Special seven for Oliver
Champion jockey Damien Oliver recorded a remarkable record-equalling seventh victory in the Group 1 Kennedy Oaks (2500m), and a milestone 126th Group 1 win overall, when blueblood filly Willowy took out the $1 million staying classic for three-year-old fillies.
Trained by James Cummings, whose legendary grandfather Bart prepared nine Oaks winners in his lifetime, Willowy became the 38th filly to complete the double of the Group 2 ZED Run Wakeful Stakes (2000m) on Penfolds Victoria Derby Day and the Kennedy Oaks, getting up in the shadows of the post to score by a head.
The Patrick Payne-trained Douceur looked the winner for much of the straight but was just denied, handing top owner Sandy Tait his second runner-up finish in the Kennedy Oaks in the last decade, while Biscayne Bay for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace made good late ground for third, a further two lengths away.
It was Oliver’s seventh victory in the Kennedy Oaks, including his third in succession, equalling the seven wins of Bobbie Lewis, while his 126 Group 1 wins sees him join George Moore, who reached the mark in 1971, at the top of the Australian racing tree.
The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) presented Oliver with a bottle of 2017 Penfolds Grange in recognition of his feat this week in becoming the most successful Melbourne Cup Carnival rider of all time with 26 Group 1 wins since 1992.
“It is a pretty proud moment,” Oliver said. “George Moore, Roy Higgins, they’re iconic figures in our sport and it’s quite amazing to be sharing records with those guys. Bobbie Lewis as well.
“I’m pretty proud of the record I have. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of fun but a fantastic journey over the years but a lot of good people around to help us too. I’ve really enjoyed this carnival and great to finish off with an Oaks for Godolphin.”
Oliver said that, despite it being his first ride on Willowy, the Wakeful Stakes winner was a straightforward horse to partner.
“Today was my first sit on her but what a dream she is to ride,” he said. “She dropped the bridle and went to sleep for me with the slow pace and when I asked her for her effort she quickened up well for me but crept to the second horse.
“(Douceur) took a bit of getting past. I thought it had me done inside the 200 (metres), then I really asked her for the supreme effort over the last 50 metres and I couldn’t have asked the horse to respond better for me.
“I tried everything. Maybe I took the roaring to another level but fortunately she responded well for us. I can take some credit but James and the Godolphin team take the credit. They presented her so well. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Cummings said that, while Willowy had taken time to mature, she had thrived since winning a 1600-metre maiden at Newcastle last month.
“It’s huge, when she won at Newcastle, the team were keen to know if she was going to come down for the Carnival,” he said. “We gave it some thought and she just kept blossoming after that.
“It was a great effort from the guys at Crown Lodge, where she first started off. When she got to me and she was poking around as a baby, she just needed time, she was immature as you can imagine. The timing was right, though. It was a great win at Newcastle and she just kept improving all the way through, enough for us to have a crack at the Wakeful.
“We didn’t nominate many for the Oaks but we had her earmarked as one that really could. Kermadec is producing these Classic fillies, it sets him apart being able to get a horse like that and we’re looking for stallions like that on the (Darley) roster, like anyone. He had the favourite in this race last year, too – she might not have got it done then but she won The Metropolitan 12 months later, Montefilia.”
Cummings drew comparisons with the last Kennedy Oaks winner trained by his grandfather, Faint Perfume in 2008.
“I still remember listening to it on the radio, while I was mixing feeds in at his stables,” he said. “She was a gun filly and this is a gun little filly like her. She’s certainly, you’d think, got improvement left in her next preparation.”
Image: Damien Oliver is re-writing the record books this Melbourne Cup Carnival (Credit: Getty Images)