Sunday, December 11, 2011

That Old Timey Feeling - Frank Fairfield at Basement Discs


It’s already two weeks into December and I have been slack on the blogging front. To catch up slightly, a little spiel about Frank Fairfield, a young multi instrumental musician from Los Angeles.

Frank was playing at the Basement Discs on Friday last, and delivered a pleasant mini concert, showcasing his astonishing skills on banjo, fiddle and guitar, as well singing a selection of the songs he loves from yesteryear.  He looked the real deal, dressed conservatively in button up shirt and exhibited a modest demeanour.

He sounds like someone out of the backwoods, but he is Californian by upbringing and has a love for music forgotten in time.  For instance, the tragic tale of Poor Ben, where a child is sent out at various hours of the night to fetch his father from the pub, whilst his brother Ben is dying at home.

Here’s a video of him performing Rye Whiskey, another of the songs he sang last Friday. It has wonderful lyrics.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Swamp & Soul – Two Recent Basement Discs In Store Performances

ray_bonneville 004

On Tuesday last week it was Ray Bonneville who graced the Basement Discs stage, performing songs from his last two albums. His latest is Bad Man’s Blood, a superb swampy blues recording with killer songs.

Born in Canada, Ray Bonneville now lives in Austin Texas, but his music sounds like he was brought up in the swamps of Louisiana.

He has an attractive gravelly voice and is a whiz on guitar and harmonica and provides his own percussion effects by stomping his feet on boards ala Chris Smither


Last Friday Clairy Browne and The Bangin’ Rackettes entertained the lunchtime crowd with a whizz banger of a show. Can’t say I‘ve ever heard of Clairy Browne before, but she and her Bangin’ Rackettes, plus large backing band are entertainment plus with full on body movements and delicious harmony singing. Clairy has a great bluesy voice and the other girls provide a doo wap gospel chorus reminiscent of the great female groups of the past, the Pointer Sisters for instance. They  were  in store  promoting their debut CD Baby Caught The Bus.

Check them out on My Space.

This coming Friday Basement Discs has a double bill with ace blues guitarist Jeff Lang, followed by Shackelton 3 –  a super group comprised of Mick Thomas, Anna Burley and Liz Stringer.

And on Friday 9th December Frank Fairfield, a multi instrumental wunderkind whose musical taste is firmly set in old-time Americana, will be performing the last in store for the year.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweet & Saucy – Folk Uke at Basement Discs

folk_uke 002
Cathy Guthrie & Amy Nelson – Folk Uke

Something different, American duo Folk Uke performed a charming mini show at Basement Discs this afternoon.  They are touring to promote their new CD Reincarnation. There are warnings  regarding explicit lyrics on their CDs, so if you are offended by swear words, you may be shocked by the frankness of their lyrics.

Known for their witty songs and sweet harmonies , Folk Uke are Cathy Guthrie (grand-daughter of Woody, daughter of Arlo) and Amy Nelson (daughter of Willie Nelson).

To get the ball moving on the right note, they opened their set with Sh*t Makes The Flowers Grow, following that with Knock Me Up, two tongue in cheek wickedly funny songs . They went on to sing half a dozen songs, including the title track to their new CD, and enlisted the support of their agent, Geoff Trio, to read the speaking parts in their song I Miss My Boyfriend, which part on the album is played by Shooter Jennings (son of Waylon).

Check them out on My Space and listen to I Miss My Boyfriend

Last Saturday I attended a concert at Thornbury Theatre. It was a triple bill composed of local singer songwriter Jordie Lane with Joe Pug and Henry Wagons.

thornbury_theatre 007_trimmed (Large)

A very entertaining evening it was too. My review of the show is on Nu Country here, so I won’t elaborate.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Spring Racing Carnival 2011 – Emirates Stakes Day

2011 Melbourne Cup finish – Dunaden wins by a whisker from Red Cadeaux

It’s the final day of the Melbourne Spring racing carnival tomorrow with two Group One races with the added feature of Black Caviar competing in one of them, aiming for her 16th consecutive win, and 7th Group One.

The Patinack Farm Classic is the Group One sprint of the season. Black Caviar won it last year, and is pretty certain to win it again.  She has only six opponents, most of them being from her own stable – Mid Summer Music,  Curtana & Panipique - with Buffering, Scenic Blast & Response being the others.

The other Group One is the Emirates Stakes over 1600 metres. It has a very interesting field with the likes of Jimmy Choux, Wall Street (who won this race last year), Love Conquers All and Secret Admirer being the class competitors.  It’s anyone’s guess who will win.

The Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a Group Three race over 2600 metres is the other interesting contest on the cards. It’s a sort of consolation race for stayers who failed to qualify for the Melbourne Cup and has grand stayers like Bauer, Shootoff, Sahara Sun and Macedonian in the mix. 

Speaking of the Melbourne Cup, what a thriller it turned out to be at the finish. Alas fortune did not smile on me this year – all my selections came nowhere. That’s racing for you !

The Stillsons live at Basement Discs

the_stillsons 006

It has been a while since I last wrote a music review; in fact I’m quite out of practice, but as the Basement Discs has a stellar line up of in-store shows this month, I thought I’d give it a bash again.

To start the month, The Stillsons were In Store today and delivered a very pleasant set of folk rock tunes, promoting their new CD Earnest.

Called “a breath of fresh air” by the Sydney Morning Herald, The Stillsons are indeed a bright and breezy band and are composed of Justin Bernasconi (guitar) and Cat Canteri (drums),  and The Waifs bass player Ben Franz. 

They describe their music as contemporary roots, and it encompasses rock, folk and country. Justin and Cat take turns leading the vocals and all three chime in with the harmonies.

Check them out on their My Space page.

Coming up at Basement Discs next Wednesday is blues legend John Hammond and on Friday Folk Uke, a duo composed of Cathie Guthrie and Amy Nelson, descendants of famous Americana artists Woody Guthrie and Willie Nelson. On Tuesday 22nd November, Ray Bonneville, Austin based guitarist, songwriter and harmonica player will be demonstrating his fabulous version of rhythm and blues.

