Thursday, September 22, 2016

Spring Racing–Underwood Stakes Day

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Lucia Valentina at Flemington - October 2014 - after winning the Turnbull Stakes

I’ve quite settled in to the Spring racing carnival, and  have become more enthusiastic as the action heats up and my familiarity with the runners develops.

Caulfield hosts the Underwood Stakes meeting this coming Saturday and features two Group 1 events – Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes and Underwood Stakes.

There is also the Group 2 Thousand Guineas Prelude for fillies, and the Group 3 Caulfield Guineas Prelude for colts and geldings to warm up the crowd while waiting for the main events. They are both run over 1400 metres and the results will give a clearer idea of the likely good ones for the real Guineas.

The first to run of these is the fillies edition, and it has attracted a super field with the likes of Whispering Brook, I Am A Star and Leotie being top contenders along with New Zealand Group 1 Sires Produce Stakes winner La Luna Rossa, who beat stablemate Saracino in that race. She’s part of the Murray Baker stable so can’t be dismissed out of hand.

Sydney colts Sacred Elixir and Good Standing represent a challenge for the local boys in the Caulfield Guineas Prelude. Originally Golden Rose winner Astern was nominated for this race, but a spike in temperature discouraged his connections from risking the colt on a trip to Melbourne.

However, New Zealand colt Saracino, last seen winning the Group 2 Danehill Stakes at Flemington, could well test the Sydneysiders and steal the show.

The first of the Group 1 races on the program is the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes is run over 1400 metres. Top picks are last start winners Voodoo Lad and Bon Aurum and the Chris Waller trained Counterattack.

Xtravagant is also entered in this race, so it will be interesting to see how he goes at Caulfield where there is a corner or two to turn before the straight. Reportedly he will not parade in the mounting yard but go to the barriers early, to keep him from getting over excited.

A field of eleven runners will contest the Group 1 Underwood Stakes. It is run over 1800 metres, so suits stayers and middle distance runners.

I’m hoping that the sole mare in the race, Lucia Valentina, can win. She has a good chance as she likes to have her races widely spaced and she hasn’t raced since finishing fourth to Winx in the Warwick Stakes on 20 August, and prior to that won the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes in the autumn.  The stars are aligned favourably for her with the sun in Libra (ruled by Venus) conjunct Jupiter (good luck) on Saturday.

The usual suspects will be vying for the prize. Black Heart Bart is current favourite despite his loss to Palentino in the Makybe Diva Stakes. Palentino is not in the field, but old trooper The Cleaner is and will no doubt set the pace, even though he has drawn the widest barrier. Both Tarzino and Tavago will be aiming to restore their reputations and Awesome Rock who won the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes at his last start could be a threat again.

Sydney has no Group 1 races this weekend, but a very nice program of Group 2 and Group 3 races excites some interest.

The feature race is the Group 2 Golden Pendant, a race for fillies and mares over 1400 metres. All eyes will be on First Seal making a return to racing after a longish break. Back in her three year old days, she beat Winx on two occasions, but has never found the same form since.  Her main rivals are Tycoon Tara who is in great form having beaten the boys in two of her previous races, Zanbagh and Heavens Above. 

The feel good racing story of the week was the news of the birth of Black Caviar’s third foal, a filly by Snitzel early Sunday morning. There are some nice photos of Black Caviar and her foal here.

Her first foal (by Exceed and Excel), also a filly, is reportedly soon to hit the track. She has been named Oscietra after an expensive type of Russian caviar.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Two White Faces – Caulfield Races Review

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Miss Vista & Apache Cat – Stalls – Caulfield Racecourse

It was sheer coincidence that the two white faced horses were both at Caulfield on Saturday. Apache Cat was there as the Living Legends representative, and the promising and striking looking mare Miss
was present for a between races gallop, due to her regular track at Bendigo being washed out.

I missed Miss Vista’s gallop, but got to see her after it was over and was able to get some snaps of her in the pre-parade ring.

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Miss Vista in the pre-parade ring after her gallop

Whether the get together with Apache Cat was prearranged or not, I was fortunate to be in the stalls area when it occurred, noticing the regular press photographers gathering near to where both horses were stabled.

The kind folk of Living Legends brought Apache Cat out of his stall later so I could get a photo of him by himself.

