Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The Moon and the Stars – Guineas Day at Flemington

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Australian Guineas – the finishing post

If I had realised that transport disruptions were scheduled for last Saturday at the time I booked my ticket to the Australian Guineas meeting at Flemington, I probably wouldn’t have bothered attending.

It was only on  Friday afternoon that I discovered that Buses were replacing trains on the Hurstbridge line all weekend, so rather than waste the ticket I gritted my teeth and set out at an earlier hour than usual to catch a replacement bus to Parliament Station. My arrival at Ivanhoe Station on Saturday morning coincided with the arrival of the replacement bus, so I was in the city shortly after midday with plenty of time on hand to get to Southern Cross Station and catch a train to Flemington.

As a consequence I arrived at Flemington in time for the second race on the card. My Zone 2 ticket encompassed the front lawn – from the mounting yard to past the clocktower, so I had no trouble getting to the usual spot for photography. I stayed there pretty much for the rest of the afternoon. I’m not sure if there was access  to the stalls area, but only a small section of the mounting yard fence was available for general admission patrons to watch the parade.

There was quite a crowd in attendance, most of them occupying reserved tables all along the lawn, and generally civilised, other than a table of young men who seemed to be imbibing vast quantities of alcohol and having a good time. However they didn’t bother me in the slightest, and security personnel kept them in line.

Race 2 was the Listed Roy Higgins Quality, a race over 2600 metres, and Mosh Music (a daughter of Black Caviar’s brother Moshe from a Jeune mare) was the winner, beating Sin To Win by over a length with Stars of Carrum running third.

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Mosh Music wins the Roy Higgins Quality

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Mosh Music returns to scale

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Sin to Win returns to scale

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Stars of Carrum returning to scale

It was a pleasant day weather  wise, cool and mild with little wind, though overcast throughout.

A Group 3 race over 1400 metres, the Shaftesbury Avenue Handicap was of interest due to the presence of popular Queenslander The Harrovian who had won his last 11 races and is an All Star Mile contender.

His colours were lowered in the Shaftesbury Avenue Handicap at this his first start on the big Flemington track, where he finished fifth, outclassed by the locals.

Morvada led from the start and prevailed, winning by a length from Holbien and Platoon.

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Morvada wins the Shaftesbury Avenue Handicap

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Morvada on his way to the barriers

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Holbien on his way to the barriers

The next two races were sprints, Race 4 being the World Horse Racing Handicap over 1200 metres and Race 5, the rather more interesting Bob Hoysted Handicap over 1000 metres. Both of these races were won by greys.

Subedar won the Race 4 from Street Icon and Laverrod, and West Australian grey mare Fabergino who loves the Flemington straight, won the Bob Hoysted Handicap from Indian Pacific and Humma Humma.

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Subedar winning the World Horse Racing Handicap

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Subedar with Jamie Kah returns to scale

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Fabergino wins the Bob Hoysted Handicap from Indian Pacific

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Fabergino returning to scale

The most interesting race on the card was up next; the Group 2 Blamey Stakes, run over 1600 metres. It had attracted a classy field that included Mystic Journey, Fifty Stars (2019 &2020  Blamey winner), Best Of Days and the Chris Waller trained Star of the Seas making a rare appearance in Melbourne.

Buffalo River was the race favourite and led from the start only to be overtaken in the last stretch by Star of the Seas and Fifty Stars. Mystic Journey finished 5th and found to be lame after race.

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Star of the Seas wins the Blamey Stakes from Fifty Stars & Buffalo River

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Star of the Seas returns to scale

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Fifty Stars on his way to the barriers

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Buffalo River returns to scale

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Mystic Journey on her way to the barriers

It’s not every race day that you see a 300/1 shot win a Group 1 race, but such was the sensational result of the feature Australian Guineas when rank outsider, Lunar Fox won the prize.

He raced mid field for most of the race whilst race favourite Tagaloa led from the start. Lunar Fox ran wide to overtake the leaders and Cherry Tortoni flew from the back of the pack to snag second place. Tagaloa hung on for third.

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Lunar Fox returns to scale

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Cherry Tortoni on his way to the barriers

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Tagaloa on his way to the barriers

I didn’t stay for the last two races, only tarrying to watch the Chipping Norton Stakes on the big screen. It was a great race with class staying mares Verry Elleegant and Colette fighting out the finish with the former being the narrow victor.

By rights I should left as soon as the Guineas was over.

