Friday, March 28, 2014

Sydney Adventure – Part 2 – Astro New Year Dinner & Sunday Afternoon

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Archibald Fountain (detail of Apollo) – Hyde Park Sydney

So, I suppose you are keenly awaiting my impressions of the Astro New Year Dinner…

The trip back to Sydney Central from Rosehill took much longer than I expected, so I was late getting to the Astro Dinner venue in Alexandria. Fortunately it was not far from the city centre and a short train trip followed by a brisk walk got me there at 7.00pm, only half an hour late. 

Everyone was in the process of eating the entree as I joined the Fire table. Yes, the guests were seated according to the elemental attributes of their signs, which in Astrology assigns three signs each in fire, earth, air and water.   Being a Leo I was pleased to be at the fire table which as you can imagine was buzzing and vibrant.  My fellow fire signs were all very friendly and, you guessed it, the main topic of conversation was astrology.  The other elemental tables appeared to be just as lively, and indeed there was a lot of mingling between them.

It was a great pleasure to meet the amazing Mystic Medusa in person for the first time. She was reassuringly ordinary and a thoroughly pleasant and friendly person. I suppose I was expecting someone more exotic, as others admitted as well.

Mystic (left) chats with a guest at the fire table.

The restaurant was very noisy, and my hearing is not as it was in my youth (too many rock concerts) so I completely missed the Mystic rant on the fire table, sitting as I was on the opposite end of the table.

The food was very tasty, though if you got me to describe what we ate, I couldn’t tell you. Neither could anyone else. I assumed it was some kind of vegan fare, but I could be wrong. The restaurant specialises in French/Australian gourmet food. However the wine flowed freely so everyone was very much in party mode and I met lots of lovely ladies whose names I have unfortunately forgotten, though not their faces or personalities.

Most of the Astro Dinner guests were female, with only a few men present. but that was understandable as most of the comments on Mystic’s blog are written by women, and blokes don’t seem to have the the same interest in subject. Even so, most of the great astrologers of the past were men – Nostradamus, Charles C E O Carter, Alan Leo, to name a few.

It was an exhilarating evening that I enjoyed enormously. Crazy in a totally amusing and unusual way, it was worth the trip to Sydney.  Quite a few of the other guests had flown from interstate as well, so I was not the only one to succumb to a whim and the chance to meet the awesome Mystic Medusa.

It was around 11.30pm that the last of the diners left, me included. I made my way back to the city by train still buzzing from the energy of the dinner party.

On Sunday I took it easy, or at least attempted to, but I found myself pounding the pavement once more searching in vain for the NSW National Gallery. I took a train to St James Station which appeared on the map to be the closest station to the Gallery, but I got distracted when I emerged by the Hyde Park Barracks.

Hyde Park Barracks exterior

This building was designed by the convict architect Francis Greenaway and constructed between 1818 and 1819, designed to house convict men and boys. It is now a museum devoted to displaying relics of the era, and depicting the lives of those who dwelt there.

As it was only $5.00 to enter, I decided to view the exhibits housed over the three floors of the building. It was quite interesting, bringing back memories of my study of Australian History at University.  I breezed through rather cursorily, I must admit, as I found it hard to concentrate on any one thing for long, my afternoon’s goal being to make it to the Art Gallery.

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Hyde Park Barracks interior – top floor

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Hyde Park Barracks interior – top floor with cardboard silhouette

Irish Famine Memorial in the grounds of the Hyde Park Barracks

By rights, after leaving the Hyde Park Barracks, I should have headed in a northerly direction, but I was distracted by the Hyde Park Gardens, thinking they would eventually lead to the Botanical Gardens. 

The Archibald Fountain is very fine and the cool shade of the park drew me further in.

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St Mary’s Cathedral and Archibald Fountain

To cut it short I wandered around for ages and finally ended up back in the city centre, whereupon, giving up on ever finding the Gallery and foot weary, I caught a train to Circular Quay, planning to at least get photos of Sydney’s iconic structures and some water views.

Circular Quay is a spectacular station, situated as it is by the ferry terminal, and as you leave the station there is a great view of the harbour, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge on one side and the Opera House on the other.

circular quay_bridge


It is a lively spot Circular Quay, a hive of activity with plenty of people taking the air on a fine and sunny afternoon. I found a bar and, sipping a refreshing ale, sat and watched the parade, then got talking to some people who shared my table, who were a guy with an amazing Mohawk hairdo and his girlfriend.  I was really surprised that Mohawk was able to quote the following rhyme about ravens or magpies, which is somewhat esoteric knowledge: One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret that’s never been told. It’s not a rhyme you hear quoted every day.

Eventually I made it back to my hotel, and had an early night as I was dead tired.

