Sunday, January 25, 2015

Anticipating the Autumn Racing Carnival

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Australia Stakes finish – Mourinho holds off It Is Written to win the feature race

For a change, Moonee Valley hosted the Group 2 Australia Stakes meeting on a Saturday afternoon instead of Friday night, so I thought I would sally along and take in some racing action and further test the Canon G16 at a low key race meeting.

Though by no means first class racing, it was nevertheless reasonably interesting though not profitable as far as wagering goes

I arrived just as Race 2 , a 1600 metre race for fillies and mares, was in progress and made it to the fence for the finish. It was won by Marli Magic from Arena Rock with Hot Ruby running third.

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Race 2 finish – Marli Magic (inside) wins from Arena Rock

Interestingly, Marli Magic’s full brother Hong Kong Captain won Race 6 later in the afternoon. They are both from Host by Limited Passage.

Race 3 was the Chandler Macleod Handicap, for three year olds run over 2040 metres. As I’d hardly heard of any of the runners, I opted to place a few dollars each way on Blue Jangles whose name appealed to me. He finished last. Despite the fact that Moonee Valley has added a rail just beyond the fence, which inhibits taking clear  photos, I managed to get a few good shots of some of the runners on their way to the barriers.

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Baja Moon – finished 5th

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Zahspeed – finished 2nd

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Von Classic Hero – finished 6th

Also I was quite pleased with the Canon G16’s ability to take action shots such as the Race 3 finish. If you look at the enlarged image, the photo is sharp and clear.

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Race 3 finish – Norman Rules about to overtake tiring leader Zahspeed (not in the picture) to win on the line.

And so the afternoon progressed.

The most eye catching win of the afternoon was that of Hong Kong Captain in Race 6 the Antler Luggage Vobis Gold Star, run over 1500 metres. Hong Kong Captain was having only the third start of his career, and after travelling at the back of the field, showed impressive speed to overtake favourite, Profit Taker and win comfortably by half a length.

The Australia Stakes was the feature race of the meeting, and was of interest due to the return to racing of triple Group 1 winner Dissident who was disqualified for three months after bleeding in the Caulfield  Stakes last spring. He started as short priced favourite, despite the 1200 metre distance not being suitable for him.  He looked very well and I caught up with him in his stall to take a photo and later in the Parade Ring.

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Dissident in his stall

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Dissident in the Parade Ring prior to the race

The race distance was also unsuitable for the surprise winner Mourinho who is better known as a stayer. Dissident managed to run third.

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Mourinho on his way to the stalls before winning the Australia Stakes

There are only three weeks to go before the running of the first Group 1 race of the 2015 Autumn Season.  The C F Orr Stakes will be run at Caulfield on Valentine’s Day, but before that there will be a few interesting race meetings, tomorrow for instance. Unfortunately tomorrow’s meeting is at Sandown Park, not a racecourse I patronise and it’s miles away from where I live.

It is normally run at Caulfield, but as that racetrack has just been resurfaced there have been no races at the course since Caulfield Cup Day last year.

Two Blue Diamond Previews are to be run, always of interest in light of the actual Blue Diamond Stakes to be run in March. Also of interest is the Manfred Stakes for Guineas bound three year olds, which has generally attracted a classy field. I’ll watch them on my computer.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Farewell Super Cool–Rest In Peace

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Super Cool returning to scale after the 2014 Makybe Diva Stakes

The sad news of the death of one of my favourite race horses, Super Cool, came to my notice the other night. Apparently a leg infection led to his demise and that is all that has been reported.

If you have been reading my racing posts over the last three years, you’ll know that I had a real soft spot for Super Cool and that I tried to get photos of him every time I saw him race, and many of them featured his devoted strapper Jade, who demonstrated on several occasions the sweet temper of the horse by getting him to kiss her.

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So my thoughts go out to Jade who must be sadly missing her special friend.

