Trainer Ken Keys may not have had too many opportunities at the highest level but saddles two chances in a bid for an elusive Group One victory.
Keys has been training for more than 30 years and from 40 starters in Group One races the closest he has come was in the 2014 Caulfield Guineas with Rich Enuff, beaten a neck by Shooting To Win.
Saturday’s Victoria Derby day meeting at Flemington is regarded as one of Australia’s finest with Keys represented by Soul Patch in the Derby and Spanish Reef in the Empire Rose Stakes.
Soul Patch confirmed his place in the Derby with success at The Valley last Saturday winning the Vase and will be aiming to emulate Helenus (2002), Plastered (2004) and Efficient (2006) to win the Derby seven days later.
Keys said Soul Patch would again wear blinkers over Saturday’s 2500m journey after sporting the headgear under Dwayne Dunn last week.
“Dwayne thought he was OK in them and this week with the good barrier, he should get some cover,” Keys said.
“I just thought if it’s not broken, why try and fix it, but otherwise it’s been a good week, so far.”
Keys says it is a balancing act keeping Soul Patch fresh enough to back-up but to also give the colt enough work to run out the trip.
“He seems to have trained on well but we haven’t done much with him,” Keys said.
“If he needs fitness work now, we’re in trouble.
“We haven’t galloped him, we may do that tomorrow, a few furlongs even time, but it won’t be a lot.
“He pulled up so well that we have to be mindful that we don’t miss him, but he’s freshening up pretty well.”
While Soul Patch will have only seven days between runs, Spanish Reef has not raced since winning at Caulfield on October 16.
Keys has adopted a different approach this spring, specifically targetting the Group One Empire Rose Stakes instead of his local hometown Cranbourne Cup over 2025m.
“This was the dream race,” Keys said.
“We were a little nervous early in the prep when she was struggling, but she was a bit fat and we had never had the experience of her being quite as fat before.
“The previous year she didn’t spell well so this time we’ve taken a different path and kept her fresh for the 1600 metres.”