The weather in Sydney over the weekend was fine and sunny, though humid, but Monday afternoon it turned nasty. My plane was due to leave at 1.00pm, but was delayed for an hour by a thunder storm, where the plane, with passengers aboard, sat on the tarmac until it was clear to take off. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled, but finally the plane took off and I arrived back in Melbourne about 4.00pm and home an hour later.

It was a good break from my usual routine and I’m glad I went to the Astro Dinner and the Rosehill races. I should do it again sometime.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sydney Adventure – Part 1 – Relatives and Races

Harbour Bridge and Opera House from Circular Quay

You may not think that a trip to Sydney is much of an adventure, but for me it was, as I hardly ever get to go anywhere outside of Melbourne. I don’t mind travelling solo, and enjoy getting out of my comfort zone.

I met a young woman on the train to the airport when I was leaving, who had flown for the first time in her life, and was anxious about finding her terminal at the airport going home to the Gold Coast, or even getting off the train at the correct stop. She certainly needed her horizons to be expanded.


Arriving in Sydney town on Friday at around noon, and after checking into my hotel, I headed off to Mortdale out in the southern suburbs to visit my father’s youngest brother and wife. They’re now in their late eighties, and I had not seen them for many years. It was great to catch up, and we spent the afternoon chatting merrily away about a number of things, family matters included. My uncle has a great collection of old photos, dating back to the 19th century. He and my aunt at one stage did a search for family history and travelled back to the town in Somerset where our branch of the family originated. My great, great grandfather George, at the age of 34, emigrated to Australia in 1839 on the ship Morley. He died in Melbourne in 1886 at the age of 84.

Anyway, as my father died when I was only two, I have no memory of him, but his younger brothers, of whom there are only two left,  have always told me about him.  My uncle this time remarked that my dad was one the bravest people he ever knew. This is because, when my dad was a boy he got a splinter from a cow bail in his leg which became gangrenous and the leg was eventually amputated at the thigh. So my father was one legged, and was adept on a crutch. My uncle said that he never bemoaned his fate and was the most cheerful, thoughtful and kindest of elder brothers.  It’s a pity he died so young (he was 39 years old) and that I never knew him. Who knows what different path my life would have taken had he lived.

When I emerged from Central station after catching the train at the airport, by sheer chance I came out at the correct exit, close to the hotel I was staying at. Returning from Mortdale I exited on the other side of the station and got lost. I have my phone, but I find looking at maps on it is very hard, my vision not being 100%, so I walked, and walked, and walked until I finally found the right street and eventually my hotel. By that time it was quite late, so after dining at the hotel I called it a night.

Racing at Rosehill

The weather the whole time I stayed in Sydney was dry, warm and humid, which was good for attending the races at Rosehill as it promised a good track.

Relying once more on Sydney’s train system I successfully made it to the track, even though we were obliged to catch a bus from Olympic Park to the racecourse due to railway track work over the weekend.

If you’ve been to one racecourse, you’ve been to them all, as they are generally laid out in much the same way. And so it was at Rosehill.

It’s quite a small racecourse, but it was easy to get a good view of the races from the fence, though the mounting yard – a long narrow space – was not really accessible to Joe Public. 

I arrived just before Race 2, so was able to test my camera in the conditions.

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Race 2 down the straight – Earnest Ernest the winner (pink and yellow silks) is on the outside about to overtake the leaders

The races in Sydney run in a clockwise direction, so I had to adjust my mind to the difference as I initially looked anti clockwise to see where the race was at ala Melbourne direction, but soon got used to the changed view.

You would think Rosehill, with its name would be resplendent with roses, but the Flemington roses leave it for dead. It does have a rose archway where the horses leave the mounting yard for the track…

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Rose archway at Rosehill

…and the statue of famous old sprinter Todman has a wreath of roses around his neck.

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Todman statue

Which leads me into Race 3 which was the Group 2 Todman Stakes for Golden Slipper bound two year old colts and geldings, run over 1200 metres.  I was keen to see the Magic Millions Two Year Old Classic winner Unencumbered, who started as favourite.

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Unencumbered on his way to the track from the mounting yard

However, he was upstaged by Guelph’s little half brother Ghibellines who romped home at huge 40/1 odds.

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Race 3 finish – Ghibellines is in the lead, before winning the Todman Stakes

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Ghibellines returns to scale

His big sister Guelph ran third in the last race, but I left the track directly after the Ranvet Stakes in order to be in time for the Astro Dinner, so regretfully missed seeing her in action as she apparently has since been retired.

In Race 4, the Reisling Stakes, the fillies equivalent of the Todman Stakes, Earthquake continued on her winning ways,  one of the few favourites of the day to score a win.

