It was also a day to remember for his young rider, Lachlan King, an apprentice claiming an allowance – which he was not allowed to take in a group 1 race like this.
The success was a vindication of Pagan’s faith in the youngster, a quality he displayed many times over in his footy days when he brought young players through the rigorous and demanding North system.
Big sporting events always seem to generate compelling narratives or evoke memories of previous dramatic renewals.
If Pagan’s win was not enough, King’s triumph also brought a sense of symmetry to the occasion as he was emulating his father, the now retired top jockey Steven King. He had also won the Derby as a young man back in 1991 when he scored on Star of The Realm.
The successful trainer was known as a hard man during his days in the AFL coach’s box but he admitted that he had mellowed a fair bit while preparing a Derby contender compared to the way he was when setting up a team for a grand final.
“I was zombie like in AFL grand final week. To think of all the grand finals I’ve been involved in. Yesterday I had lunch, too much to drink and I was just going to enjoy the moment,” he said.
“My missus said to me you shouldn’t be doing anymore interviews and I ended up doing them until 7.30 last night. I didn’t care, I just wanted to enjoy the day.
”I never thought in a million years that this would happen and he’s done it. You can dream about it. I’ve been thinking about it for the last two months, thinking about getting him here. I just wanted to get him into the Derby.
“When you get a bit older and you’re a silly old fool, it’s just hit me and I couldn’t help myself. I’ve never been like this and I just couldn’t talk.
“I thought he was half a chance but I was worried about the pace of the race. It was slowly run and I thought something like Cherry Tortoni was going to go whoosh. But it wasn’t to be.
“I’ve never been emotional. I was potting Chris Waller for sooking up (the leading Sydney trainer who often cries when his horses win big races). How am I going.”
A son of New Zealand sire Tavistock out of a Zabeel mare, Johnny Get Angry has rewarded Pagan’s patience as he brought the $50,000 purchase from the NZ sales along quietly, showing improved form every race, particularly as the distances got longer.
Pagan has used King all the way through and never thought about dumping the youngster despite the stakes that were at play.
”It’s happened a lot in footy sticking with young blokes before and I’m so glad I did.”
King will never forget this day.
”I really have to thank Denis,” he said. ”He’s been the best thing to happen in my career. I just can’t believe it,” said the young rider.
”I’ve had so many dreams and I’ve woken up before the post thinking I’ve won a group 1. I couldn’t believe it when I hit the post and I’d actually won. It’s unbelievable.”
- Pagan is not the first high profile footy identity to train a Derby winner. Danny Power, Editor of Inside Racing and Inside Breeding tweeted after the race that James Wilson junior, who captained Geelong to VFA Premierships in 1878-79 also trained two Derby heros.
Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief soccer reporter and also reports on motor sport and horseracing