Friday, October 30, 2015

Derby Day– All Hallows Eve at Flemington

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Tarzino – current favourite for the Victoria Derby

The Melbourne Racing Carnival has only a week left to run, but culminates in suitably spectacular fashion with a concentration of race meetings at Flemington – Derby Day and Emirate Stakes Day book ending the Melbourne Cup and the Crown Oaks over four days.

No doubt the roses will now be in full bloom for Derby Day which kicks off the Flemington Racing Carnival on Saturday.

There’s a wonderful program of racing on the cards, with every race being at Group level, and four at Group 1 level.

The feature race of course is the Victoria Derby, and the other three Group 1 races are the Coolmore Stud Stakes, Mackinnon Stakes and the Myer Classic.

The first of these to run is the Coolmore Stud Stakes for three year olds over 1200 metres. I’m really looking forward to seeing top Sydney colt Exosphere in the flesh for the first time. He has done all his racing in Sydney and won his last three starts, including the Group 1 Golden Rose, so he is the short priced favourite to take out the Coolmore Stud Stakes.

Trying to beat him is a fairly classy field, the most likely contenders being Singapore colt Super One and the local boys Keen Array and Ready for Victory. The omen bet of the day, considering it is All Hallows Eve tomorrow, is Hellbent who could run a place if not win.

Thankfully, the VRC start their race meetings early - the first race is run before midday – and finish at a reasonable time, the feature race being run at 3.50pm and the last race at 5.20pm.

That’s a refreshing change from Caulfield and Moonee Valley whose meetings go on into twilight. It encourages me to get to the track early to watch Race 2, the Group 2 Wakeful Stakes for Oaks bound fillies, run over 2000 metres.

1000 Guineas winner Stay With Me will be taking on the older mares in the Myer Classic, so that leaves a chance for fillies such as Dawnie Perfect and My Poppette  to win some prize money for their connections. Others with a chance are Beluga Blue and Ambience.

Race 5 on the program is the Group 2 Lexus Stakes, the last chance for a free ballot into the Melbourne Cup.  The best chances are Excess Knowledge who has run second in his last two starts, Ruling Dynasty and Junoob.

The Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes (2000 metres) has attracted a quality field of tried and true stayers and middle distance runners that include Happy Trails who is due for his annual win, Pornichet who ran fourth in the Cox Plate, the ever consistent Stratum Star who already has a Group 1 victory ( Rupert Clark Stakes) to his credit, Metropolitan winner Magic Hurricane and mares Rising Romance and Set Square.

And so to the Victoria Derby.

Tarzino is the race favourite, though he hasn’t won a race since September and was beaten last start by the filly Jameka and also failed to run a place in the Caulfield Guineas. Favourites rarely win the Victoria Derby so there are plenty of other smart colts to consider.

I rather like the Western Australian colt Kia Ora Koutou, who has had four starts for four wins in his home state, the last against older horses. His sire Blackfriars won the Victoria Derby in 1999, so he certainly can run the 2500 metres distance.

Others with a chance are Lizard Island, Shards, Get The Picture and Ayers Rock.

The final Group 1 is the Myer Classic for fillies and mares, run over 1600 metres. Some classy mares have won this over the ages, Typhoon Tracy, Appearance, Forensics, Red Tracer, to name a few. Bonaria won it last year from Sweet Idea and Catkins.

Royal Descent is the class mare in the race. It has been some time since she last ran against her own sex, but she has placed many times in Group 1 races in first class open fields and deserves another Group 1 win to go with her ATC Oaks victory in 2013.  If she wasn’t gutted by her run in the Caulfield Cup, she will surely be in the finish.

Her greatest rival in the Myer Classic is 1000 Guineas winner Stay With Me who has an 8 kg weight advantage and has bypassed the Wakeful Stakes to run in this race.

However, fillies have a poor record in the Myer Classic, so other mares who have the class to win are last start winner, La Passe, along with Fenway, Miss Rose De Lago, Solicit and Politeness.

The weather in Melbourne tomorrow is forecast to be overcast and humid, with showers and a possible thunderstorm.  Hopefully the weather will discourage the once a year crowds from taking up all the space on the front lawn.

Last year the weather was similarly damp and it was not quite as crowded as the year before when it was hot and sunny.