Super Cool first came to my attention on Cox Plate Day 2012, when he was three years old.  That afternoon he was too speedy for hot favourite, the very talented It’s A Dundeel, and won the
Group 2 Mitchelton Wines Vase.

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Super Cool, with Jade in attendance, parading before winning the Vase in 2012

Super Cool’s three year old season was his best where he ran second to his great rival Fiveandhalfstar in the 2012 Victoria Derby and went on to beat him in the 2013 Group 2 Autumn Classic and then again in the 2013 Australian Cup, becoming the first three year old to win the race since Saintly in 1996. The world appeared to be his oyster at that time, but he never won another race.

He returned in the Spring 2013, acquitting himself well running third to his classy stable mate Atlantic Jewel in the Group 1 Memsie Stakes and Caulfield Stakes. He also tackled the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes. Turnbull Stakes, Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup that spring, and though never scoring a place, was never that far from the leaders.

He had a long break, missing the 2014 Autumn season and returned last Spring, where unfortunately he was unable to regain the form of his three year old season.

I was looking forward to seeing him at the track this autumn, but alas he will not be present. I’ll miss seeing him as he was a great horse to photograph, always obligingly looking my way when I took a snap.

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So rest in peace Super Cool and enjoy running free in horse heaven.

Watch Super Cool’s greatest victory in the 2013 Australian Cup

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Hello 2015 – Cats & Books

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I meant to write a post before the New Year, but somehow time slipped away and I didn’t get around to it.

2014 was a pretty good year for me, only marred by the deaths of two friends, who are still mourned and will live on in my memories. I hope 2015 will not be as stressful in that way, and that my friends, family and pets continue to survive in good health and spirits.

Willy, pictured above, will turn 11 in January and this month will also mark the second year that Talya, the Russian Princess, has been part of the Cat Politics domicile.

The happy cat herbal medicine appears to be working and apart from a fracas yesterday morning the cats seem cool and calm in the main.

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The fracas occurred when both cats were sprawled on the bed in close proximity and Willy misinterpreted Talya’s body language as a threat. She was actually sneezing or coughing, but he thought she was hissing at him so he advanced on her personal space and the inevitable happened with much sound and fury on Talya’s part.  She sprang off the bed with Willy in hot pursuit and hid under it, shrieking. I persuaded Willy to back off and eventually, as breakfast was in the offing, Talya emerged as if nothing had happened and the cats milled around my ankles as I dished out their food, all aggro forgotten.

Monty the cat next door has been hanging around in our back garden quite a bit, but both he and Willy appear reluctant to come to blows. If they’re facing off on the fence, Willy allows me to lift him down without any fuss and wanders inside without a backward glance. When I got up the other morning I discovered Monty lounging on the back door step. The resident cats were outside as well, looking on, but not game enough to dislodge him. When he saw me he slunk off, which gave Talya and Willy their chance to pester me for breakfast.

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Monty lounging on the decking outside the back door

On other matters, this time last year I was anticipating new novels from two of my favourite writers, those being David Mitchell and William Gibson, and I’m pleased to say that neither novel  was a disappointment. In fact The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell ) and The Peripheral (William Gibson) are among the best books I read this year, both being wonderfully written and interesting throughout.

Another book that glows in my brain is Tigerman by Nick Harkaway, a book about fathers and sons with the most unusual super hero in literature. This was the last book I read in 2014, and it is up there with the best. Nick Harkaway is the son of John Le CarrĂ© and has written three novels so far – The Gone Away World, Angelmaker & Tigerman-  all of which I have read and enjoyed. He’s a writer I’ll certainly be following in the future.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, which won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non Fiction and the 2014 Costa Prize for Biography, is a standout. It’s a beautifully written memoir wherein Helen Macdonald, in the wake of her beloved father’s death, describes in glittering prose how she tried to cope with her grief by acquiring and training a goshawk.  As well as detailing her life with Mabel her goshawk, she muses on the sad lonely life of T. H. White who also wrote a book on training a goshawk in the 1950s, but is famous for his series of Arthurian novels collected under the title of The Once And Future King.

