It certainly wasn’t a day for favourites at last Saturday’s Emirates Stakes meeting at Flemington. Most of the races resulted in surprise winners with the favourites running out of a place.
Perhaps the heat was the cause. It was a hot and windy day and the track was upgraded from a Good 3 to Good 2 as the afternoon progressed and several horses were scratched due to the firmness of the racing surface.
When I arrived at the track, shortly before the running of Race 4 the Hilton Hotels & Resorts Stakes, there was already a sizable crowd in attendance. Not at Derby Day or Cup Day levels, but they comfortably filled the public lawn area. Considering that the general admission cost was a hefty $60.00, I was astounded that many of those present didn’t appear to show the slightest interest in the racing action. It’s traditionally a family day, and children were there in abundance.
One largish group had brought their own seating in the form of fold out chairs and had set them up in a semi circle in front of my favourite position on the fence, so I observed them as I squeezed my way through the barricade of chairs. Not one of the group ever got up from their chairs to watch the races, even though they were so close to the action. What’s the point of going to a first class race meeting and showing no interest in it? It would have been cheaper for them to all meet up in a park.
Racing Victoria, after the flag waving incident on Cup Day that resulted in the injury and subsequent death of Araldo, horses returning to scale in the Group 1 races bypassed the long rose walkway back to the mounting yard, and instead returned via the entrance at the clock tower. The non Group 1 races all used the rose path, but anyone waving distracting articles were quickly stopped. It sounds like an overreaction, when you think back to Black Caviar’s racing days, when flags were all over the place and they handed them out at the entrance gates.
Personally, I am more spooked by shrieking young females, one of whom I could not help but overhear after the 8th race. Her bet, Suavito, had just won, and all the non winners were returning to scale, but any of them could have been the one she was screaming her praises for as the winner had not at that point returned to scale. The winner is generally the last to return, delayed by the media interview of the jockey on the track shortly after race finish.
Enough of grouching about the general stupidity of Spring race goers, and back to the real thing.
After watching Race 4, which was won by Lord Aspen, the only favourite to win on the day, I wandered to the peaceful and uncluttered stalls area. Even on Melbourne Cup day the stalls and parade ring section was relatively deserted.
I found a few of the stars already in attendance in their stalls…
…and in the parade ring I spotted star Irish sprinter Slade Power being exercised.
As Race 5 was due to start, I returned to the public lawn and easily found a spot at the mounting yard fence to watch the parade. It was the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a 2600 metres race for stayers who missed out on a run in the Melbourne Cup. British mare Noble Protector was the favourite.
The race was won by another import the German bred Le Roi with local bred Prince of Penzance running second and my fancy Big Memory (from France) who ran third.
The first of the Group 1 races was up next. With an exemplary field the Darley Classic was the pick of the races on the day. A riveting sprint down the Flemington straight, the finish was fought out by Lankan Rupee, Chautauqua and Sydney visitor Terravista who was the winner. Less than half a length separated the three of them. Slade Power missed the start and was never a threat.
One good thing about the bypass via the clock tower, was the unique photo opportunity to capture the returning horses from a different angle.
Though Australia’s stayers have been upstaged by the Internationals, our sprinters are world class, even with Black Caviar no longer on the scene. If she was, no doubt she’d thrash the lot of them. Still it’s good to see really competitive sprint races again. Lankan Rupee, Chautauqua, Terravista and maybe Deep Field will all hopefully return in Autumn to fight for more Group 1 glory.
The feature race, the Emirates Stakes was the next race on the agenda, so it was back to the mounting yard fence to see them parade. I’d only had few modest bets, and they’d all come third. I of course had my money on The Cleaner in the Emirates and his odds were a good 10/1. You guessed it, he ran third.
Hucklebuck stamped himself as a potential star of the turf with his win in the Emirates Stakes, his first Group 1 victory. The Cleaner, as expected, set up a steady pace in the lead, and was there to be caught by the swoopers. He held on really well to finish third. Lucky Hussler narrowly missed out on winning, but had to settle for second place.
I only stayed for one more race, the Group 2 Momentum Energy Stakes, a race for mares run over 2000 metres.
By this time a cool change had come through, so the wind that had been a fierce hot northerly, swung to the south but was still quite strong.
I thought Solicit was a good chance to win. After all she had a couple of consecutive wins back in the autumn and has been close up a few times this spring. She ended up finishing fifth behind Suavito, Girl in Flight and Amanpour who filled the places.
And so ended the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, though there are a couple of good races at Sandown next Saturday which I will watch with interest.
Looking back over the Spring Racing Carnival, other than the multinationals winning the three big races, no real stars emerged, most of the other Group 1 races being won by one horse or another. The only horses to win two Group 1’s were Dissident (Memsie Stakes & Makybe Diva Stakes) and Trust In A Gust (Rupert Clark Stakes & Toorak Handicap).
Though probably not as good as the 2013 Spring Racing Carnival, it still was interesting all through, and I enjoyed all the race meetings I attended. Highlights were Lucia Valentina winning the Turnbull Stakes, The Cleaner winning the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes and the JRA Cup, Fawkner winning the Caulfield Stakes, and of course the remarkable win of Adelaide in the Cox Plate.
And to finish off this entry I must mention the passing of two old stars of the Australian Turf with a nose thumb to the fundamentalists of the Coalition For The Protection of Racehorses, whose agenda remains mysterious and very iffy.
The two horses in question are Rough Habit and Veandercross, both New Zealand bred and prominent racehorses in the early 1990s. I remember them well and probably even saw them race.
Rough Habit was euthanised last Friday at the age of 28, and Veandercross died on Caulfield Cup Day at the age of 26.
Rough Habit won 21 feature races, 11 of them at Group 1 level. He won the Stradbroke Handicap twice and the Doomben Cup three times. He narrowly missed winning the 1994 Cox Plate. He was a cult hero in Queensland and even featured on an Australia Post stamp one time.
Veandercross won 15 races, 8 at Group 1 level and was very unlucky not to have won the 1992 Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup, running a close second in both races. His jockey Shane Dye was blamed both times for his defeat.
Rest In Peace Roughie and Vandy.