Talented reinsman Justin Prentice’s plan of opting out of the early speed battles and conserving Mighty Ronaldo’s energy for the final stages paid handsome dividends when the WA-bred gelding unleashed a supercharged finishing burst to score a decisive victory in the $200,000 WA Derby at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
Mighty Ronaldo, third favourite at $7.50, was under lock and key, hemmed in on the inside in seventh position, four back on the pegs, turning into the back straight in the final lap.
But the 32-year-old Prentice did not panic and he was able to manoeuvre Mighty Ronaldo off the pegs with about 500m to travel and the son of former superstar pacer and the 2013 WA Derby winner Alta Christiano sprinted powerfully, out four wide on the home turn, to burst to the front with 100m to travel before winning by two lengths from the $2.20 favourite Jumpingjackmac, with a neck to Sugar Street ($21) in third place, a length ahead of $2.50 second fancy Lavra Joe.
“We didn’t chase them early because they were going a bit quick,” said Prentice. “I didn’t want to rev him up out of the gate. I thought that I would have had to open him up if I tried to get over Sugar Street (at barrier one), and with the sectionals I expected they would be running I considered that the fence was the place to be and just hope that we would get luck late in the race.
“I was a bit concerned when we were four fence, not three fence, but it was still worth risking losing a spot to save some energy until late.”
Sugar Street led early for Chris Voak before Gary Hall Jnr urged Jumpingjackmac forward from barrier four to take the lead after about 400m. Lavra Joe, attempting his sixth win in a row, started from the inside of the back line and Chris Lewis got him away from the inside moments after the start and the colt settled down in eleventh position in the one-wide line.
Otis (Dylan Egerton-Green) dashed forward in the first lap to move to the breeze before Lavra Joe surged forward, three wide, to move to the outside of the pacemaking Jumpingjackmac.
Lavra Joe fought on strongly to move level with Jumpingjackmac about 220m from home, but he wilted in the home straight.
Prentice said that winning the Derby helped to relieve the great disappointment of finishing second a close second with Major Martini in the big race 12 months earlier. Hall was in the sulky behind the Prentice-trained Major Martini, who dashed to the front 550m from home and was beaten in the final stride by the fast-finishing Patronus Star.
Prentice admitted that he had not watched a replay of the 2020 Derby because he was still saddened by the narrow defeat. “It’s hard when you’re excited the whole way down the straight until the most important part,” he said. “But I was super proud of the horse because he ran as good as he could, and he tried his heart out.”
Prentice, one of the State’s best reinsmen, concentrates on training in recent times and prefers Hall to drive his pacers, particularly in major feature events. But Hall opted to handle Jumpingjackmac, who is prepared by his father Gary Hall Snr.
“Junior and I are really good mates and obviously, I love him to drive my horses, but he has his commitments with his Dad and the stable’s horses,” Prentice explained.
For Prentice this was his second success in a WA Derby. He drove Im Victorious to an all-the-way victory for trainer Michael Brennan in the classic in 2012. “I get a bigger thrill out of training, because you put so much into it,” he said.
Mighty Ronaldo, bred by Trevor Lindsay, was purchased for $22,000 at the 2019 Perth APG yearling sale and is raced by a syndicate of 20 harness racing enthusiasts, including Prentice, who chose the youngster at the sale. The gelding, who also won the Group 1 Golden Slipper last July, has earned $270,255 from five wins and six placings from 17 starts.
Mighty Ronaldo rated 1.56.1 which broke the race record of 1.56.4, held jointly by Chicago Bull (2016) and Patronus Star (2020). He is out of the New Zealand-bred mare Millwoods Delight, who raced 47 times for six wins, nine placings and stakes of $49,648.
Prentice said that Mighty Ronaldo would be set for several upcoming feature events for three-year-olds, including the $50,000 Pearl Classic on May 21, the $50,000 APG Championship on May 28 and the $100,000 Westbred Classic for colts and gelding on June 18.
by Ken Casellas