Criterion is the Australian Derby favourite after his breakthrough group 1 win in the Rosehill Guineas on Saturday.
The Sebring colt is $3.50 top pick after final delivering on the stage. He had always raced at the elite level since stepping out in listed company at his second start, and after eight attempts at group 1 company finally saluted the judge and now shapes as a derby horse according to trainer David Payne.
“He’ll love it [2400m], but you wouldn’t think a Sebring would stay this far,” Payne said.
“He’ll be winning the derby, hopefully. From day one that is where we were going, 2000m-plus.
“We knew he’d finish it off but we didn’t know about the weather and if he could handle the wet but it looks like he can and it all helps.”
Hugh Bowman let Criterion settle near the rear of the field as Shamus Award and favourite Puccini set a cracking tempo in front.
As the two leaders faded in the straight, Bowman let Criterion cut the corner and he powered away to beat Thunder Fantasy by 3 ½ lengths.
“He was aided by a nice even tempo and I had a nice run in transit, but over the back of the course I didn’t feel he was all that comfortable,” Bowman said.
“When the pace steadied up at the 1000m he was able to get the bit in his mouth and he just took me from there.
“From the 600m where I asked him to take me into the race he went with all guns loaded and didn’t he finish it off well.”
Bowman declared his mount the one to beat in the derby at Randwick in a fortnight.
“What I liked about him was when he got to the front and I asked him to go he put them away, and on to the derby now where he should be favourite with a performance like that,” Bowman said.
Payne didn’t hesitate when asked if Bowman would retain the ride on the horse after the top hoop said he’d “love to” ride him in the derby.
“They all jump off him. All through his career they’ve jumped off, so he [Bowman] can ride him,” Payne said.
“He’s just becoming mature now and Hugh rode him properly today.
“You need to leave him alone, you can’t bustle him. He was just missing the break and I told Hughie to just leave him alone. If he did that I knew he’d be running on. That’s why I use the top boys when I can get them.
Michael Walker rode Puccini, the New Zealand Derby winner, and said the horse was beaten a long way from home after being forced to lead.
“The saddle shifted mid-race so I had to let him run. He’s better than that and he never handled the track. He hated it,” Walker said.
Runner-up Thunder Fantasy “just found one better” according to Damien Oliver, while Craig Newitt was sure Teronado would improve on his third-place result over more ground.
“He’ll be right for derby day and he’s crying out for 2400m. He just struggled a bit went the chips were down,” Newitt said.