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Earthquake returning to scale after winning the Reisling Stakes

The two Group One features were scheduled later in the afternoon, so I took the opportunity during the interval to explore the racecourse facilities and the stalls area, where Fiorente was being walked…

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…and Catkins was being prepared for the Coolmore Classic

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Catkins started as favourite for the Coolmore Classic, though at pretty good odds of $4.60.  She was denied her first Group 1 victory by Steps In Time who, ridden aggressively by Jim Cassidy, took off at the 600 and left the rest of the field behind, leading by several lengths. Sweet Idea closed the gap in the straight, but could not quite catch her. Catkins managed to run third.

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Steps In Time returns to scale after winning the Coolmore Classic

The Group One Ranvet Stakes was expected to be a match race between Fiorente and It’s A Dundeel, and they started as equal favourites. However, nothing in racing ever turns out how you would expect, and such was the case this time.

In my preview of the Ranvet Stakes in my last blog post I advised readers not to ignore Silent Achiever, and she proved me right. She pipped race leader, the Queen’s horse, Carlton House, at the post.  He took the lead early in the race and had put a good couple of lengths on the rest of the field by the turn. Silent Achiever raced up near the speed and somehow or other caught Carlton House on the line in a thrilling finish. It’s A Dundeel ran third, but was disappointing overall, as was Fiorente.

Carlton House looked a picture leaving the mounting yard, Kerrin McEvoy resplendent in the Queen’s silks. Carlton House has a completely different appearance to Australian and New Zealand bred horses. He was bred in the USA.

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Carlton House

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Ranvet heroine Silent Achiever on her way to the track

Unfortunately I didn’t get a good photo of It’s A Dundeel, but I did notice that even though he is still a small stallion, he has thickened out and certainly looked quite magnificent.

I hastened to the exit after the Ranvet, not even waiting for the horses to return to scale and spent the next hour or so travelling firstly by a bus, then by a train stopping all 15 stations to Central.

As I was feeling quite sweaty after a hot day in the sun, and greasy with sun screen, I decided to have a quick shower before heading off to the Astro Dinner…

To be continued.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Group One racing at Rosehill & Moonee Valley

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Catkins – can she win her first Group 1 race this Saturday?

There are three Group 1 races this weekend, the William Reid Stakes at Moonee Valley on Friday night, and the Coolmore Classic and Ranvet Stakes at Rosehill in Sydney on Saturday.

Last year’s William Reid Stakes starred Black Caviar who romped home for her 24th win before a huge crowd. I was there at that meeting and it was magic. This year however I won’t be present for the 2014 edition. It has attracted quite a good field, with the top contenders being Samaready,  Shamexpress and Spirit of Boom.

has been disappointing so far this season, but she gets her chance to redeem her reputation in the William Reid Stakes. She likes Moonee Valley, her last win was at the track in the Group 1  A J Moir Stakes in September last year.

Shamexpress prefers the big Flemington straight, and has performed well against  top sprinters like Snitzerland, and Buffering recently running second in the Black Caviar Lightning. Spirit of Boom is a reliable old sprinter, sure to be in the finish if not win.

Caulfield Cup winner Fawkner has also been entered in this race. He contested it last year first up after break, and ran third to Black Caviar, so could run a place this year as well.

I’m looking forward to visiting Rosehill racetrack for the first time, on Saturday, and the Australian Turf Club has certainly scheduled an excellent race card for the occasion.

Fiorente and It’s A Dundeel will be contesting the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes, so that’s a must see race. Run over 2000 metres, it will certainly sort out the top middle distance horse of the year. I’m awfully torn as to who to back. I’d love It’s A Dundeel to win, but I also wouldn’t mind if the handsome Fiorente continued on his winning ways.  It’s A Dundeel may have the advantage as his best wins have been in Sydney, whereas Fiorente has only had one start in Sydney at Randwick where he ran third behind All Too Hard in the All Aged Stakes last autumn. Others in contention are Foreteller, who won the Ranvet Stakes last year, and the Queen’s horse Carlton House who has apparently finally acclimatised to Australian conditions, being very competitive in the Parramatta Cup recently, running second to outsider Opinion. Fresh from two recent wins in New Zealand, the consistent Silent Achiever may pip the lot of them; ignore her at your peril.

The bonny grey mare Catkins gets her best chance to win her first Group 1 race in the Coolmore Classic. She has been going great guns since resuming, winning both of her starts. The only horse who has beaten her in her last four runs was stable mate Red Tracer who is not part of the Coolmore field. But it is a huge field that includes some really smart fillies and mares, such as Steps In Time, Royal Descent, Dear Demi, whose second up record is excellent, last start winners Bonaria and A Time For Julia, and Sweet Idea who was on a three run winning streak, until failing in the Surround Stakes. 

