Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Old Boys To The Fore–Underwood Stakes Day Review

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Mourinho on his way to the barriers prior to winning the Underwood Stakes

Remarkably the first three over the line in the Underwood Stakes were all eight years old – Mourinho, Fawkner and The Cleaner. Last year two seven year olds fought out the finish with a six year old, so does this mean that nine year olds will be successful next year?

Hardly likely, as it’s very rare for an eight year old to win a Group 1 event. Mourinho also beat the curse on P B Lawrence Stakes winners, who often fail to win another race.

It was a mild sunny day last Saturday and looked promising for a pleasant afternoon trackside. As there was no football in Melbourne there was bigger crowd at Caulfield Racecourse than the last few meetings and drunken young men and tizzy girls abounded. 

I arrived at at the track in time to watch Race 4, the Listed Harry White Classic, a race for stayers over 2400 metres.

The winner of the race automatically gets entry into the Caulfield Cup, and the Gai Waterhouse trained Excess Knowledge need to win this race to qualify for the Cup. He started favourite, but was unable to overtake eventual winner Black Tomahawk in the straight.  Ethiopia was a distant third.

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Black Tomahawk holds off Excess Knowledge to win the Harry White Classic

The first of the Guineas Preludes was the next race on the program.  Races early in the afternoon are run at 35 minute intervals, so they whiz around pretty fast.

Miss Gunpowder started as favourite for the Thousand Guineas Prelude and did not disappoint her backers, leading from the start and winning with a length to spare from Payroll and Jameka. I had my money on Pasadena Girl, but she was slow to start and was never a threat, though apparently her time in the last 400 metres was the quickest.

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Miss Gunpowder in the mounting yard

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Payroll in the mounting yard

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Pasadena Girl on her way to the barriers

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Down the straight – Gunpowder Miss is comfortably ahead

For the colts and geldings Caulfield Guineas Prelude I decided to escape the drunks on the public lawn and take snaps from the hill above the stalls area, where at least you can get good action photos of the horses going to the barriers and returning to scale.

Here are some of the contenders…

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Metallic Crown

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Ready For Victory

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Bon Aurum

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Dal Cielo

Ready For Victory was the favourite, but ended up well back in the field. Bon Aurum who recently won at Flemington at big odds was the winner. He proved that his Flemington win wasn’t a fluke and will no doubt start at shorter odds next start.

Tulsa was runner up and Dal Cielo, who did all the hard work leading, hung on for third.

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Caulfield Guineas Prelude – the winning post

With the preludes out of the way, the two Group 1 races were next on the agenda.

Checking out the stalls and the walking ring on my way to the public lawn I came across the handsome Volkstok’n’barrell being perambulated in the ring.

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The first of the Group 1 races was the Underwood Stakes where Fawkner started as favourite, with Contributer being fancied as second favourite. The winner, Mourinho, was totally underrated and paid $19.00 for the win.

The Cleaner naturally lead the race at a steady pace and even kicked away in the straight, only to be overtaken at the last minute by Fawkner and Mourinho. The margin between the three of them was a nose. Mongolian Khan finished an eye catching fourth.

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Fawkner on his way to the barriers

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Contributer on his way to the barriers

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Underwood Stakes finish down the straight – The Cleaner leads with Mourinho (outside) and Fawkner (inside) closing in

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Mourinho returns to scale

The Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes was next and I only managed to get photos of the runners in the mounting yard, as they headed for the starting gates in the opposite direction to where I was standing at the fence.

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Cosmic Endeavour

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Strawberry Boy

The race ended in another blanket finish, with Stratum Star getting the nod from Disposition and Under The Louvre. It was so close, there was a bit of a wait for the results.

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Stratum Star returns to scale after winning the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes

I didn’t stay for the last race on the card, but headed to the station and home, which amazingly only took 30 minutes door to door via two trains.

The AFL Grand Final is on next Saturday, but I have no interest in it at all.

