Friday, November 11, 2016

So Long Leonard

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Leonard Cohen live at Rod Laver Arena –10 February 2009

I heard the news today that the great songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen had died, so here are my memories of the man and his music.

Ironically, two days after a misogynist ladies man won the US Presidential Election, another much gentler, more respectful, ladies man departed this earth.

The mists of  time shroud my memories of when I first heard of Leonard Cohen, but it must have been back in the late 1960s, as I remember I had  copies of his first few albums in my record collection.

He really suited our generation, or those of us who pretended to be soulful and poetic, in between the sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, though in a way his lyrics expressed all that too.

I was lucky enough to see him in concert twice, first  in 1980 at the Melbourne Comedy Theatre, which I thought an hilarious venue for a singer who was known to write “songs to slit your wrists by”.

My memories of the concert are vague, but I remember being surprised at how funny he was in person, and came away from the concert with a very positive impression.

The second concert was at a considerably bigger venue, the Rod Laver Arena in 2009.

I wrote a review of the show on my blog here, so I won’t go into detail here except to say it was one of the best concerts I have ever seen.

The new world will not have Leonard Cohen as one of its citizens, and will be the poorer for it, but his memory will live long with those of us who loved his songs and music all those years ago in the old, old world.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Welcome to the New World

Like almost everyone on the planet I took careful notice of the US Election as it unfolded, and was suitably appalled that Donald Trump is to be the new President. In fact I found the result thoroughly depressing and disheartening.

Anyway, life goes on and who knows what the future holds in the new world where the unthinkable has come to pass.

It’s one of those turning points in history, as happened after 9/11, and the world will never be the same again. There will be those born after the turning point who will not even wonder what the world was like before – not much chop to tell the truth.

As there is little the individual can do to change things, one can be thankful  for the small joys of life.

One of them is cats, who couldn’t give toss about the new world order as long they have food to eat, a place to sleep and a human slave to attend to those needs.

Which brings me to the resident cats and their political situation.

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Willy

Actually they are pretty blase with each other these days, though not actually friends.

Talya has been over grooming for some years, that is ripping her fur out, so that great drifts of it are all over the house. Who knows why she does this, but I think originally she started off stressed and the over grooming has become a nervous habit.

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Talya – you can see the fur is thin on her back

We have consulted the Vet several times about this behavoiur and tried several “cures”, initially a chinese herbal happy pill, then cortizone tablets. Neither worked.

We now have her on clomicalm, an antidepressant that has certainly affected her behaviour in that she has become less anxious. She’s slightly zoned out, but still has a hearty appetite.

Her relationship with Willy has noticeably improved as stand offs in doorways are less aggressive than they used to be. The cats pass by each other peacefully and neither takes a swipe at the other.

Of course all that may change when she comes off the clomicalm; cross fingers it doesn’t.

The only stress the cats face is other cats invading their territory. Not so much the next door cats, with whom they have a truce, but a black and white cat from somewhere else that has been causing a fracas in the neighbourhood. If there is growling and howling, it is always that cat at the centre of it.

The above two photos were taken with the Nikon camera. I love the way it blurs out the background when you use the zoom lens.

It will be interesting to see how the new world comes to pass with  Donald Trump at the helm of global power.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Spring Racing Carnival Wrap Up

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Winx winning the 2016 Cox Plate

Alas, the Spring Racing Carnival is over for another year, and I must say it was one of the more interesting in recent times, with some astonishing performances.

The star of the Spring was undoubtedly Winx, the wonder horse, who accumulated four more pickets to the fence against her name in the form guide. Three were at Group 1 level and augmented her perfect record to thirteen consecutive wins over a year, nine of them at Group 1 level. The crowning moment was her second Cox Plate victory where she blew away a top quality field, winning by a record eight lengths.

Other memorable moments were Jameka’s three length Caulfield Cup win…

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Jameka wins the Caulfield Cup

…and Hartnell’s Turnbull Stakes.