As well as the two aforementioned Group 1 races, there are several other truly interesting competitions, in particular the Golden Slipper preludes – the Group 2 Todman Stakes for the boys and the Group 2 Reisling Stakes for the fillies – where I will get to see Unencumbered (Todman Stakes) and Earthquake (Reisling Stakes)  in action. Both of these youngsters are highly fancied for the Golden Slipper, Earthquake currently being the favourite after her stunning win in the Blue Diamond Stakes.

Hopefully the weather in Sydney will not be too wet and that a storm will not delay the racing action as it did last week at both Bendigo and Warwick Farm.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bound for Botany Bay

Sydney Opera House & Harbour Bridge from the  Botanical Gardens - 2005

This coming Friday I am flying to Sydney for the weekend; off on a solo adventure ostensibly to attend Mystic Medusa’s Astro New Year Dinner, which at a mad whim I booked for as soon I knew about it.

The last time I visited Sydney was in October 2005, which when I took the above photo, and on that occasion I was there to spend time with American friends, weird fiction writer Jeff Vandermeer and his lovely wife Ann. We had a fun time walking around Sydney, visiting the zoo and dining out in Chinatown.  So at least I got to know the city quite well then.

This time I plan to spend some time visiting relatives and also attend what looks to be an excellent day of racing at Rosehill on Saturday afternoon where a host of my favourite racehorses will be running. On Sunday I’ll explore Sydney, perhaps visit the NSW Gallery, where they have a great collection of Margaret Preston paintings.

The Astro New Year Dinner is to celebrate the beginning of the Astrological cycle, which starts at the autumn equinox every year in the sign of Aries and begins the procession of the sun signs through the year. 

Having been interested in Astrology most of my life and being a self taught horoscope compiler, I naturally find Mystic Medusa’s Blog interesting reading.  Her perception and knowledge of the subject is awe inspiring, and her writing style is sassy, smart and witty.  I shall enjoy mingling with other pseudo intellectual astro bitches (Mystic’s term) at the dinner. I never get a chance to discuss astrology with any of my  circle of friends, so it will be a treat.

I rather wonder how we will be seated at the dinner. Mystic did mention putting all the sun signs on their own separate tables, or maybe compatible signs will be put with each other, or maybe they’ll be divided into the elements, fire with fire, earth with earth etc. Whatever, it should be a fun night, and I’m really looking forward to meeting Mystic Medusa in person.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Stylish Americana – Time Travelling with Pokey LaFarge

Pokey LaFarge live at  Corner Hotel 12 March 2014
Pokey LaFarge and band are '”artfully dodgy ambassadors for old-time music, presenting and representing the glories of hot swing, early jazz and ragtime blues" who have "made riverboat chic cool again."
I must admit that two months ago I had not heard of Pokey LaFarge, but an article on the artist in Rhythms Magazine led me to check him out on the internet, and subsequently to purchasing tickets to his show at the Corner Hotel.

So it was with high expectations that I arrived at the Corner on Wednesday night, and I left at the end of the night feeling that my expectations had been well and truly exceeded.

Mustered Courage

Mustered Courage – Nick Keeling

The opening act was local Bluegrass band Mustered Courage, who performed a short set of songs mostly from their recent album Powerlines. They put on a lively act of fast bluegrass ala The Old Crow Medicine Show or Mumford & Sons. A four piece band they are:

Nick Keeling – lead vocals, banjo
Julian Abrahams – Guitar, vocals
Paddy Montgomery – Mandolin, vocals
Josh Bridges – Bass, vocals

They were warmly received by the substantial crowd that was amassing for the main act and were a quality opener of whom SMH reviewer Bernard Zuel writes: “ Like the Dillards 45 years ago, there's toughness to this mountain music even when it's high and sweet. Like the Dingoes 35 years ago, there are no pretensions but strong tunes”

Mustered Courage Set List
  1. Sweet Blue Eyed Darling
  2. Southern Style
  3. Allegheny
  4. Cruel Alibis
  5. Standin’ By Your Side
  6. Train 45
  7. Powerlines
Pokey LaFarge

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Pokey LaFarge with his horn section – Chloe Feoranzo & TJ Muller

It is very rare to come across a band who can engage so  instantaneously with their audience, but Pokey LaFarge had the practically sell out crowd in the palm of his hand from the first song.

He had them singing along in no time, clapping, dancing on the spot (as it was a stand up concert, there wasn’t any room for dancing), each song drawing rapturous applause.  The vibe was love, love, love all night long.

A thoroughly engaging entertainer, Pokey Lafarge certainly looked the part. He has a wonderful interesting face, and a tremendous sense of style, dressed as he was in a loose creamy white suit, under which was a pale lemon shirt. Around his neck he wore a retro tie patterned with horseshoes and beautiful two tone, cream and tan, shoes clad his feet.  He wouldn’t have been out of place at the Oaks, and looks like a cross between a Gatsby film extra and Jimmie Rodgers.