Fortunately it is also a huge weekend for racing with five Group 1 races spread over a night and two days. On Friday night is the Group 1 A J Moir Stakes at Moonee Valley, and Randwick hosts  Epsom Stakes Day on Saturday with three Group 1 races. On Sunday the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes is run at Flemington. 

I intend to go to both Melbourne meetings and watch the Sydney races at home on Saturday.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Back to Caulfield Again–Underwood Stakes Day

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2014 Underwood Stakes finish – Foreteller hits the front

Saturday is expected to be warm and sunny, perfect in fact for another fine afternoon of racing as the Spring Racing Carnival, literally and figuratively, heats up.

There are two Group 1 races on the program – Underwood Stakes and Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes – plus two Group 2 Guineas Preludes, one for the boys, the other for the fillies.

The fillies Thousand Guineas Prelude is scheduled as Race 5. It is run over 1400 metres and has a fabulous field of classy fillies. The main contenders are Pasadena Girl, Stay With Me, Jameka, Miss Gunpowder and Alaskan Rose. The first three above ran the trifecta at Moonee Valley in early September  in the Atlantic Jewel Stakes, with Stay With Me being the victor on that occasion,though Pasadena Girl’s run was the most eye catching.  Miss Gunpowder ran third to Petits Filous in the Quezette Stakes, then won her next race at Morphettville in her home state. Alaskan Rose is unbeaten in two starts and is highly regarded. It looks to be a doozy of a race.

Race 6 is the colts and geldings Guineas Prelude run over the same distance. It’s time for pretty boy Ready For Victory to live up to his name, after running second and third in his first two starts this season behind Gold Symphony on the first occasion and Kinglike in the second. Neither of these colts are entered for the Caulfield Guineas Prelude, so Ready For Victory has a very good chance of winning this time. However he’ll have to beat the Chris Waller trained Metallic Crown  who has two wins under his hat so far this season, and the Ciaran Maher trained Bon Aurum, also a last start winner . New Zealand colt Dal Cielo, trained by the wily Murray Baker, Snoopy who was unlucky in his start and Tulsa, could also feature in the finish.

The first of the Group 1 races on the program is the Underwood Stakes run over 1800 metres. Last year it was won by Foreteller from Happy Trails and the year before was the memorable duel between Atlantic Jewel and It’s A Dundeel with the latter being the victor.

It’s always a great race and a fab field has been assembled this year.  Fawkner is the top pick, if he can defy the Makybe Diva Stakes hoodoo and beat The Cleaner, who has drawn Barrier 1 which will enable him to take the lead without expending any energy. Who knows, the Longford Lion could leave them all in his wake, and at least assure an honestly run race. 

Contributer failed to impress at his last start running fifth behind The Cleaner in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes. Perhaps he didn’t enjoy the tight Moonee Valley track, but could show his true colours at Caulfield. Whatever, dismiss him at your peril. The same goes for Dibayani who has run third behind The Cleaner in his last two starts.

Four year olds have a good record in this race and both Mongolian Khan and Volkstok’n’barrell are in that age bracket and have as good a chance as any in the field, though the Khan would prefer it longer. I’m interested to see how they go.

The Group 1  Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes is now incorporated in the program of Underwood Stakes day, previously being run on the Sunday after the AFL Grand Final. It makes more sense to run it with the Underwood Stakes and adds to the quality of the meeting.

It is run over 1400 metres and has a super field of middle distance runners.  As we’re now in the sign of Libra (ruled by Venus), you would think that Charmed Harmony is the perfect name for the Astrological season.  He has won his last four races leading boldly from start to finish, but faces much tougher opposition in the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes with classy gallopers like Disposition, Cosmic Endeavour, Rich Enuff, Amicus, Strawberry Boy and Under The Louvre all being in the picture. The Venus influence could spread to Amicus and Amorino  with their names reflecting the Latin for love (amor).

