Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Spring Racing Finale

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Mackinnon Stakes – Trap for Fools defeats Latrobe, Extra Brute & Prized Icon

The Mackinnon Stakes used to be run on Derby Day and was usually contested by Melbourne Cup bound stayers, but has in recent times become less relevant to the Cup with International runners dominating the big two mile handicap.

Since 2016 the Mackinnon Stakes is now one of the two Group 1 races run on the final day of Flemington’s racing carnival. The Emirates Stakes used to be run on this day but now is one of the feature races on Derby Day and retitled the Kennedy Mile.

This last day of the carnival is generally pretty pleasant and not as crowded as Derby Day or Melbourne Cup day, and so it was last Saturday, making it easier to move around the course.

I arrived at Flemington at around 1.30 pm in time to witness, though not photograph, race 3, the Listed Spring Stakes for three year olds.  I’d taken along my step stool and got it through Security without any difficulty, but it was cumbersome to carry around so I hid it behind the rose hedge near my favourite spot on the access gate along from the finish line, so I could go and visit the stalls area.

Security was out in even more force last Saturday due to the incident in Bourke Street on Friday afternoon, and they made taking photos challenging, intruding on my view of the finish line and horses returning to scale.

I didn’t tarry long in the stalls area, only getting a few photos of Darren Weir’s contendants for the feature races.

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Brave Smash – VRC Sprint

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Derby winner Extra Brut a contender for the Mackinnon Stakes

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Trap For Fools – Mackinnon Stakes eventual winner

Back trackside for race 4, the Group 3 Chatham Stakes, I was keen to try out my step and see if it overcame the high rail that obstructs one’s view of the track, and it worked like a charm. Though only 220 mm high, it gave me sufficient leverage to avoid rails intruding on shots, and as the sun was shining, most of my photos came out well.

Dreamforce, the winner of the Chatham Stakes led from the start to the finish to hold out Widgee Turf and Perast.

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Chatham Stakes finish – Dreamforce wins

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Dreamforce on his way to the barriers

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Widgee Turf returning to scale

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Perast returning to scale

Race 5 was the Group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a race for stayers over 2600 metres.  Race favourite Jaameh fought out the finish with Sully down the straight, to win by a nose. Libran ran third two lengths behind.

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Jaameh & Sully head to head cross the finish line in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes

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Jaameh returning to scale

The feature Group 1 races were scheduled as races 7 and 8, so there was one more race to go  before they were run. This was the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes for mares run over 2000 metres.

Miss Siska was the race favourite , but was relegated to second place by the Darren Weir trained Kenedna who had not won for over a year. Sydney mare Luvaluva finished third.

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Kenedna breaks through to win the Matriarch Stakes

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Kenedna on her way to the barriers

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Miss Siska on her way to the barriers

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Luvaluva on her way to the barriers

Sprints down the straight at Flemington are always difficult to photograph as the field either splits into two separate groups or races down the middle towards the grandstand side, so you are lucky to get the winner in the picture of the finish. To make matters worse, the security guys spread themselves around the perimeter of the course outside the fence but within the outer rail. As a consequence I totally failed to get any photos of the VRC Sprint finish.

Santa Ana Lane raced down the grandstand side to defeat In Her TimeJungle Cat and Pierata dead heated for third. Santa Ana Lane has now won five Group 1 races in three States.  The VRC Sprint field was as good as the field that contested The Everest, and The Everest winner, Redzel, was the hot favourite for the Flemington sprint, but finished fifth.

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Santa Ana Lane returns to scale

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In Her Time returns to scale

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Jungle Cat (no 5) & Pierata return to scale

Quite a few of the Group 1 races contested this spring were won by International raiders, so Santa Ana Lane’s victory was sweet for locally bred racers, as was the win of Trap For Fools in the Mackinnon Stakes

Originally racing in Western Australia, Trap For Fools is now trained by Jarrod McLean who is based at Yangery outside Melbourne near Woodford. 

Trap For Fools was denied a chance to run in the Cox Plate this year and missed running in the Coongy Cup on Caulfield Cup day owing to a stabling mix up, but ran second to Ventura Storm in the Moonee Valley Cup, so he is thoroughly deserving of a Group 1 win. 

He led from the start and held on to win by a nose from import Latrobe having his first start in Australia. Victoria Derby winner Extra Brut flew from the tail of the field to finish a close third.

