Friday, April 26, 2013

Sydney Autumn Carnival Grand Final

It’s A Dundeel – can he win the Queen Elizabeth Stakes?

The heart pounding excitement of first class racing continues this coming weekend with a total of six Group One races in two states.

The Sydney autumn carnival culminates with the Sydney Cup meeting at Randwick, and Adelaide kicks off its small autumn racing carnival at Morphettville with two Group One races for fillies and mares.

Black Caviar may be gone from the racing scene, but other champion gallopers will be strutting their stuff on Saturday.

For instance, It’s A Dundeel, surely a bright new racing star, will be taking on the older horses for the first time in the Group One Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000 metres). He’s up against a field of tried and true stayers/middle distance runners like Manighar , who though disappointing so far this season, could return to form, Silent Achiever, who ran an excellent second to Fiveandahalfstar in the BMW recently, and the Chris Waller trained import Reliable Man. However, I think It’s A Dundeel with his lightweight advantage should win, or at least I hope so, if he repeats his performance in the Derby.

The second of the Group One races at Randwick is the Champagne Stakes, a race for two year olds over 1600 metres.  It has some very classy youngsters, including Guelph who won the Sire Produce Stakes a fortnight ago, and Scandiva who ran second on that occasion. Also in the picture is Criterion who will appreciate the extra distance, after running sixth in the Golden Slipper last start where he was not really suited. The same goes for Fast N Rocking who ran fifth in the Golden Slipper and second to Miracles of Life in the Blue Diamond. I have been following the colt Star Wars, mostly because I like his name but also because of his breeding – Starcraft by Rose O’ War, who were star performers back in their day. Rose O’ War actually beat Sunline once. Anyway, Star Wars hasn’t done anything to write home about so far, but he has been running on heavy or slow tracks most of the time, so the addition of blinkers and a good track may make a difference. Another worthy of consideration is the Gai Waterhouse trained Equator who has won his last two starts in lesser grades.

The Sydney Cup, like the Melbourne Cup is hard to assess, run as it is over 3200 metres. It is hard to go past Kelinni who won the Listed JRA Plate last week and also ran fourth in the Melbourne Cup last year.  There are two sons of Zabeel in the field – Maluckyday who ran second to Americain in the 2010 Melbourne Cup and has been racing well of late, and Tremec who recently won, at long odds, the Group Two Chairman Stakes.  Niwot won the Sydney Cup last year, so we know he can run the distance, though he is getting on in years, but may be able to repeat the feat. The sole mare in the race is Aliyana Tilde who ran third to Tremec and New Zealander Blood Brotha in the Chairman Stakes.

All Too Hard resumes his interrupted autumn campaign in the Group One All Aged Stakes (1400 metres). He was scratched from the Australian Guineas back in March, due to a virus infection but has now recovered after a longish spell. This may be his last race in Australia or anywhere; it depends how he goes in this race. We have the mouth watering prospect of him up against super Sydney mare More Joyous, who has been extremely unlucky so far this season. Also sure to be competitive is Epaulette who ran second to Black Caviar in the T J Smith Stakes and Rain Affair who ran third in the race. It will be interesting to see if All Too Hard can go out a winner like his big sister. He beat Pierro last year in the Caulfield Guineas and Pierro beat More Joyous in the Canterbury Stakes, so he has a really good chance if he handles the Sydney way of going.

The final race on the card at Randwick is the Listed Hall Mark Stakes (1200 metres) which is of interest to me due to the return of Manawanui to the race track. He has been out of action since September last year, when he was banned for three months due to a bleeding attack.  So he’s had a long break. He is running against a full field, many of whom are resuming after spells too. I’d be delighted if he won, but he may need the run. He might be worth a small wager at long odds. Whatever, I’ll be sure to watch the race.

At Morphettville , the first of the Group One events is the Sporting Bet Classic (aka Robert Sangster Stakes), which is sprint over 1200 metres for fillies and mares. Super filly Snitzerland is the top pick and will no doubt start as hot favourite. She has yet to win a Group One race, so this is her best chance to achieve it. The Peter Moody trained Kulgrinda appears to be her main danger. She won her first race for a while on this track two weeks ago, beating Platelet and Avoid Lightning who are also part of the field. Local mare Just Discreet also is worth considering.

