I love this time of year – springtime in Melbourne, at the height of the Spring racing season – days of wine and roses and first class racing. Just don’t mention the weather.
We’ve had the build up, the preludes and the champions resuming; now it’s time to get serious.
The race card at Caulfield this coming Saturday boasts three Group One contests, worth the price of entry alone, plus several intriguing Group Two and Listed competitions.
The first race of interest is the Blue Sapphire Stakes, race two on the card. For three year olds and run over 1200 metres, it stars super filly Snitzerland taking on the boys by herself. She ran second to Pierro in the Golden Slipper back in autumn and resumed in August, accruing three straight wins since.
She is pitted against some very smart colts, Queenslander Sizzling among them. He won the Group One T J Smith back in June. Then you’ve got South Australian gelding Fire Thunderbolt and local colt Lankan Rupee who have both won their only two starts by good margins. All up it looks a great race.
Race four is the Group Two Schillaci Stakes, a sprint over 1000 metres. Black Caviar won this race last year and the year before that. With her out of the picture this year, the super consistent Buffering appears to have the race at his mercy, but the Moody/Nolen/Caulfield combo factor might favour Golden Archer. There’s also the very much in form Sydney horse Pampelonne and Adelaide runner Stirling Grove who are also worth consideration.
The first of the Group One races is the Caulfield Stakes (2000 metres) and would have promised a fascinating competition between Manighar and impressive New Zealander Ocean Park, but Manighar has now been withdrawn from the Spring carnival after a setback caused by some sort of arthritic condition. Ocean Park won the Underwood very convincingly from Voila Ici and December Draw and on that score appears to be the one to beat. Sincero is the next best in the race, though he has failed to win beyond 1600 metres. Sabrage and Vatuvei have a chance if the track is on the slow side as does old Alcopop.
More Joyous is the star attraction in the Group One Toorak Handicap, and rightly so. She is the best performed horse in Australia behind Black Caviar, having now won 21 races from 28 starts, eight of which were at Group One level. She won the Toorak Handicap in 2010 carrying 58 kg (a record for a mare), but this year is obliged to tote 60 kg. She has had three runs so far this season and won them all, though arguably they were considerably easier races than this. Her closest rival is King Mufhasa who won the race last year, has a slight weight advantage over the mare and appears to be in good form, with a last start win in New Zealand . Others in contention are the lightweights Solzhenitsyn, Spirit Song and Tokukawa along with old Glass Harmonium and fellow mares Steps In Time and Yosei. I’d love More Joyous to win, but she is vulnerable with that weight. Still, underestimate her at your peril.
If ever there was a certainty, outside Black Caviar in a race, it has to be Pierro in the Caulfield Guineas, a race for three year old colts and geldings over 1600 metres. This son of Lonhro has the potential to be as special as the aforementioned champion mare. He’s already got 8 wins under his belt, three of them at Group One level and is yet to be beaten. Also in the field, but unlikely to beat Pierro, is Golden Rose winner Epaulette, the best of the rest. All Too Hard has been most disappointing this spring so far, but even when he was in top form he couldn’t beat Pierro in the Sires Produce Stakes back in autumn. Fighting for a place will most likely be Ashokan, Awesome Bro and Let Go Lenni, otherwise it looks to be a one horse race.
One for the stayers, is the Group Two Herbert Power Stakes run over 2400 metres. It has a fascinating field of acceptors the majority of them being overseas contenders, the classiest of that lot being Gatewood (UK) and Shawardi (France). Local hopes rest on staying mare Exceptionally, Excluded and the unpredictable Precedence. Other top chances are Bianmick who won the JRA Cup at Moonee Valley at his last start and Reuben Percival who ran third in the Metropolitan last Saturday. Not an easy race to pick the winner, but worth watching for future reference Cups wise.
As it’s cold and wet in Melbourne as I write this post, it is unclear what condition the track will be in on Saturday. Let’s hope the rain clears tomorrow, and that Saturday is warm and sunny.
UPDATE : Saturday night
What a day! Three favourites saluted and Gai’s stars bombed. More tomorrow with photos.