Monday, August 31, 2015

The New Gothic–Kelly Link & Mike Jones at Melbourne Writers Festival

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(L to R) Mike Jones, Meg Mundell & Kelly Link – The Cube 30/8/15

The Melbourne Writers Festival wound up yesterday after a week of literary events, though I only attended the seminar with Louis de Bernieres and, yesterday morning, the session on The New Gothic.

The only one of the writers in this session I had heard of was Kelly Link, an American short story writer of some note. Kelly Link has won several prestigious awards for her quirky, clever stories, including the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. So her fiction leans to the fantastic side of the literary spectrum, which accords well with my own tastes in literature.

She has released four collections and her latest is Get In Trouble, which I have yet to read. I have in my personal library her first two books Stranger Things Happen and Magic For Beginners.

Mike Jones is an Australian multi media artist, a writer of novels, screenplays and interactive media. He has just released the first novel in his Transgressions Cycle, a trilogy of Horror novels.

The session began with a discussion on the meaning and history of Gothic Fiction, which of course has been a popular genre for centuries, encompassing ghost stories, horror, fantasy and science fiction.

Kelly Link and Mike Jones then read excerpts from their recent works.

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Kelly Link reading

I enjoyed Kelly Link’s story more than Mike Jones’s. It was deceptively light hearted, but chilling and left me wanting more. Mike Jones, on the other hand, despite the depth of description in his prose, failed to thrill me half as much. It’s just that Horror is not a genre that I like all that much. I don’t mind ghost stories or tales of the supernatural, but violence creeps me out.

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Mike Jones reading

It was however an interesting seminar and I enjoyed the discussion as I’m interested in Gothic sensibilities, and was pleased to get my copies of Kelly Link’s books signed.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Spring Stars Rising–The Memsie Stakes

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Rising Romance – Derby Day 2014

After what has seemed a long wait during an exceptionally cold and miserable Melbourne winter, the promise of Spring brings keen anticipation of  a brand new racing season, along with the warmer weather.

It kicks off this coming Saturday at Caulfield with the Memsie Stakes, the first Group  1 race of the Spring.

A full field will contest the event and includes seven Group 1 winners. Fawkner, originally an acceptor, has been scratched after drawing Barrier 18. I’m disappointed, as I was looking forward to seeing him again. He’ll start his season now a fortnight hence in the Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington.

The main contenders with Fawkner out are:

- Boban who redeemed an otherwise uninspiring autumn by winning the Doomben 10,000 back in May then followed that up by running second in the Stradbroke Handicap.

- New Zealand bred, Volkstok’n’barrell, winner of the Rosehill Guineas, and fellow New Zealander, Rising Romance, the sole mare in the race, who ran second to Admire Rakti in the Caulfield Cup, and won the 2014 ATC Oaks.

Then there are the old stalwarts like Happy Trails, Temple of Boom, Smokin’ Joey and smart young things like Magicool and Hi World and the other Waller runner Weary.

It being their first start for the season for most of the runners, the result could likely surprise.

As the Memsie Stakes is being run as Race 8, I plan on delaying my arrival at the course until Race 4, otherwise it’s an extra long afternoon.

Fortunately there are several interesting Group 3 events in the interim and the first of these is Race 4, the HDF McNeil Stakes for three year olds run over 1200 metres. Gold Symphony who won the Vain Stakes at his last start has to be one of the main chances as well as Top Me Up who ran second in that race, and Demonstrate who started favourite, but had a torrid run that dashed his chances. But they’ll have to beat the so far unbeaten Prince of Brooklyn kicking off his spring campaign.

However, the sole filly in the field, Stream Ahead, could well trump the boys. At her last start she ran second to the speedy Petits Filous and will have a 2 –4 kg weight advantage over the boys as well.

Race 5, Stakes sees the return of Rich Enuff who won three successive races in Spring last year before fighting out the finish in the Caulfield Guineas with Shooting To Win, losing by a nose. By all accounts he has trialled really well, so is expected to win this race. He faces seven other competitors, all older and more experienced, the biggest threats being The Bowler and the two mares Bounding and Miss Promiscuity.