In news out today, Ryan Adams will be doing a solo tour in February/March next year, playing intimate venues throughout Australia and New Zealand.  I don’t know if you could call the Sydney Opera House an intimate venue, but he’s playing there on February 28th.  Needless to say I’m keenly looking forward to this tour and already fretting about about getting a good seat at the Melbourne venue which happens to be the Regent Theatre.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Spring Racing Carnival 2011 – The Melbourne Cup

Americain winning the 2010 Melbourne Cup

Don’t ask me who is going to win the 2011 Melbourne Cup. I haven’t a clue, but will try and assess which horses have the form and quality to make a go of it.

The Melbourne Cup, as we all know here in Australia, is the premier staying race of the year, and is known colloquially as the race that stops the nation.  Just about everyone has a bet on it and watches the event on television.

Unusually, this year’s cup field is made up of predominantly overseas bred horses, with very few local or New Zealand bred stayers, which reflects negatively on the local breeding industry. Some trainers/owners, like Bart Cummings and Lloyd Williams continue to seek out locally bred stayers, but have in recent times elected to import stayers from Europe.

Bart Cummings has two runners in the Cup this year, New Zealand bred Precedence (by Zabeel) and Illo an import from Germany. Of the two Bart has nominated Illo as his best runner. Illo finished third behind Americain in the Moonee Valley Cup, as opposed to Precedence who has been uncompetitive this Spring and would have to show a complete reversal of form to win the Melbourne Cup.

The Gai Waterhouse trained Tullamore is probably the best credentialed of the locally bred runners, having run third in the Caulfield Cup and second in the Moonee Valley Cup. His sire is Savabeel, a son of the great Zabeel and the most likely to take over his mantle as a top sire of stayers.

Americain is the top pick, and is also top weight, but that shouldn’t be too much of a burden for him. His win in the Moonee Valley Cup was excellent and showed he was back to his best. His greatest threat comes from fellow French horse Dunaden who won the Geelong Cup in fine fashion, like Americain did last year.

Others worthy of consideration are Glass Harmonium if he can run the distance and doesn’t misbehave in the barriers, Jukebox Jury, whose overseas form is first rate, but is having his first start in Australia, Unusual Suspect, another black horse has some wraps on him after his Caulfield Cup run, Mourayan who has lately been in good form, winning the Bart Cummings Stakes in early October on a slow track, and running second to Glass Harmonium in the Mackinnon Stakes is a top chance, and throw in At First Sight, another Lloyd Williams import, who has been consistently placed in the build up races.

There are only two mares in the race, Shamrocker and Older Than Time. It would be nice if one or other of them won the Cup, completing a female trifecta of the big three Spring races, following the hoof prints of Southern Speed and Pinker Pinker into racing glory.

Shamrocker, after a glorious three year old career where she beat the boys in the Australian Guineas and the AJC Derby in the Autumn, has been disappointing this spring as a four year old mare. However, all along she has been set for the Melbourne Cup and is not without a chance, especially with her light weight.  Older Than Time ran second in the Sydney Cup, so she can certainly run the distance. Her breeding is through another son of Zabeel, Don Eduardo, so on that factor, despite her form, she has a slight chance.

The weather in Melbourne at present is cool and overcast. Tomorrow promises to be much the same with a few showers.

However the race pans out it will be as always fascinating to watch.

Good luck in picking the winner, or maybe you can pray for guidance from your favourite saint. It is the Feast of All Saints tomorrow.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Spring Racing Carnival 2011 – Derby Day

Manawanui – can he win the Derby?

It’s Derby Day again! One of the most interesting race meetings of the Melbourne Spring racing carnival, it is always run the Saturday before Melbourne Cup Day.  Four Group One races are featured along with some pretty interesting group two and three competitions.

The feature race is of course the Victoria Derby for three year olds over 2500 metres. It’s a gruelling race for such youngsters, and many of its winners fall by the wayside, never to be heard of again. However, some do go on to greater glory, Elvstroem for instance, and Efficient as well, and I’m sure there are more.

This years edition has Manawanui starting as favourite. He won the Mitchelton Wines Vase at Moonee Valley last Saturday, which was over 2040 metres, so he has to run a further 460 metres to win this, fighting off a much larger field than he faced in the Mitchelton Wines Vase. I must admit I’ve developed a fondness for this horse – like his Maori name, he is brave and courageous and also a bit of a sweetheart according to this report on ABC news earlier this week. Love the trust his strapper has in him.

Anyway, though Manawanui is the class act in the Derby, he may be challenged by the likes of Induna, who recently won a 2200 metre race at Geelong by 3.8 lengths. Others worthy of consideration are Sabrage, who won the Norman Robinson Stakes at Caulfield two weeks ago, and  Sangster and Niagara who were runners up in that race. Collar who ran second to Manawanui in the Mitchelton Wines Vase may be able to turn the tables on him this time. The mystery horse is the Bart Cummings trained Rapidus, who because of his trainer cannot be overlooked.

Sepoy returns this week in the Group One Coolmore Stud Stakes and of course will start raging favourite. Can he keep his winning streak intact?  His main opposition comes from Foxwedge, a consistent competitor who has had the misfortune to run against the likes of Helmet and Smart Missile and Manawanui throughout the Spring, and will have to be lucky to beat Sepoy.  Likewise with Masthead and Adamantium. Hong Kong colt Bear Hero is the intriguing runner. His form in Hong Kong is excellent, so he might be able to give Sepoy a run for his money.

The Mackinnon Stakes is one of the two races on the cards, where hopeful Melbourne Cup contenders can qualify for the big one if they are fortunate enough to win. Last year So You Think won this race and Maluckyday won the Lexus Stakes (the other qualifying race) and we all know where they finished in the 2010 Cup. This year a big field has accepted. Top weight is Efficient , backing up after running 6th in the Cox Plate. Flemington is where his best wins have come from, so wouldn’t be surprised to see him run a place if not win.  Midas Touch impressed with his third placing in the Underwood Stakes, so expect to see him competitive, also Glass Harmonium who missed the start of the Cox Plate (by rearing as the gates opened), is worth another chance. The other hard luck story from the Cox Plate was Rekindled Interest, who was badly blocked for a run, but managed to storm home for third place, so can redeem himself in this. Mares Lights of Heaven and Caulfield Cup heroine Southern Speed cannot be overlooked either.

