Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Celebrating Australia Day with Arabians

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Arabian race finish – Warrawee Naaziq defeats Coolinda Park Winston

Yesterday, Caulfield had a special race meeting to mark the Australia Day holiday. There were diverse activities for children and general patrons including a barbeque on the front lawn. 

Of course I wasn’t interested in all that stuff, so left it to families enjoy.

It was worth getting to Caulfield Racecourse early to witness the running of the HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies World Championship (IFAHR), a race for Arabian pure breds over 1600 metres, all ridden by female jockeys from across the globe – The Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, UK, Hungary, Ireland, South Korea, Sweden and Australia.

Lauren Stojakovic, best known for riding Miracles of Life to victory in the 2013 Blue Diamond Stakes, was Australia’s representative on Ethereal Park Solette.

If you think the race name is long winded, it must have been quite a chore for the female race caller to call the race with most of the arab horses having complicated names like Cromarty Park Zataal, Ethereal Park Solette, Aloha Thee Desperado for example.

They are beautiful looking animals quite distinct from the normal thoroughbred racehorse. They have neat pretty heads and are compact in body, smaller than regular racers, and they carry their tails high when they are running. They are known for their endurance.

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Cava FF is a good example of the Arab type.

Warrawee Naaziq ridden by Dutch jockey Cindy Klinkenberg narrowly won the race from Coolinda Park Winston, ridden by Mina You from South Korea. They were miles ahead of the rest of the field, who were stretched out behind them and tailed to the finish line lengths apart.

The Arabians race was run before the first race, so there was a short interval between it and the regular race card.

Race 1 was the Grand Hotel Frankston Handicap, a race for fillies and mares over 1400 metres.

Fast Approaching started as favourite and didn’t let her backers down winning by a short margin from Boundary and Shacarde.

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Just past the finishing post in Race 1

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Fast Approaching (no 3) & Shacarde (no 6) return to scale

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Boundary returns to scale

The next race, the Summer Championship Final (1700 metres)  resulted in a dead heat between veteran Tuscan Fire and Radical with Fast And Free a head away in third place.

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Down the straight – Radical (no 8) closes on Tuscan Fire and Fast And Free

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Radical on his way to the barriers

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Tuscan Fire on his way to the barriers

Race 3 was the first of the Blue Diamond Previews – for colts and geldings over 1000 metres. For some reason the colts Preview is classified as a Listed race and the fillies Preview is classed as Group 3, though the prize money is the same. I have no idea why this is so.

The colts Blue Diamond Preview was won emphatically by Godolphin colt Cohesion from Capannello and El Venetian. Cohesion is certainly a lovely looking colt.

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Cohesion has a comfortable lead down the straight with 100 metres to go.

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Cohesion on his way to the starting gates

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Capannello on his way to the barriers

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El Venetian on his way to the barriers

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Cohesion rugged and posing for the press photographers – the sign behind him seems apt

The winner of the fillies Blue Diamond Preview, Sword of Light, has a reputation for being cantakerous and flighty. She behaved herself at the barriers this time after her last outing at Flemington resulted in her being scratched at the barriers.

I noticed she paraded in ear muffs, no doubt to settle her down, because she raced without them.

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Sword of Light in the mounting yard

She won by 1.2 lengths from Emphatically, with Dream First running third.

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Sword of Light (no 6) hits the front with 100 metres to go

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Emphatically on her way to the starting gates

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Dream First on her way to the barriers

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Sword of Light in winners rug

Whether Cohesion or Sword of Light will feature in the actual Blue Diamond Stakes is yet to be seen. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that one of them will win the race. Miracles of Life won the fillies Blue Diamond Preview in 2013. And in the boys version Sepoy won in 2011 and Reward For Effort in 2009 before winning the Blue Diamond Stakes.

The Blue Diamond Preludes are part of the Group 1 Orr Stakes meeting in a little over a fortnight, which is my next anticipated outing to the races.

The afternoon was hot, and I’d been at Caulfield since 12.00 noon, so I called it a day after the fillies Preview and headed for the station.

Caulfield was not crowded and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and despite face painted kids being in abundance, it was a pleasant way to spend Australia Day.

Incidentally jockeys riding horses with the No 1 saddlecloth wore Australian flag silks as is traditional on this day, though none of them won, so it wasn’t a lucky colour.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Holler Victory–Australia Stakes Review

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Australia Stakes finish – Holler holds on to win the prize

Saturday dawned wet and gloomy,  but it cleared in the afternoon to a mild and sunny day with light southernly winds. Perfect weather in fact for going to the races.