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Apache Cat outside his stall

Saturday was a warm and sunny day, which was quite a change from the last few weeks where it has been overcast and chilly.

I wasn’t sure how the Nikon would go in sunny conditions. Apart from a few photos where the contrast is over the top, creating dark shadows, it mostly behaved itself.

Upon arriving at Caulfield at around 1.00 pm, I headed for the public lawn to watch Race 3, which was a race for fillies over 1400 metres.

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Down the straight in race 3 – the winner Exocet is on the far left of the picture about to overtake the leaders

It was won by Exocet by two and half lengths from Outback Rain and Whyouask.

The early races were not particularly interesting, but in each there was a runner I was keen to see.

Such was the case in Race 4, the MRC Foundation Handicap, a race for mares over 1400 metres, where Miss Gunpowder was the original favourite, until French Emotion became the fancied one.

I watched the field parade in the pre-parade ring then went to the hill above the stalls to see the action and take snaps.

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Miss Gunpowder in the pre-parade ring.

Alaskan Rose ended up the narrow winner from French Emotion with Miss Gunpowder a close third.

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Just past the post – a line of mares swings around the corner.

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Alaskan Rose on her way to the barriers

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French Emotion returns to scale

I mostly spent the afternoon hanging around the stalls area, though ventured closer to the big screen to watch the Sydney races, especially the Hill Stakes and George Main Stakes, where both Hartnell and Winx respectively won their races with ease.

Also victorious at Randwick was the Chris Waller trained filly Foxplay in the Group 2 Tea Rose Stakes.  A steel grey filly, she’s one to follow and I hope she comes to Melbourne later in the Spring, perhaps to contest the Thousand Guineas.

The next race planned for Winx is the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes – whoopie – run on Caulfield Guineas Day in early October. Hartnell is expected to run in the Caulfield Cup, so we’ll get to see him in action in Melbourne as well. He raced here last Spring with no success, but appears to have improved considerably since then.

Races 5, 6 and 7 filled in the time until the Naturalism Stakes and afforded some nice photo opportunities.

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Harlow Gold the winner of race 5

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Rocketeer who ran second to Harlow Gold in race 5

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Kaching - third in race 5

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Race 6 past the post – the winner Secret Agenda has the no 4 saddlecloth.

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Race 7 – Testa Rossa Stakes down the straight – won by Keen Array

Finally it was time for the feature race and I’d found a possie on the fence on the public lawn where there was gate and no hedge, so you could get clear unimpeded shots of horses running down the straight.

It was great to see Jameka win the Naturalism Stakes. She had drawn Barrier 1, often a curse, but a clever, patient ride by jockey Nick Hall, keeping her to the fence and on the pace in about fourth spot, had her primed to take the short cut on the turn and she galloped away to a 3¾ length win from Gallante with Berisha 5 lengths behind taking third place.

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Jameka forges ahead up the straight leaving the rest of the field in her wake.

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Jameka on her way to the barriers

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Gallante on his way to the barriers

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Berisha in the mounting yard

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Jameka in the winners rug posing for the press

Jameka was already qualified for the Caulfield Cup, her Oaks win last spring guaranteeing her entry. She’s now second favourite for the Cup behind Hartnell.  It would be fabulous she could win it for the girls.

There wasn’t much of a crowd at Caulfield last Saturday, but I did notice quite a few punters dressed as wizards – Gandalf knows why.

These guys were only too pleased to pose for a photo.


It’s back to Caulfield again next Saturday for the Underwood Stakes meeting, which besides the two Group 1 events, has a classy support card where we’ll get to see some of the Sydney stars in action in the Guineas Preludes and feature races. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Horrible Race Name–Good Race Though

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Winx - Moonee Valley Cox Plate Day  2015

The time honoured George Main Stakes has been renamed the Colgate Optic White Stakes, in my opinion a totally absurd change and somewhat disrespectful to the many champion racehorses who have won the race in the past.

Anyway, it is of great interest due to the return of super mare Winx, having her second start for the spring.

She faces a very small field of five other starters that include two of her stablemates, Spirit Jim and Vanbrugh and a couple of Godolphin hopefuls in Hauraki and It’s Somewhat.  Japanese horse Tosen Stardom was an acceptor but he has been scratched after he sustained a minor injury on his trip to Sydney.  Winx of course is the short priced favourite and Hauraki is seen as her greatest threat.  It should be an easy win for Winx and, barring the unforeseen, she will achieve her 11th consecutive win.