I’m really looking forward to seeing dual Group 1 winning mare Cosmic Endeavour making a rare appearance in Melbourne in
Race 7, the Group 3 William Hill Sprint Series Heat 1 Stakes.  She’s up against some smart mares resuming as is she. These include Vezalay (if she gets a run) Madam Gangster, Hazard, Jessy Belle and Griante. 

Yesterday the rain bucketed down on Melbourne, and more rain is expected on Saturday, so the track could well be on the soft side, which makes analysing the form all the more difficult.

In Sydney the track will certainly be on the heavy side after the drenching the State received earlier in the week. The feature race is the Group 2 Run To The Rose, for Golden Rose bound three year olds. Japonisme will be aiming to add a fifth win in succession to the picket fence against his name. However, he faces the unbeaten Press Statement winner of the Group 1 JJ Atkins Handicap, so it looks like it could be a fine battle between these two. I like the name of  Raphael’s Cat a colt from Gai Waterhouse’s stable, who has some claims on form.

Last week’s feature race in Sydney, the Warwick Stakes was won by Royal Descent who thoroughly deserved the win, after being so consistent, placing in a number of Group 1 races in the past.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Life Well Travelled–Louis de Bernières at Melbourne Writers Festival

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Louis de Bernieres (left) & Patrick Allington at the Wheeler Centre 21/8/15

The annual Melbourne Writers Festival kicked off  on Thursday 20th August, and International Guest Louis de Bernières delivered the opening address at Melbourne Town Hall on the night.

I did not attend the event, but chose to book for a 90 minute session entitled “Ask A Novelist” with Louis de Bernières and Patrick Allington  discussing the subject at the Wheeler Centre on Friday afternoon.

A surprisingly low key affair, it was pretty well attended for a mid afternoon event. I managed to get a seat in the front row, so was well placed to snap a few surreptitious photos.

It was an interesting and entertaining seminar, where Louis de Bernières, an articulate and erudite speaker, explained his writing process in some detail. For instance, he said he tended to write crucial scenes first, no matter where they occurred in the overall layout of the book in progress, and liked to slowly develop the novel as a sort of journey to completion. To illustrate his approach to writing a novel, he quoted the first few lines of Ithaka by Greek poet C P Cavafy:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.

He is widely travelled himself, having in his late teens spent some years in Columbia South America. This experience and the novels of magic realist writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez influenced his early writing and his first three novels, the so called Latin American Trilogy.

When researching the historical and physical background for his novels, he travels to the locations and gets the lowdown on the history of the place from the locals. He finds inspiration from many sources and his latest novel, the newly published The Dust that Falls From Dreams was inspired by the life of his grandparents.

His best known book is of course Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a runaway best seller published in 1994.  I have read it, but appear to have mislaid my copy of it. I do have Birds Without Wings, purportedly de Bernières favourite of his novels. I actually wrote a review of it on this blog way back in 2006.

A friend gave me The Dust that Falls From Dreams recently for my birthday, so I’m looking forward to reading it, especially after meeting the author.

There was curious case of synchronicity last night, when I resumed reading The Confusion, book two of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy, my current book on the go. 

Louis de Bernières at one stage quoted Leibniz; his best of all possible worlds statement.

When I opened  page 646 of The Confusion, what should the chapter quotation be but:

God has chosen the world that is the most perfect, that is to say, the one that is at the same time the simplest in hypotheses and the richest in phenomena.
- Leibniz

My mind was accordingly blown.

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Louis de Bernières reading a poem at the end of the session

It was an enjoyable seminar and I was pleased that I attended the event, and delighted to have my copies of Louis de Bernières books signed.

I don’t plan to go to many other of the Melbourne Writers Festival events, but have pencilled in Kelly Link on Sunday morning, 30 August. As I have two of her short story collections, which I have read and enjoyed, I’m keen to see her in person and of course get them autographed.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Petits Filous Wins Again!

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Petits Filous parading in the mounting yard prior to winning the Quezette Stakes

The photo above of Petits Filous has echoes of the great Black Caviar. They have a similar look; both dark brown with no white markings, though Petits Filous is nowhere near as large in size as the great mare.  She’s a slight filly, but has speed and a determination to win that marks her as special. Whether she can emulate the exploits of Black Caviar is yet to be seen, but we followers of the turf live in hope that a new star of the turf has arrived.

