Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Beau & Dosh–Australia Day at Caulfield

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General Beau wins the colts Blue Diamond Preview

The weather could have been better, but it was a pleasant change of scene to be back trackside at the races yesterday.

It has been almost a year since I last attended the races, so having renewed my Melbourne Racing Club Casual Membership I was able to attend yesterday’s races at Caulfield, which featured the two Blue Diamond Previews, one for the boys and one for the girls.

Due to Covid 19 restrictions on the number of spectators at the track,  one had to register to attend in advance. Being a casual member the only area option available was the Front Lawn, which suited me fine as it’s where I would choose to be normally.

There were restrictions on other areas of the track, such as the stalls, parade rings and mounting yard fence. But overall, the front lawn was a spacious area to hang  out in as there wasn’t that much of a crowd. By pretending to be media photographers we managed to get next to the fence for photo practice. I’m glad I took my stool.

My photographer friends Rebecca and George were also in attendance yesterday, so it was great to catch up with them after almost a year since we last met in person.

Last year the Blue Diamond Previews were won by  Hanseatic (colts & geldings BD Preview) and A Beautiful Night won the fillies version. Hanseatic went on to win the Blue Diamond Prelude on Orr Stakes Day, and finished second to Tagaloa in the Blue Diamond StakesA Beautiful Night faded into insignificance thereafter, finishing unplaced in her next four races.

The winners yesterday were quite impressive, General Beau, after racing in third or fourth for most of the race, stormed to the finish line to win by ½ length from Extreme Warrior and Gulf of Suez.

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General Beau on his way to the barriers

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Extreme Warrior on his way to the barriers

The wonderfully named Dosh (Rich Enuff / Raise Up) led the fillies Blue Diamond Preview field from the start and was strong to the finish, successfully holding off challengers Tayla’s Moment and hot favourite Frost Flowers, to win by by ½ length

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Dosh holds off a challenge from Frost Flowers as they approach the finish line

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Dosh in the mounting yard

As previously mentioned the weather was pretty awful, rainy at first, though clearing as the afternoon progressed.

Not that it was important as I didn’t tarry long after the Blue Diamond Previews had been run, the rest of the race card being of not much interest.

Next Saturday I hope to attend Caulfield again where the feature races are the Group 3 Chairman’s Stakes and Manfred Stakes. They look very interesting with potential stars of the turf such as class filly Ethaar and 2020 Blue Diamond Stakes winner Tagaloa having accepted to run.

Again the weather is forecast to be showery, but cross fingers for some sunshine as well.

The first Group 1 race of Melbourne’s Autumn Carnival is the Orr Stakes in a little over a week on 6 February, so the racing from now on will be more exciting and I’ll hopefully get to see some of it in person.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Crazy Days Continue

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Bingo  - December 2020

So far 2021 doesn’t look all that promising for a return to normal life, with Covid 19 still limiting  freedom of movement for many people in the world. One bright spot is that Donald Trump will no longer be US President after 20 January. Hooray!

Thankfully in Victoria a third  Covid wave has not eventuated, though certain areas in NSW and Queensland have been in lockdown after the virus escaped quarantine, and borders between various States have been closed. Unlucky if you were a Victorian holidaying in Queensland and NSW and wishing to return home.

Here at the Cat Politics domicile, we’ve been barely affected, life trundling along as normal.

We did however have a health scare with Bingo on Boxing Day, where he returned from patrolling his territory with a painful injury to his front left leg. It was something of a mystery as it didn’t seem to be external - you could squeeze the leg and paw without him reacting negatively. However, it obviously hurt to put weight on the leg and he howled and carried on in such a distressing manner we eventually took him to the 24 hour Vet, CARE in Hoddle Street to get examined. They were also puzzled by the injury and couldn’t find anything physically wrong. They treated him with an anti-inflammatory and gave us a bottle of the stuff to give him over the next three days.

