Friday, March 20, 2020

Stayin’ Alive

bingo front porch
Bingo keeping watch on the front veranda

As years go, 2020 has turned into an annus horribilius. We’ve had drought, fires, floods and now pestilence- apocalypse now!

It’s hard to believe that we are now living through a Science Fiction dystopia, though I can’t recall that in any of the SF dystopic novels I’ve read, toilet paper (the lack thereof)  becoming such a big issue as it is in these crazy days.

Being retired there’s no problem maintaining a social distance as I’m not obliged to get up every morning and go to work and mingle with the general populace. I’ve hardly stirred from home for weeks, my only outings have been to the Victoria Market on Thursdays and going to the Super Market every so often for supplies.

Two concerts I was to attend in March have been postponed or cancelled, and forget heading off to the Museum and National Gallery for an art or cultural fix, they’re closed. That also goes for Saturday afternoons at the track.

I was disappointed that fans were banned from attending  the All Star Mile meeting at Caulfield last weekend, but would have felt apprehensive about attending anyway. Alligator Blood ended up unplaced and Western Australian gallopers Regal Power and Superstorm ran the quinella. Melody Belle ran third.

Being in the age group most vulnerable to infection by Covid19, I feel paranoid travelling on public transport, and have become hyper alert about keeping my distance from other commuters and avoiding contact with surfaces likely to be infected.

By chance I happened to be in Chemist Warehouse earlier this week when some hand sanitiser was put on the shelf. It didn't last long, but I managed to grab two containers, which eased my anxiety when travelling to the market yesterday as I could sanitise my hands on the go.

This time last year I travelled to Sydney to see Winx in her penultimate appearance at the track.  I returned with a nasty cold, so I had no desire to attend the Golden Slipper meeting at Rosehill this year. Even if I did I wouldn’t have got into the racecourse; the ATC has banned public attendance.

Who knows how long the racing industry will be able to keep the races going. Sydney’s big Autumn carnival is just starting, Golden Slipper Day kicking it off tomorrow in fine fashion with five Group 1 races on the program.

golden slipper trophy 1
2019 Golden Slipper Trophy

The first of these is the Ranvet Stakes, run over 2000 metres. It was won by Avilius last year and he will be aiming to win it again this year. So far this season he has been disappointing, failing to run a place in three starts. Irish horse AddeyBB having his first start in Australia looks a very classy horse considering the quality of opposition he has raced against in the UK and may blitz the local mob.  Verry Elleegant ran a narrow second to Te Akau Shark in the Chipping Norton Stakes recently and is highly fancied to win.

Winx won the past four George Ryder Stakes, so another galloper has an opportunity to win it this year. Top chances are Te Akau Shark, The Bostonian, Alizee and Super Seth.

Shadow Hero, winner of the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes and more recently the Randwick Guineas, is understandably the favourite for the Rosehill Guineas. His main threats are New Zealander Sherwood Forest, Victorian Derby winner Warning, Prince Fawaz, Chenier and Castelvecchio who was disappointing last start.

The Golden Slipper is always a fascinating race. I was fortunate to witness the last two editions in person. Fillies Estijaab (2018) and Kiamichi (2019) won those. So who will win the richest two year old race this year?

Of the boys, the top picks are Tagaloa (Blue Diamond Stakes winner) Hanseatic (Blue Diamond Stakes runner up) Farnan (Todman Stakes winner) and Prague. Fancied fillies are Away Game, Dame Giselle, Hungry Heart and Minhaaj.

The final Group 1 of the afternoon is the Galaxy, a sprint over 1100 metres, won by Nature Strip last year.  Pierata narrow runner up to Nature Strip last year appears the top chance in this year’s edition. Others worthy of consideration are In Her Time with a great first up record, the in form Savatiano, and Kementari , who was a failure at stud and is back racing after a year’s absence, and gelded to boot.

Tonight at Moonee Valley the final Group 1 of Melbourne’s Autumn racing season, the William Reid Stakes, is scheduled to run at 8.30pm. Mystic Journey, whose Autumn season was stymied by a leg infection. makes her first appearance since the Cox Plate in this race. It’s a bit short for her, but it will be interesting to see how she runs in it.

Newmarket Handicap winner Bivouac is the favourite, but he faces a classy field that includes along with Mystic Journey, Loving Gaby, Gytrash, Exceedance and Pippie.

Even though I will be maintaining a social distance at home (pretty normal for me) there are still things to enjoy, such as the racing on TV.

There are  also books to read – I’m currently rereading Hilary Mantel’s first two Cromwell books, preparatory to reading the last book, The Mirror and the Light which I have acquired in a lovely signed hardcover first edition.

