Duncan spent many years as assistant to one of South Africa’s legendary trainers, David Payne.
Payne was a hard taskmaster and a stickler for detail but Duncan was also an exemplary student and nothing misses his experienced eye. Duncan also has a proven track record as a trainer of Gr.1 horses, a skill hard-earned and not fluked.
Payne is now among the top trainers in Australia, a hard school for foreigners, and he landed the Gr.1 Victoria Derby at Flemington on Saturday after a well-planned campaign, a skill well learned by Duncan.
It was Payne’s 107th Gr.1 victory and his sixth in Australia.
The David Payne trained Ace High showed superior staying ability under an inspired ride by Tye Angland to win the $1.5m, Group 1 AAMI Victoria Derby (2500m) at Flemington on Saturday. Payne had declared Ace High his Derby horse well before the colt had won the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes over 2000m at
Randwick and his judgement was franked with an emphatic 2L margin win.
Payne had marked the High Chaparral colt from the moment he signed for the Bell River Thoroughbreds bred yearling for $130,000 as a Derby type. Stable supporter John Cordina was happy to take ownership and with typical patience Payne set about planning the outcome of Saturdays race.
Payne, a prolific Group 1 winning trainer in South Africa and taking his sixth in Australia since he arrived in 2002, sent the colt out to start this programme back in July winning over a modest 1400m at Kembla Grange. A month later he was fifth in the Group 3 Up And Coming Stakes over 1300m at Randwick and then there was another fifth in the Group 2 Stan Fox Stakes over 1500m at Rosehill.
The next race was the Group 3 Gloaming Stakes over 1800m back at his home track Rosehill and the colt was coming into his distance zone with a good win under Angland. Next was the Champion Spring Stakes on October 7th and Angland led with Ace High with a lack of pace in the race.
It was not ideal but he lasted over Tangled so for Saturday it was declared that they would sit back off the pace. Angland was able to do exactly that and they were sixth going down the back straight.
From there he watched the leaders swopping around and as they came through the long bottom turn for the main straight Angland eased Ace High, still in an easy rhythm, five wide with no one in front.
With 400m to run Angland had Ace High in the middle of the track with clear air and Sully (NZ) and Hugh Bowman to chase down who were racing closer to the rails.
From the 200m Ace High stepped up as the stamina limitations set in for many of the rest and they went clear over the final 100 for the definitive victory with Angland standing high in the irons in salute.