Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Sunlight on a Wintry Day

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Showtime wins the PB Lawrence Stakes from Hartnell

As expected the weather was awful for an afternoon at the races being cold and occasionally wet. Otherwise it was a stimulating race meeting, the three feature races making attendance at the track worthwhile.

In Sydney Winx was the star attraction and delighted her many fans with a stunning win in the Winx Stakes, demonstrating that she was back just as good as ever, surpassing her own and Black Caviar’s record winning streak and knotching up 19 Group 1 wins into the bargain. She made front page news on The Age on Sunday, and Australia Post has issued a stamp to honour the occasion.  The stamps are available online now on the Australia Post website, and will be on sale from 23 August in Post Offices.  There are a variety of celebratory stamp packs to choose from and I’ve already purchased a few to complement my collection of Black Caviar stamps.

I arrived at Caulfield Racecourse around 1.45 pm, so had time to stroll around the stalls before Race 4 was run. It was great to see so many of the good horses back at the track, particularly Hartnell, Sunlight, Grunt, Mighty Boss and Black Heart Bart, among others.

Race 4 was the Nitto Denko Handicap run over 1400 metres. It was won by the favourite Streets of Avalon, from Wayanka and Arkham Knight.

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Streets of Avalon returns to scale

New kid on the block Tony Nicconi was the favourite for the Vain Stakes, after he had won his first start by four lengths, and proved at this, his second start, that it wasn’t a fluke, winning the Vain Stakes narrowly from Long Leaf with Native Soldier running third not far behind.

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Tony Nicconi still leads just past the post.

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Tony Nicconi returns to scale

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Long Leaf returns to scale

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Native Soldier returns to scale

Back in the stalls area after the Vain Stakes we had the good fortune to run into Sunlight’s trainer, Tony McAvoy, and got him to sign our racebooks against her name. He was pretty positive that his star filly would win the Quezette after we mentioned that we didn’t want to hex her after getting his signature.

But before the Quezette Stakes was run we took time out to watch the Winx Stakes on a screen nearby. Fortunately this area was sheltered as it had started to rain heavily as Winx romped home in the race named in her honour, winning by over two lengths from outsider Invictus Prince and stablemate D’Argento.  The mooted challenge from Kementari was short lived as Winx sailed past him in a trice, as they turned the corner into the straight, and he was lucky to finish fourth.

Sunlight was the starting favourite for the Quezette Stakes and prevailed, toughening out a challenge by Humma Humma to win by a nose.  Thrillster finished third. It was pleasing to see Sunlight back in the money after her game second to Nature Strip recently in Adelaide.

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Quezette Stakes just past the post – Sunlight still leads Humma Humma

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Sunlight returns to scale

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Humma Humma returns to scale

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Thrillster returns to scale

It was pretty dark and overcast while the Quezette Stakes was run, hence the darkish photos above, but amazingly it fined up for the feature P B Lawrence Stakes which was up next.

Here are some parade ring photos of some of the contenders…

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Black Heart Bart

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Jungle Edge

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Kings Will Dream

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Mighty Boss

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Boom Time

Three year old colt Grunt started as favourite, but finished 5th, though less than a length from the winner Showtime, who was second favourite after being highly spruiked by the Hawkes, his trainers. In a way I was relieved that my favourites didn’t win considering the P B Lawrence Stakes hoodoo on winners. It will be interesting to see how Showtime fares for the rest of the spring racing season.

Hartnell finished second, beaten half a length on the line and outsider Widgee Turf was third.

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Showtime on his way to barriers

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Hartnell returns to scale

I headed home after the Lawrence Stakes, heartily glad to climb into the comparative warmth of a train after being quite cold for most of the afternoon, despite dressing appropriately.

Next Saturday the racing is at Moonee Valley which has a few interesting races on the program. The weather is predicted to be fine and sunny for a change, so I’ll probably attend. I haven’t been to Moonee Valley since Cox Plate day last year.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Go Winx! - Spring Has Almost Sprung

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Winx – Golden Slipper Day 2018

The weather may not be anything to write home about, but with the World’s Best Racehorse, Winx, returning to the racetrack there is reason to celebrate.