And the music was sublimely exhilarating, instantly causing an unconscious foot tapping reaction and urge to dance or clap your hands - uplifting to the heart and the soul.

Pokey’s take on the music of the American past sounds completely authentic. The scintillating rhythms of Ragtime Jazz, Swing and Blues took us back to a time before we were born, yet sounded simultaneously fresh and familiar. He would probably object to my using the “retro” term as on his Facebook page he says “It’s not retro music, it’s American music that never died'”.

Pokey LaFarge wrote most of the songs on his latest self titled record, but they are indistinguishable from the period pieces and traditional songs of the 1920s, 30s and 40s which he favours. Take Central Time, one of Pokey’s compositions, which goes…

The Missouri is my right arm, the Ohio is my left
But I’m livin’ on the Mississippi River where I like life the best
I don’t mind the west coast, and I don’t mind the east coast
Oh, baby but I ain’t gonna live on no coast
I’m just a plain ole Midwestern boy
Gettin’ by on Central time
… and  though it is a modern song, possibly autobiographical – Pokey was born in the Midwest – it has the genuine feel of music from a bygone period. Pokey sees himself as an innovator and preservationist, not a traditionalist. His voice sounds as if it is issuing from an old 78 record or mono radio.

Ably supported by his hot band, Pokey LaFarge, performed a total of 16 songs the highlights being Hard Times Come And Go, River Boat Shuffle, La La Blues, Central Time and In The Graveyard Now, though truth to tell, as every song was performed with verve and energy, it is hard to pick standouts.

The band are Joey Glynn on bass, Adam Hoskings on guitar, Ryan Koenig on harmonica, washboard and snare drum, T J Muller on cornet and trombone and Chloe Feoranzo on clarinet and saxophone.

They were excellent, one and all.

There is always one! You know the fan who has had a few too many drinks and wants the rest of the audience to know how much he loves the band or artist? Well we had one of them close to where we were standing. At one stage he yelled his appreciation at the end of a song, which caused Pokey to pause his stage patter, unhook the microphone and present it to the fan with the remark “This person has something poignant to say”  The fan was over the moon, and shouted into the mike “Holy fucking shit!” much to the amusement and/or outrage of everyone else.

When the main set was over, a concerted effort by the totally smitten audience drew Pokey back for an encore. He returned munching a slice of water melon, remarking that water melon was, after music, his favourite thing in life.  He started by singing Josephine solo, before being joined by the band for Show Me The Way To Go Home the popular 1925 Irving King song, no doubt a hint that the night’s entertainment was drawing to a close. However, as Pokey said, to go out on a lively note, Bowlegged Woman was the final song.

It was indeed a night of timeless music. You had to be there to experience the fun and magic of time travelling with Pokey LaFarge and his ace band.  

Pokey LaFarge Set List
  1. The Angel Of Flowers
  2. Close The Door
  3. Goodbye Barcelona
  4. All Night Long
  5. Sweet Potato Blues
  6. Cairo Illinois
  7. Riverboat Shuffle
  8. Hard Times Come & Go
  9. Kentucky Mae
  10. The Good Lord Giveth
  11. Central Time
  12. When Did You Leave Heaven
  13. Fan It
  14. La La Blues
  15. Window Faces South
  16. In The Graveyard Now (also known as In The Jailhouse Now)
  1. Josephine
  2. Show Me The Way To Go Home
  3. Bowlegged Woman
Check out this video of Pokey Lafarge performing Central Time

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hearts & Roses – Super Saturday Review

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Fiorente being walked in the parade ring early in the afternoon prior to winning the Australian Cup

Super Saturday certainly lived up to its name with Flemington hosting a great afternoon of racing action that thrilled this dedicated race enthusiast for one. It was an afternoon for favourites to salute, and featured several exciting head to head competitions between rival horses.

Hearts and roses is an appropriate title for this post as the “love horse” Lankan Rupee blitzed the Newmarket Handicap field, and the last two Melbourne Cup winners, Fiorente (whose name means blooming in Italian) and Green Moon, fought out the Australian Cup up the rose bordered straight.

Arriving pretty early, shortly after 1.00pm, I was in time to watch the running of the Group 2 Sires Produce Stakes.  Though I didn’t have a bet on it, I was barracking for Marcado who I had included in my Star Stable. He ran third behind the winner Zululand and Awesome Rock, though only a length or so off them, so for the moment I won’t banish him from my stable.

I decided after that to check out the stalls and parade ring, and took the above photo of Fiorente and the following one of Lankan Rupee in his stall.

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Lankan Rupee – highly recognisable with the heart on his forehead

I was also hoping to see the Living Legends representatives for the afternoon – Efficient and Zipping – but they hadn’t arrived at that time.