Taking my time getting to the track, I arrived at Moonee Valley around 2.30pm, in plenty of time to watch race 4, the WT Partnership Handicap, for three year olds run over 2040 metres. Flying Light was the warm favourite, and he didn’t disappoint winning comfortably from O’lonera and Zandarall.

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Race 4 – down the straight – Flying Light leads

Killing time until the next race, I wandered out to the stalls area to look at the horses, and following my friend George’s example, decided to take photos of the Australia Stakes field.

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Holler – a very attractive looking colt

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Hucklebuck – just as pretty as I remember him from Spring 2014

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Old trooper Mourinho with his devoted strapper

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Rageese – another handsome Godophin colt

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Sirbible the Alice Springs contender

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Trust In A Gust

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It Is Written

For race 5, the Gold Star (1514 metres), I decided to watch the action from the other side of winning post. Burning Front started as favourite and blitzed the rest of the field winning by almost three lengths from Khutulun and Del Prado.

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Burning Front streets ahead wins the Gold Star

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Burning Front on his way to the starting gates

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Khutulun on his way to the barriers

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Del Prado on his way to the barriers

There wasn’t much of a crowd at Moonee Valley, which is how I like it, so I enjoyed the few hours I stayed at the course.

Next up was race 6, the Campolina Handicap, another race over 2040 metres for all comers.

Long shot Wales was the winner, beating home race leader Use The Lot with Schockemohl running third.

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Race 6 – down the straight – Wales (red silks) overtakes Use The Lot (inside) with Schockemohl (grey) on the outside

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Wales returns to scale after winning the Campolina Handicap

The class race of the afternoon was of course the Group 2 Australia Stakes. Rebel Dane was the favourite as expected, but true to form he failed to deliver, only managing to run third.  Smart three year old colt Holler beat his older rivals by a length with Churchill Dancer, Rebel Dane and Hucklebuck finishing in a bunch, less than a head separating them. It will be interesting to see where Holler goes after this.

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Holler poses for the press after winning the Australia Stakes

I called it quits after the Australia Stakes and headed home.

It was pleasant being back at Moonee Valley watching the racing action. A nice sweetener for the real Autumn racing carnival, set to kick off in three weeks with the first Group 1 race of the season on 13 February at Caulfield.

Caulfield on Australia Day (tomorrow) beckons with an interesting race card, so I’ll probably attend, getting there early to watch the Arabian horses in action, then staying for the two Blue Diamond Previews.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Touch of Class–Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley

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Hucklebuck returns to scale after winning the 2014 Emirates Stakes

In the three weeks since the beginning of 2016, there have been several celebrity deaths, the deceased being my close contemporaries in age, which sends shivers of mortality through us survivors.

I’m pleased to report that I am alive and in good health and looking forward to the start of the Autumn Racing Season.

It kind of kicks off in a low key way this Saturday at Moonee Valley who will be hosting the Group 2 Australia Stakes.

The Australia Stakes (1200 metres) has been won by some top sprinters, most notably Black Caviar in 2010 and 2012. California Dane won it in 2006 and his son,  Rebel Dane, will start as favourite for this year’s edition.

The field is the classiest we’ve seen since the end of the Spring racing season, with four Group One winners in the mix. These are Mourinho who won the race at big odds last year, Trust In A Gust, winner of the 2014 Rupert Clarke Stakes and Toorak Stakes who has been off the scene due to injury since August last year, 2014 Emirates Stakes winner Hucklebuck and Rebel Dane, who does have the 2013  Rupert Clarke Stakes to his credit.

Challenging the above four main chances will be in form Durendal who has won his last three starts, and faces his toughest assignment to date, and three year old Holler who won the Group 3 Red Anchor Stakes at MooneeValley on Cox Plate day last year over the distance.

The interesting runner is Northern Territory trained Sirbible who has won twice at Moonee Valley over 1200 metres.

As it has rained continously in Melbourne most of today (Friday) the track at Moonee Valley could well be affected and rated on the dead to slow side of the scale.

Hopefully the rain will clear by Saturday afternoon as I intend to go to the meeting and don’t want to be confined to indoors, preferring to roam around in the open air.

Caulfield will be hosting a race meeting next Tuesday, Australia Day, and featuring the always interesting Blue Diamond Previews, so I’m tempted to attend that as well to get a look at the youngsters strutting their stuff.

Returning to deaths of famous people…

Yesterday I was saddened to hear of the sudden passing of David Hartwell, a well known, much loved and respected editor in the Science Fiction field.

I had the pleasure of meeting him in November 2002 at the Edward Whittemore book launch at Gotham Book Mart in New York and even took a photo of him at the time.

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David Hartwell at Gotham Book Mart 11/11/2002

In the above photo he is wearing a conservative shirt, but he was well known for wearing outrageous ties and colourful shirts at social events and Science Fiction Conventions.