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Hartnell wins the Turnbull Stakes

Hartnell finished second in the Cox Plate and third in the Melbourne Cup and also won two Group 2 races in Sydney by huge margins.

Most of the main Group 1 races of the spring were won by a variety of horses, but Black Heart Bart won two – the Memsie Stakes and Underwood Stakes - and finished second in the Makybe Diva Stakes and Caulfield Stakes, one of the few horses to win more than one Group 1 race.

The final day of the carnival, which I missed, was held last Saturday and the feature races were won by longshots Awesome Rock (Emirates Stakes) and Malaguerra (Darley Classic).

The longest priced Group 1 winner was Lasqueti Spirit, who romped home in the Oaks at  120/1 odds.

As for wagering, I hardly had a bet all spring, which made attending the races a cheap outing. With my general admission season tickets to the three city racecourses covering entrance fees, my only expenses were on a race book and a drink. My travelling costs on public transport were covered by my Senior’s Myki Card which is free on the weekend.

Several old stars of the turf have been retired this spring, still sound of body thankfully. The Cleaner and Buffering now share a paddock at Living Legends, and it was announced on Saturday that Happy Trails has run his last race. He’ll spend his retirement with his devoted strapper Chelsea Moss who is interested in developing him into a show jumping, dressage and event horse.

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Happy Trails with Chelsea Moss at Flemington 10/9/16

Also gone from the scene is Tarzino and Alpine Eagle, both off to stud, and the handsome Xtravagant has returned to New Zealand after a very disappointing spring campaign.

I’ll have to find something else to do with my Saturday afternoons for the next few months, while waiting for the autumn racing season to begin.

Friday, November 04, 2016

That’s The Spirit! Oaks Day Review

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Crown Oaks finish Brenton Avdullah celebrates Lasqueti Spirit’s unexpected win

Last year the Oaks meeting was a wash out when a big storm hit the course in the early afternoon. By contrast the Oaks this year was run in brilliant sunshine and as you can imagine the crowds were out in force.

Everywhere there were girls dressed in flimsy dresses and high heels, not to mention with crazy fascinators on their heads.

So much over the top high fashion grew quite boring after a while, so I sought solace in the stalls area and the horses waiting for their events to begin.

I was intending to get photos of the Oaks field in the stalls, but failed to locate several, as the stalls they were allocated in the race book appeared to be occupied by a different horse.

Those I did manage to snap are below.

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Eleonora

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Lamma Hilton

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Lasqueti Spirit

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Yankee Rose

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Moqueen

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Penthouse Kitten

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Bella Sorellastra

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My Girl Chilly

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Nina Peak

I reached Flemington at around 2.00 pm, but dilly dallied in the stalls area whilst race 4 was run, so missed it entirely.

For the rest of the afternoon I was in my regular spot at the access gate west of the finishing post, so I witnessed and photographed races 5 to 7 whilst waiting for the main event.

Race 5 was the TCL QUHD TV Stakes for three year olds, run over 1800 metres.

Anaheim won the bikkies from Righteous Mate and Rockstar Rebel by a length.

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Anaheim wins race 5

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Anaheim returns to scale

Race 6 was a slightly more interesting race, the L’Oreal Paris Stakes over 1400 metres.  Former Irish horse Arod, who is now with the Chris Waller stable was making his first appearance this spring. He was out here last year and competed in the Cox Plate and Emirates Stakes without success.

Arod ran a good second to Rageese in the L’Oreal Paris Stakes  with Federal running third.

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L’Oreal Paris Stakes finish – Rageese (outside) Arod (middle) & Federal fight it out.

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Arod on his way to the barriers

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Rageese on his way to the barriers

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Federal on his way to the barriers

Even more interesting than the L’Oreal Paris Stakes was race 7, the Mumm Stakes, a sprint over 1000 metres. It was good to see Terravista back in action having his first race since autumn. He mixed it with the likes of Chautauqua and Lankan Rupee a few years back and was considered one of the best sprinters in Australia at the time.

