The Group I New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie on Saturday went the way of exciting colt Puccini (3c Encosta de Lago x Miss Opera, by Paris Opera).
A half-brother to six-time Group I winner Sir Slick, the Peter and Jacob McKay trained colt had won three of his four previous starts, all of those wins coming in Group II Guineas events, so was well primed for the classic.
Ridden by Michael Walker, Puccini cruised home to beat top filly Rising Romance by two lengths in a dominant performance.
“He’s gone up 10 levels and he’s the best horse in New Zealand – if they backed him up next week in the weight-for-age (Gr.1 NZ Stakes) he’d beat Silent Achiever,” said Walker.
The Matamata father and son training combination of Peter and Jacob McKay will now turn their attention to Sydney with Puccini.
“He’s dominated them here so we’ll go over and have a crack at the Derby,” McKay senior said.
“That was huge and sometimes he can walk out of the gates and from wide draws he can work his way across, but from the inside Michael didn’t panic.
“He dragged his own way forward and he’s got an enormous heart – there were no excuses for anything else.”
Retained by his breeders Paul and Cushla Smithie of Monovale Farm, Puccini has the overall record of five wins and four placings from 14 starts earning $676,925.
The 21st Group I winner for champion sire Encosta de Lago, Puccini is one of six winners from six foals to race from stakes-winning Paris Opera mare Miss Opera.
Champion sire Encosta de Lago has 20 youngsters on offer at the Inglis Premier Yearling Sale starting this Sunday.