Monday, November 07, 2022

The Stars of the Turf– Champion Stakes Day Review

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Sign above Mounting Yard Gate at Flemington 5/10/22

Melbourne racing’s answer to Sydney, Champion Stakes Day, used to be called Emirates Stakes Day, and featured two Group 1 races – the Mackinnon Stakes and Darley Sprint Classic. It was also known as family day and was, and still is, the final race day of Flemington’s Melbourne Cup mini carnival. Generally it was a pleasant afternoon at the races and less crowded than Derby Day.

This year, however Racing Victoria launched a new concept race meeting that actually was better than Derby Day last weekend. It featured three Group 1 events, a sprint over 1200 metres, a mile race over 1600 metres and a middle distance competition over 2000 metres and had attracted quality fields in each.  What’s not to love in keen contests between class horses such as Nature Strip versus Giga Kick in the Champions Sprint, Anamoe versus Zaaki in the Champions Stakes and Alligator Blood versus Private Eye in the Champions Mile

The day dawned dry with a promise of sunshine, so it was a pleasure to set out for the big track and soak up the Group 1 action along with Vitamin D.

As trains to Flemington were running all afternoon at regular intervals, I took my time getting to the track and arrived as Race 3, the Amanda Elliot was in the process of running.

I had no trouble using my mobile ticket this time, having saved it to my phone for easy access.

The horses were returning to scale as I made it out onto the public lawn, so was was able to snap the winner, Magic Time heading for the mounting yard after the race.

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Magic Time returns to scale after winning the Amanda Elliott

As there was plenty of time in hand until the next race, I decided to head to the stalls and see who had arrived. Most of the horses I was interested in were present, so for a change I got some stalls shots.

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Nature Strip

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Giga Kick

Whilst I was cruising around the stalls I missed Race 4, the Queens Cup, so failed to get a photo of the highly regarded Irish import Soulcombe who won it by over two lengths from Luncies and Captain Envious.

The next race was the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes, run over 2000 metres for mares, so I headed for my favourite spot just past the winning post and there I stayed for the rest of the afternoon.

The Chris Waller trained Atishu was the winner by two lengths from Steinem with Tokorangi running third.

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Atishu wins the Matriarch Stakes

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Atishu on her way to the barriers

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Steinem on her way to the barriers

The next three races were the Group 1 Champions events, starting off with the Champions Sprint.

Nature Strip naturally started as the hot favourite, but this time he was outgunned by 20/1 shot Roch ‘N’ Horse who won by a narrow margin. Baller finished third.

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Jockey Jamie Mott celebrates Roch ‘N’ Horse’s victory in the Champion’s Sprint

Roch ‘N’ Horse obviously has an affinity with the Flemington straight as she won the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap there in Autumn.

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Nature Strip returns to scale

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Baller returns to scale

Favourites were rolled in the next two races as well.

In the Champions Mile, Alligator Blood, racing on the pace held on to win by half a length from Tuvalu and Mr Brightside. Favourite Private Eye finished seventh.

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Alligator Blood wins the Champions Mile from Tuvalu

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Alligator Blood on his way to the barriers

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Tuvalu on his way to the barriers

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Mr Brightside returns to scale

It was good to see Alligator Blood back in winning circles after undergoing treatment for a back problem, and  after all the controversy of his ownership, which at one time banned him from racing in Melbourne.

Last year Zaaki took out the Mackinnon Stakes as the Champions Stakes used to be known, and he repeated the feat  this year, leading from the start to the finish to win narrowly from stablemate Mo’unga with outsider Hezashocka relegated to third after a successful protest from Nash Rawiller, Mo’unga’s jockey. Anamoe started as firm favourite, but finished fourth.

When heading out for the barriers, Zaaki unseated his jockey Jamie Kah, but she quickly remounted and all was well.

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Zaaki unseats Jamie Kah on his way to the barriers

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Zaaki resumes heading for the barriers

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Zaaki wins the Champions Stakes

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Mo’unga (white cap) and Hezashocka vie for second place

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Mo’unga on his way to the barriers

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Hezashocka on his way to the barriers

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Zaaki returns to scale

There was one more race on the card but I did not stay for it, heading to the station and home after the Champions Stakes.

It had been a fine afternoon of first class racing action, and despite the crowds, which were larger than Derby Day, I was pleased to be in attendance after missing it for two years due to Covid restrictions.

So from now on my Saturday afternoons will be free, though I may attend the Zipping Classic meeting at Caulfield a few weeks hence.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Derby Day 2022

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Derby finish – Manzoice (blue silks) n his way to winning the Victoria Derby

The last time I attended the Derby meeting was in 2019 and the weather was shocking – heavy rain and a heavy track. The feature event was won by Warning at big odds.

This year the weather was not as bad, though throughout the afternoon rain showers had the attendees running for cover several times.