He performed very well in the Mumm Stakes losing by a nose to Redzel on the line.  The race favourite Hellbent was two lengths back running third.

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Mumm Stakes finish – Redzel (red blinkers) and Terravista (orange silks) on separate sides of the track hit the finish line

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Terravista returns to scale

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Redzel returns to scale – Blake Shinn celebrates

There was a 45 minute wait before the Crown Oaks was run, and the trophy was carried down the straight by champion athlete Usain Bolt in the interim.

When I snapped the following picture I was unaware that the black gentleman in the photo was Usain Bolt. I’m so uninterested in celebrities that I was unaware that he was at Flemington for the race and only found out when watching the news later that night.

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Usain Bolt carries the Oaks cup to the mounting yard

I was amused to read today that he was almost kicked by Eleonora in the mounting yard.  Story here.

So on to the Oaks

Nobody, least of all her jockey, expected Lasqueti Spirit to win the Oaks, but win it she did in spectacular fashion, setting a rattling pace in the lead for most of the 2500 metre race. In the straight she showed no signs of slowing down and raced to a four length win unopposed.

Harlow Gold and Eleonora fought out the minor placings with the rest of the field several lengths behind them. Yankee Rose was never in the race, running at the tail of the field to finish well back.

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Eleonora (inside) & Harlow Gold fight out the finish.

Lasqueti Spirit payed over $100 for her win. Lucky if you were on her.

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Lasqueti Spirit returns to scale

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Lasqueti Spirit in winners rug

I headed home after the Oaks, I must admit feeling a tad spring carnival lagged after the past week of racing excitement.

Melbourne’s Spring Carnival concludes tomorrow at Flemington’s Emirates Stakes Day meeting.

I won’t be there to watch it live, but hopefully will find time to watch the replays later on if I can’t find a way to watch the live coverage.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Ladies Day–Crown Oaks

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Eleonora – Flemington 2/10/16

With the Melbourne Cup being run and won, it’s time to turn our attention to the next Group 1 race in the Spring Racing Carnival, the Crown Oaks, for three year old staying fillies run over 2500 metres.

With my calf muscle now back in walking order I intend to go to the Oaks meeting at Flemington tomorrow, ostensibly for the feature event as two of my favourite fillies will be competing in the event.

Yankee Rose will understandably start as favourite, her earlier exploits in classy company making her the top pick.  Her win in the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes against the boys, including Victoria Derby winner Prized Icon, marked her as a filly of extraordinary ability. Her third placing in the Cox Plate was also full of merit.

I’m very torn between Yankee Rose and her main competitor in the Crown Oaks, Eleonora, and can see either of them winning.

Eleonora has the superior breeding for the race distance and her win in the Group 3 Ethereal Stakes, where she beat subsequent Wakeful Stakes winner Tiamo Grace, was impressive. Tiamo Grace is not in the Oaks field, but Wakeful Stakes runner up, Sebring Dream is, so too the third placed Missrock.

Others with a chance are Harlow Gold and Smart As You Think.

The Oaks is scheduled as race 8  and run at 5.00pm tomorrow, so I’ll be taking my time getting to Flemington, but envisage arriving around 2.30 pm.

Last year a wild storm swept through Flemington early in the afternoon, but the weather this year is forecast to be mild and sunny.

The Flemington mini carnival finale is on Saturday and features the final two Group 1 races of the Melbourne spring racing season, and much as I would like to be there, I am unable to attend due to a commitment to attend a birthday party in Beechworth, a small interesting town in North East Victoria.

So Oaks Day is my last chance to attend a Group 1 race meeting this year.

On the subject of mares and fillies, it was disappointing to learn that Lucia Valentina has been retired, so I’m glad I got to see her twice this Spring. She apparently has a sesamoid injury which precludes her from racing again. She’ll be mated to Fastnet Rock, so we can look forward to seeing her sons and daughters hitting the track in the future.