The other Morphettville Group One is the Australasian Oaks (2000 metres) and has attracted a full field of hopeful fillies.  They appear pretty well matched, so it’s hard to pick the likely winner. Three New Zealand fillies have been sent across the Tasman for this race – Blanket Bay, Her To Eternity and Aurora Lights -  but they may be outclassed by Australian fillies Molto Bene and Global Balance.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Black Caviar’s Farewell at Caulfield – A Black Caviar Tragic Reports

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Black Caviar & fans up close and personal

It was really brought home at Caulfield Racetrack yesterday, that this was the last time we would see Black Caviar in the flesh. The overall sentiment was sadness and everyone who was present would acknowledge that it was a moving occasion. Many were in tears, and even tough old me felt emotional and had to swallow hard after Black Caviar had trotted down the Caulfield straight for the last time.

I arrived at the track shortly before midday, and headed straight for the stalls area to await the arrival of the great mare on the course.  There was already a gathering of fans outside Stall 3 where she was allocated, and even though we had to wait for almost an hour, everyone was in good spirits. There was a woman in a wheelchair who seemed to be on first name terms with the clerks of the course and engaged in light hearted banter with them. They are grizzled old horsemen with a penchant for dry wit. When someone asked one of them the name of his  horse, he quipped “Grey Caviar”.

mini poster

Peter Moody turned up in a jovial mood and obligingly signed memorabilia and cheerfully posed with fans for photos. I was delighted to be there at the right time, having on the off chance brought along a couple of race books to be signed should the occasion arise. He signed them, along with yesterday’s race book which had a mini fold out poster inside, and also the somewhat larger poster that was handed out at the entrance gate.

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Peter Moody signing memorabilia outside Black Caviar’s stall. Note his horsey tie.

As I’d got there early enough I managed to secure a prime position on the fence. Next to me was a disabled guy who levered himself up from his lie back bike to hang on the fence. On his other side was a friendly Canadian woman. Black Caviar fans come in all shapes and sizes, old and young, country and city folk.

Eventually Black Caviar arrived, but only spent long enough in her stall to be fitted out in a special rug in her colours with her name and the words “Thanks for the memories” inscribed on it.

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Black Caviar in her stall being dressed in her special rug.

Donna led her out from the stall to the walking ring, followed by the fans en masse. Whilst there Donna allowed the fans plenty of access to the mare, pausing as she walked around the ring, to allow people to pat her. Black Caviar took all this attention in her stride. She’s a remarkably laid back and good natured horse.

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Black Caviar in the walking ring.

I managed to pat her three times in all over the afternoon and I am here to report that her nose felt soft and silky.

There was understandably a larger than usual crowd for such a low key race meeting, the majority of the attendees I presume Black Caviar tragics like me.

The ceremony to farewell Black Caviar was scheduled to occur shortly after Race 4, so I went to the public lawn to secure a spot on the fence to watch her parade.

The ceremony entailed several speeches from Gerard Whateley, Peter Moody, Caulfield Racing Club chairman and the Victorian Premier Denis Napthine. Then Luke climbed aboard the wonderful mare for a final time and trotted her the length of straight. She was wearing a special saddlecloth with BC25 as the number.

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Black Caviar trots up the straight for the last time.

We all gave her three cheers and a round of applause.  There were tears and smiles, but everyone was moved by it all.

At the end of the parade Black Caviar objected to returning to the mounting yard, feeling cheated of the good gallop she normally had to perform when on the track.

Luke wept, Donna wept and it was all over.

Not quite, as Black Caviar was back in the walking ring a short time later and the fans were again given a chance to say goodbye.

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As you can see, she was right in front of me, eyeball to eyeball.

*I noticed that yours truly made it into footage on Racing Victoria TV, which captures the moment before I took the above photo. The hand on Black Caviar’s nose belongs to the child leaning forward in the below shot. I’m the person in the bottom right corner of the picture with the camera.

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I managed to save the video screen as a jpg (through a complicated method), so I have a picture of myself in the presence of Black Caviar.

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A rather nice head shot

I felt reluctant to leave, putting off the final goodbye as I watched the adoring crowd surround her for one last pat.

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Black Caviar pauses for pats –doesn’t she look well

Eventually I tore myself away and returned course side to watch the running of the Sydney Oaks on the big screen. Royal Descent won it by a ten length margin.