Winx will be aiming to surpass her own and Black Caviar’s record of 25 consecutive wins at Randwick this coming Saturday in her eponymous Group 1 Winx Stakes.

She faces ten rivals, which is actually a decent field size considering her presence in the field, four of them being her stablemates and the rest from various other stables.

Besides Winx, the field has Group 1 winners such as Ace High, D’Argento, Kementari and Unforgotten, some of whom could be considered serious challengers to end her winning streak.  By all accounts Winx has returned just as good as ever, so is expected to continue on her winning ways, and racing fans sincerely hope she will. Go Winx!

Though I won’t be at Randwick to witness Winx’s return in person, I’ll certainly make sure to watch the Winx Stakes on a screen at Caulfield where a rather good race card is programmed, featuring the Group 2 P B Lawrence Stakes with the Group 3 Vain Stakes and Quezette Stakes as tasty entrees.

The P B Lawrence Stakes was formerly known as the Liston Stakes and is run over 1400 metres.  There is however a curse on winners of the race;  very few P B Lawrence Stakes winners go on to win other races in the Spring. Last year’s winner Hartnell failed to win another race in Spring 2017,  though won the Group 1 Memsie Stakes in autumn this year. Hartnell is again competing this year against a classy field that includes Caulfield Cup favourite Kings Will Dream, last year’s Caulfield Cup winner Boom Time,  2017 and 2018  Australian Cup winners Humidor and Harlem, trusty old Black Heart Bart, and young guns Grunt and Mighty Boss.

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Kings Will Dream – Flemington 17/2/18

Fortunately the races that I am most keen to watch are scheduled mid afternoon, so I can take my time getting to Caulfield, and won’t stress about buses replacing trains on the Hurstbridge line, which generally adds a extra 15 to 20 minutes travel time to the city.

So I aim to arrive around 1.30 to 2.00 pm in plenty of time to see the Vain Stakes, a Group 3 race for three year old colts and geldings over 1100 metres. Top picks are Long Leaf,  Ollivander, The August, Hard Rock, Tony Nicconi and Native Soldier.

The fillies equivalent race, the Quezette Stakes has the classy Sunlight having her first start in Melbourne. She faces a full field of 15 rivals that include well performed fillies like Thrillster, Lady Horseowner, Ennis Hill and Pippie.

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Sunlight – Golden Slipper Day 2018

Melbourne weather is forecast to be pretty awful on Saturday, cold and wet, similar to what was predicted for last weekend, so I’ll take my chances, suitably clothed, and hope it is not as bad as expected.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Aurie’s Star Voodoo

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Voodoo Lad overtakes Home Of The Brave to win the Aurie’s Star Handicap

Last Saturday dawned cold and rainy, and certainly didn’t look at all promising for attending the race meeting at Flemington. I almost didn’t go, but as the weather cleared late morning I decided I needed an outing, so headed off in time to catch the final train to Flemington at Southern Cross Station.

Reaching the course just after Race 3, I headed  for the stalls area to see if I could get a photo of Home Of The Brave, having his first start in Australia in the feature race, where he was the starting favourite.

The first equine stars I came across were the Living Legends representatives for the day, Apache Cat and Rogan Josh.

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Apache Cat

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Rogan Josh

Moving on I came across I Am A Star, who was  kicking off her Spring campaign in the Aurie’s Star…

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I Am A Star

….and eventually found Home Of The Brave.

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Home Of The Brave

The weather at Flemington during the afternoon was alternately sunny and overcast, and fortunately didn’t rain other than a light passing shower, but it wasn’t all that cold.

Returning trackside I paused to snap a photo of the new Members Stand, which during the Autumn racing season was a building site. It’s now almost finished.

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New Members Stand

The wide open spaces of Flemington were sparsely populated so I had no trouble taking photos from my favourite spot just past the finishing post. Other than the changing light conditions the other challenge was getting rail free photos with the inside rail being out by 7 metres.