He was quite subdued for a while, but the anti- inflammatory worked and he was back to his old self, walking - with a limp - in a few days. He still has a slight limp every so often even now. Goodness knows how he came by the injury, though I suspect an awkward jump from a height might have caused a muscle strain.

Since Christmas I’ve been amusing myself in the usual way, reading books and playing computer games. The current novel in progress is The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton, a Christmas present from a friend. I’m finding it a moderately engrossing read, though not high literature by any means.

And I’ve just finished a surprisingly amusing game titled A Vampyre Story that was released in 2008 and recently on sale on GOG.

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A Vampyre Story screenshot – Mona & Froderick

Deep within the walls of a gloomy castle in the equally gloomy land of Draxsylvania, the young, gifted opera singer Mona De Lafitte is held captive by her tormentor, vampire Baron Shrowdy von Kiefer. Ever since she was transformed into a vampire by Shrowdy and whisked off to Draxsylvania, her greatest wish has been to return to Paris, continue her singing career, and one day become a star at the Paris Opera.

The voice acting and dialogue are excellent and Mona is an engaging and likeable heroine as is her bat offsider Froderick. Unfortunately the game ends on a cliff-hanger, the proposed sequel failing to  eventuate. I was however pleased to discover the game and will probably replay it in future.

There aren’t any cultural treats in store thus far in 2021 – such as music concerts and literary events I would pay to see, but at least with the Covid 19 vaccine close to approval in Australia it may soon be safe to go out and about as normal, hopefully before the Autumn horse racing season,  which kicks off in early February.

Next weekend is of interest with the Magic Millions race day on the Gold Coast – always one to watch and take note of the winners of the 2 year old and 3 year old races.

On that note, here’s wishing that  2021 will be an improvement on 2020 in all ways.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Sidling towards Christmas

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Recent photo of Bingo

It’s December and the worst year on record is now drawing to an end.

Fortunately Covid 19 has now been eradicated from Victoria, but of course, with people now returning from overseas, there’s every possibility that it could be set loose again. I’m thankful to live in Australia, rather than America for instance, where the pandemic is wreaking havoc with infections and covid deaths skyrocketing.

I snapped the above photo of Bingo last weekend and the light was perfect.

Here’s another showing his beautiful blue eyes.

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He’s now four years old and is in good health and high spirits, though spends most of his time during the day asleep on the bed.

For a while he was obsessed with Socks, a new cat on the block, spending a great deal of time engaging in growling and howling at Socks’ intrusions on his territory. Socks has now moved to the country with his owner, but before he moved both cats appeared to have reached a compromise and were sort of frenemies.

Bingo is an affectionate cat and great purrer , despite his forceful demanding nature, and still playful, remembering how to play fetch even now.

As for me I’ve run out of new books, so decided to read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke again. It’s even better the second time around, a melancholic, haunting reflection on isolation and memory.  I’ve promoted it to my favourite book this year.

In computer games I inadvertently reached the end of The Longing. I neglected the Shade too long, and when I entered the game again it finished in a rather unsatisfactory fashion. I suppose I could replay the game, but the thought of slowly progressing through it again is unappealing at the moment.

All being well with the pandemic, and in expectation of a vaccine being available early next year, hopes are raised of returning to the races during the Autumn carnival.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Cox Plate 2020

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2019 Cox Plate – Lys Gracieux overtakes Castelvecchio in the straight

Despite Covid 19 restrictions being eased in Melbourne, the Cox Plate meeting will be run without public attendance. I’d love to be there at my favourite race, but I’ll just have to watch it on television as has been the case all through the Spring Racing Carnival.

The weather is forecast to be pretty dire, so I’ll probably be glad not to put up with cold and wet conditions similar to last year’s Cox Plate.

A full field of 14 runners will be contesting the event this year and a likely winner does not stand out, though there are several with the credentials to take the prize.

The last five Cox Plates were won by a mare, admittedly the great Winx being victorious in four of them with Japanese mare Lys Gracieux winning the 2019 edition.