I was under the impression that the first train from Flemington back to city was scheduled to run at 4.45pm (according to the VRC website), but had in fact left at 4.25pm.

So I had a long and tedious wait for the 5.07pm train, then was obliged to catch a tram from Southern Cross to Spring Street to catch the replacement bus back to Ivanhoe. It took almost two hours to get home.

Fortunately next weekend the Hurstbridge line services will be normal so I won’t be so inconvenienced when I travel back to Flemington for the Super Saturday meeting.

Anyway, I did find out last Saturday that Covid Restrictions were not at all onerous at Flemington and that our preferred spot for photographs is part of the Zone 2 area and no hassle to access.

Monday, February 22, 2021

A Comedy of Errors–Blue Diamond Stakes Day Review

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Blue Diamond Stakes – the charge to the finishing post

It was all a bit Shakespearean.

Not a tragedy, but several of the Bard’s comedy titles have been running through my head since attending the Blue Diamond Stakes meeting at Caulfield last Saturday.

But first some background…

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Confirmation email header

Both my friend Rebecca and I are casual members at Caulfield, so we could register to attend the Blue Diamond meeting in advance. This I did in early February over the phone and booked Rebecca in at the same time.

With the five day Covid 19 lockdown occurring in the interval it was touch and go that racing fans could attend the meeting.

MRC worked out a Covid 19 Plan whereby 9000 persons were allowed on the course, separated into three zones of 3000 people.

One had to wait until the night before the race meeting to find out which Zone one was allocated to. An anxious wait for a confirming email ensued. It finally arrived in my inbox at 8.45 pm on Friday night and I learned that we were booked into the Members Spritz Lawn in Zone 3.

As Rebecca hadn’t received a separate email, I forwarded my confirming email on to her, so she would know where to go.

I was rather intrigued by being allocated the Members Spritz Lawn, as normally those sorts of places are for Full Members only.

Travelling to Caulfield as usual by public transport I received several distressed texts from Rebecca who had already arrived at Caulfield, and said that Zone 3 was the hoons section with a crowd of noisy drunken yobbos giving her second thoughts of staying the course.

No wonder, she was in Zone 2 with Joe Public.

Luckily she hung on until I got to Caulfield around 2.00pm, where I discovered that the Spritz Lawn was the place to be, and had no trouble entering it with my casual membership  card.

After all this ado Rebecca and I settled into Zone 3 which even had access to the fence for photographs, somewhat further away from the finishing post than we normally managed, but who was complaining.

The Members Spritz Lawn was spacious and civilised, compared with Zone 2, which I admit looked horrific – unmasked crowds of drunken noisy patrons.

Race 3 had just been run when I arrived at Caulfield, so Race 4, the Group 3 Mannerism Stakes was the first race I witnessed. It’s a race for fillies and mares run over 1400 metres and West Australian mare Perfect Jewel was the favourite. Sovereign Award was the race leader with Perfect Jewel nicely placed behind her in second place. In the straight Rich Hips overtook the leaders, with Perfect Jewel giving chase. Rich Hips held on to win by a half length.

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Rich Hips overtakes Perfect Jewel (pink) and Sovereign Award (orange)

It is very rare for a filly to win the Group 2 Autumn Classic, but this year’s edition resulted in a fillies quinella. Khoe Khoe started as favourite but he was outclassed by Parure and the peculiarly named Butter Chicken and finished third

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Parure leads with Butter Chicken (nose band) overtaking Khoe Khoe

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Parure bounds up the straight

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Butter Chicken on her way to the barriers

Probabeel currently is my favourite race horse and she starred again in the first of the Group 1 races, the Futurity Stakes which was up next.

It was a wonderful race with a super field of contenders. Three year old Crosshaven led the field for most of the race.  Probabeel raced mid field out wide and seized the lead  halfway up the straight, sailing past Behemoth and Streets of Avalon. Arcadia Queen flew from the tail of the field to challenge Probabeel but she held her off to win by half a length with Mr Quickie  running third two lengths behind. Arcadia Queen and Probabeel face off again in the All Star Mile.

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Probabeel holds off a challenge from Arcadia Queen to win the Futurity Stakes

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Probabeel on her way to the barriers

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Probabeel burns up the straight

After the excitement of the Futurity Stakes, the feature Blue Diamond Stakes could have been ho hum, but wasn’t – it never is no matter who the winner may be.

