamie Spencer 10 57kg 63
15 24431 WARIALDA WARRIOR John Ramsey Darryl McLellan 9 57kg 60
16 5×32525 TOKYO RUN (NZ) Dean Mirfin 8 57kg 59

Table Credit: Racing Australia.

About The Author

Lucy Henderson

Lucy is an experienced horse racing journalist that has been a crucial member of the team for the better part of a decade. She has taken great delight in covering champion mares Black Caviar and Winx throughout their careers and always has a soft spot for a winning filly.