Monday, February 29, 2016

Extreme Choice Shines in the Blue Diamond

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Extreme Choice parades in the mounting yard after winning the 2016 Blue Diamond Stakes

Last Saturday, Melbourne woke to a mild sunny day that was perfect for attending the first class race meeting at Caulfield, where three excellent Group 1 competions delivered on their promise of thrilling racing action.

As planned, I arrived at Caulfield Racecourse about 20 minutes before Race 3, the Angus Armanesco Stakes was scheduled to start and watched the fillies parade in the mounting yard…

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Catch A Fire

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Mossin’ Around

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Pasadena Girl

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… then found a good postition on the fence to observe the race.

Pasadena Girl started as favourite, and performed really well, running third to runaway longshot winner Catch A Fire, who beat Mossin’ Around by over two lengths.

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Down the straight in the Angus Armanesco Stakes - Catch A Fire leads the rest of the field.

Catch A Fire’s saddlecloth number was 8, and remarkably horses wearing saddlecloth number 8 won four of the nine races on the program.

As Mahuta had been scratched from the Autumn Classic (race 4) the new race favourite was Tally (number 8 saddlecloth) who justified his support by easily winning the race from Flying Light and Top Ravine.

I watched this race from the other side of the stalls area. The prime spot on the hill above the stalls area was fenced off to restrict the area to young members. What a waste of a useful space! There were more security personnel than young members so it was observed.

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Race 4  finish just past the winning post – Tally (blue silks) leads

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Tally on his way to the barriers

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Flying Light on his way to the barriers

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Top Ravine returns to scale

Whilst in the stalls area, and as there were a wealth of horsey stars in attendance, I cruised through to see them.

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Extreme Choice in his stall – as good as gold

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Flying Artie next door

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Zamzam smooching with her strapper

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Fell Swoop – ear muffed to keep him calm

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Mourinho with his devoted strapper

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The United States

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The beautiful Turn Me Loose – photos don’t do him justice

Back trackside, Race 5, the Peter Young Stakes was about to begin.

Irish import Bow Creek, whom I’ve overlooked despite other pundits having a high opinion of him, started as favourite, and finally delivered on his promise with a convincing win in the 1800 metre race. Fenway finished second. Good old Mourinho who was kicked by Fenway before the start of the Orr Stakes, and passed fit to race, and finished second last,  ran third in the Peter Young Stakes, which he won last year.

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Bow Creek on his way to the barriers

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Fenway on her way to the barriers

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Fawkner on his way to the barriers

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Happy Trails on his way to the barriers

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Mourinho on his way to the barriers

Fawkner finished a distant third last after a torrid run six horses wide. He may be a spent force, so it wouldn’t surprise if he was retired. Happy Trails fared slightly better finishing seventh. Bow Creek was outstanding, as he missed the start and had to make up ground, then was held up by a wall of horses, but after finding a gap he exploded away to win by 1½ lengths.

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Peter Young Stakes finish – Bow Creek breaks through.

The first of the Group 1 races, the Futurity Stakes was up next, and with its classy field was the best race of the afternoon.

As it was a 1400 metres race, I went back to the spot on the other side of the stalls area.

The race lived up to its promise, with Turn Me Loose the popular winner.  This time he raced back in third or fourth spot instead of leading, and surged late to grab Suavito (third) and Stratum Star (second) to win by ¾ length. Hucklebuck overraced in the earlier part of the race and ended up uncharacteristically leading, then faded to finish eigth. Unfortunately Boban bled from both nostrils and is banned from racing, so that is the last we’ll see of him, which is a pity as he was great horse on his day.

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Stratum Star

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Hucklebuck & Stratum Star

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Scissor Kick

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The United States

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Turn Me Loose

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Futurity Stakes – just past the winning post -  head on shot

For the Blue Diamond Stakes I returned to the public lawn and grabbed a good spot early to see the young things head out to the track.

The late afternoon sunlight was glaring and bad for photos, so the few I took are darkish.

However, I got a good photo of the finish down the straight where Extreme Choice is several lengths ahead of his stablemate Flying Artie, and the rest of the field is out of the frame. The filly Zamzam finished third six lengths behind the leading pair.