In Sydney, everyone’s favourite race mare, Catkins, is having her second start for the season in the Golden Pendant in which she ran second to Arabian Gold last year. That mare is also in the field, as is Amanpour who relegated Catkins to second place twice in the autumn.  Cross fingers for Catkins to beat them this time round.

The Equinox on September 23, as well as heralding the warmer weather, also marks a royal birth. Black Caviar delivered her second foal on the night of the Equinox, a colt by Sebring.

There are some lovely photos of the new foal here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Charity Race Day at Caulfield

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Magnapal – heading to the gates prior to winning the feature race

I couldn’t be bothered previewing the races last week, but I did attend the race meeting at Caulfield on Saturday, and enjoyed the outing despite it being a fairly low key event.

It was worth it to go along and see my old favourite, Apache Cat, present as the special guest from Living Legends. They’d set him up in the Kid Zone – well sheltered from the ankle biters in an enclosure adjacent to it.

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He loves his photo being taken and posed beautifully for the above shot and didn’t mind a pat either.

The charity day mentioned in the title of this post refers to the cost of entry to the course, where 80% of it would go to a charity of one’s own choice, which could be selected from at list at the ticket booth.

I took my time getting to Caulfield as the more interesting races were on later in the afternoon, so I arrived around 1.45pm, in time to see Race 4, the Bendigo Bank East Malvern Handicap, for mares over 1400 metres.

A dreary old man who seems to haunt the races – I see him practically every time I attend any race meeting – was ear bashing one of my photographer friends  as I joined her at the fence.  One thing in the old codger’s favour was that he’d picked the winner, KayJay’s Joy as one of his five bets and she earned him $9.50 for the win.  She beat home Danestroem and Mossbeat.

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KayJay’s Joy on her way to the barriers

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Race 4 down the straight – KayJay’s Joy is about to overtake Danestroem

Killing time to the next race, I went off to the stalls area to see who had arrived -  not many of the feature race contenders.

Race 5, the MRC Foundation Plate looked mildly  interesting as it had several  Guineas bound fillies in the field, such as Giulietta and Don’t Doubt Mama.  The latter ended up winning, with Sacred Eye running second and Thames Court taking third.

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Race 5 down the straight to the finish line

In between the Melbourne races, I did manage to watch the action at Randwick on screens around Caulfield. I noted with interest that Rebel Dane, who has always promised much, yet failed to deliver, finally won.  He has had a throat operation since his last race appearance in autumn, which appears to have done the trick as far as his performance on the track is concerned.

The Canberra wonder horse Fell Swoop was running in Race 6, the Listed Testa Rossa Stakes, so I decided to test my luck on the punt and have a bet on him. He started favourite at odds of $2.50, though I managed to get $2.70 from the Bookies.

Fell Swoop showed great tenacity to win the race, so I was glad I hadn’t jinxed him with my bet.  Charlie Boy ran second and Java third.

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Fell Swoop on his way to the starting gates – note the blinkers & ear muffs, which are taken off at the barriers.

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Charlie Boy

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Race 6 down the straight – Fell Swoop is about to overtake Charlie Boy with Java on the outside in blue silks

Race 7 was the Group 3 William Hill Sprint Series Heat 2 Stakes, for mares run over 1200 metres.  I decided to have a small bet on Wawail who had great first up  form, having never been beaten when fresh. Alas she was hampered from running in the straight with a wall of horses blocking her progress and finished second last. Politeness and Griante stormed down the outside to run the first two places with Jessy Belle running third.

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Wawail on her way to the barriers

The feature race of the day was up next, the Group 3 Bendigo Bank East Malvern MRC Foundation Cup, formerly known as the  Naturalism Stakes. It is a race over 2000 metres and the winner qualifies for the Caulfield Cup.

A good field of 16 starters were contesting it. The United States who was narrowly beaten by his stable mate Chance To Dance at Moonee Valley a fortnight ago, was the favourite.  I thought that with his light weight he was pretty much a certainty, but as is the fickle hand of fate as far as horse racing goes, he was beaten by the narrowest of margins by Magnapal, whose form I had totally overlooked. Genuine Lad finished third.

