Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Seeing Double - Blue & White Stripes to the Fore

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Harlem wins the 2018 Australian Cup

The training team of David and Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig certainly had a good day last Saturday, winning both Group 1 races with imported horses.

Redkirk Warrior accomplished a rare consecutive win of the Newmarket Handicap and Harlem, unfancied in the betting, won the Australian Cup at big odds of 60/1.

Despite the extreme heat of the day, it was worth making the effort to attend, though it seemed to me to be a long drawn out afternoon, and it was with relief that I climbed onto the train after the running of the Australian Cup.

Being obliged by train timetables – the last Flemington train was at 12.30pm – I arrived at the course as horses engaged in Race 2 were filing onto the track.  I didn’t bother photographing the action, but noted that Kings Will Dream notched up his fifth win in succession.

I headed for the stalls and dallied there, missing  Race 3 as well, as it didn’t strike me as all that interesting. It was almost impossible to get photos of the horses in their stalls owing to the rampant roses, and besides many of the Group 1 runners had not yet arrived.

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Rose hedge around the stalls

Might and Power and Efficient were the special guests from Living Legends so I did manage to snap a shot of old fave Efficient.

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The Group 2 Sires Produce Stakes was the fourth race on the card, so I trudged up the public lawn to my favourite spot at the access gate on the west lawn. As the rail was out 4 metres, it was difficult to get shots without the outer rail intruding. I’d normally move further up the west lawn to get clear photos of horses going to the barriers, but this area was blocked off by a wine and food pop up facility.

A race for two year olds over 1400 metres, it was won by the unfancied Not A Single Cent, having only his second start.  Favourite Seberate ran second with Akkadian running third.

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Sires Produce Stakes finish – Not A Single Cent is about to overtake Seberate

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Not A Single Cent returns to scale

As it was far too hot in the sun, between races I sought out shade in various spots around the public lawn, and only returned to the access gate when the runners in the next race were leaving the mounting yard for the track. I don’t know why I bothered taking photos with the rail being a problem, but I suppose it was a distraction from the relentless sunshine.

Race 5 was the Group 2 Kewney Stakes for three year old fillies and is run over 1400 metres.  The so far unbeaten Summer Sham was the starting favourite and led for most of the race, but she was outclassed over the distance and finished well back in eighth place.  The winner Bella Martini raced just off the speed in third place and toughed it out to beat Shokora and Palazzo Vecchio.

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Bella Martini wins the Kewney Stakes

The Newmarket Handicap was the next race to jump, so I pegged out a rose free spot on the mounting yard fence for the pre-race parade.

Here are some of the main contenders.

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Brave Smash

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Redkirk Warrior

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Merchant Navy

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So Si Bon

As is the norm in sprints down the long Flemington straight, the field split into two, one on the inner rail and the other on the outer. As a result, Redkirk Warrior who was brushing the roses on the outer fence, defeated Brave Smash on the inner fence by a half head, with Merchant Navy running third.

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A distant shot of the Newmarket halfway up the straight with split field

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Outer fence view approaching the winning post

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Inner fence view approaching the winning post

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Redkirk Warrior returns to scale

The first of the Group 1 races at Randwick, the Canterbury Stakes,  was scheduled shortly after the running of the Newmarket Handicap, so I sauntered closer to the big screen to watch it and found a place to sit down, albeit in the sun.

The rose hedge was splendidly in full bloom…

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Rose hedge close to the Clock Tower

Anyway, the Canterbury Stakes resulted in a win for Happy Clapper with Global Glamour running second and Invincible Gem third.

Back at Flemington, Race 7 was the Group 3 Schweppervescence Trophy, a race for fillies and mares over 1600 metres. Spanish Reef was one of the few favourites to win at Flemington on Saturday. She defeated Samovare by three quarters of a length with Jester Halo two lengths back running third.

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Spanish Reef wins the Schweppervescence Trophy

As I was fed up with trying to get rail free photos, I decided to go back to a spot opposite the finish line where the horses returning to scale enter the path to the mounting yard. It’s not a bad spot for taking photos from a different angle, with the bonus of the winning post in the background.

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Spanish Reef returns to scale

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Samovare returns to scale

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Jester Halo returns to scale

Before the Australian Cup field assembled in the mounting yard, I watched the Randwick Guineas on the big screen. Kementari was the outstanding winner.  Pierata ran second and Trapeze Artist third.

I’d been at Flemington for four hours, so I was thankful the feature race was finally ready to race.