I stayed for four races, the first of these being Race 4, the Rhonda Sexton Handicap, a race over 1400 metres for mares. The oddly named Spanner Head was the winner, with Violent Snow and Chiavari running second and third.

Race 5 was a sprint over 1200 metres and Choisborder turned out to be the first of four consecutive Darren Weir trained winners of the afternoon.

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Choisborder hits the front in Race 5

Race favourite Gold Mag ran second and longshot (60/1) The Card Players was third.

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Choisborder returns to scale

The Darren Allsop Handicap, a race over 2000 metres was up next.  It was of interest owing to the presence of various imported stayers, notably Sir Edwin Landseer having his first start in Australia.

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Sir Edwin Landseer on his way to the barriers

The race was won by The Statesman from Fontein Lad and I Boogi.

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A dark photo of the finish shows The Statesman taking the lead from I Boogi (pink silks)

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The Statesman returns to scale

As the feature race next to jump I decided to get some mounting yard photos of the contenders. The Aurie’s Star Handicap is a Group 3 race run over 1200 metres. A pretty good field made it interesting.

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Home Of The Brave – second

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Voodoo Lad – the winner

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Brave Song – third

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I Am A Star – fourth

Home Of The Brave led the field for most of the race, but he was overtaken close to the finish line by Voodoo Lad who swooped from the back the field to win by ¾ length, with Brave Song finishing third 2¼ lengths behind.

I called it quits after the Aurie’s Star and headed for the station. A thunder storm was threatening as I left, but I managed to get home without getting wet.

Last Saturday’s race meeting was quite enjoyable and it was pleasant to be back at Flemington, but next week offers a much more interesting race card at Caulfield where a number of horsey stars will be resuming in the feature P B Lawence Stakes.

And in Sydney at Randwick, the mighty Winx will be the star attraction, kicking off her Spring in the race named in her honour – the first Group 1 race of the season.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Some Enchanted Afternoon–Magic Bletchingly Result

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Vega Magic wins the Bletchingly Stakes

It wasn’t really an enchanted afternoon, unless you count the blessedly balmy weather, but otherwise it was comfortably normal.

Yes, it was good to be back at the races despite the majority of the card being mainly uninteresting.

It was however worth attending for the feature race, where Vega Magic signalled that he was back with a vengeance, winning the Bletchingly Stakes by 3 lengths after leading throughout. Voodoo Lad finished second and Jungle Edge third. Vega Magic has now been snapped up by a stakeholder to contest the super sprint competition, The Everest, a race in which he finished second last year.

Shortly after the Bletchingly Stakes was run, the highly anticipated clash between Sunlight and Nature Strip was on, where Nature Strip blitzed the field to win by 6 lengths from the totally outclassed Sunlight, and lived up to the high expectations placed on him. 

I reached Caulfield around 1.15pm, just after Race 3 and stayed for the following four races. It was an opportunity to get back into photography and catch up with my fellow photographer friend Rebecca.

We both have Casual Membership cards for the Melbourne Racing Club which gives a season’s access to General Admission areas. We were offered, via a text message, an opportunity last Saturday to enter the Members Stand, which we were curious to accept, thinking it might give better views of the track for taking photos. In brief, it did not as the rails were too high to get a clear shot of horses crossing the finish line, and we both decided we preferred our usual possies for snapping pics.

So I watched Race 4 the Ladbroke’s Multiverse Handicap from the hill above the stalls area. Thankfully the rail was in a true position so rail free shots were easy to get.

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Race 4 finish – Chiavari, Mariquita & Moonlover the first home

Races 5 and 6 were long distance races over 2400 metres and were won by Zedinator (race 5) and Self Sense (race6)

The feature race was scheduled as race 7, so I got some photos of the main contestants in the pre-parade ring.