One for the mares, The Myer Classic, a Group One race over 1600 metres, sees More Joyous pitted against a talented field that includes New Zealand mare Banchee, Sacred Choice who one the race last year on a bog track, Mosheen always consistent, and the well regarded Goon Serpent. There are those that say More Joyous is not firing this year as well as she has in the past, but she is obviously the class runner in the field, and should win. 

As well as the above Group One races, the whole card is worth watching to see such class acts as unbeaten filly, Atlantic Jewel in the Group Two Wakeful Stakes, and study the performance of a number of imported stayers in the Lexus Stakes, Green Moon for instance.

That takes care of my Saturday afternoon, not at the track, but at home in front of the TV.

It has just rained heavily here in Melbourne with further rain expected tonight, however the Flemington track should be no worse than dead. It’s supposed to fine up tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In the Pink – A Cox Plate Day At The Races

black caviar_post race 
Black Caviar salutes her adoring fans after winning the Schweppes Stakes

What a day! And it was an enjoyable one at that, despite the big crowds and the threatening weather.

I arrived at the course earlier than I anticipated, shortly before race 2 the listed Essendon Jeep Stakes. Putting a quick bet on Euryale passing through the Bookies area, I ventured out to the public lawn. Normally I would grab a spot on the fence near the finishing post, but this time it was impossible – too crowded – so I wended my way to the top of the straight and insinuated myself into a vacant spot there. It wasn’t bad as places to watch go, as I did manage to photo runners going past to the barriers.

Torah – winner of Race 2 on her way to the barriers.

Rather than stay by the fence, I decided to head to the parade ground to check out the runners for race 3, particularly Karuta Queen. I discovered that the parade ground area wasn’t half as crowded as other parts of the course, so I retreated there in between races for some relief from boisterous revellers.

race3_karuta queen 2 
Karuta Queen pausing to eyeball a few admirers.

Karuta Queen started favourite in the Australia Stakes and won easily from Miss Stellabelle & Amah Rock. She’s a very pretty filly, almost palomino in colouring. In the following photo you can see her showing a clean pair of heels to the runners up, in the straight.


I had my money on her and she was the first of four straight wins for me.

The next race on the cards was the Mitchelton Wines Vase, for three year olds over the Cox Plate distance of 2040 metres. Manawanui was the one I was looking forward to seeing, and he didn’t disappoint.

Manawanui parades before the running of the Vase

Manawanui, as if we didn’t already know, proved he was one of the best three year olds racing this spring, easily winning over the distance, unlike his great rival Helmet who failed to run 2040 metres in the Cox Plate.

Race4_down the straight
Manawanui overtaking Collar in the straight

Speaking of Helmet, he spent a great deal of time in the stalls near the parade ground. I photographed him in his stall, while waiting for Black Caviar to grace us with her presence.

Helmet in holding stall

Race 5 – the Schweppes Stakes - was of course the one in which Black Caviar would win her 15th race in succession. A big crowd gathered to see her parade…

black caviar _fans

… but not where I was standing, on the stall side of the parade ground.

race5_black caviar2
Here she comes – glamour mare Black Caviar

And what a big girl she is! Very calm and composed and well behaved, she has enormous presence.  In reality she is just a large brown mare with a big bum, but she has captured the Nation’s attention with her extraordinary ability.

I hastened back to a spot on the fence to see her proceeding to the barriers.

race5_black caviar5

Naturally she won easily by 6 lengths from Doubtful Jack and Here De Angels.

Black Caviar steams ahead in the straight

The Moonee Valley Cup was the next race on the card, so I was keen to get a photo of Americain, winner of the 2010 Melbourne Cup, and judging by his run in the Moonee Valley Cup, quite possibly the winner of the 2011 edition.

Americain parading before the Moonee Valley Cup

He won by 2.3 lengths with Tullamore and Illo filling the minor placings.

The Crystal Mile was next, but I didn’t photograph any of the runners, just watched them parade trying to make up my mind  on who to back. I finally settled on He’s Remarkable the New Zealander who ended up starting favourite. He managed to run third, so at least he covered the bet.  Testa My Patience won the bikkies with Hawk Bay running second.

top of straight
My spot on the fence near the top of the straight.

As the feature race drew near, the weather, which had been fairly pleasant most of the afternoon, became dark and threatening. A storm warning announcement came over the loud speakers, and I for one feared a similar situation to that which occurred in March 2010 at Flemington.  As the horses paraded before the event, flashes of lightning – which at first I thought were camera flashes – and lowering skies sent the crowds scurrying for cover. I hung out at the parade ground for a while taking photos of the horses, until the light deteriorated to the extent it was pointless to continue. However, I did manage to get a few reasonable shots before giving up.




race8_jimmy choux
Jimmy Choux

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a shot of Pinker Pinker the Cox Plate winner. And alas I didn’t have any money on her either. I was however delighted that she won, another victory for locally bred horses and one for the girls as well. Her trainer Greg Eurell was over the moon, and I’m pleased for him. He trained my old favourite Apache Cat who won the Schweppes Stakes in 2009. Craig Williams deserves plenty of accolades for his perfectly judged and executed ride.

For the Cox Plate the barriers are placed at the top of the straight, so I had a good view of the start and witnessed Jimmy Choux breaking free early. He’d barely run 100 metres before being pulled up.

barriers_cox plate
Cox Plate Barrier Stalls with grey sky behind

As for the race itself, it was as exciting and enthralling as you’d expect. Though the storm held off until after the race, tragedy struck Lion Tamer who broke a leg during the race and was put down soon after it was over. I didn’t witness this as I left directly after the race, not wanting to miss the last bus home and didn’t hear about it until later.