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Trap For Fools on his way to the barriers

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Latrobe on his way to the barriers

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Extra Brut on his way to the barriers

The step stool, as well as giving me an advantage when taking photos, also doubled as a handy seat in between races, so I’ll definitely take it along to Flemington in the future.

A young couple asked if I’d take their photo, so here it is for Johanna and Martin with the finishing post in the background.

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In the main it has been an entertaining Spring Racing Carnival, the highlight being of course Winx’s Cox Plate.

It was sad that Thecliffsofmoher was euthanised on Melbourne Cup Day, but generally the season was relatively injury free.

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RIP Thecliffsofmoher – A handsome beast photographed on Caulfield Cup Day

I won’t know what to do with myself on Saturday from now on, but perhaps I can think of other things to blog about whilst waiting for the Autumn racing season.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Sunlight & Extra Brut at Flemington

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Extra Brut wins the 2018 Victoria Derby

The title of this post aptly describes the atmosphere at Flemington racecourse on Derby Day last Saturday, with the Spring racing crowds out in force,  and champagne being the alcohol of choice of the young ladies on the public lawn.

As for sunlight, there was plenty of it as the weather gods put on a perfect Spring day for the occasion.

Coincidently, the winners of two of the feature races were Sunlight (Coolmore Stud Stakes) and Extra Brut (Victoria  Derby), thus giving me the perfect title for this Derby Day review.

I reached Flemington around 1.20 pm, and wading through the massive crowd I proceeded first to the Stalls area, to try and accomplish my main mission of the day, which was to get Chris Waller’s signature on my Cox Plate Racebook. I’d also purchased the newly released Winx biography by Andrew Rule, so lugged it along as well in the hope of getting it signed.

Chris Waller had a big team of horses competing last Saturday, so he was sure to around somewhere, most likely in the stalls, saddling up one of his runners. He had one horse competing in Race 4 the Group 3 Lexus Stakes, a race over 2500 metres for stayers and also a last chance for horses gaining ballot free entry into the Melbourne Cup. Chris Waller’s candidate was Brimham Rocks, but he just missed, beaten half a length by the British trained A Prince of Arran.

I watched the race on a small screen in the stalls area, and lingered there in anticipation of Chris Waller turning up to saddle his two Coolmore Stud Stakes runners, Zousain and Lean Mean Machine, who were being walked in parade ring.

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Zousain – said to be the spitting image of his sire Zoustar

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Lean Mean Machine with familiar Winx strapper Umut Odemislioglu

Sure enough Chris Waller turned up eventually and obligingly signed my racebook and the book. He’s got used to me and Rebecca cadging his signature and is too nice to turn us down.

Having accomplished my main mission, I returned laboriously through the throng to my usual spot at the acccess gate on the public lawn and basically stayed there the rest of the afternoon.

As the Flemington inner rail level has be raised it’s very difficult to get rail free shots and added to that, during the big days of the Flemington Racing Carnival, security guards place themselves directly in front of the rail. It makes taking photos very challenging. I should have taken my step stool, which would have surmounted the rail problem, but with the Winx book weighing a ton, I didn’t feel like adding the extra baggage, so left it at home.

The Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes is a race for three year olds over 1200 metres and is usually won by a top class colt, who is assured of a lucrative future at stud. However, this year’s field had one filly, the super smart Sunlight, who outclassed her male rivals to win on the line. Zousain finished second and his stablemate Lean Mean Machine third. Race favourite Written By ran fourth.  Interestingly, the first three home were sired by Zoustar, who won the race in 2013, as did his sire, Northern Meteor, in 2008, and grandsire, Encosta De Lago, in 1996.

Sunlight had a torrid run in the Manikato Stakes where she was badly held up and hampered from go to whoa and finished out of a place for the first time in her career, so she thoroughly deserved her first Group 1 victory.

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Sunlight wins the Coolmore Stud Stakes from Zousain & Lean Mean Machine & Written By

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Sunlight returns to scale

The Coolmore Stud Stakes was the first of the four Group 1 races on the card, and next up was the Empire Rose Stakes (formerly known as the Myer Classic), a race for fillies and mares over 1600 metres.  Chris Waller would have been disappointed that neither of his colts won the Coolmore, but he would have been heartened by his sturdy mare Shillelagh, who won Group 1 glory in the Empire Rose, courtesy of a great ride by James McDonald, who wove her through the field to win by over a length from Bring Me Roses and Fundamentalist.

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Shillelagh wins the Empire Rose Stakes

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Shillelagh in full flight

Shillelagh won the Group 1 Kennedy Mile on Derby Day last year.