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Extreme Choice burns up the straight with Flying Artie in hot pursuit.

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Extreme Choice in the winners rug in the mounting yard

Extreme Choice does look special. Only a small horse, he has a calm temperament and is yet to lose a race. He’s now favourite for the Golden Slipper Stakes, which he could well win too.

I stayed at the course for the final Group 1 race, the Oakleigh Plate, and decided to have a small wager on both Fell Swoop and Heatherly. Top weight Flamberge, who has a good first up record and has won at Group 1 level before, was unfavoured in the betting. He started at 30/1 and won by a nose from Fell Swoop who was held up in the straight and couldn’t quite catch the Flamberge. Heatherly, who was prominent throughout and led for most of the race hung on for third.

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Oakleigh Plate finish down the straight – Flamberge (yellow silks) is about to overtake Heatherly (red cap) with Fell Swoop charging down the outside

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Flamberge parades after winning the Oakleigh Plate

After collecting my winnings on Heatherly and Fell Swoop for a small profit, I headed for the station and home.

The afternoon at Caulfield sped by very fast even though the interval between races was back to its usual 40 minutes. 

Thank goodness MRC have finally come to their senses and not run the feature event as the second last last race on the card.

I did get to watch the Chipping Norton Stakes on the big screen while waiting for the Blue Diamond Stakes to start. Winx enhanced her claims to being the best horse in Australia with an easy win from Dibayani and Hauraki.

Next Saturday the action is at Flemington for the Group 1 Australian Guineas meeting, whilst Randwick hosts the rival Randwick Guineas and the Group 1 Canterbury Stakes.

Here in Melbourne we at least get the first chance to see star New Zealand colt Xtravagant in the flesh.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Thrill Continues–Blue Diamond Stakes Day

Pride of Dubai on his way to winning the 2015 Blue Diamond Stakes

There are only three more Saturdays of Group 1 racing in Melbourne, before the focus shifts to the “Championships” in Sydney (as they call their autumn racing carnival).

This coming Saturday, Caulfield Racecourse hosts the 2016 Blue Diamond Stakes, which is supported by two other classy Group 1 races for older gallopers – the 1400 metres Futurity Stakes and the Oakleigh Plate, a sprint over 1100 metres. There are also a number of Group 2 races on the program.

As usual, it’s hard to predict the Blue Diamond winner, as it tends to be a messy race with 16 two year old contenders in the field.  This year there are nine colts/geldings and seven fillies contesting the race. Mick Price trained colts Extreme Choice and Flying Artie are the top picks. Unfortunately they’ve both drawn wide gates which gives other hopefuls a chance, such as Hell Of An Effort, Star Turn and fillies Samara Dancer and Concealer, to name a few of the better performed runners.

The Blue Diamond Stakes is scheduled as Race 7 at the latter end of the afternoon, so I’m going to take my time getting to the course, most probably just before Race 3 the Angus Armanesco Stakes, a Group 2 race for three year old fillies over 1400 metres.

Pasadena Girl is top weight. She hasn’t been seen since spring, where she was slightly disappointing. But then again, she had the misfortune to encounter superior fillies Stay With Me and/or Jameka in most of the races she contested.  She has a good chance of winning the Armanesco Stakes if she can hold out against the likes of Egypt, who ran second to Don’t Doubt Mama last week in the Vanity Stakes, or Mossin’ Around and Cana who ran second and third to smart New Zealand Filly Risque in the Kevin Hayes Stakes.

Race 4, the Caulfield Autumn Classic  is another Group 2 race for three year olds, this time run over 1800 metres.

Mahuta who has won his last 7 races and has been racing since October 2015 with very little break in between, is still the top chance in the Autumn Classic if he can run the distance.  Others who might threaten are Flying Light, Ayers Rock (who has won over 1800 metres) Hardern and Tally.