Race8_cox plate straight
The above -  rather murky - photo of the finishing dash down the straight, shows Jimmy Choux in the lead, having overtaken Helmet. Pinker Pinker is looming just behind them. Jimmy Choux hung on for second place and Rekindled Interest, who was seriously held up in the closing stages, ran third.

This post is turning into a marathon, but it was a long day. I witnessed seven races in all, picked the winner in four of them and won third place in two, so all up it was a good day on the punt and I came home with almost as much money as I had when I left.

Though the course was crowded, the punters were in high spirits in more ways than one, and the atmosphere was cheerful and raucous. I actually enjoyed the afternoon and would certainly attend the Cox Plate meeting again.  I didn’t take many photos of the crowd, but there were girls dressed in flimsy frocks and high heels, with ridiculous concoctions of hats, guys dressed in loud suits – I spotted two guys wearing a purple and a pink suit apiece. 

crowd scene1

And of course salmon pink with black spots was everywhere.  I was amused to see two guys with fairy wings attached to their backs being questioned by security up near the entrance gates. Who knows what they’d done to cause such interest, though I noticed one of them was clutching a rubber chook.

crowd scene_fairies

You may well ask how I was dressed, but I don’t dress up to go to the races, being totally uninterested in fashion. I wore my purple cord jeans with a charcoal hemp long sleeved t-shirt and sensible (waterproof) lace up shoes.

As mentioned before, the storm rolled in shortly after the running of the Cox Plate. By that time I was on the bus stop. Fortune smiled once again when the bus, I and several others were awaiting, pulled up across the road on its way to the terminus (where it turns around and comes back). The driver welcomed everyone to climb aboard for the ride, so when the rain came down in earnest, and the thunder rolled, and the lightning flashed, I was cosily on the bus with a cheerful crowd of race goers. By the time I got home the rain had started to ease, so my umbrella remained furled.

PS: Click on photos for a larger version (in most cases)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Spring Racing Carnival 2011- Cox Plate

Jimmy Choux – champion New Zealand Cox Plate contender

Looking at the card for the Cox Plate meeting at Moonee Valley on Saturday, one cannot help feeling a tingle of excitement in anticipation of a great day of racing. 

Taking advantage of my Moonee Valley season’s ticket, this year I will be attending the event, steeling myself for the crowds of drunken revellers, and the Black Caviar fan club who no doubt will be out in force. I last went to a Cox Plate meeting in 1998 when Might And Power won, which was also the last time the admission fee was a reasonable sum. They put the cost of entry up to $50.00 the following year, so I refused to go thereafter, despite my favourite horse, Sunline winning the race in the next two years . The admission is now $55.00+, but my season’s ticket covers that, and is one of the reasons I purchased the ticket.

The Cox Plate of course is the premier WFA race on the Australian racing calendar. The list of winners is also a list of champion Aussie equine heroes. My first favourite racehorse, Dhaulagiri, won it fifty years ago in 1961, Tulloch won it in 1960.

Unlike last year, when the forgone conclusion was a victory for So You Think, this year the field is evenly matched with no real stand out performers, though plenty have the talent to win if nothing untoward stymies their chances.  For a start there’s Caulfield Guineas winner Helmet, the lightweight three year old who will be trying to emulate the exploits of So You Think, the most recent three year old to win the race.  He’s got a chance if he can run the 2040 metres and handle the pressure.

Jimmy Choux,  New Zealand 2011 Horse of the Year, has long been favourite for the Cox Plate, but in a practice run on Tuesday failed to inspire onlookers, though that didn’t faze his trainer.  He is too good to overlook,  but this is his first run at Moonee Valley so there remain doubts as to his winning chances on this famously tricky track.

Lion Tamer, purportedly a moody beast, who if he doesn’t feel like racing, won’t, is a very good prospect if he is so inclined and if blinkers make a difference. He won the Victoria Derby last year by 6.5 lengths and also recently won the Underwood Stakes from Caulfield Cup winner Southern Speed, though finished second last in the Caulfield Stakes after starting hot favourite.  

Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes winner Rekindled Interest, loves Moonee Valley and ticks all the boxes in terms of  being able to race the distance, handle the track and be there at the finish.

Others worthy of consideration are Glass Harmonium who never runs a bad race, King’s Rose who is consistency itself, and fellow mares Secret Admirer, Shamrocker and Pinker Pinker who all have a chance to steal a place if not win. But perhaps old trouper Efficient will cause an upset. It’s happened before when 9 year old Fields of Omagh won the Plate for a second time in 2006, much to everyone’s surprise.

The Cox Plate may be the feature race, but as it’s being run at the late hour of 5.35pm, there are other races on the card to capture the interest before that happens, most notably the Schweppes Stakes  a sprint over 1200 metres, starring Black Caviar aiming for her 15th consecutive win. She should do it easily, facing only four other contenders which include Scenic Blast returning to racing after a year’s break, old Here De Angels and Doubtful Jack.

I aim to arrive at the track in time for the third race to see Karuta Queen in action. In her last race she ran second to Black Caviar after leading by three lengths. It was quite a sight seeing the monster mare overtake Karuta Queen, but the little queen will have her chance at a win in the Group Two Australia Stakes on Saturday without having to contend with Black Caviar. She will however, have to beat the likes of Amah Rock and Miss Stellabelle who have both won over the distance (1200 metres) at Moonee Valley recently. Also the Peter Moody trained Beckon could be a threat, as looking at his form, albeit on country tracks, he shows great promise.

Caulfield Guineas runner up, Manawanui is the class runner in the Group Two Mitchelton Wines Vase, a race for three year olds over the Cox Plate distance of 2040 metres. There are only six runners in the field and Manawanui’s major threat appears to be the suitably bred Collar and Power Broker. Manawanui ran second in the Caulfield Guineas, fighting it out with Helmet to the line in a finish reminiscent of the days of Testa Rossa and Redoute’s Choice, who fought a similar battle in their version of the Guineas in 1999.