Also I have a backlog of purchased computer games I mean to get through over the next few months, waiting for Covid19 to pass. Above all I hope to still be alive at the end of it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Star Power–Super Saturday Review

australian cup_fifty stars 12
Fifty Stars returns to scale after winning the Australian Cup

Travelling on public transport these days seems like taking your life in your hands what with the spread of the corona virus causing generalised panic.

Though I’m not panicking I do however feel a tad apprehensive when taking a train or tram and try to avoid sitting too close to anyone.

This was not enough to discourage me from attending Super Saturday at Flemington last weekend.

It was a pleasant day, warm and occasionally sunny, a perfect day to be out in the open air trackside.

As trains to Flemington were running all afternoon, I took my time getting there, arriving before the fourth race on the program and staying until after the Australian Cup.

The light was lovely for photography, but the inside rail was out by 8 metres making it difficult to get rail free shots even standing on my step.

Race 4 was the Group 3 Schweppervescence Trophy, for fillies and mares, run over 1600 metres.

Paint The Town Two, a 26/1 shot won the bickies from Bam’s On Fire and Fidelia.

race 4_finish 4
Paint The Town Two & Bam’s On Fire hit the line together

race 4_paint the town too 1
Paint The Town Two on her way to the barriers

The feature races were the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap and Australian Cup, programmed as races 6 and 8.

Wild Planet was hot favourite for Race 5, the Listed March Stakes, a race over 1400 metres.  Racing on the pace in third spot, Wild Planet won easily by a length from race leader Sirius Suspect with 2019 South Australian Oaks winner Princess Jenni running third, three lengths behind.

race 5_finish 1
Wild Planet overtakes Sirius Suspect as they charge to the finish line.

race 5_wild planet 3
Wild Planet returns to scale

As the Newmarket Handicap was up next, I transferred myself and step to the mounting yard fence to watch the big screen action from Randwick where the Group 1 Canterbury Stakes was about to run. New Zealander The Bostonian won from Savatiano and Mr Sea Wolf.

It was ripper field for the Newmarket, hard to pick the winner out of 11 runners. Three year old Exceedance was the starting favourite, but another three year old colt, Bivouac, ended up the outstanding winner.

Here are some of the main runners parading in the mounting yard.

newmarket_bivouac 2
Bivouac

newmarket_exceedance 1
Exceedance

newmarket_gytrash 2
Gytrash

newmarket_loving gaby 1
Loving Gaby

newmarket_the inevitable 1
The Inevitable

newmarket_libertini 1
Libertini

As is mostly the case at Flemington with sprints down the straight, it is hard to get photos of the finish if the field splits. This time they raced in a bunch down the middle of the track towards the grandstand side.

Bivouac raced near the lead then charged at the 200 mark to win by 2½ lengths from Loving Gaby. Gytrash finished third.

newmarket_finish 5
Glen Boss celebrates Bivouac’s win in the Newmarket Handicap

newmarket_bivouac 6
Bivouac returns to scale

Sandwiched between the Newmarket and Australian Cup was the Kewney Stakes, a Group 2 race for three year old fillies over 1400 metres. Rubisaki started as favourite and didn’t disappoint her backers winning by 1¼ lengths from Pretty Brazen and Fascino.

race 7_kewney_finish 3
Rubisaki (red cap)  wins the Kewney Stakes from Pretty Brazen

race 7_kewney_rubisaki 3
Rubisaki on her way to the barriers

With the Australian Cup impending I made my way back to the mounting yard fence. The roses along the straight were blooming profusely, perfectly timed as usual for Flemington’s big Autumn finale.

roses
Flemington roses – they have to be seen to be believed

The other Sydney Group 1 race, the Randwick Guineas was played on the big screen after the National Anthem was sung. Shadow Hero beat Microphone, and Brandenburg ran third.

Soon enough the Australian Cup field were parading in the mounting yard, then making their way to the starting gates.

australian cup_avilius 2
Avilius – the favourite in the mounting yard

australian cup_fifty stars 4
Fifty Stars

australian cup_regal power 4
Regal Power – ran second

australian cup_southern france 4
Southern France – Irish Import

australian cup_suzuka devious 2
Suzuka Devious – Japanese horse

australian cup_vow and declare 4
Vow and Declare – 2019 Melbourne Cup winner – ran third

australian cup_miss siska 4
Miss Siska – the sole mare in the race

As with the Newmarket Handicap, the field for the Australian Cup raced down the centre of the straight. Fifty Stars raced wide at the back of the field then charged to win on the line, a half length in front of West Australian horse Regal Power with Vow and Declare close behind, running third.

australian cup_finish 2
Australian Cup finish – Fifty Stars, Regal Power & Vow and Declare in a line.

