Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Hail the Queen – Cox Plate Review

Poster from Racing Victoria

When I arrived at Moonee Valley Racecourse on Saturday shortly after midday it was already crowded with racegoers keen to peg out a claim on the Public Lawn.

My journey for a change was without public transport hiccups, and after purchasing a race book and a Cox Plate Charity Pin, I met up with my fellow photographer friend Rebecca in the Stalls area.

Winx had not yet arrived at the course, so we made our way to the Public Lawn to secure a spot on the fence.  Our first attempt to get close to the finish line was a failure owing to a prior claimant taking poorly to our attempt to hijack their position.

So we moved on after watching Race 2 and found an unclaimed position on an access gate halfway down the straight.  And there we stayed for the rest of the afternoon, and like everyone else on the fence didn’t dare move in case our spot was stolen by someone else. A couple from Adelaide were our adjacent companions for the afternoon, and the bloke remarked that they had to take turns to go get food, drinks etc.

It wasn’t a bad position and at least it was on the fence, even though it meant standing there for over four hours.

Winx colours were everywhere and Winx flags and banners were given out at the entry gate to everyone.

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Signage opposite where I was standing

We got plenty of photography practice watching the next six races before the main event. The Cox Plate was scheduled as Race 9, to run at 5.00pm

Race 3 was the Group 3 Telstra Phonewords Stakes, a race for three year olds over 1200 metres.

As has happened frequently during this spring racing season most of the race favourites were rolled by outside chances, and such was the case in Race 3, where Eptimum – whom I’ve never heard of – beat the more favoured Single Bullet by three lengths. Trekking the favourite ended up third over five lengths behind the winner.

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Eptimum on his way to winning the Telstra Phonewords Stakes

Thirty five minutes later Blondie at odds of 21/1 won the Crockett Stakes from 26/1 Tarcoola Spirit with the favourite Demerara running third.

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Blondie on her way to the barriers

The favourite for Race 5, the Group 3 Powerflo Solutions Stakes was Invincibella who also ran third, the winner of the race being Lubiton who paid $6.50 for the win, beating Savapinski by over a length.

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Lubiton burns up the straight

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Lubiton on her way to the barriers

Race 6 was the Group 2 Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2500 metres), in the past a quite prestigious race that has been won by various grand stayers, but this year’s field was somewhat ho hum. Big Duke was the starting favourite but he failed to place. Who Shot Thebarman, now nine years of age, finished a narrow second to his stablemate Grand Marshall last year in this race, but this year was the winner. It was his first win in two years. He beat stablemate Libran by half a length and the Gai Waterhouse trained Cismontane finished third.

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Moonee Valley Gold Cup down the straight. Who Shot Thebarman (orange silks) is about to overtake Auvrey and leader Cismontane

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Who Shot Thebarman on his way to the barriers

The weather on Saturday was mostly overcast and mild, though at one time looked as if it would bucket down with rain, which failed to occur. As the afternoon progressed the clouds cleared to sunshine and  was quite hot at times.

In between the races, the big screen played reruns of Cox Plates of the past and the passing of time was not as onerous as you would expect, even when you have stood in the same spot over several hours.

The next two races were the Group 2 Fillies Classic – won by Banish  - and the Crystal Mile, where Lucky Hussler was back in the winners circle after having not won a race for a year. He beat the favourite Religify by three lengths.

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Banish hits the front in the Fillies Classic

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Lucky Hussler overtakes Religify in the Crystal Mile

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Lucky Hussler on his way to the barriers

After the Crystal Mile there was 40 minutes to wait for the running of the Cox Plate, counted down on the big screen up to race time.

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Big screen display

A stage was set up on the track for Daryl Braithwaite’s traditional rendition of “Horses”, and a bunch of track hands laid out a gigantic banner across the track and weighed it down with their bodies.

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At 4.30 Daryl Braithwaite climbed on the stage, and after sorting out the sound issues launched into his famous song, eliciting an enthusiatic singalong from the enormous crowd.

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Daryl Braithwaite

The excitement was mounting as Daryl finished and the stage was dismantled. The National Anthem was meant to be sung, but sound issues forced it to be abandoned.

Who cares,  an historical moment was imminent, and that was what we had come to see.