2010 Melbourne Cup winner Americain is entered in the Moonee Valley Cup, now named the Drake International Cup. It is a Group Two race for stayers over 2500 metres and other entries include the Bart Cummings Cup hopeful, German import Illo, Linton, who has been disappointing this time around, though with a different jockey (Nick Hall his regular rider has been suspended for careless riding) he might return to form. There’s also Tullamore backing up this week after running third in the Caulfield Cup, New Zealander Booming, and South Australian mare Lalla Rookh, stable mate to Caulfield Cup winner Southern Speed.

The Crystal Mile has a fairly ordinary field with tried and true middle distance runners like Danleigh, good on his day, Triple Elegance who ran third in the George Main behind Sincero a few weeks ago, Luen Yat Forever, who showed remarkable improvement when running third behind King Mufhasa and King’s Rose in the Toorak Handicap. The Mick Price trained Testa My Patience and New Zealand runner He’s Remarkable, appear to have the best form, but not at Moonee Valley.

The weather is expected to be cool and mild on Saturday with a possible shower or two. But the excellent race card including the appearance of glamour horse Black Caviar will make it well worth attending, no matter what the weather gods choose to throw on Melbourne.

In the meantime check out Black Caviar’s latest words of wisdom on her blog here and here. It’s hilarious!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Spring Racing Carnival 2011 – Caulfield Cup

December Draw – can he win the Caulfield Cup?

I’m feeling rather tired this evening so I’ll make this post a short one.

Tomorrow, the first of the big Spring races, the Caulfield Cup is to be run, and quite frankly I am at a loss as to who is the likely winner. There will be a full field of runners (18) contesting it and quite a number of them are International stayers or imports, with very few local stayers in the mix. On form, December Draw looks the top pick, but there are doubts as to his ability to run 2400 metres. Just because he hasn’t run the distance before, doesn’t mean he can’t, so I choose him as my top chance. Others in contention are the UK stayers Mighty High, Drunken Sailor  and  Manighar, imports Green Moon and Unusual Suspect,  locals Hawk Island and Niwot and mares Southern Speed and Absolutely. Take your pick.

Other than the Caulfield Cup, there are several other races that are full of interest, the Group 2 Caulfield Sprint, for instance where we racing fans can enjoy the sight of champion colt Sepoy in action again. More Joyous and Sister Madly will be head to head in the Group 2 Tristarc Stakes (1400 metres). Sister Madly beat More Joyous in the Manikato Stakes, but the tables are likely to be turned here with More Joyous back to her best and in winning form.

Anyway, I’ll be watching the events on free to air TV for once, so that takes care of Saturday afternoon.

UPDATE – Saturday evening
It was great to see South Australian mare Southern Speed win the Caulfield Cup this afternoon, the first mare to do so in 10 years. Ethereal was the last mare to win in 2001. Green Moon ran second with Tullamore filling third spot this afternoon.

More Joyous as expected prevailed over Sister Madly in the Tristarc Stakes, and Sepoy kept his almost perfect record intact in the Caulfield Sprint.  So a very exciting afternoon of racing kept this fan entertained all afternoon.

Early tomorrow morning So You Think will be running in the Champion Stakes at Ascot. He ran fourth in the Arc, being caught too far back in the field to have any chance of overtaking the winner, German filly Danedream, so will hopefully restore his formidable reputation in this.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Spring Racing Carnival 2011 – Caulfield Guineas Day

Welcome back Black Caviar!

Now that the AFL Grand Final has come and gone, the focus shifts to horseracing. For most of the year it is the second class citizen of the sports arena, so for racing fans this time of year is when our knowledge of the sport comes in handy.

Here at Cat Politics we love to write about horseracing and don’t mind giving a few pointers, which are not exactly tips, but more an indication of likely winners.

This weekend Caulfield hosts a great day of racing, with three fabulous Group One races and the added attraction of Black Caviar beginning her Spring campaign.

Tomorrow she will be gunning for her 14th win in succession – matching the record of that great Aussie equine hero Pharlap. It’s history in the making. The race which all racing fans will be watching is the Group 2 Schillaci Stakes, a sprint over 1000 metres.  Black Caviar will be at unbackable odds. It’s a small field of eight runners, and of course we expect Black Caviar to win.  Speedy filly Karuta Queen will be trying hard, even if no match for the champ, likewise Kulgrinda, Black Caviar’s stable mate, who has not lived up to her earlier promise in her last two runs. Perhaps Peter Moody is hoping for the quinella, but may denied that by one of the other runners, NSW mare Platinum Skye for instance, who has won 10 of her 19  starts.

The feature Group One race is the Caulfield Guineas, a race for three year olds over 1600 metres. It has a superb field albeit with only eight runners, but the class of those runners is first rate. You’ve got Helmet, Smart Missile and Manawanui who all contested the Golden Rose in early September, with Manawanui the winner on that occasion.  He also won his last start, the Stan Fox StakesHelmet redeemed his failure in the Golden Rose, by winning the Guineas Prelude in spectacular fashion by a margin of 3¼ lengths. Smart Missile, perhaps the most talented of all the previously mentioned didn’t cope with competing in open company in the Rupert Clarke Stakes, tarnishing his reputation somewhat.  It’s very hard to pick the winner out of the three above, but perhaps Victorian gelding Chase The Rainbow, who has been very consistent and won very well at Moonee Valley last Friday night, will cause an upset.

The Caulfield Stakes (formerly known as the Yalumba Stakes) is the first of the Group One races on the card. It was won by So You Think last year. Run over 2000 metres it’s one for the stayers. Top pick this year is Lion Tamer who won the Victorian Derby last spring by six lengths, and also won the Underwood Stakes at his last start.  The pundits seem to be spruiking At First Sight, one of Lloyd Williams’ imports, as he ran a good second to December Draw in the Turnbull Stakes last Sunday. Others with a chance are Sincero, too good to ignore, Alcopop who is going great guns this Spring and Playing God who is improving with every race. I’m also interested to see how International gallopers - here for the Melbourne CupSahara Sun and Mighty High perform, in light of their prospects for the big race.