Meanwhile back at the track, Race 4 the Group 3 Schweppervescence Trophy was about to start. Bonaria started favourite and didn’t disappoint winning comfortably from Text’n Hurley and the amusingly named Bippo No Bungus.

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Bonaria returns to scale after winning the Schweppervescence Trophy

Returning to the stalls area I finally caught up with Fish and Zip. Their lovely strappers obligingly brought them out from their stalls for a pat. Efficient seemed more interested in eating the roses, but I snapped a few good photos of the pair of buddies together.

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Efficient won the 2006 Victorian Derby and the following year won the Melbourne Cup.  I remember his Cup win vividly as an intuition half an hour before the race had me rushing to put a bet on him as the only grey in the race. He won me over $100 as he paid something like $25.00 for the win. His career was dogged by niggling injuries, but he managed to win the 2009 Turnbull Stakes and ran second in the 2012 Sydney Cup.  If he hadn’t been injured, who knows what he would have achieved.

Zipping was a grand old stayer who retired with a sterling record of wins and places in prestigious races. He won the 2010 Australian Cup and also the 2010 Turnbull Stakes and won the Group 2 Sandown Classic (which is now named after him) in four consecutive years (2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009), was placed in the Cox Plate three times, and has overall a great record of 16 wins, 10 places from 47 starts.

It was a great pleasure to make the acquaintance of these fine old gentlemen of the turf and to give them a pat.

Anyway, back at track, the field for Race 5 the Group 2 Kewney Stakes for three year old fillies was parading.

Solicit was the hot favourite after her 2¾ length win in the Vanity Stakes back in February. She was another of my Star Stable horses so I was delighted that she made it back to back wins with her Kewney Stakes victory. The seemingly eternal bridesmaid Marianne ran second again and Suavito was third.

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Solicit returns to scale after winning the Kewney Stakes

After the Kewney Stakes I hastened to the Bookies area to watch the Wiggle Stakes on the small screen there, which is the only place I’ve found at Flemington where you can watch the Sydney races. I had my first bet of the day, not on Catkins who was odds on favourite, but on Dear Demi who was at really good odds for one her class – investing $2.00 each way. Catkins won really easily. She has come on in leaps and bounds over the past year and looks primed to win a Group 1 this season. She has been known as the punter’s friend, always starting at good odds up until now. I know, I’ve won lots on her in the past when she has been underrated in the betting. Dear Demi managed to run third and payed very well for the place, doubling my outlay. By the way, Catkins is in my Star Stable too, so I was doubly pleased with her win.

The first of the Group 1 races for the afternoon the Newmarket Handicap was the next scheduled race.  I put money on both Samaready and Lankan Rupee as they were my top two picks. Lankan Rupee, courtesy of a superbly judged ride by young jockey Chad Schofield, was sensational. He won by 2½ lengths from Spirit of Boom and Knoydart, which interestingly is the exact same order the three of them finished in the Oakleigh Plate. Lankan Rupee paid a very generous $6.00 for the win, so my pockets were enriched by his payout. And you guessed it, he’s another of my Star Stable horses.

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Lankan Rupee returns to scale after winning the Newmarket Handicap

Shortly after the Newmarket Handicap, the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes was due to run in Sydney, so I returned to the bookies area to watch it.  Boban had a turnaround of form, or maybe it was just his regular jockey Glyn Schofield (Chad’s dad) being back on board, but he denied It’s A Dundeel a first up win.  Dundeel was probably let go too soon, which left him a sitting duck for the swooping Boban, or  he was not as fit as Boban who had two runs under his belt. I was disappointed, but I won’t banish him from Star Stable yet.

The Australian Cup was next up, so after placing bets on Fiorente as a dead cert, and Voleuse De Coeurs as a ruffie, I made my way back to the mounting yard to watch the parade.

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Fiorente – the winner

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Foreteller who ran third

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Mourayan who ran fourth

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Shamus Award – finished sixth

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Voleuse De Coeurs finished fifth

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Green Moon ran second

Shamus Award as expected raced to the front and led for most of the race with Green Moon running close behind him in second spot along with Star Rolling. Fiorente was towards the back of the field until halfway up the straight, then Damian Oliver eased him wide and let him go. He exploded away and he and Green Moon fought it out down the final stretch, with Fiorente proving too strong in the end, scoring by half a length. Shamus Award was no match for the seasoned WFA performers, fading to finish sixth.

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Fiorente returning to scale after winning the Australian Cup

Last year’s Group 2 Blamey Stakes ended in a draw between Budriguez and Puissance de Lune.  This year’s edition resulted in a clear win for the Peter Moody trained Lidari. My money was on the Lloyd Williams Irish import Foundry, who had won his first race in Australia at Flemington in February. He fought on bravely for second going down by a length and Sertorius, the favourite, finished 4 lengths behind in third spot.