In person he was extremely likeable, friendly, and not in the least intimidating.

Among his many achievements, he founded and edited the New York Review of Science Fiction, a prestigious publication wherein I had the privilege of having my essay on Edward Whittemore published in January 2003.

David died as a result of falling backwards down stairs carrying a book case. 

He will be grievously missed by the Science Fiction community and all who knew him. By all accounts he was a true gentleman and a scholar.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Dare To Struggle, Dare To Swim–The Save the Lemmings Campaign of 1970

A long time ago in a faraway galaxy, ie my past,  I was associated with the Melbourne Anarchists.

At that time it was de riguer to belong to a political club at University and I chose the Anarchists, because their philosophy appealed to my rebellious spirit, and they also had a cool badge: a simple red button with TREASON written across it in black letters. TREASON is an acronym of “The Revolutionary Emancipists Against State Oppression and Nationalism.”

The other political groups to choose from were the Maoists, Socialists and the University Labour Club.

The anarchists regarded the other leftist groups as too serious, so set about organising a festival dubbed Carnival Anarchism in mockery of the earnest SDS supporters.

I believe it was my long time friend David who thought up the Lemming Campaign, where it was decided to storm the Swedish Consulate in protest against their treatment of the lemmings, ie driving them to commit suicide.

The demonstration was set down to take place on 25 July 1970, and the Anarchists, with help from the Goon Club were busy producing manifestos and revolutionary flyers. I contributed by composing an anthem – A Hymn for Lemming Aid:

The lemmings fate it haunts us yet,
In these dark days could we forget
That they in deep despair do bide
And drown their hopes in suicide.

Upon the tundra long ago,
A lemming tree stood in the snow
Where every five years at its roots
The lemmings held their lemming moots.

But oh to tell the saga sad
The tree was felled by men so bad
And every lemming far and near
Drowned itself in grief and fear.

Chorus (after each verse)

We raise our lemming banner high
Without our help they still might die
Though men may rant and men may rave
Perforce their fate we still may waive.

To finish the dirge rightly it is customary to chant the haunting refrain known long ago in the book of lemming folklore as "The Lay of the Last Lemming" which they all sing as they fling themselves into the cold north sea.

It is passed down to us, corrupted by the years as "Lemon Tree".

Lemming tree very pretty
And the lemming flower is sweet
But alas for the poor lemmings
No longer can they meet.

The song was sung to the tune of the revolutionary song The Red Flag.

I recorded the Lemming day of action in my diary and I give my verbatim account below:

We made it a pretty early night on Friday, in order to be up early the next morning for Lemming Day.

I managed to stagger up at 8.30 and was ready, lamingtons*, megaphone** and all when David & Christine came to fetch me.

The demo was great fun. There were about 20 to 30 people who came, laden with placards and balloons, to romp up and down Toorak Road, down to the Village and back to the Consulate in St George’s Road.

We created some impression on Toorak and they thought us all mad or irresponsible. My lemming song was sung countless times – practically at every street corner. Someone had brought their guitar and could play “Red Flag” so we had a good accompaniment.

A few people objected to us – “Go out to work”,  snarled one woman, “justify your existence!” “If you’re educated , then I’m glad I’m not”, screamed another.

There was a lovely lady who followed us in her car and brought us more balloons and a long horn to blow outside the Consulate.

We did the usual demo stuff – chanted slogans like “Ho, ho Lemming power”. Cries of “To the consulate” echoed down St Georges Road in mockery of July 4th.***

When we got back to the Consulate after wandering about Toorak, a cop car was parked in the driveway. They were very nice coppers. We sat down in front of them and sang “The Hymn for Lemming Aid”. Someone distributed Lemming newsheets to them. They conducted us from their car and let us write lemming slogans in the dust on their car.

“Where are you going now?” they asked after speeches and summonses for a confrontation with the Swedish Ambassador. “Dunno” we said, “Where do you want to go?”

Everyone decided to disperse after that. The cops escorted us to our cars, and waited till we’d all gone.

Everyone, except the Wizard, was for Lemming Aid. He held a counter revolution on the other side of the road.

“Marxist Lemmingists!” he yelled, “Go home you commie bastards” He’s a natural idiot, the Wizard. He’s resident in Melbourne for a couple of months. He has formed his own group at Uni, called “Sons of Albion”.

When checking out the internet for this post, I was astounded to discover that the Wizard, aka Ian Channell is still going strong and is just as eccentric as I remember him.

* Lamingtons were a natural addition to the Lemming Day Of Action, their name being so reminiscent of the animals we were supporting. There was some idea of throwing them at the Consulate, but I think they all got eaten before that could happen.