It’s sure to be a great day of racing whatever the weather, but it will have to be exceptional to surpass the racing at Moonee Valley last weekend.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Wow Factor–Winx & Chautauqua

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Winx parades along the rail after winning the Cox Plate

Up until last weekend, the 2015 Spring Racing Carnival seemed to be  somewhat underwhelming, lacking what I call the WOW factor.  There have been few dominant performances and the Group 1 races were won by various horses in blanket finishes most of the time.

It is remarkable that the Moonee Valley mini carnival held over a night and day delivered what we racing fans crave, the emergence of two equine super stars, one a sprinter, the other a stayer.

I did not attend the Manikato Stakes night meeting on the eve of the Cox Plate, but I watched the feature race on my computer and was suitably wowed by Chautaqua’s  last to first win.  He raced at the tail of the field and at the turn into the straight muscled himself into the race and quickly overtook Srikandi, sailing on to win by two lengths. Srikandi hung on for second, a nose in front of Rebel Dane. It was a stunning performance by the grey speedster, admittedly not all that surprising after witnessing his first two runs this Spring.

Winx became only the eighth filly/mare to win the Cox Plate in its 93 year history and her win was just as spectacular as that of Chautauqua. She comprehensively blitzed the field to win by over four lengths, breaking the course record set by Might and Power in 1998.

On to my day at the Cox Plate.

Because the bus I catch to Moonee Valley was overdue by an hour – ironically delayed by the traffic at the racecourse - I reached Moonee Valley much later than I originally anticipated, shortly after 3.00 pm, so it was a relatively short afternoon at the races, though it took me two hours to get home.

I’d just missed Race 5, so I spent some time checking out the stalls area before finding a spot on the public lawn to watch the next race.

The first Cox Plate runner I came across was Fawkner

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Fawkner in his stall

…then found the three International entrants side by side in Stalls 104 to 106.

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Arod – Ireland

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Highland Reel – chewing on his lead – from Ireland

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Gailo Chop – France

And more of the locally bred contenders…

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The Cleaner

…and old Precedence being kitted out for the next race.

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Race 6 was the Moonee Valley Gold Cup for stayers over 2500 metres, so I finally ventured out onto the public lawn up the top end of the straight where it was reasonably uncrowded and you could easily get a possie on the fence.

Last year it was won by Prince of Penzance and the year before by old Precedence. Both were in the field, hoping to gain a start in the Melbourne Cup. The United States, a good looking flashy chestnut with a big white blaze on his face, overtook race leader Prince of Penzance in the straight to win. Bohemian Lily finished third.

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Top of the straight – Prince of Penzance leads with The United States just coming into the picture

Returning to the stalls area I found the Chris Waller horses in their adjacent stalls …

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Race 7 was the Group 2 Dilmah Exceptional Teas Vase, which is for three year olds and is run over the same distance as the Cox Plate (2040 metres)

It is very rare for fillies to be entered in this race, let alone win it, but Jameka started as favourite and justified her favouritism by winning the race by a length from race leader Shards with current Victorian Derby favourite Tarzino running third.

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Top of the straight in the Vase – Shards leads with Jameka on the fence behind him

There was only one more race to run before the feature and this was the Crystal Mile. Lucky Hussler was the hot favourite, but he only managed to run third. Turn Me Loose, trained by Murray Baker and ridden by Caulfield Cup winning jockey Opie Bosson,  led from the start to the finish and was never headed, winning by half a length in the end from Bow Creek.

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Turn Me Loose on his way to the barriers

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Lucky Hussler on his way to barriers

My sole bet of the day was on Lucky Hussler to win, so no collect.

With 40 minutes remaining to the running of the Cox Plate, I decided to try and find a spot closer to the action on the fence and managed to squeeze into a good position close to the finish line behind the band stand.

The 2015 actual Cox Plate was carried out onto the track, preceded by 1990 Cox Plate winner Better Loosen Up.

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Better Loosen Up

The Plate was driven up the straight in a jeep, carried by Better Loosen Up’s old trainer David Hayes.

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The Cox Plate

After that bit of pomp and ceremony, vintage Aussie rocker, Daryl Braithwaite, with band, sang a rendition of his famous song The Horses, an appropriate choice considering the setting and occasion.

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Daryl Braithwaite

The crowd, considerably under the weather by this time, were enraptured, singing and dancing along to the song and of course taking photos on their iPhones.

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Crowd scene near the band stand  watching Daryl Braithwaite

And finally the horses were released onto the track to head up to the starting gates at the top of the straight. I managed to get a few photos of them as they flashed past.

