Orchestral (NZ) Creates Derby Masterpiece

4 March 2024

A filly winning the $1m Group One Trackside New Zealand Derby (2400m) is rare enough, but Orchestral (NZ) (Savabeel) earned herself an even more special place in the history of the race with a breathtakingly dominant performance at Ellerslie on Saturday.

The freakish filly was bought by trainers Roger James and Robert Wellwood for $625,000 from Haunui Farm’s Book 1 draft at Karaka 2022. Her eight starts have produced five wins, two placings and $1.57m for owners Colin and Helen Litt. She has won major races in all of her three starts, racking up a combined winning margin of 11 and a quarter lengths.

Orchestral's (NZ) domaint performance secures her the 2024 Group One NZ Derby. 

Orchestral has always been regarded as something special by James and Wellwood, and her runaway wins in the $1.5m TAB Karaka Millions 3YO (1600m) and the Group Two Avondale Guineas (2100m) in her previous two starts made it easy to see why.

She was among the hottest Derby favourites in recent memory at odds of $1.30 on Saturday, bidding to become only the fifth filly to win the race in the last 40 years – joining Tidal Light (NZ) (Diagramatic) in 1986, Popsy (NZ) (Sir Tristram) in 1993, Silent Achiever (NZ) (O’Reilly) in 2012 and Habibi (NZ) (Ekraar) in 2013. Notably, James already counted both Tidal Light and Silent Achiever among his five previous Derby victories.

But while Orchestral was widely expected to join that select group on Saturday, the dominance of her performance came as a surprise even to her connections.

“I’m relieved, elated, awestruck,” James said. “She just has an abundance of ability. She could be the next star, I think.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have had a lot of runners in this race, and I said to Robert (Wellwood) when they went out that I don’t think I’ve ever had one parade better out the back. She just never missed a beat. She was cool, calm and collected.

“It was a very, very special performance.”

Orchestral was slow to leave the starting gates and then hampered soon afterwards, and she found herself out near the back of a field that became widely strung out behind a strong pace.

But rider Craig Grylls gradually began to improve his position coming down the side of the track, and by the halfway point in the home straight, the race was all over.

Orchestral swept to the lead down the outside of the track and bounded clear, opening up a winning margin of three and three-quarter lengths – the largest in the New Zealand Derby since 2008.

“I wasn’t planning to be as far back as we were, but she didn’t get away that cleanly,” Grylls said. “But there was plenty of speed on, which was good. At about the 1000 metres, I got on the three-wide train that was moving into the race.

“Passing the 600 metres, I just brought her out into the open and I could see them all coming off the bridle in front of me, and I just had a handful of horse. She’s some animal.

“It’s great for Roger and Robert and the owners, and a big thanks to them for keeping me on. She’s the best of those three Derby winners I’ve ridden, and I think she could be one of the best I’ve ever sat on.”

Orchestral’s owners were similarly delighted.

“This is a huge thrill,” Colin Litt said. “This race is the best test of a three-year-old in New Zealand, and we feel very lucky to have won it with a horse like this. She’s just an absolutely class filly, and I think we’re only just scratching the surface with her.”

Orchestral became the 33rd individual Group One winner for champion Waikato Stud stallion Savabeel, and his first New Zealand Derby winner.

The exceptional filly comes from a very current family – her dam is the stakes-placed Symphonic (NZ) (O’Reilly), whose full-sister Glee (NZ) (O’Reilly) produced last week’s Gr.3 Matamata Slipper (1200m) winner Savaglee (NZ) (Savabeel).

A full-brother to Orchestral was offered by Haunui Farm during Book 1 of Karaka 2024, where he was bought for $310,000 by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Vendor Haunui Farm
Purchaser Mr RA James/Mr R Wellwood (Waikato)
Breeding Savabeel – Symphonic
Sale Lot 635, Karaka 2022 Book 1, $625,000
Bred by Barneswood Farm Ltd