Other Internationals are running in the Group Two Herbert Power Stakes (2400 metres), most notably Bauer who ran second to Viewed in the 2008 Melbourne Cup. Moyenne Corniche and My Scotsgrey from the UK are the others.

The other Group One on the cards is the Toorak Handicap (1600 metres). The super consistent mare King’s Rose is the current favourite. She’s won her last two races including beating the boys in the Memsie Stakes. Toorak Toff, aptly named for this race, is a major threat, especially after he proved he was back to his best when winning the Rupert Clarke Stakes. Others in with a chance are Torio’s Quest, Fast Clip, Yosei and New Zealander King Mufhasa.

Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be out lunching with friends, but fortunately the venue boasts a TAB, so I’ll still be able to watch the races.

Next weekend the first of the big races, the Caulfield Cup is to be run, so the Spring racing season is well and truly hotting up.

Red Rumped Grass Parrot

While sauntering up High Street towards Clifton Hill about an hour ago, I observed these wonderful little grass parrots, which I’ve identified as Red Rumped Grass Parrots. I had observed them in the same place – a grassy strip just next to the road – earlier this week, so took my camera with me this time just in case they were still inhabiting the area.

And there they were, totally ignoring the roaring traffic and passersby alike. They don’t fly away when you stop to look, so I was able to get a few photos of them.

grass_parrot 007
A male and female together

grass_parrot 010
Male parrot perched on the footpath

And just because I had my camera with me I decided to photograph the lilac bush in the front yard. It always flowers in October and the bush is a descendent of a lilac tree that grew in the backyard of a house I lived in the early 1980’s. When I left that place I planted a sucker in a pot, and eventually transplanted into the front yard of our present residence. It took about 20 years for it to produce flowers, but every October nowadays it is full of blooms and the exquisite scent floats out into the street, so you can smell it as you walk by.

lilac 002 (Medium)

Ah, the wonders of nature in springtime, even here in the suburbs.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Vale Cheng old friend


We received the news this morning that an old friend had died last night. Known familiarly as Cheng Wah, his real name was Graham Taylor.  I don’t know how he got his nickname but it probably had something to do with his slightly oriental appearance or maybe inscrutable expression.

I first met Cheng in September 1979 when he moved in as a tenant to a dwelling (it was the back residential section of a dress shop on a  main road in Fitzroy) I was sharing with a few other people. Here’s what I wrote in my diary at the time:

We have a new tenant – an acquaintance of Ingrid, called Graham. He’s actually OK. I felt a bit apprehensive at first, but he’s assimilated well. Rather quiet and unobtrusive, a drunk and doper, he kind of fits. He has a cat (an unfriendly to other animals creature)

That was the start of a very long friendship.

His death really didn’t come as a surprise, but the sudden onset of the serious illness that caused his death, did arouse alarm and sadness in all who knew him.  This only happened in the last few months, when it was discovered that he had cancer of the liver. By the time this was diagnosed, the cancer had moved to his spine, which in an alarmingly short time had paralysed him from the waist down. And if you’re thinking his death was the result of a wild lifestyle, you are only partly right. His father recently died of something similar which leads one to believe genetics had a part to play.

And although I am here mourning Cheng’s death, I am also here to celebrate his life and the part he played in it as my friend.

Of course we were old drinking buddies, part of the old Dan O’Connell Hotel social scene and Cricket Club. Cheng was the Cricket Club treasurer for many seasons, seeing as how he was the only member who could organise the funds effectively.

Which leads me to remember that he was a very intelligent guy, with a quirky sense of humour.  He was an IT expert and computer whiz from the time I met him, i.e. the 1970s.  When I got my first PC in 1994, it was Cheng who came round and set it up for me and showed me how to do stuff, like install software, for example.

He had an amiable temperament; was calm and good natured pretty much all the time. When I last talked to him on the phone a few weeks ago, you wouldn’t have thought that he was at death’s door from his laid back attitude.  He was joking about lasting to 60. He was 52 going on 53.

After living a bachelor existence for most of his life, it wasn’t until about 11 years ago that he found a woman to settle down with. They got married and moved to Tathra on the south coast of NSW. They were very happy together and we often met up with them for lunch when Graham came to Melbourne to attend to his business as a software/network developer.

I feel very grieved for Shelly, his wife who up until the time she got together with Graham had led a very hard life, filled with disastrous choices (in partners) and other such dire situations.  I can’t even begin to imagine what she must be going through at the moment.  The last I heard from her, was that Graham was home with her and their beloved dog, Tangles, for Grand Final day. Graham was an avid supporter of Collingwood, so it is disappointing that they didn’t win last weekend, the last weekend of Graham’s life.  I’m sure he would have liked to go out with a Pies victory on his mind.

He was always a good friend to me, ever supportive and kind. We never fell out, always the best of mates. I have many happy memories of our acquaintance and will miss his humour and sensibleness.

So Cheng, farewell. It was a great pleasure knowing you all these years and I’m heartbroken that you are gone for ever.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Muddy Valley – A Night at the Races

It was unfortunate, I suppose, that my first experience of night racing at Moonee Valley was marred by the ghastly weather. It rained most of the evening, and even though it wasn’t all that cold it was unpleasantly damp. The public lawn was awash, so it was inadvisable to venture out on it if one wanted to keep one’s feet dry.

Despite the weather, it was actually quite an enjoyable evening, even if unprofitable. The highlight was the Manikato Stakes where Sepoy proved conclusively that he can handle heavy going, race in open company and had no trouble with the tricky Moonee Valley track. In fact he won the Manikato in brilliant fashion,  2.5 lengths clear of Sister Madly with More Joyous running third.

One thing I noticed  about night racing that I didn’t foresee, was that it wasn’t ideal for taking photos. Perhaps it was the rain that rendered most of my photos blurry and unusable, for the lighting was certainly adequate – you can see the racetrack for miles it is so bright.

However I did manage to get a shot of Sepoy after the race, which is not ideal but sharper than the others I snapped…


…like this one of More Joyous being fitted out in her holding stall.


Fortunately my next intended visit to Moonee Valley will be on Cox Plate day, so I’m hoping then I’ll be able to get a good photo Black Caviar who will be contesting the Group 2 Schweppes Stakes.

