As a former high school teacher, Ron Leemon would have written many report cards.
But now, in the countdown to the $1.5 million Victoria Derby, it’s the 64-year-old trainer that has earned full marks from jockey Glyn Schofield.
Leemon has trained a small team for more than 30 years but has never had a horse like Manawanui, who delivered him his first Group One in the $1 million Golden Rose last month and shoots for another as the short-priced Derby favourite on Saturday.
From five starts this spring Manawanui has won four and staged a thrilling duel with Helmet when narrowly denied in the $1 million Caulfield Guineas.
Schofield is Manawanui’s regular rider but gets as much joy out of seeing Leemon enjoying the ride as he does winning on the impressive gelding.
“I said it when he won the Golden Rose that I was just so happy for Ron,” Schofield said.
“He’s done everything just spot-on with this horse the whole way through. You can’t really say he’s put a foot wrong with his horse so he deserves a lot of credit.
“And don’t forget he hasn’t been there before. It’s uncharted territory for Ron, moving away from home and travelling a horse is not easy and he’s done fantastically well.
“He’s got a lot to be proud of – win, lose or draw (on Saturday).”
Manawanui gave Schofield positive signs in last Saturday’s Group Two Vase at Moonee Valley, settling off the pace in the 2040m event before letting down strongly in a perfect Derby lead-up.
“He did what we wanted him to,” Schofield said.
“He relaxed, he got the trip, he finished well and he came through the race well.
“I suppose he’s got to front up again on Saturday and obviously he’s got to get more ground (2500m) which is another unknown, but he does things well enough to suggest he probably has got the chance to get the trip.”
Manawanui will face a full field of 16 in the Derby at Flemington and even if there is the unknown over his ability to stay the 2500 metres, his class is not in question and Schofield says he’ll be going into the race pretty confident.
“He’s had a great spring and hopefully he can finish it off with a good win,” he said.