Four mares are part of the field this year, notably Arcadia Queen and Probabeel who are last start winners and ooze class.

Of the male contingent Kolding and Russian Camelot are of the most interest, though there are question marks over both of them. Kolding has been in great form in Sydney winning the Group 1 George Main Stakes and Group 2 Hill stakes at his last two starts. Those two victories were on good tracks and his record on soft tracks is not that good. Also, the last time he raced in Melbourne, it was reported he didn’t handle the Melbourne way of going -  anti clockwise vs clockwise as in Sydney.

Russian Camelot was being hailed as a potential champion of the Spring Racing Carnival until his defeat in the Caulfield Stakes by Arcadia Queen, so with the bubble burst at least he’ll start at longer odds. He’s also drawn the widest barrier which may be either a blessing or a curse.

There are several International runners Aspetar, Magic Wand (now scratched) and Armory who all have good form in Europe. Magic Wand ran fourth in last year’s Cox Plate and won the Mackinnon Stakes on the last day of the 2019 Spring carnival.

The oldest horse in the race is Humidor (now 8 years old) and the youngest is Jameka’s little brother Grandslam, a three year old colt who, like 2013 Cox Plate winner Shamus Award, ran third in the Caulfield Guineas at his last start.

Humidor finished a narrow second to Winx in the 2017 Cox Plate and ran third in her historic fourth in 2018. He recently won the Group 2 Feehan Stakes and  was placed behind Russian Camelot in the Underwood Stakes and ran third in the Caulfield Stakes. He loves Moonee Valley and could well spring a surprise like Fields of Omagh did in 2006.

As for Grandslam, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he could win as Shamus Award did in 2013.

Whatever the outcome, it will be as usual fascinating to watch.

Tonight is the Group 1  Manikato Stakes where a field of 11 will be vying for Group 1 glory in the historic sprint. Top chances are Trekking, Dirty Work, Pippie and Diamond Effort.

Oh, and it’s AFL Grand Final day on Saturday, though it is being played at night so as not to clash with the Cox Plate, and in Brisbane at the Gabba.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Caulfield Cup 2020

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Mer De Glace – winner of the 2019 Caulfield Cup

The weather on Caulfield Cup Day last year was intemperate – cold, wet and windy – and it appears that this year’s edition will also be run on a soft track under similar conditions.

Not that it matters to me as the Covid 19 pandemic has prevented public attendance at the races all spring. It’s remarkable that racing has continued all through the pandemic with very little drama in the way of biosecurity breaches.

Caulfield Guineas Day last week was fantastic, as interesting as you’d expect during the pointy end of the Spring Racing Carnival. The highly regarded short priced favourite Russian Camelot was defeated by Western Australian mare Arcadia Queen in the Caulfield Stakes, Black Caviar’s close relation Ole Kirk won the feature race, and in Sydney, star filly Montefilia beat the boys in the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes.

As well as the Caulfield Cup tomorrow, Randwick features the fourth running of The Everest, where a choice field of top sprinters compete for a share in the $15 million prize money.

A full field of 18 runners will be contesting the Caulfield Cup,  and as is the norm these days, comprise a bunch of International challengers along with seasoned imports and local stayers.

The top International is Anthony Van Dyck who has excellent form in Europe having performed meritoriously against top stayers, such as Stradivarious and Gaiyyath.

Of the imports, those with a good chance are Mirage Dancer, Finche and Master of Wine.

Isn’t it about time for a mare to win?

There are three of the fairer sex engaged in the race, most notably Verry Elleegant who has been in great form this spring. She won the Group 1 Winx Stakes, then came to Melbourne and took out the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes at her last start, beating her stablemates Toffee Tongue and Finche.

Toffee Tongue won the South Australian Oaks in the autumn, and ran a close second to Verry Elleegant in the Turnbull Stakes. She’s a great lightweight chance in the Caulfield Cup and is bred to stay the distance. The other mare is True Self whom I witnessed winning the Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Mackinnon Stakes Day last spring.