Before leaving for home I snapped a picture of one of the jockey statues outside the Caulfield Racetrack Office, whose silk colours reflect the winner of the Blue Diamond StakesMiracles of Life, a filly who is yet to be beaten. She’s currently spelling, but will return in the spring. How long can she remain unbeaten? It would be a long shot guess that she could emulate the great mare and score a perfect 25.

jockey statue

And so ends a magic era in racing. It only lasted four years, but Black Caviar leaves the scene in perfect condition with a perfect record. It has been an extraordinary time to live if you’re a racing fan. Peter Moody is to be congratulated for his wise and patient handling of the Black Caviar phenomenon. He sets an example to other trainers who would push their charges beyond their capacity and end their careers early.

* This photo and commentary were added 24 April 2013.

Friday, April 19, 2013

After Caviar – The Doncaster Mile

Pierro in action – racing this Saturday in the Doncaster Mile

The racing news recently has all been about the retirement of  Black Caviar, but racing fans can console themselves with the continuing action of the Sydney Racing Carnival, when Royal Randwick hosts the Doncaster Mile meeting with two Group One races on the cards, the Doncaster being one of them.

The other is the Australian Oaks for three year old fillies over 2400 metres.

It has a pretty evenly matched field, the early favourite being Habibi who ran third in the Vinery Stud Stakes behind Norzita. Prior to that run she won the New Zealand Derby. Fellow New Zealander More Than Sacred also has a good chance. She won the New Zealand Oaks at her last run so can run the distance. Of the local fillies Dear Demi can’t be dismissed out of hand, despite her less than inspiring performances in recent races. Then there’s Longport who ran second in the Vinery Stud Stakes and Royal Descent, who won her last start easily in weaker company, who could well take home the prize. 

The track on Saturday at Randwick will most likely be on the slow side as Sydney has received plenty of rain this week, so mudrunners are the go.

The Doncaster Mile has attracted a full field of acceptances, and a classy field it is. This race has been won by champions of the turf, such as Sunline, who won it twice. More Joyous was last year’s winner, but she is not contesting it this year. Her young stable mate Pierro will represent the Gai Waterhouse stable in the Doncaster, and he has the class to win it and could only be defeated by the weight he has to carry(57kgs) which is a bit of a burden for a three year old. Anyway, he’ll start as the favourite, and could well prevail. He has won on slow going several times, so the track condition will not trouble him. I’d really like my old favourite Shoot Out to win. He ran second last year, but this year he is top weight, but only 1kg above that of Pierro. He loves Randwick and the 1600 metres suits, and he also handles soft tracks. Other than Pierro, he may be  challenged by  lightweight filly Norzita who is in fine form at the moment, and class mares Appearance, Streama , Red Tracer and Secret Admirer. Of the boys, Lamasery and Alma's Fury look next best dressed.

There is a possibility that the Doncaster will be Pierro’s last race before retirement and All Too Hard will be having his final race Saturday week before retiring to stud. So two more stars of the turf will be missing from the scene come springtime.

I’ll be at Caulfield to farewell Black Caviar. She will be parading down the straight shortly after race 4 (about 2.10pm) with Luke in the saddle. No doubt it will be a moving occasion and hopefully I will finally get the perfect photo.

Update: Saturday Night

The heavy (10) track at Randwick caused upset wins in the two feature races. Royal Descent won the Oaks from Dear Demi and Gondokoro, and Sacred Falls won the Doncaster with Pierro running second and Norzita third. It was a good day however for Sydney trainer Chris Waller who trained both Royal Descent and Sacred Falls.

My day at Caulfield was quite something else; a deeply moving and memorable occasion, which I will expand upon tomorrow with photos.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Farewell Nelly – Black Caviar Retires

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The news came today that Australia’s favourite racehorse Black Caviar will be retired and sent to the breeding barn. Who her first beau will be is yet to be revealed.

I am not exactly sad about the news, but more deflated than anything. She deserves to go out a winner - after all, what more has she got to prove. She’s won 25 races, 15 of them at Group One level, and remains undefeated - a perfect record.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know how long I’ve been following her racing career. I first mentioned her name on this blog way back on August 21st 2009 when she was about to run in her third race.

It has been a heady four years watching her progress from a promising three year old to the world’s most invincible sprinter, so the racing scene shall feel a bit flat for a while, without the expectation of seeing Black Caviar in action. It’s similar to how I felt when Sunline retired. A race day when she graced the turf had extra sparkle – likewise with Black Caviar.