I’m still waiting for the 25th Anniversary Edition of John Crowley’s Little, Big, despite being hopeful at the beginning of last year it would be published in 2014.  Dare I hope to see it in 2015? It is after all 10 years since I subscribed to it, but surely will be worth the wait.

Speaking of collectable books, I was able to get a signed first edition of William Gibson’s The Peripheral, being alerted on Twitter by a Gibson fan that Barnes &  Noble had them available for pre-order. I was delighted to finally have a long desired, signed edition of one of his books.

And I lashed out on a slip cased, limited, numbered and signed edition of The Bone Clocks, which arrived on Christmas Eve - a nice present to myself.

There are several books I’m looking forward to in 2015. The final book in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, will possibly be released this year and Kate Atkinson is mooted to have new novel as well, about one the characters in Life After Life.

And I’ll have to clear another largish space on my bookshelf for Neal Stephenson’s new novel titled Seveneves, another 1000+ page novel due in May 2015. I like collecting his books in hardcover editions, even though they take up a lot of space, but they look wonderful on the shelf and are highly collectable, Stephenson being a nerdish cult hero.

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Current hard cover collection of Neal Stephenson novels

No doubt there will be more good reads in the offing, and who knows there may be a new author out there who will blow me away.

With 2015 being barely begun, who knows what is in store in the next 12 months. I’ll no doubt be spending some of it at the racetrack. The Magic Millions 2 and 3 year old (outrageously rich) Classic races are scheduled on the Gold Coast this Saturday. I haven’t a clue as to who the likely winners will be, but they’re always interesting to watch.

The first Group 1 of the 2015 Autumn racing carnival is only a little over a month away, so there’s lots to look forward to on the racing scene.

With that, I wish readers of this blog (if there are any) good fortune, good health and happiness in 2015.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Summer Solstice

Today is the longest day of the year for us in the Antipodes and the longest night for those in the Northern Hemisphere. Astrologically Capricorn becomes the dominant sign of the zodiac, which is not a particularly friendly sign to those of us born in fire signs.

In Melbourne it is a warm and sunny day and of course it’s only three days to Christmas.

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Edward Gorey Christmas Cat

As usual I’ll be going to my brother’s place for the day and leaving the cats to their own devices. They no doubt will be alarmed by the absence of their slave, but I’ve arranged for a neighbour to attend to their needs in the evening.

More Christmas cheer was to be had at Flemington last Saturday, which I attended to see how my new camera handled the racing scene.

A droll band costumed in Christmassy things were greeting race goers as they entered from the station…

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…and the Makybe Diva Statue was bedecked with a Christmas garland

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I only stayed a short time – for three races – and only had one bet which was successful. I was pleased when Taiyoo, a son of Haradasun,  easily won the Comic Court Handicap, a race over 2000 metres. He didn’t pay heaps, but financed my short afternoon at the races.

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Taiyoo returns to scale after winning the Comic Court Handicap

As for the G16 at the races, it’s a pity that I inadvertently stuffed up the White Balance, somehow setting it to underwater mode instead of auto white balance.

There wasn’t much of a crowd so I decided to expand my horizons at the course and walked up beyond the winning post, where I found a spot that was not obscured by the double fencing that restricts one from taking action shots. The photo below was taken from there.

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Bascule, winner of the Primacy Handicap returning to scale.

Despite the stuff up with the white balance, I was quite pleased with the G16’s performance and the photo quality. I do however prefer the continuous shooting mode on my Panasonic as the Canon, despite taking very fast shots, has a lag when processing the images after the fact, and doesn’t give you a live view when shooting in that mode.

As the trains were not scheduled to leave Flemington until 4.55pm, I didn’t fancy hanging around till then, so decided to go home by tram. It certainly is a long walk to the tram stop in Epsom Road – good exercise I suppose – but at least I now know where to go in the future should I need to.