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Gailo Chop

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Happy Trails

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Highland Reel

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The Cleaner

The Cleaner was allowed to take his usual leading position in the field and Winx raced much closer to the pace than she usually does, trailing The Cleaner along the rail.  Hugh Bowman’s ride was a classic and his timing spot on. As soon as The Cleaner moved out from the rail, Bowman shot Winx through the gap and the rest is history.  She drew further and further away from the rest of the field as they raced down the straight and won by over four lengths from Criterion with Highland Reel a further one and half lengths back in third spot.

My burst mode sequence of photos in the final stages of the race have Winx, then daylight, then Criterion and Highland Reel.

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Winx – centre stage burning up the straight to the winning post

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Criterion and Highland Reel in hot pursuit

Many people were reminded of the great New Zealand mare, Sunline, in Winx Cox Plate win, myself included. Winx has now won five races in succession since May this year, three of them at Group 1 level. How can we now deny that she is not a super star?

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Winx rugged and posing for the press

I’m thrilled that I got to see her win the Cox Plate, and it made the tiresomeness of getting home worth it.

Regarding the trip home; the Moonee Valley Bus Line service I generally catch failed to show up on the bus stop. Myself and several other patient persons waited an hour, thinking it would eventually turn up, but finally we all gave up and tromped up to Moonee Ponds Junction to catch another form of transport.

I opted for the Moonee Ponds to Clifton Hill bus, which was on the point of departure. I’d never travelled on this bus before, but always wondered where it went to in Clifton Hill, so the trip was enlightening and will offer a viable alternative to the usual bus should I wish to travel home from Moonee Valley, as it’s only a short walk home from the Queen’s Parade bus stop in Clifton Hill.

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Cat in Antique Shop window in Queen’s Parade -  snapped on my walk home from the bus stop

Next Saturday is the first day of Flemington’s blockbuster carnival, Derby Day no less, with four Group 1 races on the program.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tough Call - The 2015 Cox Plate

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Top of the straight in the 2014 Cox Plate

It seems that the Cox Plate is going the way of the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, with classy International racehorses making up a fair portion of the field.

Last year’s Cox Plate was won by the Aiden O”Brien trained Adelaide. It was a sensational win where Adelaide sustained a long wide swooping run to win on the line from the locally bred Fawkner and Silent Achiever.

Silent Achiever has retired to the breeding barn, but Fawkner is back for another go, along with the usual stalwart middle distance locals Criterion, Happy Trials and The Cleaner who all ran in the 2014 Cox Plate.  Mourinho missed out on a start last year, but has made the field this time round.

New faces include the Chris Waller contingent Kermadec, Preferment, and Winx the sole mare in the field, and Godolphin pair Complacent and Hartnell.

And then there are the Internationals, Arod, Highland Reel and Gailo Chop.

It’s a really tough race to assess as any one of the 14 entrants could win. In fact I haven’t a clue as to who the likely winner will be, though I have favourites whom I hope will win.

The Cleaner drew barrier 14 in last year’s Cox Plate, and didn’t gain his preferred leading position until the winning post (first time through), but this year he has barrier 2, where he’ll be able to take the lead without burning up too much energy. It would be great if he could sustain his run unopposed, but I doubt he’ll be given the chance. Whatever, he’ll keep the race honest.

Criterion is my top pick of the locals. He has drawn a good gate and will probably race mid field as he did last year, and inspires confidence after he won the Caulfield Stakes at his last start.

Mourinho is always underrated, but he has won at Moonee Valley in the past and he won his first Group 1 race when taking out the Underwood Stakes recently.

Fawkner who already has a Group 1 win (Makybe Diva Stakes) this season, ran a close second to Mourinho in the Underwood Stakes, which had him as early favourite for the Cox Plate, was uncomfortable on the hard track at his last start in the Caulfield Stakes, which lowered his colours somewhat. The track tomorrow will be softer for him. He was only just beaten by Adelaide last year, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him in the finish.

The last mare to win the Cox Plate was Pinker Pinker in 2011. Chris Waller regards Winx as a potential super star and is his top pick of his three Cox Plate runners.  She won the Group 1 Epsom by two and half lengths, and also won the Group 1 Queensland Oaks. This will be the first time she has raced in Melbourne and at Moonee Valley no less. Who knows she may love the Valley, and be well and truly in the finish with her extraordinary turn of foot.

I fear however that the International entrants will steal the prize again. Arod and Highland Reel are the two most likely to take the Plate. Highland Reel is the current favourite in fact.

After writing the above I am no wiser as to who will win. You might as well stick a pin the form guide, it’s as good a method as any.