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Verry Elleegant – Caulfield Cup Day 2018

Verry Elleegant is the current favourite for the Caulfield Cup, and she could well win the bikkies, especially if the track is on the heavy side.

The Everest will be run an hour before the Caulfield Cup at 4.15 pm and has a super field that includes Nature Strip, Gytrash, Classique Legend, Behemoth and Bivouac as top chances, along with speedy mare Libertini who thrashed Classique Legend at her last start in the Group 2 Premiere Stakes.  It’s a must watch race.

So that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow; i.e. watching the races.

On the reading front I must mention a recent read, that being Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession. It’s a brilliantly written, immensely likeable novel about two middle aged guys who lead very low profile lives, introverts uncomfortable with  the noisy world at large.  I loved it and highly recommend it for a sublimely pleasant reading experience. It is laugh out loud in parts as well. It outshone the new Rose Tremain novel Islands of Mercy, and has made my current read, The Midnight Library  by Matt Haig, less than satisfying so far, the quality of writing not being a patch on Ronan Hession.

As for games, nothing much to report other than occasionally engaging with The Shade in The Longing. I’m running out of things to do with The Shade having explored all the caves and have even found the secret places beyond the darkness.

Update Sunday

I’m pleased to see that my preview of the Caulfield Cup was pretty accurate with Verry Elleegant putting in a gutsy performance to win, beating the highly regarded International Anthony Van Dyck, who charged from the back of the field to miss by half a length. Long shot The Chosen One ran third. Interestingly, Zabeel is the grandsire of both Verry Elleegant and The Chosen One, so the old Zabeel factor still rules the staying ranks in Australian horse racing

Classique Legend won The Everest with Bivouac and Gytrash filling the minor placings.

Friday, October 02, 2020

As Time Goes By…

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Bingo watching television

Bingo the wonder cat demonstrated the other night that cats actually do notice stuff on television. His taste in TV shows relate to nature programs, especially if there are birds involved.

He was lolling on one or the other of our knees in front of the heater as we desultorily watched  a program on SBS about Russia’s Wild Sea, exploring the Sea of Okhotsk that lies between the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Japanese island of Hokkaido, termed the last and greatest unspoiled ocean on Earth, when his attention was captured by the sea eagles flying around on the screen. He sprang to the floor and sat beneath the TV to get a closer view and remained fascinated long enough for me to take a photo.

People on the screen hold no interest for him; it’s only birds and animals that grab his attention.

It’s October already and here in Melbourne we are still in stage 4 lockdown, though hopefully with cases of Covid19 diminishing by the day, we may be able to experience greater freedom soon. Wow, I might even be able to go to the Victoria Market in a couple of weeks!

Unfortunately the easing of restrictions will not include public attendance at the races over the pointy end of the Melbourne Racing Carnival. I’m particularly aggrieved to miss going to the Cox Plate.

However, as usual I have been following the racing action as the season progresses. This weekend for instance has four Group 1 races to watch, the Turnbull Stakes in Melbourne and the Flight Stakes. Epsom Handicap and Metropolitan feature at Randwick in Sydney.

To console myself I have been having the occasional wager with mixed results, my best win being on Kolding in the George Main Stakes, which boosted  the funds in my Sportsbet account, thus giving me plenty of play money for the rest of the season.

On the home front I’ve as usual been killing the time with reading and computer games.

After finishing the Dublin Trilogy, which I enjoyed quite a lot, I read Lanny by Max Porter and the enchanting  new Susanna Clarke novel, Piranesi. I must admit I was not as enraptured by Lanny as I was by Piranesi, which continues to haunt me. I acquired it in an exclusive signed hardcover edition from Waterstones. It is a handsome edition, quite the bibliophile’s delight with ornate boards under the dust jacket.