Here are some of the major contenders in the mounting yard…

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Gailo Chop

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Single Gaze

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Ventura Storm

It was reported in the racing press that Lloyd Williams, who had three horses entered in the Australian Cup (Almandin, The Taj Mahal and Homesman)  had advised that he would recommend that The Taj Mahal and Homesman be ridden positively (i.e. on the speed) and Almandin ridden quietly. This all sounded as if he was using the former two horses as pacemakers for Almandin, and a challenge for Gailo Chop who likes to lead.

That plan unravelled when The Taj Mahal and the Gai Waterhouse trained Supply and Demand fought out the lead for most of the race, only to fade and finish well back. Harlem raced handy in fourth spot on the fence, then was blocked for a run, but he found a gap and went on to beat Gailo Chop by half a length with Ventura Storm another length back running third. Almandin ended up running fourth.

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Harlem returns to scale

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Gailo Chop and Homesman return to scale

And that was another Australian Cup run and won.

I was contemplating going to the Blamey Stakes meeting at Flemington next Saturday ostensibly to see 2017 Melbourne Cup winner Rekindling who was nominated for the feature race, but owner Lloyd Williams has decided not to run him this autumn after all.

Anyway, next Saturday is forecast to be as hot as the previous one, so I’m glad not to attend.

As for Melbourne’s autumn carnival, as I’ve mentioned before, it has been underwhelming with very few highlights that I can think of, though of course I can say I saw Redkirk Warrior win both the Lightning Stakes and Newmarket Handicap

Group 1 racing continues on in Sydney and we have Winx next race to look forward to on 24 March.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Australian Cup 2018

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Australian Cup finish 2017 – Humidor pips Jameka at the post

Truth to tell, the Melbourne Summer/Autumn racing carnival has been somewhat underwhelming and tomorrow’s Super Saturday at Flemington promises more of the same.

The feature races are the Group 1  Newmarket Handicap, a sprint over 1200 metres, and the  Group 1 Australian Cup for middle distance runners over 2000 metres.

The Newmarket is the first of the Group 1 events to run and has a large field of 15 runners competing. It’s a mix of tried and true older sprinters and young up and comers.

Top picks of the older brigade are Redkirk Warrior who won the Black Caviar Lightning first up at his only start so far this autumn and loves the Flemington straight, Brave Smash who won the Group 1 Futurity Stakes at Caulfield at his last start, but has not raced at Flemington, Rich Charm who does love the Flemington straight, having won there over the distance twice.

Best of the younger set is Merchant Navy, Booker and Catchy, all with a weight advantage over their older rivals.

Many great champions of the Australian turf have won the Australian Cup such as Lonhro, Northerly, Makybe Diva, Octagonal and Saintly to name a few, so who will go down in the record books this year?

The 12 strong field is mostly made up of imported stayers such as Hartnell, Almandin., Homesman, The Taj Mahal and Gailo Chop who are the top chances.  Of the few locals it would be nice if the ever reliable Single Gaze got her moment of Group 1 glory. The interesting runner is Japanese import Ambitious having his first start in Australia.

In Sydney, at Randwick the most interesting race of the day is the Group 1 Randwick Guineas, where a crackerjack field of three year old colts and two geldings will be vying for the prize. Kementari who has won his only two starts this autumn is the top pick.  Victorian Derby winner Ace High is also a good chance though is probably better over a longer distance than the 1600 metres of this race. Others worthy of consideration are Golden Rose winner Trapeze Artist and Peaceful State who ran second in the Australian Guineas last week. Peaceful State interestingly is a brother to Weekend Hussler who won the Randwick Guineas, among several other Group 1 races, in 2008.

The weather in Melbourne tomorrow is predicted to be fine and sunny again, so slathered in sunscreen I’ll venture to Flemington tomorrow for another Saturday at the races, maybe the last for a while.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The Brilliance of Winx & Grunt’s Australian Guineas

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Grunt being rugged after winning the Australian Guineas

Though the racing at Flemington was in the main not that interesting on Saturday, it was a fine sunny afternoon to attend and soak up some Vitamin D.

Due to the Flemington train timetable I was obliged to arrive at the course early and I got there around 1.00 pm  just before Race 2, so there were over three and a half hours to kill whilst waiting for the feature race.

Naturally I used the time to practice photography on the earlier races, and since it was a bright day decided to try out the Active D Lighting option on the camera, which according to the Nikon User Manual is a useful setting for bright sunny situations.  It worked a treat, as normally the contrast between highlights and shadows is extreme and needs adjustment during photo editing.