Before that she will be resuming in the Schillaci Stakes next Saturday at Caulfield, gunning for an historic 14th consecutive win.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Spring Racing 2011 – Manikato Stakes and more…

More Joyous will start her Spring campaign in the Manikato Stakes on Friday night

A whiz banger of a weekend as far as racing goes, will start with the Friday night meeting at Moonee Valley. The first of six Group One races to be competed over the weekend in various venues, the Manikato Stakes (a sprint over 1200 metres) is the feature event at the Valley.  I intend to be there to witness it.

It has attracted a fabulous field, the leading lights being super Sydney mare More Joyous and top colt Sepoy -  a mouth watering prospect. Pitted against these two is in form Sister Madly, the classy Kulgrinda who failed to run a place last start in the McEwan Stakes, which was won by Buffering who is also a contestant as is Atomic Force who ran third on that occasion behind Crystal Lily who tragically died suddenly of a heart attack in track work last week.  Happy Zero who impressed with his looks when I saw him last at Moonee Valley is mooted as a top chance. I’ll be torn between More Joyous and Sepoy, so I hope one or other of them win.  Sepoy will be competing in open company for the first time and ditto at Moonee Valley, so if he does win there can be no doubt as to his ability. Very few 3 year olds have won this race, but if any youngster was going to, Sepoy has to be the one.

The Group Two Stutt Stakes for 3 year olds over 1600 metres adds more interest to an evening of fine racing. Chase The Rainbow is the top pick in this, closely followed by Whisper Downs and Sabrage, though you’d think if I was choosing by name I’d go for Rock Musician, who on form is not totally without hope- for a place at least.

Also on the card on Friday evening is the Group Three JRA Cup a middle distance race over 2040 metres. With the scratching from this race of Rekindled Interest, Linton and Southern Speed in favour of running in the Turnbull Stakes on Sunday, the dwindled field is as open as it can be. Carnero who won me a tidy sum last time I attended the Valley, may be the one to beat, if he can run the distance. I rather fancy the Bart Cummings trained Cosmonaut who certainly should cope with 2040 metres. Domesky is favourite at the moment, but anything could win.

There’s also the Group 3 Champagne Stakes for 3 y o Fillies where Satin Shoes has a chance to redeem her recent losses. This is a much easier race for her than her last start in the McEwan Stakes, and she is the standout filly. Emerald Downs and Glissade are her main opposition, but mindful of lightly raced country track winners with hardly any form to judge, a challenge may be issued by Victoria Street or De Lilly Lightful.

The track is likely to be rated slow this evening, after a big downpour on Wednesday with further rain today threatening.

The AFL Grand Final will be dominating Victorians on Saturday, so the racing interest switches briefly to Sydney at Randwick, where a total of four Group One races is set to stir the blood of the racing fan. Flemington in Melbourne will feature the Group One Turnbull Stakes on Sunday to top it all off.

The first of the Group One races at Randwick is the Spring Champion Stakes, a 2000 metre race for 3 year olds. Top picks as far as I can work out are Darci Be Good, Rekindled Alliance, Doctor Doom, Ambidexter and Strike The Stars, who have all either won or have been the runners up recently.

The Epsom Handicap (1600 metres) has a large (16 runners) and interesting field with the likes of Sincero, who won the George Main StakesPinker Pinker who is in great form,  as is Foreteller despite his last run, and Pinnacles who ran second to Toorak Toff in the Rupert Clarke Stakes last Saturday.  Also, as the track is likely to be heavy, one cannot discount Sacred Choice who has won in these conditions on a number of occasions.

Three year old fillies get their chance to win a Group One in the Flight Stakes (1600 metres).  Top fillies like Streama who has won her last two outings, Hallowell Belle who has run three consecutive seconds, Roma Giaconda who was eye catching last week running second to Manawanui in the Stan Fox Stakes, Pane In The Glass always competitive, and New Zealand filly Dowager Queen, who may finally break through for a win in Australia, especially if the track is on the slow to heavy side.

Run over 2400 metres, The Metropolitan is a Group One race for stayers. There are 19 acceptors and Trusting , Tullamore and Lamasery appear to be the top picks with Sydney Cup winner Stand To Gain  and Hawk Island maybe in with a chance.

I’m also interested in the Gimcrack Stakes, the first race on the card at Randwick on Saturday. It’s a 1000 metre race for 2 year old fillies, and one of the runners, My Shabella, is the daughter of my former favourite horse Haradasun, and is the first of his progeny to hit the track.  She did very well in a trial recently and looks very promising, so I’ll be keenly watching her progress.

It has been raining in Sydney as well so tracks all round will be slow to heavy, and unpredictable results are to be expected.

In France early Monday morning our time, former Aussie champ So You Think will be contesting the Prix de L’Arc  De Triomphe at Longchamp in Paris. Of course it is to be hoped that our boy can win this prestigious event.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cat Politics Update

Nothing much has changed within the household as far as the resident moggies are concerned, but the local neighbourhood feline population has mutated. These days we are surrounded by cat owners, and all the cats are female.

Normally with the arrival of Spring young Willy would be out and about and looking for a fight, or more likely encountering another male cat looking for a brawl. It’s happened every Spring that he would at some stage come home with wounds, which generally resulted in a visit to the Vet.  Not so this year. I put it down to the female cats deterring visits from local males, Willy excepted.

He actually gets on quite well with the girls. Young Piccolo (Pinto) next door goes out of her way to flirt with him.

cats 005

As for Lizzie, she seems hardly fazed by this influx of fellow lady cats – she sort of tolerates them, even Pickle who has been the bane of her life for years. Pickle and Piccolo had a falling out some months ago which resulted in the kitten having to visit the Vet for a scratched eye. It was Piccolo’s fault – she was stalking Pickle and got her comeuppance. You don’t mess with old lady cats, as she should know as she lives with one next door who is named after Simone de Beauvoir’s cat and is also a tortoiseshell. We don’t see much of her.

cats_300511 _pickle

Lizzie is feeling her age these days, and despite being occasionally off her food, still appears spry and healthy.

cats 006

She and Willy coexist more or less peacefully, with very few tiffs. Willy seems to have slowed down and is much more likely to be home than out and about these days.

cats 016

And the cat on the lap is of course Willy; he is my feline companion when I read in bed of a morning.