Black Caviar will be farewelling her fans with a special appearance at Caulfield next Saturday, so I’ll be there to see her parading one last time. I freely admit that I’m a Black Caviar tragic; I have quite a collection of Black Caviar memorabilia including two ticket holders with winning tickets that were being given out at the TAB last Saturday if you placed a bet on Black Caviar. I notice these ticket holders are being flogged off on EBay for a tidy profit, but I’m hanging onto mine and all the other stuff I’ve accrued. I regard them as historical relics.

I am grateful to Black Caviar in more ways than one. She enhanced every race day in which she appeared; she created an unbelievable – you had to be there – atmosphere at the track and changed my life. Prior to participating in the Black Caviar cheer squad, I would never have contemplated going to the races at Caulfield and Flemington. I was drearily stuck on Moonee Valley and my once or twice a year day at the races. Now I realise just what I was missing and regret my former reluctance to branch out beyond my comfort zone. 

Enjoy your retirement Black Caviar, we’ll never see anything like you again. In the meantime I look forward to seeing your sons and daughters on the track a few years from now.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sydney Racing Carnival – Derby Day with Caviar

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Black Caviar – Cox Plate Day 2011

I missed previewing Golden Slipper day last week, due to multiple distractions (renovations) destroying my concentration and desire to write. However, I did watch the splendid race card that featured five Group One races.

Despite the slow track, it was mostly a day for favourites to win. The Gai Waterhouse trained filly Overreach won the Golden Slipper, Norzita won the Vinery Stud Stakes, Fiveandahalfstar won the BMW,  Pierro won the George Ryder Stakes and Appearance was victorious in the Queen of the Turf Stakes, where the favoured More Joyous, was blocked for a run when it counted and failed to run a place.

This week, the newly (only partly) renovated Randwick racecourse features three Group One races – the Sires Produce Stakes for two year olds, the Australian Derby and the T J Smith Stakes, which will, weather permitting, star Black Caviar gunning for her 25th win in succession, and 15th at Group One level.

The first to run of the Group One races is the Sires Produce Stakes, which is run over 1400 metres. Can Overreach, who is backing up in this race, take her winning streak to four?  It seems a hard ask after the arduous Golden Slipper, but one assumes she is fit for it.  Several of her opponents are in the same boat. Guelph, Charlie Boy, Villa Verde  and Windjammer all ran in the Slipper too, and Champollion contested and won the Group Three Ballieu Handicap last Saturday as well and could represent her biggest threat. There’s also Scandiva, a relation to Black Caviar who has won her last two starts and can’t be overlooked.

The Australian Derby is the seventh race on the card, and is a test of stamina for young stayers over 2400 metres. At the beginning of this week, there was keen anticipation for a clash between Fiveandahalfstar and It’s A Dundeel, with their diverse styles of racing being pivotal to the interest – the front runner versus the swooper – but Fiveandahalfstar has been ruled out with a leg injury.

So now it looks a done deal, judging by the way It’s A Dundeel won the Rosehill Guineas - by 6 lengths – and he is understandably the hot favourite.  However, at his only run over 2400 metres in the Victoria Derby last spring, he failed to run a place,  so there is a question mark over his ability to run out the trip. His breeding (High Chaparral x Stareel (out of Zabeel) indicates he can do it and his trainer reckons he’ll win on class alone. He was only a baby when contesting the Victoria Derby (technically two years old) and at the end of a hard campaign, so there are excuses for his failure then. 

There are three other High Chaps in the Derby – High Shot, Hippopus and Kingdoms, so it would be interesting if two of them ran the trifecta, as happened when Shoot Out won the race  in 2010 against Descarado.and Monaco Consul. Might be worth a modest wager on the boxed trifecta.

At the moment Philippi looks the main threat along with Bass Straight and Hvasstan if he handles the clockwise direction of running in Sydney, which he failed to do when he contested  the Rosehill Guineas.

Sydney Racing has scheduled the T J Smith Stakes as the last race on the cards, basically forcing people who are attending only to see Black Caviar, to stay at the course till stumps, similar to Moonee Valley Racing Club’s strategy on William Reid Stakes night recently.