The roses were still in bloom, so I paused on my walk to the tram stop to snap a photo of a rose, marvelling at the extent of the famed rose gardens at Flemington, and how much work it must take to maintain them.

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This will be my last post before Christmas, so I wish anyone who reads this a very merry festive occasion.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Camera, new cat (& dog) pics

I’ve just purchased yet another camera. This one is a Canon Powershot G16, an updated model of my old Canon G10 which I purchased in 2008. There was nothing wrong with the Canon G10, it took great photos, but I have to admit it was somewhat sluggish at times when it mattered.

I had been eyeing off the G16 for some months, but resisted buying it, until last week, when Canon were offering it at a discounted price with a generous cash back.  How could I resist!

I put the G10 up for sale on Gumtree and sold it almost instantly. Perhaps my asking price was too low, but I thought $100.00 for a six year old camera was reasonable, and obviously so did the purchaser.

Anyway, I’ve been testing out the G16 and I am really pleased with its performance (lightning fast) and the quality of the photos it produces.

Naturally the resident cats have been my test subjects…

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This photo of Willy was taken early this morning in poor light, but it turned out quite well.

I also tried out the camera on  plants in the garden.

Macro of fuschia (really pleased with the bokeh effect)…

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Periwinkle

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A friend came around to visit the other day and brought her delightful little dog, Tickle, so I snapped the following photo of her.

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You may well wonder how the cats reacted to having a dog around. Tick is a fairly frequent visitor, and it is more for her safety that we isolate the cats to another part of the house. Tick lives with two cats, so is used to them, but our cats are not accustomed to dogs, and Willy, in particular, would probably attack poor Tick if she approached him.

As for the relationship between the resident cats, nothing much has changed – they still loathe each other. I had to take Talya to the vet, when I noticed she was losing more fur than the normal malting process would produce. She was over grooming and pulling the fur out herself. The vet reckons it was caused by stress, so he gave me some Chinese Herbal medicine called Xiao Yao San to try out on both cats in the hope that it would fix the problem. 

It hasn’t really, as Talya is still occasionally ripping out her fur, though the Xiao Yao San has calmed both cats down, apparently, as they have not had a really serious confrontation since they’ve been on the medicine.

Overall I’m very pleased with my new G16 and look forward to trying it out at concerts and the races.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Carnival Is Over–Emirates Stakes Day Review

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Mounting yard gate – back view of  Emirates winner, Hucklebuck returning to scale

It certainly wasn’t a day for favourites at last Saturday’s Emirates Stakes meeting at Flemington. Most of the races resulted in surprise winners with the favourites running out of a place.

Perhaps the heat was the cause. It was a hot and windy day and the track was upgraded from a Good 3 to Good 2 as the afternoon progressed and several horses were scratched due to the firmness of the racing surface.

When I arrived at the track, shortly before the running of Race 4 the Hilton Hotels & Resorts Stakes, there was already a sizable crowd in attendance. Not at Derby Day or Cup Day levels, but they comfortably filled the public lawn area. Considering that the general admission cost was a hefty $60.00, I was astounded that many of those present didn’t appear to show the slightest interest in the racing action. It’s traditionally a family day, and children were there in abundance.

One largish group had brought their own seating in the form of fold out chairs and had set them up in a semi circle in front of my favourite position on the fence, so I observed them as I squeezed my way through the barricade of chairs. Not one of the group ever got up from their chairs to watch the races, even though they were so close to the action.  What’s the point of going to a first class race meeting and showing no interest in it? It would have been cheaper for them to all meet up in a park.

Racing Victoria, after the flag waving incident on Cup Day that resulted in the injury and subsequent death of Araldo, horses returning to scale in the Group 1 races bypassed the long rose walkway back to the mounting yard, and instead returned via the entrance at the clock tower.  The non Group 1 races all used the rose path, but anyone  waving distracting articles were quickly stopped.  It sounds like an overreaction, when you think back to Black Caviar’s racing days, when flags were all over the place and they handed them out at the entrance gates.