The Group 2 Peter Young Stakes is also run over 1800 metres and is a standard weight for age race for older runners.  Last year it was won by Mourinho who is again in the field, along with old stalwarts Fawkner and Happy Trails. Geelong Cup winner Almoonqith is also in the field along with Group 1 winning mares Rising Romance and Fenway.

The first scheduled of the Group 1 races is the Futurity Stakes, run over 1400 metres. Orr Stakes heroine Suavito won this race last year, and has a good chance of winning it a second time, facing the same horses she beat in the Orr StakesTurn Me Loose, Hucklebuck, Rebel Dane, Boban, Stratum Star, Trust In A Gust, Entirely Platinum - with the added talents of Politeness and Scissor Kick, thrown in for good measure.

It looks a ripper race as Suavito will most certainly be challenged by several of the above runners.

The Oakleigh Plate is the final Group 1 race of the day, scheduled after the Blue Diamond Stakes. This year’s edition has attracted a huge field of 18 runners. I’m delighted to see Canberra sprinter Fell Swoop is part of the field, having his toughest test to date.  He’s up against some smart ones in Bounding, Gregers, Heatherly, Headwater and Keen Array.  Heatherly will most likely start as favourite after her stunning five & a half length win in the Rubiton Stakes at her last start caught everyone’s eye.

Sydney racing is at Randwick and the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600 metres)  is the feature race.  Star mare Winx is part of the field and will most likely win it, the bulk of the field being stayers resuming.  It’s good to see that Caulfield Cup winner Mongolian Khan is part of the field. He was very sick with a colic attack which prevented him contesting the Melbourne Cup, but has recovered well by all accounts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Music & The Machine–An Enchanting Evening

Dave Rawlings Machine – photo from ABC RN Facebook

This is the first opportunity I have had to post about the Dave Rawlings Machine concert at the Palais last Friday night.

Seeing the Gillian Welch / Dave Rawlings duo a fortnight ago, certainly didn’t jade the pallet for more divine music from the pair.

We had better seats this time, four rows from the front, so even though, disappointingly, photos were not permitted, it didn’t in any way detract from the pleasure of the night’s entertainment.

It was quite a different set up and sound. The added accompaniments of Willie Watson on violin, banjo and guitar, Brittany Haas on violin and Paul Kowert on double bass delivered a deeper and richer sonic landscape; quite bluegrassy in fact.

In the Dave Rawlings Machine, David Rawlings assumes lead vocals, while Gillian Welch sings background harmonies and plays her rhythm guitar, though she did sing a couple of songs as lead. Gillian’s voice is warm and honey coloured and stands out even when several male vocalists are singing harmonies.

Willie Watson added his distinctive voice to many of the songs and was lead vocalist on Stewball, a traditional ditty about a racehorse He was formerly a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, so I’ve seen him before performing with them. And Paul Kowerts also took the lead on the gospel inspired He Will Set Your Fields On Fire.

As was the case in the Gillian Welch concert, there was an intermission of approximately 30 minutes half way through the show, where the band goes off to do mysterious things (David Rawlings words) and the audience does likewise.

However, we didn’t go next door to Luna Park and ride on the Scenic Railway as the band purportedly did and cheerfully admitted when they returned on stage for the second set.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have been driving to all their Australian concerts, crossing the Nullabor early in their tour, performing shows at Perth and Adelaide, then Sydney, Canberra, Bangalow and Melbourne. They have an aversion to flying, which explains why it took them 11 years to return.

Both the Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings Machine shows were wonderful in diverse ways, so I’m glad I seized the opportunity to see them this time around. I doubt if they’ll be back this way anytime soon.

Setlist (from

1. The Weekend

2. Bodysnatchers

3. Pilgrim (You Can't Go Home)

4. Wayside/Back in Time

5. To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High) (Ryan Adams cover)

6. Bells of Harlem

7. Keep It Clean (Charley Jordan cover)

8. The Trip

9. It's Too Easy


10. Ruby

11. The Last Pharaoh

12. He Will Set Your Fields on Fire (Bill Monroe cover)

13. Sweet Tooth

14. I Hear Them All / This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie cover)

15. Stewball ([traditional] cover)

16. Short Haired Woman Blues

17. Queen Jane Approximately (Bob Dylan cover)

Encore 1:

18. Look at Miss Ohio (Gillian Welch cover)

19. Method Acting / Cortez the Killer

Encore 2:

20. The Weight (The Band cover)

21. Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby ([traditional] cover)


Music Festival time is only a few weeks off, when music lovers in Australia are spoilt for choice.

