John Kiernan estimates he has nailed the shoes on over 50 Derby winners but now it is time to train one himself.
The Ōtaki horseman is behind the new rising star of New Zealand’s three-year-old ranks, Weissmuller, who destroyed his opponents in the $70,000 Wellington Stakes at Trentham on Saturday.
In just his third raceday start, Weissmuller bolted clear of hot picks Lucky Country and Sam Mesi to secure a win that saw the TAB instantly shorten him to $6 second favourite for the TV3 New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie on March 2.
Proud trainer Kiernan says that while he’s thrilled with the latest result, he is not surprised.
“I started thinking about the Derby seriously for him last autumn, way before he ever raced.
“I’m sure a lot of trainers would probably think the same thing but he is such a big, beautiful-moving horse and I knew he would always get over ground.
“I gave him a quiet trial, put him aside and everything since he has come back into work has been aimed at the Derby.”
While Kiernan may not be a household name in New Zealand, he has had plenty of involvement with Australian Derby winners, spending nearly two decades working as a farrier for some of the leading trainers including the greatest of them all – Bart Cummings.
“I reckon I have tapped the shoes on 10 of Bart’s Derby winners,” laughs Kiernan.
“Back in those days I did a lot of travelling and farrier work paid the bills, as well as looking after travelling horses for trainers.
“So I know a lot about Derby winners, it would just be nice to have one myself.”
Weissmuller looks the ideal type for the Derby and will take his next step toward the classic starting in the Waikato Guineas on Saturday week, followed by the all-important Avondale Guineas on February 17 which will be his first start at Ellerslie.
“Obviously I would prefer him to have a couple of looks at Ellerslie but that isn’t going to happen so he will only get the one lead-up race there.
“I don’t think the right-handed track will bother him because he canters right-handed here twice a week but I will step up his work that way now.”
Kiernan is also hoping for some more Ellerslie experience for Weissmuller’s jockey, Jonathon Parkes.
“He has the ride at the moment and the owners are happy with him but I don’t know if he has ridden a lot right-handed, so he is trying to get more rides at Ellerslie, starting this weekend at the New Zealand Bloodstock Karaka Million meeting.”
Having campaigned Travolta in the Derby last season, Kiernan knows how massive a challenge the classic presents, especially after watching the lead-up races of $4 favourite, Habibi.
“She looks great and some people might think she is over the line already.
“Can we beat her? I don’t know – the battery in my crystal ball has run flat. But we will be trying pretty hard.”no