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Magnapal   rugged after winning the Group 3 Naturalism Stakes

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The United States

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La AmistadMakybe Diva’s little sister

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Race 8 down the straight – Magnapal & The United States go head to head to the finish line.

I called it quits after the Naturalism Stakes and headed home after collecting my place winnings on The United States.

Though it wasn’t as exciting as the previous two meetings I’ve attended, it was enjoyable being out in the Saturday sunshine of early Spring and watching  beautiful equine athletes in action.

The feature race at Randwick, the Group 1 George Main Stakes resulted in a win for Kermadec with the ever dependable, but unlucky, Royal Descent running second. The Gai Waterhouse trained Pornichet finished third.

Next weekend the racing action is again at Caulfield and features two Group 1 races – the Underwood Stakes and Rupert Clarke Stakes, as well as two interesting Guineas Preludes for three year olds.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Cups King & The Sport of Kings–Makybe Stakes Day Review

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Display of Bart Cummings’ 12 Melbourne Cups at Flemington

On Saturday morning there was a memorial service for Bart Cummings at Flemington Racecourse to honour the man and the mark he left on the history of Australian horseracing. It was an appropriate venue at which to hold the service considering the great trainer’s record of winning 12 Melbourne Cups.

The service was held mid morning, so I missed it, but was I pleased to get the service booklet that was handed out at entrance gate - a little slice of history to add to my collection of racing memorabilia.

Along with the above display of his cups, there was a walk of fame with signs detailing all twelve of Bart Cummings Melbourne Cup wins.

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Signpost 1 – Light Fingers – winner of the 1965 Melbourne Cup

Also present for the occasion was Living Legend Rogan Josh who won the Melbourne Cup  for Bart in 1999.

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Rogan Josh parading in the mounting yard wearing a rug with Bart Cummings racing colours.

The trains were running pretty much in sync so I reached Flemington with plenty of time on hand to watch the first race, the Cap D’Antibes Stakes where the focus of interest was on unbeaten filly Petits Filous having her first run on the big track.

Petits Filous took to Flemington as if she’d been running there all her life and won in spectacular fashion, letting loose a devastating sprint in the straight and winning by 2.25 lengths being eased to the line.  Super Cash was the runner up with Take Pride running third.

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Petits Filous in the mounting yard

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Super Cash in the mounting yard

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Take Pride in the mounting yard

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Petits Filous returns to scale after winning the Cap D’Antibes Stakes

I missed watching the second race, having run into an acquaintance in the stalls area. We chatted as the race was run and observed Black Vanquish  being frisky the walking ring.

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Black Vanquish in the walking ring being difficult

I made it back trackside for the third race, the Pin & Win Stakes, a listed race for three year olds run over 1400 metres. I had a few dollars each way on Snoopy, but he had a hard race, where he was blocked for a run and also bumped in the process, which forced him back in the field. That pretty much describes my luck on the punt Saturday, no winners at all.

The race was won by another Ciaran Maher horse, Bon Aurum at big odds with Lizard Island running second and El Greco taking third.

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Bon Aurum returns to scale after winning the Pin & Win Stakes

As not many of the feature race runners had arrived in the stalls area, I decided to check out the newly opened Heritage Centre…

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Heritage Centre entrance

There were quite a few photographic displays, but in pride of place and lit up like the Holy Grail was the 1965 Melbourne Cup won by Light Fingers.

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Light Fingers’ Cup

I also watched a short video on a wrap around screen on the history of the Melbourne Cup, narrated by Les Carlyon. It was quite moving and I must admit it made me misty eyed with sentiment.

Just near the top part of the Stalls area is Carbine’s stall, preserved for posterity.

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Carbine’s Stall exterior

I’ve walked past it many times but never gone inside.

