Keys chasing emotional Derby win for much-loved MikaelaBen Dorries
Claridge was apprenticed to veteran horseman Keys when she was killed in a tragic accident at Cranbourne in August and Keys went into the spring carnival with a heavy heart.
A win for either would mean Keys would join racing’s Group I club – he previously came close in the 2014 Caulfield Guineas when his $1.80 favourite Rich Enuff narrowly went under.
But there will be much more on the mind of Keys at Flemington on Saturday than the prospect of any personal glory in potentially winning his first Group I in more than three decades of training.
“Without doubt, if one of these horses could win it would be extra significant and emotional,” Keys said.
“What started off as the worst spring known to man might have a silver lining.
“But nothing will ever replace a beautiful person like Mikaela.
“I hope she is looking down on us tomorrow.
“I would give up any Group I that I could win if we could just have her back.”
Despite the difference in the odds of his two Group I prospects at Flemington on Saturday, Keys has to pause to think when asked which is the better winning chance.
In the end, he says it is probably Soul Patch but he feels last-start winning mare Spanish Reef is a good chance of providing a blowout result in the Empire Rose.
“I suppose the Derby horse is my best chance but I do think the mare has been very good," he said.
“I think she has been under-rated in this race, she has drawn a barrier and she has done everything right."
Soul Patch stormed into Derby calculations when the blinkers were applied and the Shamus Award colt produced a commanding win in last Saturday’s Group II Moonee Valley Vase (2040m).
Keys reveals there have been offers to buy the colt but says he is currently not for sale.
“There has been significant interest,” Keys said.
“But he’s just not for sale.
“There may be a time when he is, but at the moment he is not – it wouldn’t matter what they offer.
“He’s a very progressive horse, we haven’t got to the bottom of him yet.”
So what about the decision to keep the blinkers on Soul Patch for the Derby, when there had been consideration given to taking them off for the 2500m event?
Jockey Dwayne Dunn played a key role in convincing Keys to leave the shades on the galloper.
“Dwayne said he seemed comfortable in blinkers and he travelled pretty well under him, he certainly did what he wanted him to do,” Keys said.
“But I guess you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
“If he gets too strong (in the Derby) people will say you should have taken the blinkers off and I guess they will be right.
“But if he races proper and wins they will probably say I am a genius.”