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So much for our photography practice. It had been hassle free all afternoon, but all of our fence neighbours drew out their phones as Winx stepped onto the track to a thunderous cheer, in order to get a pic of the star attraction. It was challenging to say the least getting a clear space to focus. Somehow I managed, and got a few good photos of Winx heading to the barriers, and the race itself.

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Winx on her way to the starting gates

The race was as breathtaking as expected, with Winx racing three wide throughout, Hugh Bowman astutely keeping her clear from interference. Poor young Royal Symphony was buffetted by the giant Happy Clapper who kept pushing him to the rail. Happy Clapper’s jockey, Damien Oliver was outed for 20 meetings over this incident.

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Cox Plate start – Seaburge leads from Gailo Chop & Hardham. Winx is on the outside of Folkswood followed by Happy Clapper outside Royal Symphony. Humidor is behind them on the fence.

As the field approached the turn Hugh Bowman eased Winx to the extreme outside and was whizzing past the leaders at the turn. Winx looked to have it won easy as they flew up the straight…

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Winx is ahead halfway up the straight

… but Humidor was in hot pursuit and at one stage looked like he would overtake, but Winx toughened it out to the line to record an historic win, and her 22nd in a row at that. A huge cheer erupted to register the star mare’s victory and we could breathe easy again. 

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Humidor closes on Winx as they approach the finish line

Winx registered a half length win over Humidor and broke her own track record  that she achieved in her first Cox Plate back in 2015. Folkswood finished third five lengths behind.

As usual Hugh Bowman rode Winx back up the straight before returning to scale, to allow her multitude of fans to celebrate her victory with him.

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Winx parades up the straight

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Winx returning back down the straight along the outer rail

The Cox Plate had lived up to expectation, and the result made it worthwhile standing for all those hours to witness the historic moment. Winx has cemented herself into the record books, her brilliance undeniable.

I didn’t stay for the final race, and headed home after a brief visit to the stalls, Stall 54* in particular. Earlier in the afternoon you couldn’t get anywhere near it, with a twenty deep crowd of fans surrounding the stall, but the crowd was only three deep after the Cox Plate, so I got the following final photo for the day, shooting through heads.

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Winx in her stall with devoted  strapper Umut Odemislioglu.

She looks tired here, but by all accounts recovered well, and may yet run another race before the end of Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival. I’d love to see her race again in the Emirates Stakes, but won’t be disappointed if she is spelled.

There are only two Saturdays of Group 1 racing left in Melbourne with Flemington staging its Spring Carnival over four days, starting with Derby Day next weekend.

* Stall 54 coincidently accommodated Black Caviar at Moonee Valley during her illustrious career.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Winx, Winx, Winx – 2017 Cox Plate

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Winx parades after winning the 2016 Cox Plate

The 2017 Cox Plate promises to be an historic event with Winx becoming only the second horse to win it three times in succession. Kingston Town accomplished this feat in 1980, 1981 and 1982.

General Admission tickets have sold out,  for the first time ever, so I expect it will be crowded to the rafters.  Hopefully I can snaffle a good spot on the fence near the finish line. I am willing to stand for hours if I achieve this.

Winx will face eight rivals in the Cox Plate, none of them likely to steal the show, with recent Group 1 winners  Happy Clapper, Humidor and Gailo Chop in the running for second place, worth $440,000. That is if they are not upstaged by the lightweighted three year old Royal Symphony.

Hopefully there will not be a boilover as has been the pattern this Spring.

The Moonee Valley mini Spring Carnival occurs as usual over a night and a day with the Manikato Stakes being the feature race on Friday night. Can the grey flash Chautauqua repeat history and win it a second time? His previous win was in 2015 and was a spectacular last to first dash.  Last year Rebel Dane caused a boilover winning at big odds.

A younger generation of crack sprinters will be aiming to spoil his party, notably Vega Magic who narrowly missed winning The Everest , but prior to that won the Group 1 Memsie Stakes.

Others with a chance are Malaguerra, Hey Doc and speedy mares English, In Her Time, Viddora and Super Cash.

I will not be attending the Manikato Stakes,  but should have no trouble getting to Moonee Valley on Saturday. My intention is to arrive early – around mid day with any luck.

The weather for Saturday is forecast to be overcast and a mild 21°C with some rain expected, hopefully around 3.00pm if I miss out on a spot on the fence earlier. 

