Leap To Fame in bid for a rare milestone at Melton

A “big burly bull” and like driving a “remote control car”.

That is how star Queensland colt Leap To Fame has been described ahead of Grant Dixon’s powerful standardbred’s tilt at a rare slice of history this weekend in the Victorian Derby.

Leap To Fame already has a NSW Derby on his resume as well as snaring the Queensland Derby during the recent winter carnival through the Sunshine State.

Trained and driven by Dixon, he now goes in search of a three-peat of Derby titles at Melton on Saturday evening.

The rare achievement has been completed before – the great Courage Under Fire did it back in 1999 – as well as lifting the Australian Derby prize that year. 

The Victorian Derby is a race that champion Queensland horseman Dixon has had success in over time, with his other stable star Colt Thirty One winning the event back in 2018.

In Leap To Fame’s 20 career race starts – 14 of which he has won – he has only ever had two drivers on race day, with the majority of time Dixon taking the seat behind his emerging star.

Leap To Fame winning at Albion Park earlier this year.

And, on the singular occasion that Dixon was not in the driver’s seat, Group 1-winning reinsman Robert Morris was given the opportunity.

The 31-year-old Morris has provided an intriguing insight into what it is like to drive the talented youngster.

“He is like nothing you have ever seen before,” Morris said.

The top NSW-based reinsman referred to him as a “big burly bull” in his one drive on him.

“I knew there and then how powerful he felt,” Morris said.

“Driving the horse, you could feel how big his motor was underneath him was and just how strong he was.

“Most importantly – and this is a credit to Grant and Trista – is just how chilled out he is, as he races on such a loose reign and it is like driving a remote control car.

“When you start him up, he is hard to stop.”

Dixon and Morris have been close mates for years, regularly using each other’s facilities when they campaign horses interstate.

And, Dixon will often jokingly remind Morris that he got his star bay colt beaten in his one drive on him, which was at Menangle in early October of last year.

Leap To Fame travelled to NSW alongside his stable mate Tims A Trooper without his regular reinsman on that occasion. 

As Leap To Fame finished fourth on that night, Morris believes the colt did not quite handle his first big trip away from his regular base and missed home.

“As time has gone on with his travelling, he goes perfect now,” Morris said.

Champion trainer-driver Dixon agrees with Morris and says his colt is getting better with every trip away from the Sunshine State.

“When he does travel, it can take a little bit of weight off him but as he gets a little bit older and more mature, he handles it better,” Dixon said.

“He handled the Tamworth trip really well and that was the toughest trip he has had before going to Melbourne.”

The Queensland hopeful was rolled in an epic heat of the Victorian Derby last Saturday night with Captain Ravishing going home just the better over 2760 metres.

Despite going down in the heat, Morris is holding on to his Leap To Fame “stock” in the Group 1 Final on Saturday evening for $200,000.

Leap To Fame after winning at Albion Park earlier this year.

“What he lacks a little bit probably in top end speed, I do not think I have ever seen a horse that can hold such a pressure speed for so long,” Morris said.

“What he did in the Queensland Derby, he really put the foot down and ran some amazing times.

“It was unbelievable watching him and it was the same thing the other day.

“Yes, the horse sat outside and beat him, but that was only a heat.

“I would like to see this week’s Derby get run like the race was that time in Brisbane as you would need to be almighty good to sit outside that horse when he is rolling.”

Leap To Fame has drawn five for Saturday’s decider, with Captain Ravishing from the Emma Stewart barn on the back row.

“He is obviously a real up and comer and is getting trained by the right people,” Dixon said of Captain Ravishing.

“He is still on his way up.

Leap To Fame winning at Albion Park earlier this year.

“This will be by far the hardest Derby Leap To Fame will face this year.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the TAB has Captain Ravishing as a $1.85 favourite with Leap To Fame judged as a $3 chance.

Morris labelled both standardbreds as “superstars”.

“It is going to be a great race,” Morris said.

“The other horse did sit outside Leap To Fame last week and beat him but I do think last week, he had to fly down and he had a bit of trouble getting out of Brisbane.

“He will be better for the run last week.

“What happened last week would have stressed Grant out and he would want to look after him in the heat to make sure he gets through to the Final and then make sure you get a good week into him now.

“I am not jumping off Leap To Fame’s band wagon, I still think he will be awfully hard to beat.”

Dixon likes the versatility of his colt’s racing style ahead of the big Final. 

“Ideally in a perfect world, he can sit and sprint really good, which is his favourite way to race if we can,” Dixon said.

“Obviously with draws and race tempos, you just need to get yourself up and into the race at some stage.

“We have that in our favour that he is versatile.”

The team behind Leap To Fame after a win at Albion Park earlier this year.

During the recent carnival at home in Brisbane, Dixon felt his colt improved every week with racing – culminating in the Queensland Derby – and is hopeful that will again be the case as he goes seven days between the heat and the Final.

“By the last week, he was as good as we had him through the whole thing,” Dixon said of the 2022 Queensland campaign.

Following Saturday evening’s Victorian Derby, Leap To Fame is likely to return to NSW.

The team travelled to Tamworth for a heat of the NSW Breeders Challenge in early September – which Leap To Fame won – and they will return to complete the series.

The stable will also have Racy Roxy in at Melton on Saturday evening, contesting a Group 3 event.

By Jordan Gerrans