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Piranesi hardcover binding

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Piranesi Dust Jacket

The novel has received rave reviews from all and sundry so I’m not going to provide one here.  There’s a summary of the reviews on Literary Hub.

LONGING_packshotAs for games, I’m still playing The Longing and have progressed – at snails pace – in that the Shade has acquired more books, has explored most of the caves and collected various items to enhance his abode. He has expanded his one room into four chambers that include a bathroom and mushroom farm. He’s yet to find enough pieces of wood to make a bed. Most days I set him off on a journey to see if anything has changed and generally close the game when he’s back home reading a book.

I’m also playing a 2018 game called Unforeseen Incidents. Ironically it deals with a viral plague afflicting a town called Yelltown. As a person living in a similar situation in Melbourne, one feels slightly alarmed to see the game characters walking around without PPE and failing to be infected. It’s moderately amusing to play and the story is interesting so far.

So life goes on and one must be thankful that we’re still alive to report on it.

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Longing– A perfect game for Extended Lockdown

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The Longing – promo image

With Victoria’s Covid 19 stage 4 restrictions extending for the foreseeable future, it struck me as appropriate to start playing the recently released computer game The Longing.

Classified as slow gaming, it takes 400 days to finish. In fact once you start the game you are not obliged to play, but can wait for the 400 real time days to pass to see the ending.

The time ticks down as you play the lonely Shade, servant to a sleeping king, who must wait out the 400 days so he can wake his master at the preordained time.

Passing time as the The Shade, you can explore the extensive cave structure and keep busy in one way or another by creating a cosy abode in which to pass the time. There are (real)  books to read, music to make and art to create.

I’ve only played briefly over two days so far and have yet to explore the caves in depth. It’s no use being impatient as it’s a slow process and The Shade moves at snail’s pace. In some cases he must wait for a door to open or a stalactite to grow before proceeding further.

It’s an intriguing and very original concept of gaming which I shall enjoy dipping into every so often. I sincerely hope that Covid 19 will be a distant memory by  the time The Longing comes to an end next year.

On the subject of computer games, I’ve played a few engaging escape the room type games recently.

The latest was Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise, where you play the eponymous hero tracking down the wicked Ruby La Rouge, evil agent of MIA’s arch enemy HAVOK.  This clever game was created in Australia by Yak & Co.

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Agent A – promo image

There are five chapters in the game, so it’s gratifyingly  long  with a plethora of intriguing puzzles to solve.

Another, very beautiful, escape the room game is the exquisite Luna: The Shadow Dust. 

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Luna – promo image

In this game a boy falls from the sky in a bubble of light. It is your task to guide him up a tall tower to solve the mystery of his fall and recover his lost memories, solving puzzles as you move higher, often with the assistance of the  pet.

It’s a charming, albeit short game, and the puzzles are unusual, beautiful and a pleasure to solve.

On the reading front, after finishing David Mitchell’s new novel Utopia Avenue which I loved to bits, I’ve been reading my way through the Dublin Trilogy, a series of four detective novels by Caimh McDonnell featuring the extraordinary Bunny McGarry . They are page turners,  very funny, but also quite violent.  They were an eBook  gift for my birthday from a friend. At first I was in two minds as to whether I was going to like the books, but I have become quite addicted as I progress through the trilogy. You can get a free eBook of short stories  if you sign up for Caimh McDonnell’s monthly email list.

At this time of the year I would normally be heading off to the racetrack for the Spring Racing Carnival, but alas it doesn’t appear as if the public will be admitted at all this season.

This weekend at Flemington features the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes. I wish I could be there to watch it live, as I would have liked to get a look at the highly regarded Russian Camelot who won the South Australian Derby in spectacular fashion and is an early favourite for the Melbourne Cup. But then again, with heavy rain forecast for tomorrow, I won’t regret not being there so much and will be content to watch the action on my computer.

And with such things, like the Shade in The Longing, I pass the time during lockdown.