Arriving at Caulfield at around 1.40pm, I was in good time get a position on the fence to view the runners in Race 4 going out onto the track. The Williams Plate was a race for mares over 1100 metres, and Vezalay was the hot favourite.  Her racing silks looked familiar – they are in fact the same as Atlantic Jewel.

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Vezalay on her way to the barriers

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More Radiant – runner up

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I’m A Flying Star – third place

Vezalay led from start to finish and won by a good length to More Radiant with I’m A Flying Star three lengths behind, running third.

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Vezalay  zooms up the straight to win the Williams Plate

As there was 40 minutes to wait until Race 4 , the Group 3 Vain Stakes, I wandered out to the stalls area to see who had arrived.

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Petits Filous waiting patiently in her stall

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Petits Filous trainer Ciaran Maher outside her stall

The Gai Waterhouse contingent were nearby and the strapper of Giulietta was posing for an affectionate shot with her charge for another photographer, so I got into the act and snapped the following photo.

Giulietta getting a kiss from her strapper

Next door to Giulietta was Excess Knowledge, a handsome British import who Gai Waterhouse says reminds her of 2013 Melbourne Cup winner Fiorente. He does have a similar look and is certainly a good looker.

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Excess Knowledge

Tasmanian star The Cleaner was also present in the next block of stalls.

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The Cleaner

And the David Hayes & Tom Dabernig newly imported stayer Dibayani was nearby and looks a magnificent beast.

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Dibayani in his stall

Back in the mounting the colts and geldings were assembling for the Vain Stakes.

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Demonstrate – started favourite, ran 4th

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Gold Symphony – the winner

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Top Me Up – runner up

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Star Planet – third place

Whereas the previous mares race was run at a rattling pace, the Vain Stakes had no clear leader and seemed to be slightly slower, with runners bunched up and running wide at the turn. Demonstrate was blocked for a run and was never a chance. Gold Symphony and Top Me Up fought out the finish down the straight with Gold Symphony having the winning edge.

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Vain Stakes finish – Gold Symphony & Top Me Up head to head in the lead.

After the Vain Stakes was done and dusted I killed time till the Quezette Stakes getting a drink and watching the  San Domenico Stakes on the big screen. Vancouver was rolled, finishing in 4th place. The honours went to the Chris Waller trained Japonisme who won his fourth race in succession. King’s Troop finished second and Haptic held on for third, after being up on the speed throughout the race.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Quezette Stakes was the most interesting race of the Caulfield meeting with Petits Filous up against other unbeaten fillies like Miss Gunpowder and Don’t Doubt Marley as well as the smart Jalan Jalan

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Jalan Jalan – she has interesting markings looking as if white paint was splashed on her head.
She ran second.

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Miss Gunpowder – finished third

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Petits Filous

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Giulietta – unplaced

The race was a ripper, run at the speed of light, with Petits Filous taking the lead shortly after the start and maintaining a blistering pace until the finish line, where she scored by 1¼ lengths from Jalan Jalan with Miss Gunpowder running third. It struck me as a natural trifecta – the three best fillies in the field taking out the first three places. As a matter of interest, Petits Filous race time was faster than Vezalay and Gold Symphony over 1100 metres.

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Petits Filous comfortably ahead with only 100 metres to go.

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Petits Filous in winners rug

I only stayed for one more race, that being the feature P.B. Lawrence Stakes. With such an evenly matched field it was hard to guess who the winner would be. The Cleaner kept it honest, taking up the running as usual. It finished with he and Mourinho going head for head down the straight and hitting the line together for a photo finish. Mourinho won by a whisker. Dibayani ran third a length behind.

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Dibayani in the mounting yard

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The Cleaner in the mounting yard

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Mourinho on his way to the barriers

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Excess Knowledge in the mounting yard

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The Cleaner (inside) and Mourinho fight out the finish down the straight.

