Trainer Adam Durrant expects jockey, Joe Azzopardi, to take full advantage of Kia Ora Koutou’s draw in the $200,000 WA Derby (2400m) at Ascot on Saturday.
Durrant believes from an inside barrier position and with improved fitness Azzopardi can race Kia Ora Koutou handier to the lead in the Group 2 classic.
“From barrier one he will be taking up a position,” Durrant said on TABradio.
“Because of his fitness we have tended to ride him conservatively.
“Whether he’s box seating or two back the fence I’m not sure, but he will definitely hold up a few places.
“These races are never run at a crazy pace and we have to have him within earshot of them at the corner.”
Durrant believes Kia Ora Koutou will be hard to beat if he can replicate his run from last year’s Group 1 Victoria Derby (2400m) at Flemington.
Validating Durrant’s decision to take on the nation’s elite three-year-olds, the Blackfriars gelding ran a luckless third to Tarzino.
An unconvincing fifth on his return in the Lex Piper Stakes (1600m) at Ascot in March raised alarm bells, but his past two runs have him poised.
Kia Ora Koutou ran an improved third in the Roberts Stakes (1800m) and confirmed derby favouritism with an eye-catching second to Heart Starter in the Melvista Stakes.
The three-year-old settled back and took the length of the straight to wind up, but once he gathered momentum he charged home and ran through the line strongly.
Durrant, who is striving to win one of the few racing titles that is missing from his bulging racing resume, said Kia Ora Kotou would be at peak fitness for the derby.
“He looks like he is progressing well and ripped really good late ground of them at his past two starts after probably being in an impossible position at the corner,” Durrant said.
“Put him into a positive position at the corner and if he can make up the same ground he is going to win the race.
“His condition is exactly where it needs to be and in my eye he looks similar to the horse that I took to Victoria.
“If he can replicate that run he is going to be very hard to beat that’s for sure.”
At $2.20 Kia Ora Koutou is a clear cut TAB favourite. Heart Starter is $3.80 and Hart Starter, the only other runner in single figure odds, is rated $7.

RWWA: Julio Santarelli