AUSTRALIA’S premier jockey Damien Oliver is out to break a feature-race drought at Randwick today, with the former Caulfield Cup winner Master O’Reilly awaiting in the Sydney Cup.
The stayer heads weights and is one of four group 1 rides for Oliver. He rides emerging Victorian talent Zedi Knight in the last event.
"I started the carnival off well but it hasn’t been so great since," Oliver said yesterday.
The Victoria-based champ arrived in Sydney for the Rosehill meeting on March 21 when he carted off a feature-race double. All Silent took out the Canterbury Stakes, and Heart Of Dreams was victorious in the Phar Lap Stakes.
At the following four Saturdays of the Sydney autumn carnival, Oliver has had 20 mounts without returning to the winners’ list. On Golden Slipper day, he had six rides and was beaten on three favourites.
On AJC Australian Derby day at Randwick, Oliver failed to ride a winner from six starts but not one of the mounts headed markets, which wasn’t the case last weekend when Apache Cat was beaten as favourite in the TJ Smith as was All Silent in the Doncaster Mile.
"I’ve had a lot of good rides on paper but it hasn’t quite worked out that well," Oliver said. "I’ve been thwarted a little bit by soft tracks and luck in running. I haven’t got the winners on the board but it’s swings and roundabouts in this business.
"The favourites don’t always win, it would be pretty boring if they did."
In today’s All Aged Stakes, Oliver rides Danleigh, having committed to the galloper after his first-up second in The Galaxy. It opened the way for fellow Victorian Craig Williams to link up with All Silent, which is coming off a 10th in the Doncaster.
"I may have erred a little going back to the inside on him [All Silent]," Oliver said. "But he is going to be better on a drier track, on that track last Saturday he didn’t quite let go like he can on a dry track."
Oliver described Danleigh’s effort in The Galaxy as "a great run", and "I had to wait and follow the winner through".
A member of the elite jockeys’ grand slam-winning club, Oliver, who claimed the Sydney Cup on No Wine No Song last year, admitted the task facing Master O’Reilly was a worry.
"He has the visitors’ draw . It is going to make it hard," he said. "It is not the best start; you jump straight on a turn. It hasn’t made the task any easier but the horse is going well."
Master O’Reilly has been winless since scoring in the Caulfield Cup two years ago but the Danny O’Brien-trained six-year-old has competed at the highest level, including another Caulfield Cup outing, two appearances in the Melbourne Cup, and last year’s Cox Plate.
"If the horse was going well, this was an option," Oliver said. "He is getting a bit older, and there is not that many staying races around for him. The spring is always a lot tougher with the internationals coming.
"This is not the strongest Cup but they say that every year and they are still not easy to win."
Oliver fears former AJC Australian Derby winner Fiumicino, which goes into the Cup as a last-start winner of the weight-for-age The BMW at Rosehill.
"The BMW is always strong form, and the wet track doesn’t seem to bother him," Oliver said. "I thought Ista Kareem was well in. He has been carrying the top weight for a long time and he is down on a good weight tomorrow."
In the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, which is headed by the Doncaster and George Ryder Stakes winner, Vision And Power, Oliver rides Master O’Reilly’s stablemate Douro Valley.
"He is one that is on the way up," Oliver said. "Second-up going to 2000 metres but he is the kind of horse that needs that. Anything shorter and they are probably too nippy for him. He is a group 1 performer at the distance and weight-for-age."
As for Zedi Knight, which has won five from six, Oliver is a fan. "I’ve only had one sit on him, last start, and he won well," he said. "He is one of those horses that just does what he has to."