BLAST FROM THE PAST
2007 NZ DERBY - Won by Changeover
It's official - the industry has a new champion.
If there was possibly any doubt about Changeover's status before the NZ Derby last Friday night, a little over three minutes later there was none left whatsovever as he destroyed his rivals. Not the best field ever assembled for the time honoured event, granted, but Changeover made them look even more 'second rate' with a superlative performance.
The In The Pocket colt worked hard to hold the lead early, kept up a sizzling tempo throughout, and then pulled away at the finish to win with ease by two and a half lengths in 3:11.8. It was victory number 11 in a 20-start career, he's earned over $650,000 in stakes now, and there is not a 3-year-old in Australasia that can get near him - all qualities that befit a champion. But Changeover's trainer Geoff Small isn't quite ready to label him that; not yet anyway. "I hope he is," the typically reserved horseman said. "It's a bit early for me to start saying that though. He's just an all-round nice horse...good around the stable, and good on the track."
Small knows a thing or two about training champions, having also put the finishing touches on Elsu during his illustrious career. But you won't get him to draw comparisons between the two pacers, other than Changeover's achieved more during the early stages of his career. And Small's "hopeful" that one day Changeover might even be able to bring home about the only big-race trophy that is not in the cabinet, a NZ Cup.
Changeover could even tackle the event as early as next season, but not if he goes to Australia for the Breeder's Crown. A start in the latter is still to be decided, and in the meantime there's a possible trip across the Tasman prior to the Harness Jewels. "We'll start in a Prelude of the NSW Derby on April 20, but only if we can fly out of Christchurch," Small said. "That will all be decided this week, if not, we'll just stay in Canterbury and go for the Jewels. He is eligible for the Breeder's Crown, but it is a long season too. We'll let the horse tell us, and if he's still bucking and kicking after the Jewels then we will look at the Crown for sure."
What is scary is Small's opinion of where Changeover will go from here, ability-wise. "He's a bit older and stronger at three than he was at two, and you'd have to assume he'd carry on his merry way. We've got a bit of work to do this season yet though, with other big races to target. But I'd expect him to get even stronger as a 4-year-old."
Friday night's NZ Derby was also a triumph for Small's right-hand man David Butcher. It's an association that first started with the horse All Hart, and it's been formidable ever since. The job that Small does off-track is completed with equally as much aplomb by Butcher on it, yet he's quick to unload the credit. "Geoff's such a good trainer - he's meticulous," Butcher says. "He puts hours and hours in, and he does the numbers. The key is getting the horses 'up' at the right time; and Geoff's super at it."
Butcher was also the raceday pilot behind Elsu of course, and doesn't want to talk about him and Changeover in the same sentence either. "No I don't want to compare them - because they're individuals, and I'd rather keep them apart. Changeover was always going to improve, and you'd like to think that he'd be as dominant next season too because the same horses follow you through. The thing about him is that he does everything easy in himself, and that makes it a little bit harder on the others."
In talking about his pre-race thoughts about the Derby on Friday night, Butcher says he didn't have a 'Plan B' in case Changeover was beaten out of the gate; quite simply, he wanted to lead. "When your horse is that good, you don't leave anything to chance," he said.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 4April07