Ciaron Maher has produced a training masterclass to claim the ATC Australian Derby with Hitotsu and in doing so capture a slice of history.
No horse since Mahogany in 1993-94 had won the Victoria Derby – ATC Australian Derby double and Hitotsu managed the feat off the back of a single lead-up run in the Australian Guineas in Melbourne, which he also won.
Maher said he always had faith the three-year-old was good enough to achieve the rare feat but had concerns over whether he would handle the heavy Randwick track.
“I just thought he was better this prep than last prep. He’s stronger and all his starts had suggested that,” Maher said.
“The unknown was the track, but I thought his quality would get him there.
“At about the 200, I thought maybe the quality is not going to be enough but that’s just it, he’s all quality the horse.”
Hitotsu and Benaud made their runs together, sweeping down the outside just as Alegron surged through closer to the centre of the track.
The three came together at the 200m and Hitotsu was the meat in the sandwich, but Maher said it only seemed to encourage his charge to dig deeper.
The leading trainer also heaped praise on jockey John Allen, who also delivered him last year’s ATC Australian Derby aboard Explosive Jack.
“Johnny Allen, he’s got a lot of faith in him and you couldn’t get a stronger rider than Johnny,” Maher said.
“I think he won last year’s Derby by the skin of your teeth and he’s done it again here today, so fantastic.”
“We will get him ready for a Cox Plate now,” Maher said.
“He doesn’t need to race the older horses. As you can see, he is still furnishing and we’ll take them on in the spring.”
In a three-horse battle to the line, Hitotsu ($3.30 fav) scored by a neck over Benaud ($13) with Alegron ($11) another long neck away.
Brenton Avdulla briefly thought Benaud was going to give him consecutive Group 1 wins after he claimed the Sires’ Produce Stakes on Fireburn a race earlier.
“He gave me a great ride. I thought we were the winner at the 300 metres,” Avdulla said.