Last year it was relatively easy to get a good spot with frequent spates of rain driving the crowd to take shelter.

No doubt it will be a memorable day, and hopefully one where Winx triumphs again.

Go Winx!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Boom Time for David Hayes–Caulfield Cup Review

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Boom Time after winning the Caulfield Cup

It certainly has been a most unusual Spring Racing Carnival with long shot winners taking the prize for half the Group 1 events and the win of 50/1 shot Boom Time in Saturday’s Caulfield Cup continued the trend.

My preview of the race was way off and only one of the horses mentioned ran a place, that being Johannes Vermeer. Amazingly locally bred horses filled first and second place and the Internationals, other than the aforementioned Johannes Vermeer, finished way back.

I got to Caulfield in time to watch Race 3, the Group 3 Ethereal Stakes, a race for Oaks bound fillies run over 2000 metres. Last year Ethereal’s granddaughter Eleonora won the race, but this year it was anyone’s guess who the winner would be.

Gai Waterhouse had three runners at Caulfield on Saturday and they all won. Pinot, the favourite for the Ethereal Stakes was her second win of the day after Our Crown Mistress won the first race.

It became obvious after watching a few races that horses racing on the speed were more successful, the inside rail out 6 metres being unfavourable for swoopers.

Such was the case in the Ethereal Stakes, Pinot was the leader for most of the race. She ended up winning by 1¾ lengths from Rimraam with Hiyaam running third.

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Just past the post Pinot on the fence still leads

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Pinot returns to scale

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Rimraam on her way to the barriers

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Hiyaam on her way to the barriers

The weather on Saturday was pretty dismal, somewhat chilly with occasional showers passing through, the sun peeping out later in the afternoon being a welcome flush of warmth.

I spent most of the afternoon at my usual spot on the hill above the stalls area, which was certainly less crowded than the front public lawn, and occasionally quite deserted.

Race 4 was the colts version of the Ethereal Stakes, the Ladbroke’s Classic, another race over 2000 metres.

Again, the front runners were victorious, Cliff’s Edge beating Tangled by 2¾ lengths with Main Stage five lengths behind running third.

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Ladbroke’s Stakes just past the post

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Cliff’s Edge returns to scale

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Tangled returns to scale

Another 2000 metre race, the Coongy Cup was next to go.  Samovare started favourite, but was outgunned by Kiwia, trained by Darren Weir, whose horses won four of the ten on the program. Long shot Maurus ran third.

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Kiwia (green cap) and Samovare just past the post

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Kiwia returns to scale

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Samovare returns to scale

As the Caulfield Cup was scheduled as Race 8, there were still two races to run before the main event.

The first of these was the Moonga Stakes, a Group 3 race over 1400 metres.

Ulmann and Burning Front gave Darren Weir a training quinella with Echo Effect running third.

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Moonga Stakes just past the post – Ulmann (red cap) Echo Effect (pink cap) & Burning Front (orange silks) lead the rest of the field

Race 7, for a change was the 1000 metres  Group 2 Caulfield Sprint and the amusingly named Snitty Kitty fought out the finish with fellow mare Super Too, going on to win by 2¼ lengths. Faatinah ran third.

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The first three home in the Caulfield Sprint – Snitty Kitty, Super Too & Faatinah

I stuck to my position up on the hill to await the Caulfield Cup and watched the cup being driven up the track to the mounting yard, and also spotted Gai Waterhouse (in a fur coat!) walking thence as well. She would have been much warmer than me, who had dressed inadequately in a T-Shirt and cardigan and was somewhat chilled most of the afternoon, though photographing the action took my mind off it.

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Gai Waterhouse

At last the Caulfield Cup was set to go from the barriers set up half way up the straight.

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Around the turn for the first time – Amelie’s Star leads, Boom Time is just behind her on the fence

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The finish just past the post

Boom Time drew Barrier 3 and took advantage of that starting position to race close to the speed. Single Gaze was the leader until a runaway Sir Isaac Newton bolted down the outside and put lengths on the rest of the field. He eventually tired and rest caught up. Single Gaze stuck to her guns, but was overtaken by Boom Time near the finishing post, who won by 1¼ lengths. Johannes Vermeer finished third. Bonneval having drawn Barrier 14, was way back in the field and didn’t have a chance of catching the leaders. She was also found to be lame after the race.