My arrival at Flemington coincided with the running of the third race, the Group 3  Rising Fast Stakes , but sad to say I missed it, being held up entering the course,. This was due to the newfangled mobile ticketing that I was obliged to accept when paying for my ticket on Ticketmaster. The trouble was that the ticket would not open in the Ticketmaster App on my phone at Flemington – quelle horreur!

All was not lost as I managed to get a printed ticket at the Ticketmaster booth at the entrance and could eventually enter.

The race had been run and won – I was pleased to note – by Argentia.

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Argentia returns to scale in the mounting yard after winning the Rising Fast Stakes

I’ve been to many Derby Days in the past and they’ve all been jam packed. This year there were not as many people, no doubt due to the iffy weather. There were no patrons spread out on the grass, which made it easy to get around.

I ended up spending most the afternoon close to my favourite spot just past the clock tower on the public lawn

The atmosphere was predominantly cheerful and friendly.

Race 4 was the Group 2 Wakeful Stake, for three year old fillies run over 2000 metres.

Star jockey James McDonald rode four winners at Flemington on Saturday and the winner of the Wakeful Stakes, Zennzella, was the second of them.

She and Pavitra fought out the finish  down the straight with Zennzella prevailing by a narrow margin. As Time Goes By ran third, two lengths behind.

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Zennzella (blue spots) and Pavitra hit the line together

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Zennzella on her way to the barriers

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Pavitra returns to scale

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As Time Goes By on her way to the barriers

Run over 1400 metres, the Group 3 Linlithgow Stakes resulted in another win for James McDonald who rode Old Flame to victory over Poland and Ironclad in the rain.

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Old Flame defeats Poland at the finishing post

The first of the Group 1 events was up next. This was the Coolmore Stud Stakes, a sprint over 1200 metres.

Again James McDonald was successful aboard blueblood Godolphin filly In Secret, who registered an impressive 2  length win over C’est Magique and Buenes Noches.

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In Secret wins the Coolmore Stud Stakes

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In Secret returns to scale

The feature race of the day was of course the Victoria Derby, a race for young stayers over 2500 metres.

James McDonald’s mount Sharp ‘n Smart started as favourite, but he was upstaged by the Chris Waller trained Manzoice who came in at big odds and caused a boilover result. Nothing new there, as the Victoria Derby often ends up in a long shot winner. 100/1 shot Aberfeldie Boy ran third.

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Manzoice returns to scale

A race over 1600 metres, the Empire Rose Stakes was the final Group 1 event of the afternoon. The last time I saw it 2019 star New Zealand mare Melody Belle won it in torrential rain.

In this year’s edition, Icebath ran from the back of the large field,  sneaking along the rail to seize the lead close to the finish line and hold on to win narrowly from Mirra Vision with Excelida running third.

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Icebath wins the Empire Rose Stakes

Icebath dumped her rider, Craig Williams, shortly after the finish, but registered a long overdue first Group 1 victory.

I headed for the station and home after the Empire Rose Stakes, having enjoyed a pleasant, if rather damp afternoon at the races.

Tomorrow is the Melbourne Cup.  I haven’t a clue as to who the winner will be, but am glad I will not be there to witness it. The weather is predicted to be miserable – cold and wet.

I will however be returning to Flemington next Saturday for Champion Stakes Day, and hope my mobile ticket works this time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

God(olphin)’s Gift to Racing–Cox Plate Review

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Anamoe parades along the straight after winning the Cox Plate

Last Saturday Melbourne woke to  a steady downpour of rain that looked as if had set in and would continue for the rest of the day. Oh dear, I thought, when I looked outside, that doesn’t look promising for an afternoon at the races.

It was Cox Plate Day, my favourite race of the Spring Racing Carnival, and the first I was able to attend after two years of Covid restrictions forbidding attendance at the Spring races.

However, I didn’t despair at the dire weather, just changed my strategy of arrival to a later time in the hope that the rain would ease off eventually.

Thankfully it did around midday and by the time I set out the rain had ceased to fall and things were looking up.

Equipped with raincoat and umbrella, along with my usual race going paraphernalia, I took the 510 (Ivanhoe to Essendon) Bus and arrived at Moonee Valley in time for the fourth race.

As Cox Plate attendance numbers go, it wasn’t all that crowded, and I managed to insert myself into a spot on the fence near the finish line, where I remained for the rest of the afternoon, luckily having brought my fold out step to sit on between races.

Race 4 was the Listed Crockett Stakes, run over 1200 metres for three year year old fillies, which resulted in a win for Wee Nessy, who beat Bay Thirteen by a length with Birdies Galore running third.

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Wee Nessy (number 7) fights out the finish with Bay Thirteen

The track was heavy after all the rain that had fallen overnight and in the morning, and the lawn near the public bar was a virtual quagmire, but in rather better shape where I was standing.

As the earlier races were being run at thirty five minute intervals, the afternoon seemed to go quite quickly.