I’ve got tickets to five upcoming shows in March, April and June.

I’m looking forward to seeing Jason Isbell at Melbourne Recital Centre on 29 March. His opening act is non other than the delightful Eilen Jewell, whom I’m catching again the following night in a headline show at Thornbury Theatre.

On April Fool’s Day Frazey Ford (of The Be Good Tanyas fame) is at Caravan Music Club, and local singer writers Liz Stringer and Suzannah Espie are performing there together on 21 April.

And in June I’m seeing John Mellencamp at Rod Laver Arena, courtesy of a Ticketek Gift Voucher from Nu Country.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Iron Horse–Chautauqua Strikes in the Lightning

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Chautauqua parades in the mounting yard after winning the Black Caviar Lightning

Personally, I prefer Melbourne’s summer/autumn racing season to the overhyped spring carnival. For a start the race meetings are not overcrowded and secondly the silliness of the spring carnival is not as glaringly obvious. 

The Melbourne autumn racing carnival may be the poor cousin to the spring carnival as far as the media is concerned, but the racing action is just as thrilling as was observed on Saturday afternoon at Flemington.

Having attended the excellent Dave Rawlings Machine concert the night before, I was feeling a tad bleary as I set out for Flemington, but once arrived that wore off and I was keen to see the two year olds strut their stuff in the Talindert Stakes.

In 2012 I witnessed All Too Hard win the Talindert at his first start, and we know how good he turned out to be.

So you wonder, as you watch the young things parading, which of them could be future stars of the turf. 

I was interested in seeing two of the fillies in the race, the first, Conscious, being one of the first crop of So You Think’s progeny to hit the track. The other, Clockwork Orange, is the daughter of multiple Group 1 winning mare Private Steer. They were both having their first start. As you can see in the photos below they are lovely looking fillies.

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Clockwork Orange

Clockwork Orange started as favourite but only managed to run sixth.

Conscious did better, running 1.5 lengths second to Weatherly, over three lengths in front of third placed Jackson.

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Weatherly & Conscious on the grandstand side of the track run first and second.

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Weatherly returns to scale after winning the Talindert Stakes

Race 3 was the Auckland Racing Club Trophy, a sprint over 1000 metres.

It was won by the favourite Estaminet, with Scratchy Lass and Afleet Esprit running second and third.

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Estaminet wins the Auckland Racing Club Trophy

You certainly get plenty of exercise at Flemington, as the walk to and from the prime photo spot just past the winning post to the stalls extends almost the length of the straight.

In the stalls several of the main contenders for the Group events had already arrived, as had the Living Legends representatives, Bullish Luck and Silent Witness.

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Bullish Luck in the pre-parade ring

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Silent Witness in his stall

Speaking of legends, there was a special ceremony on Saturday afternoon for the late Red Cadeaux whose ashes are buried in the stalls area near where he was stabled.

Unfortunately he died from complications after suffering an injury on Melbourne Cup  Day last year. If he had survived he would have joined the old boys at Living Legends.

A plaque has been installed on a bench near where he is buried.

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Red Cadeaux Plaque in Stalls Area

Back trackside, Race 4, the Japan Racing Association Trophy (2000 metres) was about to start.

This was also won by race favourite, Pemberley, from Word of Mouth and Falago.

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Pemberley on his way to the starting gates

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Word of Mouth (no 7) and Renew on their way to the starting gates

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Falago on his way to the barriers

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Race 4 finish – Pemberley wins easily by 2.8 lengths to Word of Mouth

Tramping back once again to the stalls area, I was keen to get photos of the feature contenders…

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Chautauqua – BC Lightning

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Bon Aurum – CS Hayes Stakes

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Delectation – BC Lightning

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Japonisme – BC Lightning

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Exosphere – BC Lightning

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Perfect Reflection – Vanity Stakes

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Sacred Star – Vanity Stakes

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Terravista – BC Lightning

Race 5, was the first of the feature races, the Group 3 Vanity Stakes for three year old fillies over 1400 metres.

