THE DERBY | We check in with Lance

27 Feb 2023
Auckland Thoroughbred Racing

Last year, we caught up with Wexford Stables owner and trainer Lance O’Sullivan in anticipation of Asterix having a go at making it back-to-back New Zealand Derby wins for the Matamata stables.



Lance’s words then were, “he won’t be the most fancied horse in the field, but he’s a natural stayer and a horse on the rise”.



Well most fancied or not, Asterix took out the enviable title, making it Lance’s fourth time to win the race, twice as a trainer alongside training partner Andrew Scott (two in a row in fact!), and twice as a jockey.

Asterix taking out the Vodafone New Zealand Derby in 2022


And talk about history repeating itself…Asterix’s win was a particularly special one for the family, given that not only was the now four-year-old gelding carrying the same famous Kelt family colours as Popsy in 1993, but they both clocked the EXACT same time of 2:27.24.

If the O’Sullivan name hadn’t already staked enough claim to one of New Zealand’s most anticipated thoroughbred races, the two times Lance won as a jockey, his rides were trained by his father Dave. It’s safe to say that as both a jockey and trainer, Lance O’Sullivan, and the wider family, have reached virtually every height the great sport has to offer.

Lance and the Wexford team oncourse at Ellerslie with the Derby trophy


This year, Wexford Stables will be looking to defend the title once again, with three runners qualifying; Waitak, Devildom, and Jaffira. And if history looks to repeat itself once again, Jaffira could be one to watch, given he just won over 2100m at Tauranga, the same track and distance that Asterix won over before last year’s Derby.

We sat down with Lance ahead of the race to hear his thoughts on the three very different types contending this year.

What were your immediate thoughts after Asterix took out last year’s New Zealand Derby?

As they hit the line, my immediate thought was “You *beep-ing* beauty!” The Derby was Asterix’s fourth run in his life and he hadn’t had a Derby prep, so it was a huge effort for him to win. We thought he was a realistic top 5 chance going into the race.


What does getting a horse prepped and trained for a Derby look like? How early do you know which of your horses have what it takes?

It starts from day dot – you want a horse that’s bred to run a trip. In the early stages of training, you can tell a good horse by their action and the way they get over the ground. Once you start to race them, you want to see your horse relaxed and finishing off their races well. A staying pedigree and good temperament take a horse a long way as far as the Derby is concerned.

Tell us a bit about your three qualifiers this year. Do you think you have a solid chance of making it three in a row?

It’s an exceptionally strong field this year, but we are confident that all three of our runners have had good preparation. Waitak will be our most fancied runner and is probably our strongest chance, but all three should get the trip and run well. Waitak has a lot of natural talent but needs to learn to relax during a race. Devildom and Jaffira are both more laid-back customers and race kindly, which is especially important when running over the 2400m. Any rain leading up to the race will only aid their chances.

In terms of the actual training side of things, it’s getting more technical than ever before. How would your race day training differ from that of Dave and Paul?

Our training methods aren’t all that different to what Dave and Paul did – they had a formula that worked. As far as a Derby prep goes, it’s all about getting them fit and then maintaining that fitness.

What is it about the New Zealand Derby that makes it so special?



Every jockey and trainer wants to win a Derby, it’s a race steeped in history. It’s one of the great races on the New Zealand Racing calendar, if not the greatest. It’s very prestigious.



Do you have a race day ritual? How do you keep your nerves in check on the day of a big race?

I had a few race day rituals when I rode, but not as many as a trainer. Being around the horses, it’s important we stay as relaxed as possible and keep them calm. I do have a ‘lucky suit’ – I’ll make sure that’s pressed and ready to go come Derby Day.

We wish Lance and team the best of luck as they go for a ‘three’-peat and we’ll certainly be oncourse to cheer them on.

Due to the track upgrade at Ellerslie, New Zealand Derby Day is taking place at Te Rapa Racecourse this year, however Auckland Thoroughbred Racing is the proud sponsor of the New Zealand Derby.

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