The Manikato Stakes on Friday night looks easier to suss, with Chautauqua being the standout runner.  He faces an excellent field that includes old warrior Buffering, arch rival Terravista, the revamped Rebel Dane, and smart sprinting mares Srikandi and Alpha Miss.

Everyone is saying that the 2015 Cox Plate is the classiest we’ve seen for years, so I’m glad I’ll be at the track to witness it.

The weather is expected to be mild and sunny, so no doubt the meeting will be as crowded as usual. Hopefully I can find a good spot to see the action and take photos.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Life Is Strange


Sure, life is strange when you come to think of it.

But not as strange as the life of the heroine of Dontnod’s excellent computer game entitled Life Is Strange.

I stumbled upon the game on the Unofficial Tex Murphy Message Board, where it was recommended by a Tex fan who gave it such a rave I had to check it out.

It is an episodic game, where Episodes are released over a number of months. So far there have been four episodes with the fifth and final episode to be released in late October.

I purchased the season (Episodes 1 to 5) which I am obliged to play on Steam, a game playing platform that integrates with your computer, through a software application.

Anyway, Life Is Strange is one of the most interesting computer games I have played in a long time. It has wonderful graphics with believable compelling characters, detailed environments, and packs an emotional punch.

You play Maxine Caulfield, a photography student at an elite school called Blackwell Academy situated in the Pacific North West coastal town of Arcadia Bay.  Max keeps a low profile and minds her own business. Her greatest interest is in taking photographs and studying under leading photographer Mark Jefferson.

Max discovers that she has an extraordinary ability to manipulate time and she uses it initially to save a girl from being killed in the female toilets of the Academy, which incident she witnesses.  How or why she suddenly attains this power is not explained, but there is something strange happening in Arcadia Bay and Max obviously has some predestined reason to be there.

The girl she saves turns out to be her childhood friend Chloe Price, who is something of a rebel, a punk chick with a chip on her shoulder.

Signs that all is not well with Arcadia Bay are hinted at in the first chapter. A girl, Rachel Amber, has gone missing, and another student  tries to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of the college, after her reputation has been trashed by the release of a video on social media, showing her in a compromising situation of which she has no memory.

Also disturbing weather patterns are emerging – snow on a summer’s  day, an eclipse, dead birds and beached whales. Max at the beginning of the game is caught in a prescient nightmare of a giant tornado hitting Arcadia Bay.

It turns out that Rachel Amber was Chloe’s best friend, and Max and Chloe determine to find out what has happened to her.

As the game progresses the tension builds and the story of Max and Chloe’s investigation widens, you the player are also drawn into the mystery.

As mentioned before, the game packs an emotional punch. You grow to love the characters and fear for the consequences of their actions.

That’s another thing about the game. The consequences relate to decisions you are forced to make through the game, which have an impact on future episodes.

The graphics and game play are excellent and have a natural feel to them that enhances the experience. You can explore the 3D environments in as much depth as you choose.

Max & Chloe in the junk yard – one of the detailed locations in the game

I’ve been replaying the first four episodes in anticipation of the fifth and final episode, due out today. The end of episode 4 was shocking and totally unexpected, so I can’t wait to find out how it all ends.

Life Is Strange is one of the best computer games I have ever played and I’m delighted to have discovered it. I’ll certainly be watching out for more Dontnod games in the future.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Khan Triumphant! Caulfield Cup Review

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Mongolian Khan holds to the lead to win the Caulfield Cup

It was a much less tiring outing to the races on Saturday, though the crowds of once a year racegoers were larger than at the Caulfield Guineas meeting. There was much drunken revelry and people were getting somewhat tired and emotional by the time the Caulfield Cup was run at the end of the afternoon.

As for me, I got to the track around 2.00pm, when Race 3, the Group 2 Caulfield Sprint had just been contested. Remarkably, it ended in a dead heat for first between Lumosty and Eclair Choice, a carbon copy result of last year, which saw Bel Sprinter and Miracles of Life dead heat in the same race.

With plenty of time on my hands I headed to the stalls area to check out on who had already arrived at the course.

Catkins was standing placidly in her stall…

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…along with the rest of Chris Waller stable contingent, Amicus and Royal Descent for instance.

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Royal Descent

Further along, Rising Romance was rubbing herself affectionately against her strapper…

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Rising Romance

Race 4 was the Group 3 Ethereal Stakes, a race for Oaks bound three year old fillies, run over 2000 metres, so was of interest in light of the Victorian Oaks.

