New Zealand trainer Roger James has planned for two years to have Silent Achiever in Saturday's Caulfield Cup. He has arrived with a five-year-old mare at the peak of her powers.
It is a credit to James as a horseman that he has got it right. “Undoubtedly, this is the best she has been,” James said. “She is stronger than she has ever been. She is feeding more consistently than she has ever fed. She has just matured. “She is just the way you like it to be when you're going for a biggie.” It is a long way from the fragile filly that won a New Zealand Derby by a space on pure ability.
“I have won five Derbies at home and hers was the most nervous I was before the race,” James said. “I thought she was the best horse in the race but I could only give her one gallop before it, and when it came up a wet track I thought she was underdone.“That was how she was then – a fragile filly.”
Silent Achiever is even different from the mare that took the Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley last spring, which formed part of the plan for an assault on the Caulfield and Melbourne cups this year. Her softness was was still evident then to James.
There was nothing soft about Silent Achiever when jockey Glen Boss, who is searching for his first Caulfield Cup, got on her after some striding work on the course proper at Flemington on Tuesday. He couldn't believe Silent Achiever's recovery rate and size. “She's spot-on. She is big and strong and pulled up so well,” Boss said. “By the time we got back she could have gone and done it again, which is a great sign. “Roger told me that everything had gone right with her. He is a very good trainer and when he tells you that, gee, it gives you a lot confidence.”
James hatched his plan for a gap year with Silent Achiever after she came to Sydney and performed admirably as a three-year-old. Many would have taken a gung-ho approach after she charged home third in the Rosehill Guineas and then could only manage sixth in the Australian Derby as the favourite on her first trip to Australia. “When I left Sydney with her as a three-year-old, I felt we definitely went to the well once too often by running her in the AJC Derby,” James said. “She had always been a fragile three-year-old. She won our Derby by a margin and run a boomer in the Rosehill Guineas but that brought her to the end of the road.
“I said there and then we would have a light four-year-old spring. “That's why she only had the three runs. To be fair, she won the Crystal Mile after being here two days but she didn't feed well the whole time here.
“She was running on empty when everybody thought she was disappointing in the Matriarch [Stakes]. It was no surprise to me.”
The benefit of that foresight became clear in the autumn when Silent Achiever didn't win but was a courageous runner-up to Fiveandahalfstar in the BMW over 2400m. “She was a stronger filly than I had known in the autumn in Sydney,” James said. “I found it hard to find galloping mates for her, consequently she was going into her runs a little bit undone. “I found a good gallop mate after the Ranvet [where she ran fifth] and that topped her off for the BMW. “The draw that day dictated she had to be ridden back so her run was very good considering how they ran the race.”
Silent Achiever has built with every run this campaign in Melbourne and her third-up, and latest effort, sixth after being second last at the turn in the Turnbull, beaten 1.5 lengths, was a pointer she is ready for 2400 metres. But the biggest change is on the training track for James. “I have had to get used to [the new] her and training her a bit differently because of the way she is thriving,” James said. “She is just happy and I think it is because she is fully matured. “She has always been a very clean-winded mare. She is out of a Zabeel, so staying is not a problem and has the most economical way of going, which is a plus.
“I have no problem thinking about the Melbourne Cup on the horizon with her.” Silent Achiever has been to 2400m only three times for her New Zealand Derby win, her brave unplaced effort in the Australian Derby and a second in the BMW. “At a mile and a half her record is very good,” James said. “But she has never had a preparation like this one.”
- Sydney Morning Herald