Another race for fillies, the Group 2, Fillies Classic (1600 metres) was next up. I remember that during the Winx years, Mystic Journey won the Fillies Classic in 2018 and subsequently won the inaugural All Star Mile in the following autumns.

This year’s edition was won by Zoe’s Promise who fought out the finish with Climbing Star, and race favourite Do It La finished third.

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Zoe’s Promise about to overtake Climbing Star  as they gallop to the finish line

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Zoe’s Promise in the winners rug

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Climbing Star on her way to barriers

As the Cox Plate was scheduled as Race 9, there were still three more races to run before that happened.  Happily the sun had emerged from the clouds by this time and it was quite warm

Race 6 was the mildly interesting Crystal Mile, a Group 2 race over 1600 metres.

My Oberon, who I must admit I’ve never heard of, won the race convincingly from Banker’s Choice and race leader Buffalo River, coming wide to win by over a length.

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My Oberon gallops up the straight unopposed to win the Crystal Mile

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Banker’s Choice (No 8) & Buffalo River vie for second place

In past Cox Plate meetings I have attended, there was a count down to main event on the big screen. Not so this year, so I figured we still had two hours to hang out till the main event.

Berkeley Square started as favourite for Race 7, the Drummond Golf Vase a race over the Cox Plate distance of 2040 metres and usually contested by Derby bound three year old's. Old fave Super Cool won it 2012, and 2016 Caulfield Cup winner Jameka won it in 2015.

This year Berkeley Square justified his starting price of $2.70 by winning narrowly from Virtuous Circle and Pericles.

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Berkeley Square (lime silks) tackles Pericles as they gallop up the straight

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Berkeley Square returns to scale

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Virtuous Circle on his way to the barriers

The Moonee Valley Cup is generally an interesting race, run as it is over 2500 metres, and contested by aspiring Melbourne Cup runners.

Looking at the form, my choice if I was going to have a bet would have been on Francesco Guardi. Ridden by James MacDonald, Francesco Guardi started as the favourite and didn’t disappoint, winning easily by almost four lengths from Lunar Flare with Persan running third another three lengths behind. A very impressive win on the part of Francesco Guardi, marking him as a horse to follow in the future. He certainly looked to be a classy beast in the flesh.

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Francesco Guardi bolts up the straight to win the Moonee Valley Cup

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Francesco Guardi in the winners rug

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Lunar Flare

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Up  next, finally, was the Cox Plate, but before that was run, the usual pomp and ceremony occurred.

This involved a large sign being placed next to the finishing post, with a row of plinths holding previous Cox Plate trophies, whilst a bandstand was set up.

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Large sign advertising the Cox Plate centenary anniversary

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Winx 2015 Cox Plate Trophy

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Winx 2016 Cox Plate Trophy

Instead of Daryl Braithwaite, MVRC had engaged jockey and The Voice contestant, Robbie Dolan to perform “Horses”. Unfortunately my photos of Robbie Dolan turned out blurred for some reason, but he did a competent job singing the National Anthem and Horses, though was not as engaging as the original. The crowd sang along to the words they knew.

Soon enough the Cox Plate runners were emerging onto the track…

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Alligator Blood

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Gold Trip

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El Bodegon

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It had grown rather dark and overcast by this time, but the rain held off and the Cox Plate jumped at its allotted time of 5.10 pm.

Zaaki who had drawn the inside gate immediately assumed the lead and Alligator Blood who had drawn the outside barrier quickly assumed second position as they passed the finishing post for the first time.

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First lap – Zaaki leads with Alligator Blood & Profondo in hot pursuit

Anamoe at this time had slotted into fourth spot, well situated to make a move later in the race.

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Anamoe first lap in fourth place ahead of Laws of Indices

As the they turned the corner into the straight Anamoe, masterfully steered by James MacDonald, overtook the leaders and raced to the front to win by a narrow margin. I’m Thunderstruck, it seems the eternal bridesmaid, came from the back of the field to run second ahead of El Bodegon.

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Anamoe overtakes Zaaki to go on and win the 2022 Cox Plate

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Anamoe returns to scale

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Anamoe in the winners rug

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Anamoe – head shot

And so ended the 100th Cox Plate, which I must admit lived up to its promise and was a memorable occasion. Godolphin are to be commended for continuing to race Anamoe into his fourth year, rather than retiring him to stud as they normally would do. He has now won seven Group 1 races, his last four consecutively this Spring.

The Manikato Stakes, abandoned the previous night due to lightning,  was tacked onto the Cox Plate meeting as Race 11, but I did not stay for it, opting to head home after the feature event. Bella Nipotina registered her first Group 1 win, beating Rothfire by almost five lengths, with Best of Bordeaux running third.

Next Saturday I’m looking forward to heading to Flemington for the Victorian Derby -  a change of scene from Moonee Valley.