I  watched Race 2, the Roy Higgins Quality a 2600 metre race for stayers, from the fence near the mounting yard, so didn’t get any photos of the action, just the winner Aloft returning to scale from the track.

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Aloft returns to scale

I ambled around the stalls area, but most of the Guineas field had not at that time arrived at the course, so I headed up to my usual spot and pretty well stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.

Nearby, children were being entertained in the Pharlap Club by a Magician.

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Tony the Magician in action with audience volunteer

Race 3 was the Mitty’s Handicap, a race for fillies and mares over 1100 metres. The favourite was Hear The Chant who, racing on the speed, went on to win, with Fragonard running second and Essence of Terror third.

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Mitty’s Handicap finish – Hear The Chant is outside Fragonard

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Hear The Chant returns to scale

So onto Race 4, the moderately interesting Group 3 Frances Tressady Stakes, where Flippant started favourite and won after leading the whole 1400 metre trip. Oregon’s Day was the runner up and Soho Ruby ran third.

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Flippant wins the Frances Tressady Stakes

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Flippant returns to scale

As it was quite hot out in the open, in between the races I sought shade up in the James Boag’s Celebration Deck where surprisingly there were unoccupied umbrella shaded tables which provided respite from the sun.  It certainly wasn’t crowded at Flemington last Saturday – the wide open spaces were sparsely populated.

I was amused by the oxymoronic VRC Members Express, a sort of droll conveyance for the convenience of Members who couldn’t be bothered walking from one end of the course to the other. It crawled along at snail’s pace, belying its hifalutin title.

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VRC Members Express

Race 5, the Australia Handicap was pretty uninteresting as I’d hardly heard of many of the runners. Run over 2000 metres it was won by 2007 Cox Plate winner El Segundo’s brother Big Sur by  over three lengths from Big Pat’s Pontiac and Wannon Warrior.

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Big Sur wins the Australia Handicap

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Big Sur returns to scale

As Winx race the Chipping Norton Stakes was scheduled at 3.30pm I made sure I was near a big screen to watch the event screened from Sydney. Winx was heading to the barriers as the Australia Handicap winner’s presentation was being held in the mounting yard.

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Screen shot with intruding head in the foreground of Winx going to the starting gates

Winx was simply breathtaking, winning the Chipping Norton Stakes by over seven lengths from Prized Icon with consummate ease.  Galloping at the tail of the field, Winx took charge on the turn into the straight and sailed to victory, Hugh Bowman barely moving in the saddle. A scattered applause was the response at Flemington from those few who were watching the race on the Public Lawn. She now has won 23 races in succession, 16 of them being at Group 1 level, one more than Black Caviar.  It appears very likely that she will match Black Caviar’s record of 25 consecutive wins this autumn racing season.

That was the must watch race of the day as far as I was concerned, and at Flemington there was still one race to run before the feature event.

This was the Group 3 Autumn Handicap, an open competion run over 1400 metres.

Tshahitsi led for most of the race, but was swamped by outsiders Nozomi, Violate and Cool Chap who finished first, second and third respectively and the favourite Poetic Dream finished fifth.

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Race 6 finish – Nozomi is in the blue silks

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Nozomi returns to scale

The Australian Guineas was the next race to jump, and truth to tell the most interesting race of the day at Flemington, so I pegged out a spot on the fence around the mounting yard. The roses had grown profusely and impeded the view from many areas around the yard. Whilst waiting for the Guineas field to arrive I watched the Surround Stakes from Sydney on the big screen. Shoals won from Torvill and Rimraam and Shumookh dead heated for third.

Here are some photos of the Guineas parade…

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Aloisia being wayward

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Mighty Boss

… and heading for the starting gates.

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Bring Me Roses

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Cliff’s Edge

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Peaceful State

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Main Stage

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Holy Smoke

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Mighty Boss

Grunt showed what a game little trooper he is, winning the Australian Guineas by half a length from the challenging Peaceful State with Bring Me Roses two lengths behind running third. Cliff’s Edge was the starting favourite, but wore himself out leading the field for most of the race and finished seventh.

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Grunt wins the Australian Guineas

With the feature race being run and won, I headed for the station and home. It was another of those weekends where buses were replacing trains on the Hurstbridge line between Macleod and Clifton Hill, so it took a bit longer to get home than normal.

Next week is the so called Super Saturday at Flemington which features the Group 1 Australian Cup and Newmarket Handicap.