Silent Achiever produced one of the most compelling leadup performances for this year's $750,000 New Zealand Derby when winning the Gr III Waikato Guineas (2000m) at Te Rapa on Saturday.
The problem is the O'Reilly filly winner isn't entered for the Derby and Cambridge trainer Roger James has no plans in paying a late entry - at least not in the next three weeks.
"When do the Derby late noms close?'' James asked after the race.
"February 28,'' came the reply.
"Well that's my deadline,'' James said.
"The Derby is certainly in the mix and has been for some time. That's why we ran today so it could be a defining race.
"I'd say there's every chance she could run in the Derby. But I don't believe in making decisions as major as this on raceday, and we don't have a rider yet either.
"We'll put all the ingredients in the mix and come up with the right answer, hopefully.''
TAB bookmakers reacted to Silent Achiever's win over previous outright Derby favourite Ocean Park in the $70,000 Te Rapa three-year-old feature by trimming the filly's Derby price from $9 to $4, sharing favouritism with Ocean Park, who drifted from $3.
Silent Achiever didn't even feature in the TAB's Derby market till last week when James revealed he was using the Waikato Guineas as a possible leadup to the Ellerslie 2400m Classic on March 3.
On Saturday the Derby option became the favoured target for the Kevin Hickman-bred and owned Silent Achiever, even though James wanted to keep open the possibility of a Sydney campaign targeting the Gr I A$400,000 Storm Queen Stakes (2000m) at Randwick on April 7.
James has trained four New Zealand Derby winners - Tidal Light, Hades, Zonda and Roysyn - and in many ways it is his signature race.
Silent Achiever has already proven her prowess at Ellerslie with a maiden win, a fast-finishing third to Planet Rock in the Gr II Eight Carat Classic on Boxing Day and then her Gr II Royal Stakes (2000m) win six days later.
"She's had 35 days between runs so you'd think there's still improvement in her as well,'' James said.
"She'd run the quickest sectionals at every meeting she'd raced, bar Boxing Day when Ocean Park ran very slightly quicker, and that's how you judge a good horse.''
James McDonald settled Silent Achiever worse than midfield one-off the fence with hot favourite Ocean Park on his inside.
The champion jockey had to work on the filly 600m from home, whereas rival jockey Chad Ormsby had a lap-full of horse in Ocean Park and it just seemed to be a matter of him getting a split for the race to be a done deal.
Ormsby barged Ocean Park through an inch gap along the inside 350m from home, with McDonald, who by then had Silent Achiever back travelling nicely, tracking his every move.
Inside the last 150m, McDonald was able to peel off Ocean Park's hindquarters and edge past the favourite, in the end scoring by a neck easing down.
"It was a big win because I've got huge respect for the second horse,'' James said.
"I said to my owners all week and anyone who wanted to listen that I wasn't going to concede. All the talk was about the second horse but I had a lot of confidence in my filly. There were always doubts whether we could do it, but there's not too many doubts now.''
James was sure to approach McDonald after the race to check his availability for the Derby ride.
McDonald made it clear that he was interested.
But the Cambridge hoop already has a Derby ride waiting. He has been the regular partner of the Stephen McKee-trained Knight's Tour, who defeated Ocean Park to win the Gr II Great Northern Guineas (1600m) at Ellerslie on Boxing Day and has won again since.
McDonald made it clear that he felt he was only standing in on Silent Achiever for Matamata jockey Vinnie Colgan, currently sidelined with a broken wrist but almost certainly out till after the Derby.
McKee posed the question to McDonald straight after the race: ``So have I lost my Derby jockey?''
McDonald said "no'' but it was non-committal.
However, he later said: "If Vinnie's not back, [Knight's Tour] had better step up.''
McDonald said a conversation with Colgan on Friday night had given him a good insight into how Silent Achiever raced and he was grateful for the advice.
"Vinnie said she would go through a flat spot. He said `just ride her through her through it and she'll quicken', and he was right,'' McDonald said.
"I was surprised Chad went through the gap on the inside because there wasn't really a gap there. But he opened it up for me and from there I was able to come off his back and beat him.''
Ormsby said McDonald had ridden a calculated race and "annoyed'' Ocean Park.
"My horse just raced too green. He pulled too hard and that was the beating of him,'' Ormsby said.
Hennessy said Ocean Park would probably go straight into the Derby, where he would be suited by a slower tempo and be better prepared, having now raced past 1600m for the first time.
"He over-raced down the back straight and that made it too hard for him at his first go at 2000m,'' Hennessy said.
"He'll probably go straight to the Derby now, where it will be a different tempo, a different game. He blew a little after the race and I might have been a bit easy on him.
"[Silent Achiever] had the drop on us and got us just short of the line. She's obviously a very good filly and it's no disgrace to get beaten by her.''
Shuka kicked on strongly for third for rider Hayden Tinsley with trainers Peter and Dawn Williams set to press on for the Derby as well.
- © Fairfax NZ News