Personally, I am more spooked by shrieking young females, one of whom I could not help but overhear after the 8th race. Her bet, Suavito, had just won, and all the non winners were returning to scale, but any of them could have been the one she was screaming her praises for as the winner had not at that point returned to scale. The winner is generally the last to return, delayed by the media interview of the jockey on the track shortly after race finish.

Enough of grouching about the general stupidity of Spring race goers, and back to the real thing.

After watching Race 4, which was won by Lord Aspen, the only favourite to win on the day, I wandered to the peaceful and uncluttered stalls area. Even on Melbourne Cup day the stalls and parade ring section was relatively deserted.

I found a few of the stars already in attendance in their stalls…

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Chautauqua in his stall

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The lovely Lankan Rupee in his stall

…and in the parade ring I spotted star Irish sprinter Slade Power being exercised.

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Slade Power in the parade ring

As Race 5 was due to start, I returned to the public lawn and easily found a spot at the mounting yard fence to watch the parade. It was the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a 2600 metres race for stayers who missed out on a run in the Melbourne Cup. British mare Noble Protector was the favourite.

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Noble Protector

The race was won by another import the German bred Le Roi with local bred Prince of Penzance running second and my fancy Big Memory (from France) who ran third.

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Le Roi returning to scale, a happy Damian Oliver saluting the crowd

The first of the Group 1 races was up next.  With an exemplary field the Darley Classic was the pick of the races on the day. A riveting sprint down the Flemington straight, the finish was fought out by Lankan Rupee, Chautauqua and Sydney visitor Terravista who was the winner. Less than half a length separated the three of them.  Slade Power missed the start and was never a threat.

One good thing about the bypass via the clock tower, was the unique photo opportunity to capture the returning horses from a different angle.

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Lankan Rupee returns to scale after running third in the Darley Classic

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Chautauqua returns to scale after running second in the Darley Classic

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Rebel Dane returns to scale

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Temple of Boom returns to scale

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Terravista returns to scale after his victory in the Darley Classic

Though Australia’s stayers have been upstaged by the Internationals, our sprinters are world class, even with Black Caviar no longer on the scene. If she was,  no doubt she’d thrash the lot of them. Still it’s good to see really competitive  sprint races again. Lankan Rupee, Chautauqua, Terravista and maybe Deep Field will all hopefully return in Autumn to fight for more Group 1 glory.

The feature race, the Emirates Stakes was the next race on the agenda, so it was back to the mounting yard fence to see them parade. I’d only had few modest bets, and they’d all come third. I of course had my money on The Cleaner in the Emirates and his odds were a good 10/1. You guessed it, he ran third.

Hucklebuck stamped himself as a potential star of the turf with his win in the Emirates Stakes, his first Group 1 victory.  The Cleaner, as expected, set up  a steady pace in the lead, and was there to be caught by the swoopers. He held on really well to finish third. Lucky Hussler narrowly missed out on winning, but had to settle for second place.

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Unplaced favourite Contributer returns to scale

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The Cleaner in the mounting yard

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Lucky Hussler returns to scale

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Hucklebuck  returns to scale after winning the Emirates Stakes

I only stayed for one more race, the Group 2 Momentum Energy Stakes, a race  for mares run over 2000 metres.

By this time a cool change had come through, so the wind that had been a fierce hot northerly, swung to the south but was still quite strong.

I thought Solicit was a good chance to win. After all she had a couple of consecutive wins back in the autumn and has been close up a few times this spring. She ended up finishing fifth behind Suavito, Girl in Flight and Amanpour who filled the places.

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Solicit in the mounting yard

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Tango’s Daughter – ran fourth

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Girl in Flight – second

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Amanpour – third

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Suavito returns to scale along the rose path after winning the Momentum Energy Stakes

And so ended the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, though there are a couple of good races at Sandown next Saturday which I will watch with interest.