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Vega Magic

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Black Heart Bart

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Voodoo Lad

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Jungle Edge

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Vega Magic returns to scale

There’s not much happening in racing next weekend other than the Missile Stakes at Randwick,  so there are a few more weeks to wait before the incipient Spring racing season really kicks off and I eagerly return to the track.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Intimations of Spring – Bletchingly Stakes

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Vega Magic – 2017 Memsie Stakes

Psyching myself up for the start of the 2018 Spring racing season, I’ve decided to go to Caulfield this coming Saturday for the Group 3 Bletchingly Stakes, the last Group race of the 2017/2018 racing year.

Named for champion sire Bletchingly (Kingston Town’s dad),  it’s a dandy race over 1200 metres and this year has attracted a good field of contestants that include Group 1 winners Black Heart Bart and Vega Magic.

The aforementioned are naturally the class horses in the field with Vega Magic likely to start as favourite.  The race is a little short for Black Heart Bart, but others such as Voodoo Lad who won the Group 3 John Monash Stakes at his last start a fortnight ago is likely to be in the finish. Three year old Jukebox ran third in the John Monash after starting favourite, but may have improved on that run, though is not well advantaged at the weights.

The most interesting race of the day is in fact being run at Morphettville where super filly Sunlight is kicking off her spring season in the Listed Lightning Stakes and faces stiff competition from spruiked new sprinter Nature Strip, who has strung together a couple of wins at Flemington recently and is rock hard fit. It looks a fascinating race with these two classy contenders and it’s a toss up which of them will win the bikkies. I’m hoping Sunlight prevails. Astrologically she has the perfect name for the time of year, the dominant zodiac sign being Leo, who is ruled by the sun.

The weather tomorrow in Melbourne is expected to be mild and sunny, so it will be pleasant to be outside for a change and get some photography practice.

With Winx’s first race of Spring only three weeks away,  it won’t be long before the good horses all return to the fray. Winx had her first trial last Monday and looked good despite not winning or even trying to win .  Chautauqua was in the same trial but refused to leave the gates, so his future is uncertain. He did successfully leave the gates a few weeks earlier in a trial at Flemington, so he’s obviously a horse with a will of his own. His connections are understandably puzzled by his attitude as by all reports he is physically fine, though getting on in years.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Vikings at Melbourne Museum

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Replica Long Ship at Vikings Exhibition

Having read earlier this year Saga Land by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislanson, I was rather keen to go and look at the Vikings Exhibition at Melbourne Museum, so this week B and I braved the icy winds and ventured thence.

As exhibitions go, it was a tad disappointing, with most of the artifacts being on the small side in display cases. However, it was reasonably comprehensive, ranging from domestic articles to weapons of warfare.

There were pieces of jewellery like these necklaces…

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… and a neat drinking horn

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Incised stones

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and this rather lovely little carving of a cat

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Cats were associated with the Norse Goddess Freyja who is sometimes depicted in a chariot drawn by two cats.

It was interesting to learn that Freyja is also linked to the magic brooch Brisingamen, which in turn reminded me of a children’s book I read long ago called The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner.

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It takes about an hour to get through the exhibition and of course you end up in the Museum Gift Shop where you can buy Viking themed t-shirts, beanies etc.

I insisted we go and visit Pharlap after emerging from the Vikings.

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I’ve been visiting Pharlap for over 50 years, as a child first seeing him in the old Melbourne Museum when it was in Latrobe Street. I still have fond memories of the old museum, with its wonderful old machines, dioramas and cases of fossils. In a way I preferred the old museum hodgepodge layout to the new one with its tidy themed exhibits.

Anyway, seeing Pharlap was a pleasant reminder that the Spring Racing season is only a few weeks away. Watching Pharlap’s last race on the Movietone News, playing in a loop at his exhibit,  I saw similarities to the turf stars of today in his style of racing, running wide to overtake the leaders and win by a couple of lengths – doing a Winx, as I remarked to B as we watched it on Wednesday.

I can’t wait for winter to be over, this year seeming colder than previous years, but I shall venture to Caulfield on Saturday week to kick off my Spring racing season, and witness the running of the last Group race of the racing year, this being the Group 3 Bletchingly Stakes. Let’s hope it won’t be a repeat of last year, where the races were called off due to gale force winds.