Normally, the Melbourne Autumn Racing Carnival would have ended last Saturday, but next Saturday at Caulfield is the All Star Mile, where a classy field has accepted to run, so it’s a bonus for us Melbourne racing fans.

Alligator Blood is the current favourite, but he faces a really tough field, several multiple Group 1 winners such as Melody Belle, Kolding and Fierce Impact will really test his mettle.

Whatever eventuates, it looks a fascinating race, not to be missed.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Alligator Draws Blood in the Guineas

aus guineas_finish 4
Alligator Blood wins the Australian Guineas

The Australian Guineas meeting at Flemington last Saturday was run under sunny skies, so it was more pleasurable than my last outing to the big track. 

The expected showdown between Alligator Blood and Catalyst in the feature race didn’t eventuate, but the tough Queensland gelding, niggled most of the way by rank outsider Commodus, won his first Group 1 race comfortably by 1¼ lengths from the fast finishing West Australian gelding Superstorm and Soul Patch. Catalyst failed to fire and finished sixth.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I arrived at  Flemington shortly after 1.00pm where Race 2, the Roy Higgins Quality was in progress. It was won by King of Leogrance from Dabiyr and Naval Warfare.

As there was plenty of time on hand I headed for the stalls area to see who had arrived on course. The Guineas contenders were there and the first I came across was none other than Alligator Blood.

stalls_alligator blood 2
Alligator Blood looking bright in his stall

stalls_alabama express 2
Alabama Express

stalls_catalyst 2
Catalyst

stalls_superstorm 1
Superstorm

stalls_soul patch 2
Soul Patch

Back trackside Race 3, the Listed Very Special  Kids Plate was next up. Run over 1000 metres it was a race for two year olds and was won quite impressively by Ilovemyself from River Night and Time Is Precious.

race 3_finish 3
Ilovemyself winning the Very Special Kids Plate

Warm favourite Sylvia’s Mother won race 4, the Group 3 Frances Tressady Stakes from Mamzelle Tess and Fidelia.

race 4_finish 3
Sylvia’s Mother (yellow silks) wins the Frances Tressady Stakes

Most of the races preceding the Guineas were not terribly interesting, but good for photography practice.

Another Group 3 , race 5 was the Shaftesbury Avenue Handicap and was won by Blazejowski a grey son of Dash For Cash who coincidently won the 2002 Australian Guineas. Morvada finished second and starting favourite Age of Chivalry third.

race 5_finish 2
Blazejowski, Morvada & Age of Chivalry cross the finish line together

The highly touted Western Australian mare Fabergino, having her first start in the East, led  from the start to the finish to easily win Race 6, the Listed Bob Hoysted Handicap, a sprint over 1000 metres down the long Flemington straight.

She won by over a length from Embrace Me and Haunted.

race 6_finish 2
Fabergino wins the Bob Hoysted Handicap

race 6_fabergino 7
Fabergino returns to scale

As the Australian Guineas was next to jump we headed to the mounting yard for the pre-race parade and watched the running of the Surround Stakes in Sydney on the big screen. New Zealand filly Probabeel stole the prize from Funstar with Xilong running third. Fellow New Zealander and stablemate Te Akau Shark took out the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes later in the afternoon.

Meanwhile back at Flemington the small Guineas field was parading in the mounting yard.

aus guineas_aliigator blood 4
Alligator Blood

aus guineas_catalyst 4
Catalyst

aus guineas_superstorm 3
Superstorm

I’ve described the 2020 Australian Guineas above, and was delighted that Alligator Blood was victorious and glad that I managed to get some good photos of him in action.

aus guineas_finish 5
Alligator Blood defeats Superstorm & Soul Patch

aus guineas_aliigator blood 13
Alligator Blood on his way to the barriers

aus guineas_aliigator blood 24
Alligator Blood returns to scale – a delighted Ryan Maloney throws his goggles to the crowd on the fence

aus guineas_aliigator blood 27
A pat from trainer David Vandyke

Alligator Blood’s next race is the All Star Mile at Caulfield on March 14. I do hope his connections don’t burn him out with over racing. I would not be disappointed if he doesn’t run in the ASM. He has after all run and won five races since early December 2019 with hardly a break between.

Next weekend is Super Saturday at Flemington again, featuring the Group 1 Australian Cup and Newmarket Handicap.