I fancied class filly Enthaar, but though she led the race from the outset  at a rattling pace, she tired to finish 6th as she was swamped by colts Ingratiating, and Artorius who flew from the back to snatch victory . Ingratiating finished second and Anamoe ran third. Artorius was unfavoured in the betting, yielding a $15.00 dividend.

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Enthaar still leads, but Ingratiating (blue) is about to overtake her

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Artorius on his way to the barriers

The final Group 1 race, the Oakleigh Plate resulted in a dead heat between Portland Sky and West Australian mare Celebrity Queen, a rare event in a Group 1 race.  A feral child was hanging on the fence next to me shrieking his support for race favourite Ancestry as the race was run.  I felt like hitting him he was so annoying and shrilly loud, and was glad that Ancestry finished fourth last.

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Portland Sky and Celebrity Queen overtake Ancestry to go on to fight out the finish

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Celebrity Queen on her way to the barriers

It had been an enjoyable afternoon at the races, and the weather in general had been kind, somewhat humid but not oppressive. The sun even came out later in the afternoon, though earlier there was a sprinkling of rain.

Next Saturday the racing is at Flemington for Australian Guineas Day.

Initially I was not going to attend as individual General Admission tickets were not available. However, all that changed today when I visited the VRC website and saw that Unreserved GA tickets were on sale this morning. So I booked  Zone 2 Unreserved General Admission tickets for both Guineas Day and Super Saturday.

I’m looking forward to returning to the big beautiful open spaces of Flemington and hope that Zone 2 covers my favourite position for taking photos.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Blue Diamond Stakes Day Preview

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Enthaar – Blue Diamond Favourite

I have been attending Blue Diamond Stakes Day since 2012 and hope to be present for this year’s edition.

The recent five day Covid 19  stage 4 restrictions have now thankfully been relaxed and the Caulfield Races will go ahead with racing fans permitted to attend. 

Some restrictions will still be in place and hopefully will be the same as those on Orr Stakes day where we were allowed on the fence and could photograph the races.

With a  great program of races, including three Group 1 events, it would be disappointing to miss.

Chief among the events is of course the Blue Diamond Stakes, where a field of 11 colts and geldings and 5 fillies will be fighting for Group 1 glory.

Enthaar, who I recently witnessed winning the Chairman’s Stakes is the natural favourite having won that race with consummate ease. Other fillies with a good chance are Dosh (now scratched) and Arcaded, recent winners of the Blue Diamond Preview and Prelude.  General Beau, who won both of the colts Preview and Prelude and also has the services of top jockey Jamie Kah, is the pick of the colts.  Anamoe, Ingratiating and Jigsaw are also worthy of consideration. As it’s a race for two year old's anything could happen, but I envisage that the any one of the aforementioned will be in picture at the end.

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General Beau winning the Blue Diamond Preview

The Futurity Stakes (1400 metres) has attracted a sensational field that includes Spring stars Behemoth, Arcadia Queen, and Probabeel, plus classy three year old’s Ole Kirk and Crosshaven.  But the in form and fit Streets pf Avalon could well triumph again at his favourite track and distance.  I’m really keen to see Arcadia Queen and Behemoth in the flesh for the first time.

A huge field of 18 runners has accepted for the third Group 1, the Oakleigh Plate, a sprint over 1200 metres. There are many chances, but I am looking forward to seeing Western Australian mare Celebrity Queen at her first outing in the Eastern States.

Tomorrow’s weather is expected to be hot and humid; not really comfortable if one is obliged to wear a mask all afternoon, but the excellent racing card will make it worth the effort. Photography has the benefit of distracting one from less than ideal conditions.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Light & Shadow–A long day at Caulfield

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Streets of Avalon & Imaging fight out the Orr Stakes finish

Melbourne’s weather this summer has been unusually cool,  temperatures beyond 30CÂș being a rarity rather than the norm.  One seems to be wearing sandals and t-shirts one day, then jumpers, socks and shoes the next.

Strange days indeed, but fortunately Saturday turned out to be a mild day, though overcast for the main.

It made taking photos of the races rather challenging with light and shadow alternating throughout the afternoon.

At Caulfield, where crowds of up 15,000 were permitted for the first time, it seemed like the old days at the races with Covid 19 restrictions not being as rigorous as the previous two meetings I have attended.  General patrons were allowed to watch the races on the fence and the mounting yard was once more accessible.

The front lawn was lively; families galore with their feral children in tow. So there were quite a lot of people in attendance, but Rebecca and I were pleased that we could once again take photos from the fence without pretending to be Media.

