Glyn Schofield didn’t like the appearance of Manawanui when he first laid eyes on him as a young horse, but he certainly changed his opinion of the gelding once he got on his back.
Trained at Warwick Farm by former school teacher Ron Leemon, Manawanui, a $45,000 yearling purchase, has earned favouritism for Saturday’s Group One $1.5 million Victoria Derby (2500m) at Flemington.
“It’s a great thrill. Virtually from day one we’ve had an opinion of him,” Leemon said.
“Glyn didn’t have an opinion of him the first time he saw him but as soon as he came back from the barrier trial he had a big smile on his face and he said ‘I’m not getting off this horse’ and he has stuck with us so far.”
Schofield, the successful South African who has been based in Sydney in recent years, confirmed Leemon’s comments.
“I didn’t like his appearance, he was pretty burly. Ron’s always had a high opinion of him and he said you better come and have a ride on this horse and see what you think,” Schofield said.
“As soon as I galloped him and got off him that’s exactly what I said, I said I don’t want to get off this horse at all.
“He gave me that good a feel in the condition he was in and he’s just progressed and improved ever since.”
Indeed Schofield has only once not ridden Manawanui in a trial or race and that was when he was riding in Brisbane and Tommy Berry won a two-year-old race on him at Canterbury in May.
The winner of six of his eight starts and never out of a place, the three-year-old is already a Group One winner having won the Golden Rose (1400m) at Rosehill.
After making it five straight wins with an all-the-way romp in the Group Two Stan Fox Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill, Manawanui gave Helmet a real race in the Group One Caulfield Guineas (1600m), going down by a half-neck.
He then indicated he would stay the Derby trip when he settled well back in the small field before running away from Collar in the Group Two Mitchelton Wines Vase (2040m) at Moonee Valley last Saturday.
“He’s taken everything in his stride that we’ve thrown at him and as Ron said he’s pretty adaptable,” Schofield said.
“He’s a cool customer, nothing really fazes him.
“He’s obviously been beaten in the Guineas. It was a great race, I was really surprised that the winner kept on rolling because we were coming at him quick and we weren’t stopping.
“But no disgrace to run second there.”
Schofield said despite the step up in distance, he goes into the race with a lot of confidence.
“It’s a high-pressure, high-profile race and I’m privileged to be on the favourite,” he said.
Schofield said the presence of unlucky Norman Robinson Stakes placegetter Niagara, Geelong Classic winner Induna, a late entry, and Spring Champion Stakes placegetter Sangster ensured the Derby was a quality race.
“It’s not a one-horse race, but I wouldn’t swap him for any other runner,” he said.