As I’ve been writing this post a big truck has been digging a hole in the footpath and making a hell of a racket – very distracting!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Alligator Blood vs Catalyst - Round Two

race 5_cs hayes_finish 5
Alligator Blood & Catalyst – CS Hayes Stakes finish

It goes without saying that I am keenly looking forward to the Australian Guineas at Flemington next Saturday, where a rematch between Alligator Blood and Catalyst  in the feature race will be the must see event of the afternoon.

As well as the aforementioned rivals, Orr Stakes winner Alabama Express is an exciting addition in the field along with the mystery West Australian Superstorm. Let’s hope Alligator Blood and Catalyst have recovered from their fierce competition in the CS Hayes Stakes and provide another exciting contest. The Australian Guineas is run over 1600 metres, 200 metres longer the CS Hayes, and  that could make all the difference to the outcome of the race.

Last year, Tasmanian filly Mystic Journey thrashed the boys in the 2019 Australian Guineas, but this year’s crop of three year old colts and geldings are cut above those that ran in that race.

aus guineas_finish 3
Mystic Journey winning the 2019 Australian Guineas

Speaking of classy fillies, the Group 1 Surround Stakes at Randwick on Saturday has a really excellent field that includes Flit (2019 Thousand Guineas winner), Lyre (2019 Blue Diamond Stakes winner), Kiamichi (2019 Golden Slipper winner), Funstar (2019 Flight Stakes winner) , and highly regarded New Zealand filly Probabeel.

The other Group 1 race at Randwick on Saturday is the Chipping Norton Stakes. From 2016 to 2019 it was won by the mighty Winx, so this year another horse will have a chance to add it to their CV.

In contention are the usual suspects such as Happy Clapper, Avilius, Homesman, Dreamforce and Fierce Impact. The inclusion in the field of talented New Zealander Te Akau Shark, who ran third in the 2019 Cox Plate, makes it interesting.

Due to the Flemington train timetable, I’ll probably get to Flemington early in the afternoon, probably by race 3. Another mild and sunny afternoon is forecast – perfect for photography.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Blue Diamond Stakes Day Review

blue diamond_finish 5
Tagaloa holds off Hanseatic to win the Blue Diamond Stakes

There has been much commentary since Saturday regarding the track bias at Caulfield on Blue Diamond Stakes Day, which favoured on pace runners. And indeed watching the racing action, the winners of the four races I witnessed either led from the start or were close to the leader during the race. It was a disastrous day for favourites.

I took my time getting to Caulfield arriving just before race 4, the Group 3 Mannerism Stakes for mares over 1400 metres. Pretty grey mare Greysful Glamour led from the start and was never headed, winning by over a length from Bam’s On Fire and favourite Spanish Reef.

race 4_mannerism_finish 2
Greysful Glamour burns down the straight with Bam’s On Fire in hot pursuit

race 4_mannerism_greysful glamour 1
Greysful Glamour on her way to the barriers

La Tene in the Angus Armanesco Stakes (race 5) raced mid field on the fence, then broke through to overtake the leaders to win by a nose from Lady Lupino.

race 5_armanesco_finish 8
La Tene & Lady Lupino fight out the finish

Race 6 was the first of the Group 1 events, the Futurity Stakes where it was expected that Kolding, Super Seth and Melody Belle would feature prominently.  The unfancied Streets of Avalon who hadn’t won for yonks,  took the lead shortly after the start and held off a challenge from Super Seth to win his first Group 1 race, and a chance to run in the All Star Mile. Kolding was a major disappointment, apparently not handling the Melbourne way of going, and finished fifth. Melody Belle ran a meritorious third.

race 6_futurity_finish 4
Streets of Avalon holds off Super Seth to win the Futurity Stakes

Hanseatic was the warm favourite for the Blue Diamond Stakes and was aiming to become the first horse to win the Blue Diamond Preview/Prelude and Blue Diamond Stakes since Sepoy in 2011. As was the pattern of the day he did not succeed, beaten narrowly by the 26/1 shot Tagaloa, though he tried hard to overtake him. Personal stormed from the back of the field to run third.

blue diamond_tagaloa 8
Tagaloa parades in the mounting yard after winning the Blue Diamond Stakes

blue diamond_hanseatic 1
Hanseatic playing up as he heads for the barriers

I did not stay for the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate.  Speedy mare Pippie led all the way to win from Zoutori and Crystal Dreamer. The trifecta paid almost $6,500.

There are only three more Saturdays of Group racing in Melbourne and next week features the Group 1 Australian Guineas at Flemington. Mystic Journey won it last year, but this year promises to be super special with Alligator Blood and Catalyst set to resume their rivalry. They will be challenged by Orr Stakes winner Alabama Express and the highly regarded West Australian Superstorm, among others.

The weather is expected to be similar to last Saturday, mild and sunny.