Damien Oliver will ride in The Damien Oliver
Penfolds Victoria Derby Day could not be a more appropriate day to rename a race in honour of outgoing legendary jockey Damien Oliver.
Fifteen of Oliver’s 129 Group 1 wins have come on the opening day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, including six wins in the day’s signature event – the $2 million Victoria Derby.
The $500,000 Group 2 Linlithgow Stakes (1400m) has been renamed in the Hall of Fame jockey’s honour and will be run as The Damien Oliver for the first time this Saturday.
“It seems like a pretty strange name for a race to me at the moment, but hopefully in time it’ll get a bit more comfortable,” Oliver said during the week.
The Damien Oliver will be run as the last event on Saturday, two races after Oliver partners the Nigel Blackiston-trained Mercante in what will be his 28th Victoria Derby appearance.
The Western Australian first competed in the 2500-metre event in 1990, when still an apprentice, and finished second aboard Centro.
That was the same position he finished the following year aboard Naturalism, but not before protesting unsuccessfully against Star Of The Realm.
Oliver broke through for his first win the next year aboard Redding, one of two maidens that he has ridden to Derby victory.
The other is Preferment, in 2014, who is his second most recent Derby winner with 2019 champion Warning his latest.
Oliver’s other Derby winners this millennium are 2001 champion Amalfi, who was Peter Moody’s first Group 1 win as a trainer, Elvstroem in 2003 and Fiveandahalfstar in 2012.
Fiveandahalfstar is one of the longest-priced Derby winners in the history of the race at $41 and Oliver will be looking to engineer an upset of similar proportions aboard Mercante.
The son of Dundeel won his maiden at $61 on his home track at Ballarat two starts back before a second placing in benchmark 64 grade at the same venue on October 15.
“He’s a bit of an outsider, so you never know, but I think he’ll run the distance which is important,” Oliver said.
Mercante brings a formline that does not figure in any of the Victoria Derby winners in the Oliver era.
Since 1990, all but seven of the 33 winners have had their final lead-up in either the Group 3 Caulfield Classic of the Group 2 Moonee Valley Vase.
Fifteen came through the 2040m Vase a week out from the Derby with 11 coming through the 2000m Caulfield Classic seven days earlier.
Apulia, Verdad, Air Assault and Bulawayo are this year’s Derby runners who rounded out their preparations in the Vase, while Sunsets, Gates, Gold Bullion and To Be Frank join Riff Rocket from the Caulfield event.
Riff Rocket remains a short-priced favourite despite going under at $1.28 last start and there hasn’t been a Derby winner as short as the $2.50 he went up in TAB’s initial post-barrier draw market since Efficient won at $2.40 in 2006.
The only favourites to win since are Tarzino ($2.90 in 2015), Ace High ($7 in 2017) and Hitotsu ($4 in 2021) with seven of the others starting double-figure odds and one, Rebel Raider, at 100/1.
Experience the Magic of the 2023 Melbourne Cup Carnival
Prepare for a truly unforgettable Cup Week, where equine athleticism meets Melbourne style in a spectacular showcase of thoroughbred excellence. Be there to experience the magic trackside as new champions etch their names into racing folklore. Tickets still available, don't miss out!.
Penfolds Victoria Derby Day is the first day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. It's steeped in history and traditional where only the best of the best come to race. It's when Melbourne embraces spring and Flemington is awash of elegant black and white, with a splash of Penfolds red. To the winner of the Penfolds Victoria Derby, a Magill Cellar 3 barrel will be presented. Crafted and cellared at Penfolds Magill Estate in South Australia.