The Gai Waterhouse trained Thinkin’ Big was the firm favourite for the Victoria Derby, but he overraced in the early stages of the race and finished unplaced.  The winner, Extra Brut, raced at the tail of the field and came wide down the outside to overtake the leaders and go on to score by a length over Stars of Carrum, with Chapada another length beind running third.

I only managed to get one photo of the finish (first photo above) as a security guy effectively blocked my view. Fortunately the photo captured the jockey’s triumphant gesture on winning.

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Extra Brut returns to scale after winning the 2018 Victoria Derby

As had been the pattern all day, very few favourites managed to win, and such was the case with the final Group 1 race, the Kennedy Mile, where the favourite Land of Plenty ended up unplaced, and the unfancied British import  Best of Days, last seen dead heating with Mask of Time in the Coongy Cup on Caulfield Cup Day, romped home to win narrowly  over Le Romain and Peaceful State.

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Kennedy Mile finish – Best of Days crosses the finish line

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Best of Days

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Le Romain on his way to the barriers

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Peaceful State returns to scale

I did not stay for the final race, heading for the station and home after the Kennedy Mile. It had been an interesting afternoon of racing, though a bit of an anti climax after the excitement of Cox Plate day

I’ve been writing this post over three days, and didn’t have time to post my normal Melbourne Cup thoughts.

As I type, the Cup is a hour from  the start and will be run on a heavy track after buckets of rain fell on Melbourne this morning, though it has cleared up now.  Who knows who will win, but it should be an interesting race.

The final day of the Melbourne Raciing Carnival is next Saturday at Flemington which I hope to attend as it’s generally a pleasant meeting and a last chance to see the equine stars before the autumn racing season kicks off in late January.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Invincible Winx – Cox Plate No 4

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Winx on her way to winning her 4th Cox Plate

It has taken days to sort my photos of Cox Plate day, with various distractions eating into the time I had available to go through them all, edit and save them. Needless to say I have plenty of photos of Winx, some better than others.

You had to be there is a hackneyed phrase, but true in the case of the 2018 Cox Plate where a memorable moment in Australian Racing History occurred shortly after 5.00pm, with the mighty mare Winx winning her fourth Cox Plate and 29th successive win with consummate ease.

Is she the greatest ever?

As envisaged, it was a long day trackside, but certainly worth the effort of getting to Moonee Valley early and staying the course.

By the time I reached Moonee Valley at around 11.15am, the place was buzzing, but fortunately nowhere near full. My friend Rebecca had arrived somewhat earlier than myself and had staked a claim on the fence, much closer to the finishing post than we managed last year.  In fact it was an excellent spot – pretty much central to the action.

All last week I had worried about getting past security with a small step stool, which I planned to use for taking the weight off my feet and standing on for the Cox Plate, giving me an advantage over all the iPads and iPhones that hamper one’s view when Winx steps onto the track.  Security barely looked at the stool, which I had purchased on eBay and came in a handy carrying bag. In the interests of not riling other patrons, particularly some large bloke standing behind me at the fence who objected to me standing on it as it would spoil his view, I gave up on that idea.  It did come in handy as a seat, for we were obliged to stay in the same spot for over 5 hours.

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Count Down 1

The first race on the program kicked off at 12.10pm and was the Inglis Banner, a race for 2 year olds over 1000 metres. The Gai Waterhouse trained filly Espaaniyah led from start to finish to win by 2 lengths from Biscara with third place getter Salome another 2 lengths behind.

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Espaaniyah burns down rhe straight on her way to winning the Inglis Banner

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Espaaniyah

Race 2, the Strathmore Community Bendigo Bank Handicap (955 metres) was won by Ashlor from Desert Lashes and Invincible Al.

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Ashlor is about to overtake Desert Lashes

Race 3, the Group 3  Power Solutions Stakes (1600 metres) resulted in a win for Shoko who led from the start to the finish to narrowly prevail over Mamzelle Tess.

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Shoko in full flight down the straight

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Count Down 2

WINX_375mL-Can_SPRITZEDThe afternoon seemed to pass very quickly as the public lawn grew more crowded and made us thankful to have secured our good spot early. 

Carlton & United Breweries has released a limited edition Carlton Draught beer can to celebrate Winx’s three Cox Plates, and at Moonee Valley they were a hot selling item, judging by the number of crushed Winx cans littering the public lawn by the end of the day.