For a change the track at Randwick shouldn’t be too soggy, as Sydney hasn’t had as much rain this week, unlike Melbourne, where it has rained solidly all week, and rural areas are flooded all over the State of Victoria.

There are no Group 1 races in Melbourne this coming weekend, but Caulfield is holding a fairly interesting meeting that features the Group 2 Naturalism Stakes, a race over 2000 metres for stayers aiming to gain automatic admission into the Caulfield Cup.

It has attracted a huge field of 16 starters plus 4 emergencies and includes staying mares Real Love, who ran second to Awesome Rock in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes, Set Square who ran third on that occasion, and Jameka who will have no worries running on a heavy track.  An interesting runner is French mare Gabella who raced at Flemington last Saturday and finished a close fourth.

The favourite will no doubt be Tom Melbourne an Irish import who has a good reputation and several wins under his belt.

As I plan to get to the track later rather than early, I will miss seeing Cauthen in the first race. Now six years old he has been only lightly raced, but he has the distinction of defeating 2013 Cox Plate winner Shamus Award and Long John, 2013 Caulfield Guineas winner  at Moonee Valley back when he was three. He hasn’t raced for two years, so it’s surprising to see him back, but the recovery from various injuries kept him off the track all that time.

Also returning from a break is Hucklebuck, 2014 Emirates Stakes winner, in Race 7 the Testa Rossa Stakes.

And Alpine Eagle is entered in a Listed 1800 metre race at Morphettville on Saturday; no doubt an attempt on the part of his connections to restore his reputation and confidence.

Hopefully the rain will hold off tomorrow, but it will most likely be overcast again, the up side of that being better lighting for photographs than bright sunlight.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Weir Quinella–Makybe Diva Stakes Review

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Palentino beats stablemate Black Heart Bart to win the 2016 Makybe Diva Stakes

The Darren Weir machine rolls on with remarkable success,  the Ballarat based trainer scoring his second Group 1 win for the season.

No other Victorian trainer gets a look in when it comes to the major races these days, though that may change as the spring racing carnival progresses and the Sydney stars come to Melbourne to challenge for the riches on offer.

My afternoon at Flemington began early where I got to the course in time to watch race 2, the Cap D’Antibes Stakes, a Listed race for three year old fillies run over 1100 metres.

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Down the straight in the Cap D’Antibes Stakes – eventual winner Kentucky Miss is on the far left of the picture

The trouble with taking photos of sprints down the Flemington straight is that the field generally splits into two sections, one moving to the grandstand side, the other staying on the inside or in the middle. It’s hit or miss, depending on which side you are focussing on, whether you will get a photo of the winner crossing the line.

Such was the case in the Cap D’Antibes Stakes where the winner, Kentucky Miss came down the grandstand rail and I was concentrating on the inside rail.  So I got a nice shot of fourth placed Super Too and missed the winner and runners up, Beyond The Dream and My Country who  ran down the middle of the track.

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Kentucky Miss returns to scale

Race 3, the Starlight Express Room Stakes was a 1400 metre race for three year olds and less complicating to photograph, the runners sticking to the inside of the track.

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Approaching the finish line in race 3 – Detective (dark green silks) has the edge over Tessera (blue silks & blinkers) and Throssel (blue & white silks)

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Detective returns to scale

In between the races, as usual, I tramped back to the stalls, about six times in all, so I got plenty of exercise over the afternoon.

The Living Legends special guest was Paris Lane who was being polished up in his stall, preparatory to parading in the mounting yard.

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Paris Lane in his stall having his hooves polished

To refresh your memory, Paris Lane won the 1994 Caulfield Cup and MacKinnon Stakes, and ran second in the Melbourne Cup. He’s now 26 years old, looking pretty spry none the less.

It was a bit early in the day at this time (1.3opm) for the Makybe Diva Stakes field to have arrived, but  I pleased to see New Zealand colt Saracino in his stall. He was entered in Race 5, the Danehill Stakes, scheduled to run at  2.50pm.

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Alpine Eagle had arrived early, and was in the stall next to Saracino.

