Damien Oliver has returned triumphant to his home state of Western Australia, powering Voodoo Lad (I Am Invincible) to a thrilling victory in the Crown Perth G1 Winterbottom S at Ascot.
Oliver notched his 115th Group 1 win and gave the Darren Weir gelding a cold ride off a hot pace, producing him late to surge over the top of locally prepared mare Enticing Star (Testa Rossa) to win by 0.75l, with another Victorian, Malaguerra (Magnus), a long neck away in third.
It was also a significant achievement for Segenhoe, who bought Voodoo Lad as a yearling for just $36,000 back at the 2013 Scone Yearling Sale, as well as Yarraman Park's super sire I Am Invincible, who now has seven individual Group 1 winners, and four Group 1 winners across Australasia in this season alone.
Now 46, Oliver claimed just his third Group 1 victory in Perth, and his first in nine years. It was a special moment for him, with his mum Pat among those in the Ascot crowd.
"It's a bit emotional. It’s great. I love coming home, this is where it all started for me," he said.
"I look over the back at that little Sandown track and I used to trot hundreds of horses around that track and it’s always so nice to do it at home in front of all these people, including my Mum."
Tenth time's a charm
It was certainly a much-deserved win for Voodoo Lad, who was competing at the top level for the tenth time, having finished second on two occasions, the 2016 Sir Rupert Clarke S and the 2017 Newmarket Hcp.
"He's run so well in so many great races and missed by small margins, so it’s great he finally got one." - Darren Weir
A winner of six stakes races, but none at higher than Group 3 level before Saturday, it appeared the chance of a Group 1 win had passed him by,
But Weir, who tasted Group 1 success in Perth in the 2016 Kingston Town S. with Stratum Star (Stratum), always felt this race could give Voodoo Lad his opportunity.
"He really deserves this that horse. He's run so well in so many great races and missed by small margins, so it’s great he finally got one," Weir said.
Weir praised the help of local trainer Lindsay Smith who has allowed Weir and his foreman Jarrod McLean to make full use of his facilities with their team over in Perth for the carnival.
"This horse has had a couple of gallops on his track and I've said before how good that track is. It's paid dividends again because we got some solid work into him without hurting his legs. That's the key to it, I can't thank him enough," Weir said.
Weir now has 36 Group 1s to his name, six of which have come in the past three months.
A perfectly judged ride
The race panned out exactly as Oliver and Weir would have hoped, with significant pace from Belter (Denman), ensuring the backmarkers would not be disadvantaged.
Jumping from barrier 13, Oliver said he had no option but to drop the veteran sprinter back to last.
This horse has got a great finish on him." - Jockey, Damien Oliver
"It forced our hand to ride him cold as he likes to be ridden. And coming to the turn I was following the right horse with Enticing Star and we had Malaguerra in front of us. I was on their back and this horse has got a great finish on him," he said.
"I always thought this horse would be well-suited to this race, the pressure over 1200m. And he showed that today. He finished too strong for them."
The race didn’t turn out to plan for well-backed favourite and last year's winner Viddora (I Am Invincible). She had settled midfield but was in the wrong spot when the trio who would fill the trifecta swept out wide to make their run at the top of the straight.
Jockey Joe Bowditch had a torrid time getting through and was held up for the better part of 300m, eventually finishing 11th beaten 6.25l.