Moving on to Race 4, the Crockett Stakes, a race for mares and fillies over 1200 metres, it was won by  Beauty, whom I saw galloping with her stablemate Sunlight at the Breakfast with the Best on Tuesday morning. She won the prize from Rainbow Girl and Illuminaire.

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Beauty returns to scale after winning the Crockett Stakes

By the end of Race 4, there were still two and a half hours to go before the Cox Plate was run. It was pleasing to see Hugh Bowman guide the Chris Waller trained Charge to victory in Race 5, the Group 3 Australia Stakes.  He narrowly defeated Sunset Watch and Ringerdingding.

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Charge takes charge down the straight holding off Sunset Watch

Tasmanian filly Mystic Journey whom I last saw winning at big odds on Rupert Clarke Stakes day, proved she was not a one hit wonder with a gritty win in the Group 2 Aquis Farm Fillies Classic, fighting out the finish with Fundamentalist to win by over 2 lengths with El Dorado Dreaming running third.

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Mystic Journey overtakes Fundamentalist

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Mystic Journey burns down the straight to the finish line

Fortunately the next two races were fairly interesting as the afternoon progressed towards the Cox Plate.

Race 7, the Group 2 Crystal Mile was won by Cliff’s Edge from Prized Icon and Duca Valentinois

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Cliff’s Edge on his way to the barriers

… and Ventura Storm won the time honoured Moonee Valley Cup, the first he has won in a long time, from Trap For Fools and Libran.

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Ventura Storm and Trap For Fools fight out the finish of the Moonee Valley Cup

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The 50 minute interval from the running of the Moonee Valley Cup to the Cox Plate was occupied by various entertainments, including an equestrian prancing around opposite our spot. Her mount was obviously a former racehorse, Precedence perhaps.

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Equestrian

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The excitement had been building since the end of Race 8, as patrons jostled for position on the public lawn, and elsewhere I assume.

The jockeys were introduced as a stage was being set up on the track for Daryl Braithwaite and band, almost directly in front of where Rebeccca and I were standing. Local jockeys, particularly Hugh Bowman were cheered, though I heard a few boos when Benbatl’s jockey Oisin Murphy was introduced.

The National Athem was sung…

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… then Daryl Braithwaite took the stage to sing his iconic “The Horses”, except that he opened with a completely different song.

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Daryl Braithwaite

Daryl tried to get the crowd to sing along to the set opener, but they were only waiting for “The Horses” and refused to cooperate.  Daryl, after teasing the crowd with a pretend goodbye, launched into the now traditional song with a dedication to Winx.

Everyone sang along and it was extraordinary to be in the midst of such a joyous response.

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As the stage was dismantled and carted away, the Cox Plate field were parading in the mounting yard. Soon enough they were filing onto the track to make their way to the barriers. Winx’s emergence was delayed as crowd anticipation reached fever pitch, and a huge roar greeted her as she stepped onto the track.

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Winx on her way to the barriers

Winx, for a change, raced midfield as her stablemate D’Argento took up the running. She was three wide until the field spread out as they raced around the back of the course, then made her move as they turned into the straight for the final time.

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Cox Plate start – down the straight for the first time – D’Argento leads with Benbatl on his outside. Winx is midfield outside Savvy Coup & Avilius

The race was being promoted as a match race between local heroine Winx and Irish invader Benbatl, but as we’ve seen so many times before it was no competition, Winx sailing past Benbatl in the straight and winning by two lengths. Humidor ran third two lengths behind the leading pair. As Winx thundered down the straight, the crowd went wild and I felt the fence shake in the excitement of the moment.

“Simply the Best” blasted through the loudspeakers as Hugh Bowman paraded Winx back up the straight and it sounded perfectly apt for the occasion.

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A smiling Hugh Bowman brings Winx back to scale after parading up the straight

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Winx in the winners rug

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Winx in a special rug created to celebrate her 4th Cox Plate

The 2018 Cox Plate  was one of the most extraordinary race meetings I had ever attended and certainly the most memorable. 

I’m thrilled that I was there to witness Winx’s historic win – the buzz has still to wear off.

Before heading home I finally visited the stalls area and Winx was in the walking ring, where a small crowd of admirers lined the fence to see her. She looked as calm and relaxed as usual, perhaps a bit tired after her effort.

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Winx in the walking ring

Unfortunately Kings Will Dream was pulled up shortly after the start. He had sustained a pelvis fracture, but was subsequently taken to Ballarat Vetrinary Clinic. Last reports indicate he is recovering well.

Next Saturday is Derby Day at Flemington. It will seem like an anti climax after the thrills of Cox Plate day.