Unbeaten Western Australian filly Perfect Reflection started as favourite but both she and Jameka were upstaged by Don’t Doubt  Mama.

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Don’t Doubt Mama wins the Vanity Stakes from Egypt and Perfect Reflection

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Don’t Doubt Mama returns to scale

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Egypt returns to scale

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Perfect Reflection returns to scale

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Jameka who ran fourth returns to scale

The C.S. Hayes Stakes was next up. Also graded as Group 3, it is one for the colts and is run over 1400 metres as well.

The Darren Weir trained Palentino was the warm favourite and he did indeed win, before losing out to an upheld protest by the rider of second placed Tivaci for interference. Tivaci’s stablemate Tulsa ran third.

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Palentino (wide white blaze) technically wins the CS Hayes

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Palentino on his way to the barriers

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Tivaci on his way to the barriers

Last year on Lightning Stakes day, a storm passed through just before the feature race. Appropriately lightning flashed and a smattering of rain fell on Flemington.

Not so this year, as the afternoon was sunny with a cool southerly wind keeping the temperature at a comfortable level.

I was fortunate enough to personally witness Black Caviar win two of her three Lightning Stakes, so it was almost a blast from the past to see her colours decorating the finishing post.

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Finishing post detail with Black Caviar sign

Her walk of fame was back on the public lawn with two extra posters, showing her with her first two foals.

This year’s edition of the Black Caviar Lightning was just as exciting as you’d expect. Chautauqua’s connections must have nerves of steel to be able to watch their champion sprinter compete, as he races at the back of the field then nail bitingly launches his brilliant finishing burst at the last minute. He looked in a no win situation with only 50 metres to go, but somehow overtook Terravista and Japonisme, who were fighting out the finish, to win by a nostril.

Only six started in the race, Kinglike being scratched early in the morning. After leaving the barriers Terravista, Delectation, Japonisme and Chautauqua headed for the outside grandstand side of the track, leaving Va Pensiero and Exosphere running a separate race on the inside.  Exosphere didn’t look at all comfortable and was all over the place. His trainer blames the track bias for his failure to place, but his jockey admitted that he made the wrong call as far as the horse was concerned and stated that he would have performed better with the bunch on the grandstand side; ie having horses to race against.

I doubt if we’ll see Exosphere in Melbourne again, especially not at Flemington.

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Lightning Stakes finish – POV distorts the actual finishing order which was Chautauqua, Terravista (orange silks) Japonisme (pink silks) & Exosphere (blue silks)

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Chautauqua returns to scale

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Terravista returns to scale

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Japonisme returns to scale

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Exosphere returns to scale

As the trains departing Flemington for the city did not start to run until 4.45 pm I decided to stay and watch Race 8, the Ascot Racecourse Trophy, mostly because Divan was in it. 

He ran a great race, doing it tough racing wide throughout to run second to the favoured Dan Zephyr over the unsuitable distance of 1400 metres.

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Divan in the mounting yard

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Dan Zephyr in the mounting yard

The trip home by train was without incident and avoided the crowds streaming into the city for White Night. I was home in 40 minutes, the trains coinciding neatly at Southern Cross Station.

I managed to either hear or watch the feature Sydney races.  The Silver Slipper Stakes was won by Astern from Defcon with Mount Panorama running third. First Seal signalled that she had returned fighting fit, when she won the Millie Fox Stakes. Catkins lacked her usual zip and finished last. It looks like she may be retired. Telepathic ran second with I’ve Got The Looks taking third place. And Press Statement easily won the Hobartville Stakes from Le Romain and Montaigne.

Next Saturday I’ll be heading back to Caulfield for the Blue Diamond Stakes meeting, which has three Group 1 races on the program, the aforementioned Blue Diamond Stakes, plus the Oakleigh Plate and Futurity Stakes.