A light shower of rain passed through last Saturday morning, but the afternoon was lovely, mild and slightly overcast with good light for photography.
The public lawn at Flemington was still very damp from Thursday’s downpour, but that didn’t discourage patrons from spreading themselves all over it. Ankle biters were in abundance, Emirate Stakes Day being traditionally a family day, but it wasn’t overcrowded and it was easy to wend through the crowd or get a drink.
I arrived early at Flemington, keen to watch Divan run in the second race on the program. I’ve been following him for over year, though he is very lightly raced, only starting seven times. He’s regally bred being by Zabeel out of champion New Zealand mare Seachange. At his last outing he ran second to the Gai Waterhouse trained The Offer in the Bendigo Cup (2400 metres).
He was coming back in distance for the Starlight Children’s Plate to 2000 metres and accounted for his opposition, easily winning by a length from Velox and Have Plenty. He looks a promising young stayer and hopefully will be back in autumn for a few races, though his owner Lloyd Williams is hoping to get him qualified for the 2016 Melbourne Cup.
The program for Emirate Stakes Day was much classier than that of the Oaks and race 3 was the Group 3 Queen’s Cup (formerly the Queen Elizabeth Stakes) run over 2600 metres, a sort of consolation prize for stayers who didn’t qualify for the Melbourne Cup field.
A small field of 8 horses were contesting it and British galloper Secret Number started as favourite.
However, Darren Weir, the Melbourne Cup winning trainer’s roll continued with Dandino taking the prize. He was to win another in race 4, when Michelle Payne guided home 7/1 shot Palentino to register a good win.
Dandino won by almost 2 lengths from Secret Number with Don Doremo running third.
As previously mentioned, the Darren Weir trained Palentino won race 4, the Hilton Hotels & Resorts Stakes (1400 metres) from Demonstrate and race favourite Ngarimu.
It’s a fair hike from the winning post to the stalls area, so you get plenty of exercise if you want to take photos. I must have tramped back and forth at least six times over the course of the afternoon.
Here are some of the contenders for the two Group 1 races photographed in their stalls.
Back trackside, Race 5, the Antler Luggage Handicap (1600 metres) was the next race on the program, after which there wasn’t long to wait for the first of the Group 1 events, the Darley Classic.
Rhythm To Spare won the Antler Luggage Handicap from Defiant Angel and Setinum.
Chautauqua was understandably hot favourite to take out the Group 1 Darley Classic, but the heavy track inhibited his powerful sprint and Delectation from the Chris Waller stable pipped him at the post. Last year’s winner, Terravista, managed to run third with old Buffering hanging on for fourth.
The photo of the finish is taken from an odd viewpoint as the field was spread out across the track, so no clear winner is evident. However it’s a dramatic shot that I’m quite pleased with.
The Group 1 Emirates Stakes was up next and my top pick was the young New Zealand stallion Turn Me Loose, trained by Caulfield Cup winning trainer Murray Baker. I’d been impressed with Turn Me Loose’s win in the Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley on Cox Plate day where he led from start to finish.
He did the same in the Emirates Stakes and hung on to win narrowly over the fast finishing Politeness. Outsider, Rock Sturdy ran third.
I stayed for Race 8, the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes as I was keen to see Lucia Valentina in action and hoping that she would win. She hadn’t won a race since winning the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes last spring.
The Matriarch Stakes is a race for mares over 2000 metres, and it was the easiest race she had contested for over a year, her latest runs being in top class events.
Her class prevailed and the heavy going suited her. She won by a length from Manageress with Casino Dancer taking third place.
And so ended what turned out to be a fantastic Spring Racing Carnival.
It all started fairly quietly back in August with a variety of horses winning the major Group 1 events. The only horse to win more than one Group 1 race was Winx, whose Cox Plate victory was the highlight of the season. Her other Group 1 win was the Epsom Stakes at Randwick, another spectacular performance.
Chautauqua’s three wins this spring in the Group 2 McEwen Stakes at Moonee Valley in September, the Group 2 Gilgai Stakes at Caulfield and the Group 1 Manikato Stakes at Moonee Valley in October.
Mongolian Khan’s Caulfield Cup, Prince of Penzance and Michelle Payne’s Melbourne Cup, Jameka’s Crown Oaks, and Turn Me Loose in the Emirates Stakes.
Remarkably the three big events of the season were all won by locally (including New Zealand) bred horses and the much hyped Internationals and Imports were generally missing in action. Perhaps Australia’s staying stocks are not that bad after all and certainly New Zealand bred stayers are still a force to be reckoned with.
There is quite an interesting meeting at Sandown this coming Saturday, but I am not inclined to attend, content to watch it from home.
After that Perth has a brief Spring Racing carnival featuring three excellent Group 1 races, then it’s Christmas and the horse racing dead season until late January when it all sparks up again with the Group 2 Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley.
There are however the Gold Coast Magic Millions two and three year old races in January which are generally pretty interesting in light of the Golden Slipper and Blue Diamond Stakes.
I won’t know what to do with myself on Saturday afternoons from now on, but no doubt I’ll find something else to write about; music and books for instance.
As for the punt this racing season, I hardly had a bet so my racing outings were all pretty cheap. My sole good win was on the Caulfield Cup with a bonus bet on my online Sportsbet account.