It was won by Dawnie Perfect at big odds. She’s a lovely looking filly out of Big Brown and Zabeel mare Zagalia and is owned by John Singleton, who also bred her.

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Dawnie Perfect (inside) & Alittle Loose on their way to the barriers

The highly fancied Honesta and favourite Ambience finished second and third.

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Ethereal Stakes finish – Dawnie Perfect takes charge to win.

Returning to the stalls area after the race, the International runners were in their stalls, the Japanese horses next to the British and Irish Caulfield Cup hopefuls.

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Fame Game – from Japan

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Hokko Brave – also from Japan wearing ear muffs

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Snow Sky – from the UK

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Trip to Paris – from Ireland

For Race 5, the Caulfield Classic, I stayed in the relatively quiet area close to the pre parade ring, where you get a good view of the track and the horses going to the barriers.

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Lizard Island

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Ayers Rock

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Sacred Eye

The race was also over 2000 metres and had a field of 12 colts and geldings and one filly, Sacred Eye, who beat them all by a length.

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Past the post in the Caulfield Classic – Sacred Eye still leads.

Lizard Island, who started favourite, ran second and Etymology finished third.

Sacred Eye is by High Chaparral from Rock of Gibraltar mare Musidora and is being aimed at the Oaks and could well win it.

I returned to the public lawn for Race 6, the Group 3 David Jones Cup, another 2000 metre race. Stratum Star was the class horse in the race, and his form held true when he won the race comfortably by a length from Awesome Rock with Leebaz a further 2.25 lengths running third.

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Stratum Star on his way to the barriers

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Awesome Rock on his way to the barriers

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David Jones Cup finish – Stratum Star leads

I hardly took any notice of Race 7, the Group 3 Moonga Stakes which is an open competition over 1400 metres.

It was won by Vashka from Under The Louvre and Coronation Shallan.

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Vashka on his way to the barriers

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Under The Louvre on his way to the barriers

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Coronation Shallan

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Past the post in the Moonga Stakes – Vashka leads

The afternoon flitted by remarkably fast and there was only one more race before the Caulfield Cup.

This was the Group 2 Tristarc Stakes for mares, and Catkins was the warm favourite.  Alas she didn’t fire in straight, dropping back and finishing 9th. She will  be spelled, and may well have come to end of her racing career, so I’m glad I had the chance to see her in flesh at least once this spring.

Longshot La Passe narrowly won from Solicit and Jessy Belle.

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La Passe returns to scale after winning the Tristarc Stakes

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Jessy Belle on her way to the barriers

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Catkins on her way to the barriers

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Past the post in the Tristarc Stakes

The afternoon was advanced by the time the Caulfield Cup was due to start.

I decided to go back to the public lawn and grab a spot on the fence for the feature race, so accompanied by my acquaintance and fellow photographer,  Rebecca, we squeezed in to a vacant spot on the fence much to the ire of some persons who claimed they had prior claim to it as they’d had their picnic rug up against the fence all day.

They certainly hadn’t bothered watching the previous races, so we held our ground and they backed off. 

On afterthought, we probably would  have been better off back on the hill, as my photographs from the fence turned out dark, the light of late afternoon not being conducive to clear shots.

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Mongolian Khan & Trip To Paris on their way to the starting gates

The race itself was worth waiting for. Greg Miles was calling it for the 35th time, but unfortunately ill health got in the way of his delivery. I really feel for him – he must have cringed when he realised his gaffes.

I didn’t really notice it at the time, I was concentrating on the race itself.

Anyway, the call will probably go down in history as one of the most bizarre and unusual race calls of all time.

It was the superbly timed riding of Opie Bosson , and Mongolian Khan’s  staying ability, that won the race.  Opie started his home run early, and the Khan overtook the leaders in the straight and surged on to win by half a length from Trip To Paris who snuck along the rail, with Our Ivanhowe 1.75 lengths back, running third.

It was a popular win by Mongolian Khan as he started favourite and a victory for locally bred horses. Mongolian Khan was born in Tasmania, is trained in New Zealand and is owned by an eccentric millionaire from Manchuria, who keeps wolves as pets. It’s actually Mongolian Khan’s 4th birthday today (19/10/15)

I was personally delighted with his win as my languishing Sportsbet account was augmented by a $25.00 bonus bet being translated into $87.00 winning profit.

Next Saturday is my favourite race, the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley.  Can’t wait!