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Foundry on his way to the barriers

After collecting my winnings on Foundry, I called it quits and headed up the long stairs to the station. It was a long day, and I certainly got plenty of exercise during the afternoon, as the vast expanses of Flemington mean you have to walk quite a way to place a bet or get a drink.

There were plenty of people there, but it was not unbearable or overcrowded as it was on Derby Day, and the sun shone down all afternoon.  And the roses as usual were blooming in gorgeous array.

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It was indeed a super day to be at the races, and for a change I came home with more money in my purse than I left with.

The focus of racing moves to Sydney from now on, and even if I will not be attending any local races, I’ll be closely following the Group 1 action at Randwick and Rosehill.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Super Saturday – Melbourne Racing Autumn Carnival Finale

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Fiorente contests the Group 1 Australian Cup this weekend

It’s not really the finale of Group 1 racing in Melbourne, as the Group 1 William Reid Stakes will be run on 21 March, but Flemington’s autumn carnival of racing culminates on Saturday.

Three Group 1 races are on the cards this weekend, two at Flemington and one at Warwick Farm in Sydney.  The Australian Cup and the Newmarket Handicap feature in Melbourne, and both have attracted really top notch fields and mouth watering competitions between the top runners.

In the Newmarket Handicap, a sprint over 1200 metres, we have class sprinters like Moment of Change, Samaready,  Shamexpress Lankan Rupee and Knoydart, so how do you choose between them? I’d really like Samaready to win and she does have a good chance to do so at her favoured distance of 1200 metres. Can Moment of Change keep his Group 1 winning streak intact? And who can beat Lankan Rupee, currently in top form and the winner of his last four starts. Shamexpress won the Newmarket last year as a three year old, but carries considerably more weight this year. He ran a close second to Snitzerland in the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes at his last outing and she is not running on this occasion.

The Australian Cup has the very classy Fiorente, who won the Peter Young Stakes first up a fortnight ago, up against new gun Shamus Award, who proved his class last week in the Australian GuineasShamus Award has a weight advantage (54.5kg vs 59kg) and if he can assume and maintain the lead will be very hard to catch. He defeated Fiorente in the Cox Plate last year, doing just that. I doubt that he will be able to get away with it on Saturday, the other jockeys now being aware of his winning tactics.  However, fellow three year old Thunder Fantasy also backing up in this, could be a good chance also, not being all that far away in his last few races. Last year, three year olds Fiveandahalfstar and Super Cool fought out the finish with Super Cool  proving the victor on that occasion

One runner that interests me is Voleuse de Coeurs, the Irish mare who came over here for the Melbourne Cup and was bought by Australian interests to continue racing here. She won the Irish St Leger by 6 lengths, a month or so before she arrived on these shores. She’s obviously an excellent staying mare, so I’m really keen to see how she goes in the Australian Cup. As it’s run over 2000 metres, it might be a bit short for her as her wins have all been over 2600 metres.

The support card at Flemington boasts three Group 2, and two Group 3 races as well as the features, so it’s quality racing all round, though I’m not going to preview any of them here. And as mentioned previously, Living Legends Efficient and Zipping will be parading throughout the afternoon.

In Sydney at Warwick Farm, It’s A Dundeel will be kicking off his autumn campaign in the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes, a race over 1600 metres.  A small field of  8 runners will be competing for the prize, and include Boban who has been a tad disappointing so far this season, his stable mates Hawkspur and Moriarty and Gai Waterhouse trained three year old Order of the Sun. I’ll be cheering for the super little stallion It’s A Dundeel.

The support card at Warwick Farm is just as good, if not better than that in Melbourne, though it seems the races will be run on a slow to heavy track, after a big storm passed through Sydney the other day and showers are expected to continue into the weekend. 

The Group 3 Wiggle Stakes is one race I will endeavour to watch from Flemington.  It has my favourite mare Catkins up against Dear Demi who is resuming after a break. Catkins can handle heavy tracks and already has one win under her belt since resuming. Dear Demi  has won on heavy going, but she has never won first up.  Others in with a chance are Miss Stellabelle, Fire Up Fifi and She’s Clean

Melbourne weather continues fine, so the track at Flemington will be good.

As this is the last race meeting I will be attending for a while, I’ll try and vary my blog posts a little from now on. It’s Music Festival season, and even if I am not attending either the Port Fairy or Brunswick Music Festivals, I do have some live musical treats coming my way.

Next Wednesday I’m really looking forward to seeing Americana artist Pokey LaFarge who plays my kind of music – country blues, western swing – in his own unique style. He’s on at The Corner Hotel.

And at the end of March I have a ticket to the Rolling Stones at Rod Laver Arena. I last saw the Stones back in 1995 at the MCG on their Voodoo Lounge tour. The Rolling Stones have always been my favourite rock ‘n roll band, and even if they are somewhat elderly these days, I’m sure they’ll still pack a punch. I have a pretty good seat in the lower tier and hope to get photos of Mick & Keef et al in action.