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Alpine Eagle

Back trackside, it was pleasing to see Bon Aurum take out race 4, The Sofitel (aka Tontonan Stakes), a Listed race over 1400 metres. I’ve been following Bon Aurum for awhile, and he hadn’t won a race since winning the Guineas Prelude in late September last year.

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Bon Aurum wins The Sofitel from Ulmann & Hi World

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Bon Aurum rugged in the mounting yard posing for photos

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Ulmann on his way to the barriers

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Hi World on his way to the barriers

The first of the Group races was next on the program. This was the Group 2 Danehill Stakes for three year olds over 1200 metres.

I keen to see how Saracino would go in this and he exceeded expectations leading the field from start to finish, scoring by a narrow margin from Archives and Samara Dancer.

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Down the straight in the Danehill Stakes – Saracino (yellow & green stripes) just ahead of Archives (blue silks) with Samara Dancer (blinkers) behind him.

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Saracino returns to scale

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Archives returns to scale

Back in the stalls area, most of the Makybe Diva field had arrived, so I cruised through to get snaps.

The Weir mob were in neighbouring stalls…

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Black Heart Bart

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Prince of Penzance

Nearby were Happy Trails and Rising Romance

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Happy Trails

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Rising Romance

It was certainly a case of handsome is as handsome does in the Group 2 Bobbie Lewis Quality, race 6 on the program. 

New Zealand stallion Xtravagant is a stunner to look at, but he disappointed, finishing last. His jockey Damian Oliver stated that the horse raced on his wrong leg, and refused to respond to any urgings to race on the right leg. Perhaps he needs to corner as he obviously doesn’t like the long Flemington straight, or maybe his mind is on other things judging by his tumescent state when leaving the mounting yard.

I photographed the contenders in the mounting yard and leaving for the track.

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Under the Louvre

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We’ve Got This

The race was won by Faatinah from Tivaci and We’ve Got This. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of Faatinah before, but he’s done most of his racing in Adelaide.

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Down the straight in the Bobbie Lewis Quality

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Faatinah returns to scale

The excitement was building for the next race which of course was the feature Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes.

As it was a pretty even field it was hard to single out a winner, other than Black Heart Bart who started as the warm favourite, despite there being a question mark over his ability to win over a mile.

It ended up with Palentino and Black Heart Bart fighting out the finish down the straight, the stablemates winning the quinella, Palentino scoring by a length from Black Heart Bart with He Or She three lengths behind in third place.

I got some nice photos of the field in the mounting yard and going to the barriers…

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Prince of Penzance

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Happy Trails

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Black Heart Bart

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Alpine Eagle

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Rising Romance

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Maykybe Diva Stakes finish – Mark Zahra celebrates Palentino’s win

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Palentino returns to the mounting yard

Alpine Eagle was again disappointing, finishing at the tail of the field. Like Xtravagant, perhaps his mind is on other things. Rising Romance raced on the pace, but faded to finish seventh.

As I’d been at the track since 12.45pm  I decided to head home after the feature race. I didn’t have any bets on the day, and having hardly sat down all afternoon, I was somewhat tired.

The afternoon was mostly overcast with the sun rarely showing its face, but the time as usual passed really fast. And I seem to have solved the Nikon’s light problem, the exposure compensation settings doing the trick. Despite the overcast day, I didn’t get any dark photographs.

Next week the only Group 1 race is in Sydney at Randwick where the feature race is the George Main Stakes which is now strangely called the Colgate Optic White Stakes. Anyway, Winx will be making her second appearance for the spring in this race and so far only six other competitors have nominated, which makes it look like a walkover for the wonder mare of Australia.

The racing in Melbourne will be at Caulfield and the feature race is the Group 3 Naturalism Stakes, a race over 2000 metres for Caulfield Cup bound horses.

And finally…

The news today was of the death of 1991 Melbourne Cup winner Let’s Elope. She apparently passed away in her sleep during the night. She was 29 years old.

As well as the Melbourne Cup, Let’s Elope won the 1991 Caulfield Cup and MacKinnon Stakes and in 1992 won the Turnbull Stakes, Australian Cup, Orr Stakes and St George Stakes.

She was a great race mare and I was pleased to see her grand-daughter Let’s Make Adeal win The Bart Cummings last year at Flemington in early October.

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Sign at Flemington – Turnbull Stakes Day 2015