Well, she is a star act and worth waiting to see. Black Caviar, if she runs – Peter Moody has stated that she won’t run if the track is rated heavy – faces ten opponents this time. It must be the biggest field she has run in for quite some time.  Old rival, Hay List fronts in this too as does Sea Siren, Rain Affair and speedy relative Bel Sprinter who was sensational winning The Galaxy a few weeks ago.  Still I doubt any of them can beat the super mare, who is in top form according to Peter Moody.

As the Sydney’s weather is expected to be fine for the rest of the week, there’s every chance that the track will be rated dead to good on Saturday and Black Caviar will bag her quarter century of wins.

Update – Saturday Night

What a fantastic day of racing yet again!

The star of the show was undoubtedly It’s A Dundeel, demolishing the Derby field with a six length win. They’re calling him the “pocket rocket” as he’s only a small horse, but he has a remarkable turn of foot. Philippi ran second and Kingdoms, who led the field for most of the race, hung on for third. The High Chap trifecta didn’t happen-close though. I am feeling rather privileged to have seen him in the flesh last year. I noted at the time that he looked special.

And let’s not forget the mighty mare Black Caviar, effortlessly scoring her 25th win in succession, and breaking several more records – such as going beyond Kingston Town’s record of 14 Group One wins.

As Gerard Whateley wrote in my copy of the Black Caviar book, we are living in extraordinary times.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

An Unexpected & Amazing Musical Treat – David Olney & Sergio Webb at Caravan Music Club

My idea of a good time is getting in front of an audience and giving them more than they expected.” David Olney

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David Olney live at Caravan Music Club – 6/4/13

The neighbour from whom we adopted Talya, having a spare ticket, asked me if I was interested in going to see David Olney & Sergio Webb at the Caravan Music Club. I jumped at the chance, as I have always admired David Olney’s song writing and was somewhat regretting that I hadn’t gone to see the duo at the Brunswick Music Festival when I had the opportunity.

The Caravan Music Club, in the heart of outer suburbia at Oakleigh, is not a venue I get to go to all that often. It’s just too far from home, which is a pity as it’s a great venue – quaint and old fashioned, with a pleasant ambience.

This was the first time David Olney has toured Australia. He is not well known in these parts, but he is acknowledged elsewhere as a pioneer songwriter of the Americana music genre. His songs have been covered by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Tim O’Brien, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Earle among others, and he was part of the legendary 1970s Nashville group that included Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zant and Rodney Crowell, who revolutionised country and folk music.

Two men on stage, one looking like a 1950s private eye and the other like he just stepped off a spaghetti western movie set. One a master story teller and the other an ace guitar picker.”

David Olney is not one of your dulcet singer songwriters. His act is riveting and gritty. His mode of performance is a mix of the spoken word and singing, as he takes on the characters of his songs. There’s the French Prostitute in 1917, the desperados  in Wait Here For The Cops and Postcard From Mexico, the crooked medicine man in Jerusalem Tomorrow, to name a few. The music is more rock that folk and this is where Sergio Webb shines…

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Sergio Webb  live at Caravan Music Club- 6/4/13

He can play the electric guitar like a demon, or delicately – drawing a cello like sound from it, as he did, when the duo performed 1917, a tender ballad set in Paris during the first world war. His style is flamboyant, scintillating to watch and he is a master of his instrument. He adds an essential element to the drama of the duo’s act.

I tried to note the set list but can’t work out the whole list.  Songs included Upside Down, Little Sparrow (a song about Edith Piaf), If I Were You, Deeper Well (covered by Emmylou Harris on her Wrecking Ball CD), Go down Dupree, If My Eyes Were Blind, Covington Girl, Johnson City Blues and many more.

The opening act is also worthy of a mention. It was Bill Jackson and Peter Fidler, who were a quality act. Bill Jackson is a local songwriter and Peter Fidler is a maestro of the dobro. Bill Jackson’s voice and songs reminded me of Guy Clark most of all. Several were story songs, covering Australian History, for instance one song, called Jerilderie, was about the Kelly gang’s hi jinks in that town in 1879.

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Bill Jackson & Peter Fidler live at Caravan Music Club 6/4/13

The David Olney & Sergio Webb show defies description. It was highly unusual, exciting, thoroughly engrossing and over too soon.

Check them out doing Wait Here For The Cops below and you’ll see what I mean.