By Duane Ranger
Greg and Sharon Mitchell were left a bit staggered this week.
The Gold Coast couple are thrilled that they will have their first ever Victoria Derby starter at 9pm (Queensland time) at Melton’s Tabcorp Park on Saturday night.
But when he drew the outside of the front line earlier this week, they couldn’t believe that Virgil would line up the despised outsider in the 12-strong Group One event.
“How could he be paying $126 to win when his trainer, Grant (Dixon) rated him right up there with his stablemate and Derby second favourite, Governor Jujon?
“Grant said there wasn’t much between the two of them. If anything, Governor Jujon, was the more relaxed of the two. Virgil ran on real well from three-deep in his heat. In fact, his sectionals were a lot quicker than most,” Mitchell said.
“Unbelievable money with his former trainer Mark Purdon in the sulky! It’s such an even bunch of 3-year-olds this year,” he stressed.
Even the $22 place money is outstanding, but the gifted son of Sweet Lou is paying so much simply because he will wear saddle cloth number seven.
“Line Up and Anthony Butt (gate three) will be looking to lead again, and Grant will have Governor Jujon right on the pace too (gate four), so it’s going to be a true-run pace - and that should suit us.
“Hopefully we can sit back and then make our move late,” Mitchell said.
The Gold Coast businessman believed Virgil didn’t lose too much, if anything with Dixon opting for the Governor Jujon drive.
“You don’t get many better than Mark Purdon. He knows how to win Group One races. It’s a shame Trista (Dixon) couldn’t come down and drive him, but we know how busy she is with her new-born baby right now.
“Mark knows the horse, because he used to train him with Natalie Rasmussen in New Zealand. We will just be needing luck. If we could land a first five finish, I’d be rapt,” 46-year-old Mitchell said.
The Mitchells bought Virgil off Jean Feiss not long after the Harness Jewels Finals in early June. At the time he had raced on 14 occasions for three wins and five New Zealand placings. He placed in three big races and won the Group Two $45,000 Diamond Creek 2yo Classic at Invercargill on April 27.
Virgil won $90,365 in stakes in New Zealand. He’s now won $110,743 after four Australian starts – Second at Albion Park (Dec 7); First at Albion Park (December 21); Fifth at Menangle (January 6); and third in last Saturday night’s Derby heat at Ballarat.
“Line Up led up and won, but Grant said he was pleased with the way Virgil made ground from the 400m. I was delighted with the run and so was Sharon. We are really looking forward to going down there and watching him.
“We booked our tickets before the draw for the final was made. We had to – it’s Australia Day Weekend and if we didn’t book early we’d miss out.
“In saying that we would have come anyway because this is our first Victoria Derby starter. It’s going to be a real thrill,” Mitchell said.
The couple have been involved in harness racing ownership for just over a decade now, and boast the 35-win ($575,952) pacer, Alleluia, as one of the better standardbreds they have owned.
“I bought him from New Zealand and could have bought Have Faith In Me too, but that’s another story.
“We have had some nice horses over the years like Devil Dodger and Our Overanova, and potentially Virgil could develop into the best of them. Who knows?
“It’s only early but he’s only three and he does give his drivers a good feel,” said Mitchell, who also serves on the Albion Park Board.
The Mitchells will return to Brisbane on Sunday for the APG Sale at Albion Park.
“We’ve got four up for sale and would also like to have a look at the others that are going through the Ring. It’s going to be a busy, but hopefully successful weekend,” the 46-year-old said.
Meanwhile, the Butt trained and driven Line Up (3) has opened up a warm $2.25 favourite over the Dixon trained and driven Governor Jujon ($3.10), who has drawn four.
Last week’s other heat winner, Pacifico Dream (Kate Gath - 9) opened up paying $11.
The draw and opening odds for Saturday night’s Group One $200,000 Downbytheseaside Victoria 3yo Derby are:
1: Soho Hamilton ($9.50); 2: Hesty ($101); 3: Line Up ($2.25); 4: Governor Jujon ($3.10); 5: Youaremy Sunshine ($21); 6: Mach Dan ($41); 7: Virgil ($126); 8: Bad To The Bone ($14); 9: Pacifico Dream ($11); 10: Perfect Stride ($14); 11: Be Happy Mach (emergency) ($4.20); 12: Mirragon ($12); 13: Mach Da Vinci ($21).