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Mourinho poses for snaps in the winners rug

It was a pleasant afternoon at Caulfield, the weather being on the whole mild with occasional sunny breaks. The Club was celebrating VP Day (Victory Over Japan) on Saturday, so there were military vehicles parked outside the Norman Robinson Stand, and old soldiers wandering about, laden with medals. An army gal sang the National Anthem surrounded by RAF cadets, before the feature race.

airforce cadets

I’m looking forward to getting back to Caulfield in a fortnight for the Memsie Stakes and the true start of the spring racing season.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

How will The Cleaner Scrub Up? Racing At Caulfield

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The Cleaner – Australian Cup Day Flemington 14 March 2015

This coming Saturday Caulfield Racing Club hosts a moderately interesting meeting, the feature race being the Group 2  PB Lawrence Stakes.

Also on the card are two Group 3 races for three year olds, Golden Rose or Guineas bound colts and geldings and fillies.  The Vain Stakes over 1100 metres is one for the colts and geldings. Unfortunately for Melbourne racegoers, the best colts in the land will be contesting the San Domenico Stakes in Sydney, so the line up for the Vain Stakes is less than inspiring, especially since Blue Diamond Prelude winner Of The Brave was a non acceptor due to illness.  The top pick now is Demonstrate who recently won at Moonee Valley. Star Planet, who finished a close second on that occasion, is also a good chance. Stoker, Gold Symphony and Top Me Up are the next best.

The Quezette Stakes, the fillies version of the Vain Stakes, has attracted a much classier field of contestants that includes unbeaten filly Petits Filous having her toughest test to date.  She will have to beat smart fillies like Jalan Jalan, Thurlow, Stream Ahead and SA filly Miss Gunpowder who is also unbeaten in two starts. The Quezette is in fact the most interesting race of the meeting. I’m fascinated to see if Petits Filous can rise to the occasion and further confirm her star potential.

Cult Tassie horse The Cleaner starts his Spring campaign in the P.B. Lawrence Stakes. He was last seen in Melbourne running in the Easter Cup where he finished 5th. His usual style of front running brought him undone on that occasion as he was swamped at the finish by back markers. Will there be a change of tactics this time?

The class runner in the race is in form Smokin’ Joey who won the Bletchingly Stakes in fine style at his last start. 

Mourinho also is worthy of consideration, as he’s won at Caulfield on two occasions and has beaten the likes of Dissident and Happy Trails in the past.

An interesting runner is the Darren Weir trained Taiyoo who won five races in succession over the autumn racing season and finished the season with a narrow second in the Adelaide Cup. He’s a versatile horse who has won races from 1200 metres to 2600 metres, though predominantly on good tracks.

Having his first start in Australia for the David Hayes & Tom Dabernig stable is former Hong Kong galloper Dibayani, an unknown quantity whose form looks OK considering the horses he has been placed against – Able Friend and Designs On Rome are the standouts.

The aforementioned Group 3 San Dominico Stakes sees the return of Golden Slipper winner Vancouver to the scene at Rosehill. He has yet to be beaten in four starts, so is expected to win this race despite a weight impost of 60kg. Trying to steal his glory will be the Chris Waller trained Japonisme who has won his last three races in lesser company, Headwater who won the Group 2 Silver Slipper Stakes then finished third behind Vancouver in the Todman Stakes and fifth in the Golden Slipper and Haptic who has won two of his three starts. These are the main chances in what looks like a very interesting race.

At last the racing scene is looking brighter, with even better things to come with the first Group 1 of the season being only two weeks away.

Anyway, I’ll be there at Caulfield this Saturday to see the action, and to cheer on Petits Filous.

As there has been little rain this week, the track should be rated on the good side. And thankfully the weather is finally warming up after a bitter winter, so it will be pleasant to be outside, even if not sunny.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Shane Nicholson Lets Hell Break Loose at the Caravan Music Club

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Shane Nicholson – Caravan Music Club – 8 August 2015

It was great to back in the wilds of Oakleigh at the Caravan Music Club, especially as one of my favourite Australian singer-songwriters was the star act.

I discovered Shane Nicholson way back in 2003 when he opened for a Kasey Chambers concert at the Palais in St Kilda, where I was so impressed by his performance that I sought out his debut solo CD It’s A Movie the next day. I still play it every so often and consider it has weathered the test of time remarkably well.

On Saturday night, Shane was launching his new album, Hell Breaks Loose, which had been released the day before. It has been widely praised by the critics – Rolling Stone Magazine gave it 4 stars – so I was really looking forward to hearing the new songs, and also picking up a copy of the CD at the concert.