Boom Time’s win surprised everyone, even his trainer David Hayes, who thought his other two runners, Ventura Storm and He’s Our Rokkii had a better winning chance. As David Hayes also owns Boom Time he benefitted from his win in more ways than one.

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Boom Time returning to the stalls after the winner’s parade with his happy strapper

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Single Gaze returns to scale

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Johannes Vermeer returns to scale

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Bonneval – headshot – returning to the stalls after the race

Despite the afternoon drawing in and the chill factor increasing, I stayed for Race 9, the Group 2 Tristarc Stakes, which had attracted a classy field of mares that included  the Group 1 2016 Thousand Guineas winner Global Glamour, 2017 Queen of the Turf winner Foxplay, and 2017 William Reid Stakes winner Silent Sedition.

Global Glamour was having her first start for the Spring and obviously is at her best fresh. She raced on the speed and led for most of the race, holding off challenger Cool Passion to win narrowly. Shillelagh finished third.

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Just past the post in the Tristarc Stakes

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Global Glamour returns to scale

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Cool Passion returns to scale

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Shillelagh returns to scale

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Foxplay returns to scale

As I write there are only four more sleeps to the Cox Plate next Saturday, where the amazing Winx will be aiming to win the illustrious race for the third time.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Caulfield Cup Enigma

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Bonneval at Caulfield 14/10/17

A field of 17 runners have accepted for the Caulfield Cup, and as is usually the case, it’s not that easy to pick the winner.

My personal choice is of course Bonneval, who disappointed last start. Not her fault,  but the way the race was run and the unwise choices made by her jockey during the race. There have been some queries over her fitness to race in the Caulfield Cup, as she was reported to be lame after the Caulfield Stakes, and indeed had a few lacerations on her legs.  She has she been passed as fit to run, and this week will have the in form Kerrin McEvoy on her back -  a positive in my book.

The current favourite is the Aidan O’Brien trained Johannes Vermeer, understandably, after his impressive second placing to Gailo Chop in the Caulfield Stakes.

Also in the picture with a good chance of winning are Bonneval’s stablemate Jon Snow who finished third in the Caulfield Stakes, Ventura Storm and Humidor, second and third to Winx in the Turnbull Stakes at their last start, Amelie’s Star who won the Bart Cummings and Lord Fandango whom I witnessed winning the Group 3 Herbert Power Stakes last Saturday. And I suppose I shouldn’t overlook the other International runner Marmelo who has the services of Hugh Bowman as his rider.

The weather tomorrow is forecast to be overcast with a chance of rain and a top of 17°C . The track should be on the good side, though the rail will be out 6m, more’s the pity.

The trains are back to normal so it shouldn’t take as long to get to Caulfield this week, so I anticipate arriving around 1.30pm to 2.00pm.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What Might Have Been–Caulfield Guineas Day Review

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Caulfield Guineas finish – 100/1 shot Mighty Boss wins the bikkies

The weather couldn’t have been better for Saturday’s bumper day of racing at Caulfield, but it wasn’t a day for favourites or my particular fancies.

All the feature Group 1 events resulted in long shot winners, but none more astounding than the win of Mighty Boss in the Caulfield Guineas. Being the emergency runner, he only made it into the field after Summer Passage was scratched. 

I took my time getting to Caulfield, public transport ensuring that my journey thence was unhurried and I arrived in time for Race 4, the Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes, a race for stayers over 2400 metres. Imported stayer, Lord Fandango, who since arriving in Australia has only raced on country tracks, winning the Benalla Cup at his last start, demonstrated that he could play on the big stage by impressively winning the Herbert Power by a length from Wall Of Fire and Gallic Chieftan. His winning odds were 12/1.

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Lord Fandango returns to scale

Before and after the Herbert Power Stakes I cruised through the stalls to see who had arrived. 

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Jon Snow

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Catchy smiling for the cameras

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Egg Tart

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Omei Sword

Race 5 was the Listed Weekend Hussler Stakes, a race over 1400 metres. Fast ‘N’ Rocking, who seems to have been around forever, and had not won a race for 2 years, came in at big odds (10/1), narrowly defeating Religify with Dibayani running third.

