Dee’s Derby Day family occasion
You would understand if Michael Dee did not want October to end. The Melbourne-based New Zealander is experiencing the most successful big-race patch of his riding career.
On Saturday he won the $2 million Group 1 Victoria Derby (2500m) aboard the Chris Waller-trained Manzoice.
It came just two weeks after winning the $5 million Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) aboard another Waller stayer, Durston.
“If you said to me before this spring that I’d have two major Group 1s coming up, I probably would have laughed,” Dee said.
“It is pretty surreal and hopefully it can continue.”
Most would consider the Caulfield Cup the bigger of those two wins, but one element of the Derby success will ensure it forever holds a special place in Dee’s heart.
It was the first of his seven Group 1 wins that his parents have been trackside for.
Dee’s father Richard and mother Jo were among the 71,000-plus racing fans who made the most of being able to return to Flemington for Derby Day after two years of Covid restrictions and Michael was happy to make their trip worthwhile.
“It’s pretty cool to have them here,” Dee said.
“That’s the first time they’ve been here for a Group 1, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Richard was thrilled to finally get to witness one of his son’s highlight wins live.
There were some anxious moments, too, with $21 chance Manzoice settling in the second half of the field before coming with a strong late run to wear down $2.90 favourite Sharp ‘N’ Smart in the final few strides and score a half-length win.
“His older brother was here when he won on Shillelagh, on this same day, but we came a couple of days later for the Melbourne Cup that year,” Dee Snr said.
“So this is our time first time being on-course to share it with him, which is great.”
Shillelagh’s Cantala Stakes win on Derby Day 2017 was Dee’s second success at the highest level, having won The Metropolitan for Robert Hickmott in Sydney just a month earlier.
His third Group 1 win also came in Sydney, aboard the Mick Price-trained Hiyaam in the Vinery Stud Stakes in 2018, while he also won the 2020 Orr Stakes aboard Alabama Express and last year’s Australian Guineas on Lunar Fox who, at $301, is the longest-priced Group 1 winner in Australian racing history.
Richard and Jo follow Michael’s deeds from Waipukurau on the east coast of the North Island in New Zealand.
They concede it was tough to have seen him head to another country at the age of 18 in January 2015, when he took up a three-month loan opportunity with Price, but at the same time understood it had to be done.
“He went very well back home as an apprentice and his boss at the time, Kevin Myers, said ‘you’ve got to get over to ‘Aussie’, you’ve outridden your claim in New Zealand and have a go’,” Richard said.
“He’s always shown ability and he’s made natural progression since he’s been here.
“It’s a tough old gig over here, but he’s here doing the hard yards and he’s getting the rewards.”
The Derby win lifted Dee’s career winners tally to 688 with seven Group 2 wins and 11 Group 3 successes complementing his elite-level results
While October has been magical for Dee, there is a chance November could be even better.
Dee rides the Grahame Begg-trained Lunar Flare, on whom he won The Bart Cummings two starts ago and finished second in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup last start, in the $8 million Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m).
“It’s every jockey’s dream to win a Melbourne Cup and I was pretty happy just to have had past rides in the Cup, so if I was to win that would be amazing,” Dee said.