The Weeping Willows (Andy Wrigglesworth and Laura Coates), who I recently witnessed opening for Iris Dement, were the support act for Shane Nicholson as well. My impression, seeing them for a second time, was that they had improved and appeared much more confident and upbeat in their performance.

They played a delightfully engaging set, many of the songs being newly composed for their forthcoming second, Pozible crowd funded, record. These included River of Gold, Travelling Man, Forgotten Flowers and Garden of Tears.

It is public knowledge that Shane Nicholson has separated from Kasey Chambers, his wife of six years. Shane claims that the new record is not a “break up” album. He admits that it is heavy in tone, but added that he liked “heavy” and that he was generally happy in his single state.

On Saturday night a number of songs from Hell Breaks Loose were played, but the majority of the 21 song set were either drawn from his earlier albums or covers of other artists.

Shane kicked off his set with new single Second Hand Man, then harked back to his collaboration with Kasey Chambers, singing Wreck & Ruin, the title track from their second joint album. That was followed by a song from Shane’s most recent solo studio recording, Bad Machines, the song being Jimmie Rodgers Was A Vampire.

The show promo advertised Shane Nicholson as appearing with a very special surprise guest.  This turned out to be Melody Pool, whom I have previously seen when she opened for the 2013 Milk Carton Kids concert at Thornbury Theatre.

She added her lovely voice to two of the covers, Stop Dragging My Heart Around, a Tom Petty penned song made famous by Stevie Nicks, and Believing from the Nashville TV Series.  She also sang lead vocals on a new song of her own, Black Dog, a bleak but powerful song about depression.

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Melody Pool at Caravan Music Club -  8 August 2015

The songs from Shane’s new record sounded fantastic. He has a deft way with words and writes wonderful lyrics. Particularly moving was Single Fathers and Hermannsburg, the latter composed during a visit with his friend, Aboriginal singer songwriter, Warren H Williams in the Outback.

Towards the end of Shane’s set, he summoned The Weeping Willows to the stage, along with Melody Pool and they gathered around a single microphone to sing John Prine’s The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.

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The Weeping Willows, Melody Pool & Shane Nicholson

Supporting Shane through most of his set was *John Bedggood who played  tasteful fiddle and mandolin, whilst Shane stuck to guitar and occasionally tickled the piano keys.

As it has been several years since I have seen Shane Nicholson live, it was a rare pleasure to attend the concert at Caravan Music Club. It was a sell out, which must have been heart warming for Shane as I recall seeing him at the now defunct East Brunswick Club back in 2006 where only a handful of people showed up.

He has now won several music awards over the ensuing years, and has finally been recognised as one of the best singer-songwriters in Australia.

I wish him every success with Hell Breaks Loose.



  1. Down Below
  2. River of Gold
  3. Forever In My Dreams
  4. Falling Rain
  5. Travelling Man
  6. Forgotten Flowers
  7. ?
  8. Garden of Tears
  9. Devil ?
  10. ?
  11. Sixteen Feet of Stone


  1. Second Hand Man
  2. Wreck & Ruin
  3. Jimmie Rodgers Was A Vampire
  4. The Quiet Life
  5. Weight of the World
  6. Hell Breaks Loose
  7. Monkey On A Wire
  8. Home
  9. Rattlin’ Bones
  10. Irons & Chains
  11. Single Fathers
  12. Stop Dragging My Heart Around (Tom Petty)
  13. Believing (Nashville TV Series)
  14. Black Dog (Melody Pool)
  15. Woe Is Mine
  16. Once In A While
  17. The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness (John Prine)
  18. Flat Nail Joe


  1. Hermannsburg
  2. House That Never Was
  3. Never Been To Spain (Waylon Jennings)

* Thanks to the anonymous commenter for supplying the name of Shane’s support musician.

Monday, August 03, 2015

A Cool Day at the Valley

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Petits Filous returns to scale after winning the United Refrigeration Handicap

Actually, the weather on Saturday afternoon was not as dire as forecast; it was cold and overcast, but at least it didn’t rain and there was no wind.

Making the effort to attend the meeting at Moonee Valley was worth it to witness promising filly Petits Filous confirm her potential with a comfortable 2 length win in the first race.