It was a long afternoon, the Group 1 CF Orr Stakes being the feature race of the day,  scheduled to run at 4.55 pm, and the other must see Blue Diamond Preludes being scheduled as races 2 and 3, early in the afternoon.

I arrived at Caulfield in time to witness (and photograph) Race 1, the Big Screen Company Handicap run over 1400 metres.

Regardsmaree started as the short priced favourite and delivered in spades winning by 3¼ lengths from Mystery Shot and Imperial Lad.

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Regardsmaree burns up the straight to win Race 1

It was a day for favourites to win, with favoured runners taking out six of the nine races on the card.

Such was the case in Race 2, the first of the Blue Diamond Preludes, this one for fillies. Arcaded was the star performer, winning the Prelude by 2½ lengths from Scorched Earth  and Wolves.

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Arcaded sails past Scorched Earth as they race to the finishing post

The colts and geldings Blue Diamond Prelude was up next and General Beau, winner of the Blue Diamond Preview on Australia Day, was naturally the starting favourite. He prevailed narrowly, holding off a late challenge from Anamoe to win by a whisker. Jigsaw finished third a length behind the leading pair.

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General Beau  is overtaking Extreme Warrior (red silks) Anamoe is on the rail (blue silks) and Jigsaw is moving into the picture

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General Beau on his way to the barriers

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Race 4, the Group 2 Autumn Stakes for three year olds,  is run over 1400 metres. Amish Boy started as favourite, but he was unable to overtake 13/1 shot Poland who went on to win by a length. It’sourtime finished third.

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Poland burns up the straight to the finish line

La Mexicana was the warm favourite for Race 5, the Kevin Hayes Stakes, which is a Group 3 race for three year old fillies over 1200 metres.  She narrowly prevailed by a nose, after fighting out the finish with Malicorne and Pinkham.

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La Mexicana on the fence is challenged by Malicorne as they race up the straight

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Close finish – Malicorne & La Mexicana nose to nose

The afternoon was more than half over, but there were still two more races to run before the Orr Stakes.

The Group 3 TS Carlyon Cup is an interesting race run over 1600 metres and was won by Miss Siska last year, and one of the main contenders this year.  Race favourite Best of Days led from the start and prevailed to win by 1¾ lengths from Miss Siska with Nonconformist running third.

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Best of Days maintains his lead up  the straight

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Best of Days on his way to the barriers

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Miss Siska on her way to the barriers

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Nonconformist on his way to the barriers

One of the main attractions of the afternoon for me was to see classy New Zealand mare Probabeel in the flesh. She has done most of her racing in Sydney where she won the Group 1 Epsom in the spring. Her only race in Melbourne previous to Saturday’s Bellmaine Stakes was last year’s Cox Plate where she finished seventh.  She’s been racing against first class  competition so the Group 3 Bellmaine Stakes was an easy assignment and it was no surprise that she started as favourite, despite having top weight of 60kg and starting from the widest gate.

Racing wide for most of the trip, Probabeel took the lead half way up the straight and accounted for her opposition easily, winning by over a length from Paul’s Regret and Snapdancer.

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Probabeel outclasses her rivals in the Bellmaine Stakes

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Probabeel in full flight

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Paul’s Regret on her way to the barriers

And so the afternoon progressed until it was finally time for the feature CF Orr Stakes.

I was keen to see 2020 Cox Plate winner Sir Dragonet who was part of the field and expected to perform well, starting as favourite. He turned out to be a major disappointment finishing third last in the field of nine contenders.

It was not all that surprising that the Orr Stakes winner turned out to be trusty old Streets of Avalon, who has been in good form of late having won the Group 3 Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley in late January. He raced on the speed in second place behind Sovereign Award then charged to the front half way up the straight. He held off a strong challenge from Imaging to win by half a length. Three year old colt Crosshaven ran third two lengths behind.

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Another photo of the Orr Stakes finish

I didn’t tarry after the Orr Stakes, heading homeward to the station.

It had been a long afternoon, but enjoyable to be back at the races  in almost normal conditions.

Security guards kept people off the fence in between races, and told us – puzzlingly – that we could go back in five minutes. If you had booked seating, it kind of made sense, but we had to rely on whatever we could find to get the weight off our feet.

Next Saturday is Great Horse Day at Flemington featuring the Black Caviar Lightning.  I’d like to be there but individual GA tickets are not available for sale, more’s the pity.

My next afternoon of live racing will therefore be Blue Diamond Stakes Day at Caulfield in a fortnight.