Though I was also disappointed that Jameka didn’t feature in the Melbourne Cup finish it was obvious that she could not run the 3200 metres. Nick Hall’s ride was spot on again and she was primed at the right time to sprint home, but she faded to finish 15th.

An interesting point that arose from the Melbourne Cup result was that Almandin’s sire, the German stallion Monsun had bred his third Melbourne Cup winner, the others being Protectionist in 2014 and Fiorente in 2013.  That’s something to look for in analysing the runners in future Melbourne Cups. Though Monsun passed away in 2012 his influence could possibly continue with his sons and daughters at stud like the great Sir Tristram and Zabeel in New Zealand.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Sunshine & Roses–Derby Day Review

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Flemington roses against intense blue sky

No two race days could have been so dissimilar, weather wise, as Derby Day and Cox Plate Day, with Saturday’s race meeting at Flemington being held under blue skies and bountiful sunshine. There wasn’t even much of breeze, though when it blew across the wide open spaces of the big track, it was refreshing and a welcome change from the heat of the sun.

I had not dressed for the day, unlike the majority of the huge crowd in attendance, and felt overdressed in my jeans and sensible shoes and socks, but not overly uncomfortable.

The crowd may have been huge, but they were cheerful and friendly and my services as photographer were called upon quite few times to take iPhone photos of various young persons posing in front of the finishing line.

It was easy to get my favourite photographing spot on the gate just past the finishing post as it is an access gate for punters in the expensive enclosures on the other side of the track to enter the main area of the racecourse.

All I had to do was wait until the gates were closed and slip into position.

I was there shortly after arriving at Flemington to witness race 3, the Group 3 Sensis Stakes, a sprint for mares over 1100 metres.

As usual with sprints down the Flemington straight, the field splits into two sections, one on the inside rail, the other on the outer rail.

Fortunately I had my camera focussed on the outer rail and caught the actual finish with the winner in the picture, in this case Sheidel who beat Wild Rain by a nose with Private Secretary running third.

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Sensis Stakes finish – Sheidel is on the far left

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Sheidel returns to scale

Having established that it would be no problem getting into my favourite spot, I wended my way through the throng, taking the short cut via the bookies ring to the stalls area, where all was calm and relatively uncrowded.

One of my aims for the day was to get Winx trainer Chris Waller’s signature on my two Cox Plate racebooks (2015/2016) so I hoped to catch him in the stalls area, saddling up his runners. 

Though I did not manage to run into Chris Waller, I asked one of the stable strappers to get the signatures for me. I’d come prepared with pen and markers in the relevant pages, the books enclosed in a plastic bag.  This ploy worked and my racebooks were signed when I dropped back later in the afternoon to collect them.

Whilst in stalls area I did get photos of some of the main Group 1 race contenders.

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Extreme Choice – Coolmore Stud Stakes

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Flying Artie – Coolmore Stud Stakes

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Star Turn – Coolmore Stud Stakes

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Sacred Elixir – Derby

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Tumultuous – Derby

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Wine Bush – Derby

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First Seal – Myer Classic

Failing to make it back in time to photograph the runners in race 4, the Group 3 Lexus Stakes, I was trapped on the east side of the mounting yard, so decided to stay there and photograph the winner, Oceanographer, coming back to scale.

Between heads I got a few snaps of the horses leaving the mounting yard for the track and they actually captured the crowded precinct.

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Oceanographer on his way to the track

The Lexus Stakes gives automatic entry into the Melbourne Cup for the winner and is a race for stayers over 2500 metres.

Oceanographer was the favourite and one of the few top fancies to win on the day. He overtook tearaway leader Tom Melbourne to win on the line with Tally running third.