Speaking of cats and books, check out the wonderful Writers & Kitties, a blog that features photos of famous writers and their cats.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Spring Racing 2011 – Underwood Stakes & George Main Stakes

Efficient (2007 Melbourne Cup winner) returns in the Underwood Stakes

A fine Spring day is forecast for the racing at Caulfield this coming Saturday.  It will feature the Group One Underwood Stakes (1800 metres) and has attracted a very fine field of stayers. It’s great to see old Efficient back on the track after being out of action since his Turnbull Stakes win in October 2009.  He’s top weight and isn’t expected to win; the Underwood is a sort of practice run for him.

So who are the likely chances in the Underwood? Well, Lights of Heaven who was very disappointing in the Makybe Diva Stakes, is the current favourite. It seems it was fortunate that she didn’t win the Makybe Diva Stakes as the curse has struck again with the 2011 winner Littorio’s racing career being declared over due to yet another injury. Classy New Zealand stayers Lion Tamer, who won the Victoria Derby last Spring and Scarlett Lady who won the Queensland Oaks over autumn are part of the first rate field as is Western Australian star Playing God. Throw in the consistent Heart of Dreams – he won this race in 2009 – and Maybe Diva Stakes placegetters Glass Harmonium and Midas Touch, not to mention the wonderful mare Shamrocker and you have a very interesting line up. Any of the above can win. 

Rosehill in Sydney has the Group One George Main Stakes as the feature of its race card. It’s a standard WFA over 1500 metres. The top pick is Sincero who opened his Spring campaign with a win in the Tramway on September 3rd and also won the Stradbroke Handicap in Brisbane over winter. Ilovethiscity winner of the Randwick Guineas in autumn could mount a challenge, though he has not shown anything like his autumn form so far this Spring.  Sacred Choice is also too good to totally dismiss. Both she and Ilovethiscity will be wearing blinkers for the first time which may make all the difference to their performances.

There are several other interesting races happening on Saturday, the Group 3 Thousand Guineas Prelude  at Caulfield for 3yos and the Group 2 Tea Rose Stakes at Rosehill for 3yo fillies, not to mention the Group 3 Naturalism Stakes  (Caulfield) for stayers desperate to qualify for the big cups, and Group 2 The Shorts (Rosehill)  where I’m pleased to see the return of Love Conquers All -  all worth watching in the light of what’s yet to come.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Cool Afternoon at Moonee Valley

Rekindled Interest sashed after winning the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes

The weather on Friday in Melbourne was wet, windy and cold, but it brightened considerably yesterday, so going to the races promised not to be such a bad idea after all. So forth I went, suitably garbed to weather any climatic conditions, to Moonee Valley race track.

I arrived a quarter of an hour  before the fourth race, the AJS Corporation Handicap for mares, over 1200 metres, so had plenty of time to have a quick look at the parade and place a bet.  I selected Irish Dream and Annlea and had $2.00 each way bets on both. Happily Irish Dream brought home the bikkies, paying quite reasonable odds of $4.80 for the win, so I got my money back and a slight profit, a successful start to the day.

Irish Dream after winning the AJS Corporation Handicap

The next race on the cards was the Spotless Handicap, over 1600 metres. The field looked uninspiring, so I had a few dollars on the top weight Philda who appeared to have likely form. Then I had a change of mind, and by a serendipitous mistake placed a bet on horse number 11. I’d actually meant to bet on number 15.  Would you believe, number 11, Carnero won, after leading throughout and holding off a late charge by Extra Zero. He paid a very handsome $10.50.

Carnero after winning the Spotless Handicap

My luck changed after that, my selections in the next two races failing to run a place.

The first of the group races was Race number 6, the Group Three McEwan Stakes, a sprint over 1000 metres. I went out and cased the runners in the parade ground.

Kulgrinda who was one of my selections

Happy Zero, former champion of Singapore - a beautiful looking beast, he was my other selection.

Atomic Force who ran third

The pretty Satin Shoes

Buffering – the winner of McEwan Stakes sashed

The feature race of the day was the Group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes and everyone expected Whobegotyou to make it three in succession. It was not to be, as Whobe was blocked for a run when it mattered and only managed to run into third place. Rekindled Interest who I disparaged in my preview, was the winner with Alcopop running second. I had my money on Linton who uncharacteristically was forced to lead early in the race, and ended up boxed in with no place to go.

Rekindled Interest

Well, my luck had to change and it did in Race 8 , the Stocks Stakes, a Group 2 race for mares over 1600 metres.  I put my money on New Zealand mare King’s Rose and she delivered, with a narrow win over Pinker Pinker with good old Lady Lynette running third. I remarked to my friend R, that the above girls were the ideal boxed trifecta. A pity I didn’t take my own advice, as the trifecta paid $38.00 which is nothing to sneeze at, despite what others may say.

Kings Rose being unsaddled after winning the Stock Stakes

I didn’t stay for the last race, so after collecting my winnings on Kings Rose, I headed home, my finances intact. I broke even on the day, so it was a cheap day out at the races.

It wasn’t all that cold at the track, though the occasional shower had racegoers running for cover, and the sun peeped out of the clouds several times.

As usual I’m on the lookout for unusual costumes. The most outrageous was this bloke in a dress, who graciously posed for the photo…


…and the Moonee Valley promotional team – a person dressed in a horse costume accompanied by two sweet young things dressed as jockeys, were handing out cards granting the recipient a free glass of sparkling wine at Legends, the gambling establishment just up the hill from Moonee Valley racecourse.


As I intend to make use of my seasons ticket, I’ll be attending my first night race  on 30 September. The feature race then will be the Group 1 Manikato Stakes with  the likes of Sepoy and More Joyous apparently scheduled to run in it.