** Megaphone -  this ideal haranguer somehow came into my possession, how, when and where I now can’t remember. It accompanied me and the Anarchists on many demonstrations.

*** July 4th is of course American Independence Day and back in the 1960s and early 1970s, due to the ongoing Vietnam War, we used to hold demonstrations outside the US Consulate on that day. At that time the American Consulate was in Commercial Road, South Yarra.

The Melbourne Anarchists still exist and have a shop front in St Georges Road, Northcote. They were recently in the news with their stubborn refusal to move from the property, with high rise appartment blocks being built on either side of their establishment.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Happy New Year 2016

First cat photo of 2016 – Talya on my computer chair 2/1/16

Talya hates having her photo taken. When you point a camera at her she invariably starts washing herself and ignores all cajolements to cooperate. So I had to be fast to get the above shot and catch her mid wash.

I spent New Year’s eve watching episodes of Wolf Hall, the highly regarded BBC TV Series based on Hilary Mantel’s novel of the same name and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies.  I was given the DVD for Christmas and was pleased to receive it as I’d given it as a present to two friends, and hadn’t bothered to acquire a copy for myself.

It certainly lived up to the critical praise that has been heaped on it.

In a word, it is stunning: the costumes, sets, and acting were all first class. The attention to detail as regards the period setting (1500 to 1535) during the time of Henry VIII is commendable. Nothing jarred as anachronous, the lighting being predominantly candlelit and sombre, setting the mood of the times.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell is superb, as is Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn and the support cast are spot on character wise.

I thought the screen version of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was excellent and one of the best I’ve seen. Wolf Hall is just as good.

Hopefully the long awaited third and final book of Hilary Mantel’s take on the life of Thomas Cromwell will be published this year.

So far, reading the lists of books expected to be published in 2016 have left me disappointed, with nothing much taking my fancy, and books by my favourite living authors being in the main missing from the lists.

However, dare I hope that the 10 year wait for the 25th Anniversary edition of John Crowley’s Little, Big will be over this year. Every year since I subscribed to the edition I’ve been hopeful of seeing it finally published. This year may be the one where I will finally hold it in my hands. The latest Newsletter on the edition envisages the book going to press in March 2016, May 2016 at the latest.

I have several musical treats in store early in 2016 – Gillian Welch and David Rawlings being the most highly anticipated. That’s in February.

In late March I’ve booked for a Jason Isbell concert at Melbourne Recital Centre. It’s a fabulous venue, so it will be a treat to see him there, after putting up with a stand up show at a pub venue the last time.

Eilen Jewell and her band are also expected to be touring in March  2016. Hopefully she will also play at a decent venue like Thornbury Theatre or Memo Music Hall or even the Recital Centre.

There’s only a little over a month to go before the first Group 1 of the Autumn Racing season is scheduled.

I’ve been missing going to the races, so yesterday I attended a low key meeting at Moonee Valley. The main attraction was the promising three year old filly Love Days having her third start. She’d won her first two in dominant fashion, so there was something of a hype surrounding her. I’m chary of  hyped youngsters these days as they eventually disappoint, but just in case they are the new Black Caviar, I’m always interested in seeing them in the flesh.

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Love Days at Moonee Valley 2/1/16

It was pleasant being back at the track with all the pretty horses, but certainly not a day for successful punting. I had one bet on Orion in Race 2 shortly after I reached the track, but he missed out on a place, so I eschewed wasting my money on anything after that.

The majority of winners over the afternoon were long shot outsiders, and that also proved the case when Race 5, the Gold Carat was run.

Love Days was the hot favourite, but she had a torrid run, three wide for most of the race, and a clever ride by top jockey Damian Oliver resulted in 20/1 shot Rocky Boombao winning the race, lowering the colours of Love Days who couldn’t catch him and finished second.

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Rocky Boombao steals a lead in the Gold Carat.

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Rocky Boombao returns to scale

The most interesting race of the day was the Perth Cup at Ascot and it was won by the wonderful staying mare *Delicacy who started as the  top weight, carrying 59kg. She defied history with her win, being the first mare to win the race at that weight. She certainly has delivered on her promise of the 2015 Autumn where she won two Derbys and two Oaks and was awarded Australian Champion Three Year Old Filly of 2015.

There’s a possibility that she might contest the Australian Cup at Flemington in March. I hope so, as I’d love to see her in the flesh.

With that I wish everyone a rewarding and interesting 2016 as I hope for myself.

* Delicacy unfortunately sustained a tendon injury in the Perth Cup and has been retired. It’s a disappointing but a commendable decision by her owner. However, the consolation prize is that her younger stable mate Perfect Reflection who defeated Delicacy in the Kingston Town Classic will possibly be contesting the Australian Guineas in March at Flemington.