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Oceanographer returns to scale after winning the Lexus Stakes

I eventually got back to my prime spot and pretty well stayed there for the rest of afternoon, deserting my post only to get a drink and collect my signed Cox Plate race books. It was while returning with them that I tripped over a step and overbalanced,  thankfully not taking a tumble, but strained my left calf muscle. It didn’t hurt much and it was only on Sunday that I felt the full effect.

Race 5 was the first of the Group 1 events, the Coolmore Stud Stakes for three year olds over 1200 metres. 

Astern started as the favourite, but he was beaten into second place by the Mick Price trained Flying Artie. His stable mate Extreme Choice was disappointing and finished fifth, the excuse being that he didn’t take to the Flemington straight, having a preference for the cornering on other tracks. Star Turn finished third.

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Coolmore Stud Stakes finish – Hugh Bowman salutes Flying Arties’s win (pink silks), Astern (blue silks) is on his inside and Star Turn (blinkers) is in the centre

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Flying Artie returns to scale

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Star Turn returns to scale

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Extreme Choice returns to scale

As the Group 1 Myer Classic was a 1600 metre race, the horses leave the mounting yard and head west, past the finishing post on their way to the starting gates, so you can photos of the runners as they pass.

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Rising Romance

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Dixie Blossoms

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Don’t Doubt Mama

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French Emotion

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I Am A Star

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Denmagic

The lightweighted filly I Am A Star proved too good for the older mares winning narrowly from long shots French Emotion and Denmagic. First Seal disappointed and finished way back in the field.

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First Seal returns to scale

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Myer Classic finish

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I Am A Star returns to scale after winning the Myer Classic

The feature race, the Victoria Derby was up next and it resulted in a win for Bart’s grandson, James Cummings when the unfancied Prized Icon won the race by 2½ lengths from favourite Sacred Elixir with Inference running third.

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Prized Icon wins the 2016 Victoria Derby

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Prized Icon returns to scale

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Sacred Elixir returns to scale

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Inference returns to scale

The last Group 1 race on the program was the Group 1 Cantala Stakes and it was anyone’s guess who would win, with The United States being the 6/1 favourite.

The Chris Waller and Hugh Bowman combo resulted in a win for longshot Le Romain over stablemate McCreery with Tivaci running third. The trifecta must have paid a fortune!

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Le Romain wins the Cantala Stakes

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Le Romain returns to scale

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McCreery on his way to the barriers

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Tivaci on his way to the barriers

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The United States on his way to the barriers

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Palentino on his way to the barriers

I called it quits after the Cantala Stakes and headed for the station and home. With my left leg feeling the effects of my stumble, it was a relief to sit down after an afternoon on my feet.

Back on home turf walking from the station I came across one of the local ravens rummaging around on the nature strip of the first house on my street. Fortunately I had the camera handy and got some photos from close up without it flying away.

raven 8Raven – one of  the locals

Photography conditions were much better at Flemington in the sunshine, so most of my images turned out fine, though the security guards on duty at the access gate impeded my view when they stood at the fence on the other side of the gate.

Somehow, though it had been an interesting and enjoyable afternoon at the races, and a perfect spring day, it was missing that special magic of Moonee Valley last week in the wind and rain.

I’ve been writing this post while waiting for the running of the Melbourne Cup. There’s only half an hour to go before it’s on, but I’ll update this post later with the result.

And it has just started pouring down with rain!

UPDATE - Melbourne Cup Result

The Lloyd Williams imported stayer Almandin won the 2016 Melbourne Cup by a nose from Heartbreak City with Hartnell running third 4 lengths behind.  Not a totally surprising result after all and I’m pleased that I mentioned all three place getters in my Melbourne Cup preview.

As for the punt, my Sportsbet online account was down to $35.00 so I had only enough money to bet $5.00 each way on three horses and included Almandin as one of them, the others being Jameka and Oceanographer who both finished unplaced.

Almandin’s payout doubled my outlay, so the account is looking healthy again. It’s about time my luck changed!