Looking back over the Spring Racing Carnival, other than the multinationals winning the three big races, no real stars emerged, most of the other Group 1 races being won by one horse or another. The only horses to win two Group 1’s were Dissident (Memsie Stakes & Makybe Diva Stakes) and Trust In A Gust (Rupert Clark Stakes & Toorak Handicap).

Though probably not as good as the 2013 Spring Racing Carnival, it still was interesting all through, and I enjoyed all the race meetings I attended. Highlights were Lucia Valentina winning the Turnbull Stakes, The Cleaner winning the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes and the JRA Cup, Fawkner winning the Caulfield Stakes, and of course the remarkable win of Adelaide in the Cox Plate.

And to finish off this entry I must mention the passing of two old stars of the Australian Turf with a nose thumb to the fundamentalists of the Coalition For The Protection of Racehorses, whose agenda remains mysterious and very iffy.

The two horses in question are Rough Habit and Veandercross, both New Zealand bred and prominent racehorses in the early 1990s.  I remember them well and probably even saw them race.

Rough Habit was euthanised last Friday at the age of 28, and Veandercross died on Caulfield Cup Day at the age of 26.

Rough Habit won 21 feature races, 11 of them at Group 1 level. He won the Stradbroke Handicap twice and the Doomben Cup three times. He narrowly missed winning the 1994 Cox Plate.  He was a cult hero in Queensland and even featured on an Australia Post stamp one time.

Veandercross won 15 races, 8 at Group 1 level and was very unlucky not to have won the 1992 Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup, running a close second in both races. His jockey Shane Dye was blamed both times for his defeat.

Rest In Peace Roughie and Vandy.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Carnival Goes Out With A Bang–Emirates Stakes Day

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The Cleaner – Cox Plate Day

It’s the last day of Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival on Saturday and Flemington throws open its gates again to host the Emirates Stakes meeting, featuring two fabulous Group 1 races.

So far this Spring, the three major staying races have been won by horses from three different countries – Cox Plate winner Adelaide is from Ireland, Caulfield Cup winner, the late Admire Rakti was from Japan, and Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist is from Germany – so the Spring racing carnival has gone all multi national these days.

Let’s hope this does not continue at the weekend, and that one or two of our local heroes can win a prestigious Group 1 from a foreign invader.

The first of the Group 1 races is the Darley Classic, formerly known as the Patinack Farm Classic. It’s a sprint over 1200 metres and has attracted a really classy field of crack sprinters including Lankan Rupee, Buffering, new kid on the block Chautauqua, and top Irish sprinter Slade Power.  I daren’t speculate on who will win.

Chautauqua is the current favourite which means Lankan Rupee will be at reasonably good odds for a change.  Slade Power has peculiar barrier manners, that require him to wear a hood until the gates open, and to be loaded last. Racing Victoria has not made many concessions to his eccentricities, so who knows what will happen when they jump.

Tassie hero, the “Lion of Longford”, aka The Cleaner is going for Group 1 glory in the Emirates Stakes, a race over 1600 metres.  Rather than racing against stayers, he faces a field of well performed milers. These include Hooked who won the Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley on Cox Plate day, Hucklebuck who won his last race over 1400 metres  at Flemington a week ago, and Irish import Contributer who is highly fancied and will probably start as favourite.

I’ll be barracking for The Cleaner, who hopefully can run the rest of the field ragged and hang on to the lead to the end. He’ll also be at very good odds, being nowhere near favoured by the Newspaper tipsters.

I’m looking forward as always to going to the track. It will be the last race meeting I’ll attend this year most likely, so god knows what I’ll do on Saturday afternoon from now on.

Emirates Stakes Day, as I discovered last year is a really pleasant meeting, not crowded and pretty laid back.  It’s the pick of the four day Flemington carnival for that reason.