In April I’m off to see Tift Merritt and Jason Isbell at the Northcote Social Club. Should be a great show. I’ve seen Jason Isbell twice before, but this is Tift Merritt’s first Australian tour.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Shamus Ain’t No Sham – Australian Guineas Review

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Shamus Award leaving the mounting yard for the track prior to winning the Australian Guineas

Shock 2013 Cox Plate winner Shamus Award demonstrated conclusively that his win in the aforementioned race wasn’t a fluke when he won the Group 1 Australian Guineas in similar fashion last Saturday at Flemington.

It was a mild cloudy day on Saturday, perfect in fact for attending the races.  And there was plenty of room to move around, the turn out of punters, families and onlookers barely filling an eighth of the space available. 

I made it to Flemington as Race 4 was in progress and watched the finish down the straight. It was the Mrs Mac’s Beef Pie Sprint for fillies and mares and was won by Angels Beach from You’re So Good and Red Fez.

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Angels Beach returns to scale down the rose hedged path to the mounting yard

Do you recognize this old horse?

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It’s the 1999 Melbourne Cup winner Rogan Josh, the Living Legends representative for the afternoon. He’s a really big boy, but gentle as a lamb.

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He’s now 22 years old, but was a grand racehorse in his day, not only winning the Melbourne Cup, but also the 1999 McKinnon Stakes and Herbert Power Stakes.

Next Saturday the Living Legends will be Fish and ZipEfficient and Zipping as they were known on the track. I’m really looking forward to seeing Efficient in particular and giving him a pat.

The Frances Tressady Stakes was up next and I watched from my usual position on the fence near the mounting yard. Five All came from the back of the field to overtake Floria on the line. Sino Eagle was a short distance away third.

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Five All on her way back to scale after winning the Frances Tressady Stakes, a happy Michelle Payne in the saddle

Race 6 was the Group 3 TAB Rewards Stakes, so I hung around the mounting yard to watch the runners parading.

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Mouro – the winner

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Strawberry Boy – the unplaced favourite

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Under The Eiffel – finished 5th

Mouro an imported American bred horse won narrowly from Mourinho with Fat Al a few lengths behind running third.

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Mouro leads the field back to scale after winning the TAB Rewards Stakes, giving jockey Craig Williams the first of three wins for the day.

The afternoon flitted away quite quickly and then  it was time for the feature race of the day, the Group 1 Australian Guineas, where a field of fourteen colts and geldings were set to fight it out. I took some photos of them as they paraded in the mounting yard or proceeded to the track.

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Criterion who ran second

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Hucklebuck who started favourite and finished 8th

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Eurozone –the top pick on form who finished 4th

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Thunder Fantasy who ran third

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Prince Harada who finished 7th

Shamus Award who started from Barrier 9, quickly took  the lead and maintained a steady unchallenged pace throughout, quickening in the straight to win comfortably by a length from Criterion.

It is obvious now that Shamus Award likes to lead. He looked uncomfortable chasing Moment of Change in the Orr Stakes, tossing his head around and laying in, but he was straight as an arrow in the Australian Guineas. He appreciated having the unchallenged lead to himself and was fast enough, and far enough ahead, to keep his rivals at bay. It was a replica of his win in the Cox Plate.

He has grown up over the months since his Cox Plate victory, and has turned from a nondescript animal into an impressive specimen of horseflesh.  He’s dark brown, verging on black in colouring, with no markings. It looks like we’ll have to take him seriously from now on.

 Shamus Award has been nominated for the Australian Cup to be run next Saturday, and will be up against a classy field that features Fiorente who, incidentally, he has already defeated once. 

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Shamus Award in the winners rug after winning the Australian Guineas

As Miracles of Life was racing in the next event, the Bob Hoysted Handicap, I didn’t go home as most of the small crowd were doing,  staying to watch the little filly. The race was won by Shamus Award’s stable mate Adamantium, but alas Miracles finished 6th, though not that far off the leading bunch. It was her first run down the forbidding Flemington Straight, and according to her jockey, she was not comfortable with it.  She has grown and filled out a bit since I last saw her, but is still as pretty as a picture.

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Miracles of Life on her way to the track from the mounting yard

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Adamantium returns to scale after winning the Bob Hoysted Handicap

So that was my day at Flemington last Saturday. I’m returning next Saturday for the big finale of the Melbourne Autumn racing carnival, which features the Australian Cup and Newmarket Handicap and an excellent undercard of Group 2 races.

The famous Flemington roses were already blooming in profusion, but are no doubt timed to display perfection at next week’s meeting.

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Rose hedge along the straight.