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Just past the post in the Weekend Hussler Stakes

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Fast ‘N’ Rocking on his way to the starting gates

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Religify on his way to the barriers

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Dibayani on his way to the barriers

The first of the Group 1 events, the Thousand Guineas was next to run, and you guessed it, first and second favourites Alizee and Shoals were upstaged by the unfancied Aloisia who beat Shoals by a 1¼ lengths with Alizee running third another length behind.

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Luke Nolen celebrates Aloisia’s victory in the Thousand Guineas

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Aloisia on her way to the barriers

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Shoals returns to scale

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Alizee returns to scale

The inside rail was thankfully in its true position, which made it much easier to get good rail free photos, and the light was excellent where I was standing as usual on the hill above the stalls. In between the Thousand Guineas and the Caulfield Stakes I managed to get New Zealand trainer, Murray Baker’s signature against Bonneval’s name in three racebooks (ATC Oaks, Dato Tan & Underwood Stakes), though didn’t want to jinx her on the Guineas Day’s racebook.

Bonneval started as favourite for the Caulfield Stakes, but was obliged to start from the widest barrier which rather limited her chances of racing up with the leaders and her jockey Damian Lane appeared to make little effort to get her closer. She raced at the back of the field for most of the race, then was blocked for run by a wall of horses when it counted, so did well to run sixth. Her stablemate Jon Snow fared better racing on the speed, finishing third. Gailo Chop who led for most of the race held off a fast finishing Johannes Vermeer to win by a neck.

Hartnell who was second favourite seems to have been cursed with P B Lawrence Stakes winner’s hoodoo as he has been beaten ever since he won that race back in August. He finished 9th.

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Just past the post in the Caulfield Stakes – Gailo Chop leads

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Gailo Chop returns to scale

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Johannes Vermeer returns to scale

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Jon Snow on his way to the barriers

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Bonneval on her way to the barriers

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Hartnell returns to scale

As previously mentioned the Caulfield Guineas result was a boilover, with Mighty Boss, who had only a lowly win at Sale to his credit, winning $1,200,000 at his sixth start.

An unusual looking chestnut colt with blonde mane and tail he paid over $100 for the win.  Kementari finished second with sole filly Catchy running third. Royal Symphony had a torrid run and ended up running forth. His next race is the Cox Plate against Winx (!!)

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Mighty Boss on his way to the barriers

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Kementari on his way to the barriers

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Catchy returns to scale

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Royal Symphony on his way to the barriers

It was getting on to late afternoon by the time the final Group 1, the Toorak Handicap was set to run.

Egg Tart was the starting favourite, but as was the rule for the day, she finished out of the placings. Tosen Stardom the Japanese import, who since his arrival in Australia last year has not won a race, finally had his moment of glory in his new home, and a Group 1 at that, winning the Toorak Handicap by a length from Sovereign Nation with Petrology a further length behind running third.

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Toorak Handicap finish – another jockey (Damien Lane) shouting for joy

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Tosen Stardom on his way to the barriers

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Sovereign Nation returns to scale

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Petrology on his way to the barriers

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Egg Tart on her way to the barriers

I watched The Everest, which was run before the Caulfield Guineas, on the big screen and duly noted that Redzel won, and that Chautauqua, due to a confused ride by his jockey finished out of a place in fourth. Vega Magic ran second with Brave Smash scoring third place.  She Will Reign finished second last, outclassed by the more seasoned sprinters.

Even though there was one more race to go, the Group 2 Schillaci Stakes with *Lankan Rupee back on the track after a longish layoff, I headed off after the Toorak Handicap, catching an express train at Caulfield and a nicely coinciding connecting train at Parliament, then the bus, and managed to get home in 1¼ hours. 

Next Saturday is the Caulfield Cup meeting which looks to have a decent support card as well, so I’ll be back at Caulfield again and hope the stars smile this time on my fancied runners.

* Lankan Rupee failed to run a place in the Scillaci Stakes and has been retired. A beautiful bay gelding with a distinctive heart on his forehead, he was the top sprinter and Australian Horse Of The Year for 2013/2014 and will be missed, though I’m glad his connections have finally ended his racing career.

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Lankan Rupee – Flemington 8 March 2014