She’s a dark brown filly and appeared calm in the mounting yard, belying the meaning of her name which translates as “little rascals”.

I arrived at Moonee Valley in time to watch the fillies parade pre-race and get photos of the main contenders.

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Petits Filous

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The Big Dance

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Stream Ahead

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Grisbi’s Run

Petits Filous raced off the speed in about fourth spot, allowing The Big Dance to take up the running with Haybah. Approaching the turn Petits Filous moved up, and on straightening overtook the leaders to cruise to an easy win, two lengths ahead of Stream Ahead, with Grisbi’s Run finishing third, four lengths away. The Big Dance and Haybah finished out of the places.

In fact The Big Dance, when being pulled up after the post, threw a wobbly, dislodged her jockey, went through the running rail and fell.  Fortunately, both horse and jockey were not seriously injured, though The Big Dance will not race again this spring.

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Race 1 – down the straight – Petits Filous is several lengths ahead of the rest of the field.

The races were spaced 35 minutes apart, so the three hours I spent at the track sped by pretty fast.

Race 2 was another sprint over 1000 metres for colts and geldings, and hot favourite was Attack The Line, who was in fact having his first start.  He’d been spruiked by his trainer as the best horse he’d put a saddle on and so was expected to perform well. Alas that was not the case. He finished a well beaten 7th. Godolphin gelding Demonstrate was the winner with outsiders Star Planet and Destiny’s Reward filling the minor places.

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Attack The Line

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Race 2 – down the straight - Demonstrate holds a narrow lead over Star Planet.

Yet another 1000 metre sprint was third up on the card, this being an open handicap, the Melbourne Signage Concepts Handicap.

Il Cavallo started the favourite and led through most of the race, however he was upstaged by veteran galloper, the 9 year old Our Nkwazi and Hard Romp. They all hit the line together so only a short margin separated the first three.

Interestingly, out of three 1000 metre sprints, the fillies race first up was run in the quickest time.

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Il Cavallo

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Our Nkwazi

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Race 3 – down the straight. Il Cavallo leads with Hard Romp (orange silks) and Our Nkwazi (purple & pink silks) running him down on the outside.

Race 4 was the Mitchelton Wines Handicap, a race for fillies and mares over 1600 metres.

I was interested in seeing how Spirit of Heaven would go in this. She ended up finishing second behind First Bloom with race favourite Dig A Pony running a flashing third from the rear of the field.

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Spirit of Heaven on her way to the barriers

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Dig A Pony on her way to the barriers

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First Bloom returns to scale after winning the Mitchelton Wines Handicap

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Race 4 – down the straight – First Bloom is about to take the lead.

Damian Oliver, who stylishly rode Petits Filous to victory in the first race, achieved a double in Race 5 with an equally skilful ride on Bagman who turned 9 years old on the day.

As the race, the Jockey Celebration Day Handicap was over 2040 metres, the starting gates were at the top of straight. So thence I went to get a shot of the start.

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Jockey Celebration Handicap start at the top of the straight

Bagman, made it two consecutive wins from two starts over the past fortnight, beating Lord Durante by ¾ length with Diametric running third.

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Bagman returns to scale after winning the Jockey Celebration Handicap

Tawteen, who I visited in her stall earlier in the afternoon was scheduled to run the next race, the Ranvet Handicap. She was being frisky in her stall and toey when being paraded before the race.

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Tawteen in her stall

She led through most of the race, but was overtaken in the straight by Tasmanian sprinter Valiant Warrior and Mighty Like who confined her to third place.

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Tawteen (inside) Mighty Like (middle) and Valiant Warrior (outside) fight out the finish down the straight.

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Valiant Warrior in the winners stall

I called it quits after Race 6 and wended my way home. I only had two small bets, both unsuccessful, for the afternoon, but was nonetheless satisfied with a pleasant, uncrowded day at the races.

The serious racing kicks off in a couple of weeks with the first Group 1 race of the season, the Memsie Stakes, scheduled for Saturday 29 August at Caulfield.  I will probably attend the PB Lawrence Stakes meeting before then at Caulfield on 15 August, which also includes the Quezette Stakes where Petits Filous is mooted to have her next start.