This time I did, and viewed the display around the walls which details Carbine’s racing career and influence as a sire on Australian thoroughbred breeding. Carbine won the 1890 Melbourne Cup.

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Part of the Carbine display inside his old stall

The field for Race 4, the Group 2 Danehill Stakes was assembling in the mounting yard when I made my way back to the front lawn.

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Ready For Victory

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Black Vanquish

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Raphael’s Cat

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Ready for Victory started as the favourite, but he only managed to run third, being caught on the inside behind a tiring Black Vanquish. Kinglike swept down the outside to overtake Raphael’s Cat, who had seized the lead, to win by 1.25 lengths.

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Kinglike returns to scale after winning the Danehill Stakes

Returning to the stalls area I discovered that most of horses I wished to photograph had finally arrived.

Here’s some shots of the leading Makybe Diva Stakes contenders.

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Mongolian Khan

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Also, old Rogan Josh was hanging around outside his stall with a crowd of admirers giving him a pat and taking photos.

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Rogan Josh posing for a snap

All this dallying almost made me miss Race 5 The Sofitel.

It was won by former Western Australian star Disposition for his new stable (Lee & Anthony Freedman), his first victory since coming from the West.

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Disposition returns to scale after winning The Sofitel

Akavaroun ran second with Pressing filling third place.

Having been on my feet for most of the afternoon, I decided it was time to go and get a drink and have a short rest. Whilst buying a beer  in the bar, the Sheraco Stakes (in Sydney) was being broadcast on the screen and I was delighted to see Catkins win it for a second time. A big cheer greeted her win. She won by a good margin from Echo Girl with Bounding running third. James McDonald, who rode Catkins, declared after the race that she was his favourite mare and that he’d marry her if she were human.

Anyway it was getting on for the next race, the Bobbie Lewis Quality. Rich Enuff was at very good odds despite being favourite, so I invested a few dollars each way on him.

I had photographed him in his stall earlier…

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Rich Enuff in his stall

…but only saw the mounting yard assembly from a distance, being engaged in conversation with the same acquaintance I chatted to earlier, who also had his money on the favourite.

The race was won by the underrated Churchill Dancer from Under The Louvre and Gregers.

Rich Enuff had every opportunity, but finished sixth. Where to now?

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Churchill Dancer returns to scale after winning the Bobbie Lewis Quality.

By the time the Makybe Diva Stakes was run, I’d been at the course for four hours.

The time slipped by swiftly so it didn’t feel that long and I’d not felt bored at any time.

There’s always a heightened excitement prior to a major race and I love the atmosphere it generates.

Here are some of the contenders in the mounting yard.

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Alpine Eagle – finished 6th

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Boban – finished 4th

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Entirely Platinum – finished 3rd

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Happy Trails – finished 5th

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Rising Romance – finished 2nd

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Weary – finished 9th

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Mongolian Khan – finished 7th

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Fawkner – the winner

The race resulted in a blanket finish with six or seven horses strung out across the expansive Flemington track, with Fawkner winning by a neck from Rising Romance with Entirely Platinum a further neck behind in third place. Less than a length separated the first six across the line.

I stayed for Race 8 , the Group 2 Let’s Elope Stakes which was won by 2014 Thousand Guineas winner Amicus, who emphatically signalled that she was back in contention for further Group glory. Precious Gem and May’s Dream filled the minor places.

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Amicus returns to scale after winning the Let’s Elope Stakes

It had been a long day trackside. The weather was generally fine, except for a sprinkle of rain around midday; and I enjoyed the wide open spaces of Flemington getting plenty of exercise as a result. My few bets were all disastrous, seemingly putting the kiss of death on my selections. Hopefully my luck will change soon.

I missed watching the Golden Rose at the track, so watched the replay online when I got home. It was won by Exosphere from Speak Fondly and Sebring Sun.

Next week the racing is again at Caulfield, a low key meeting with the feature race being the Group 3 Naturalism Stakes.