Monday, October 31, 2016

Whose Cup Will Runneth Over This Year?

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It’s that time of the year again when Melbourne gears up for the Melbourne Cup, still the most popular race in the country, being the best known no doubt. Most of the country wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a sprint and distance race to tell the truth.

Every year it gets harder to suss out the Cup winner and this year is no different with the bulk of the 24 strong field being International raiders hoping to steal the $6 million on offer.

There is a sad lack of local talent, with only four in the field being bred in Australia or New Zealand. Still, with both the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate being won by local breds, and mares at that, one can hope that one of the four locals – Jameka, Who Shot Thebarman, Pentathlon and Rose of Virginia -  will win the 2016 Melbourne Cup.

Of the four mentioned above, Jameka has the best chance and is my personal favourite in the race. She has drawn Gate 3 (inside) and has the excellent services of Nick Hall as her jockey. He’s an intelligent rider, his winning ride on Jameka in the Caulfield Cup being a masterpiece of strategy and timing. If he can do the same in the Melbourne Cup, she wins.

The only question mark over Jameka is her ability to run 3200 metres. Her breeding suggests she can’t, but I thought the same before she won the Oaks last year and was glad to be proved wrong.

Of the rest, imported stayers who have acclimatised, Hartnell and Almandin are the top picks. Both have been in winning form this spring and have been specifically set for the Melbourne Cup.

The best of the Internationals appear to be Irish stayers Wicklow Brave and Heartbreak City and Godolphin owned runners Oceanographer who won the Lexus Stakes last Saturday, and Qewy who won the Geelong Cup.  There is one Japanese stayer in the field, Curren Mirotic, who may be unwise to ignore, but he is 9 years old and his form looks uninspiring.

That’s my two bobs worth - take it with a grain of salt.

In reality any horse in the field can win given luck and the right ride.

I’m hoping that Jameka can become the first mare since Ethereal in 2001 to win the Caulfield Cup/Melbourne Cup double.

If she does succeed in doing this I shall regret that I was not there to see it in person, as I do not intend to go to the Melbourne Cup meeting, even though I was thinking about it.

I ended up with a strained calf  muscle after stumbling at Flemington last Saturday, and even though it is much improved today, I don’t fancy limping around an overcrowded public lawn or walking any great distance at the present time.

Hopefully it will be all better by Crown Oaks Day on Thursday as I don’t want to miss the feature event where Yankee Rose will be the starring attraction.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Derby Day 2016

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Sacred Elixir – current favourite for the Victoria Derby

I’m looking forward to returning to the wide open spaces of Flemington this coming Saturday for a super Derby Day featuring four Group 1 races and several other choice Group 2 and Group 3 events.

The weather is forecast to be warm and sunny with a light wind, so it will be in stark contrast to the Cox Plate meeting last weekend. And no doubt the crowds will be out in force as well for this first day of Flemington’s Spring Racing Carnival, which runs over four days with the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, the Oaks on Thursday and culminating with the Emirates Stakes on the following Saturday.

The first of the Group 1 races is the Coolmore Stud Stakes for three year olds run over 1200 metres. A very classy field will contest it, with the likes of Golden Slipper winner Capitalist, up against Blue Diamond Stakes and Moir Stakes winner Extreme Choice, Golden Rose winner Astern, and Russian Revolution who beat both Astern and Capitalist in the Group 2 Roman Consul Stakes and is so far unbeaten in four starts. Throw in Star Turn as well who beat the older sprinters recently in the Group 2 Schillachi Stakes.

First Seal, who proved she was well and truly back in contention when she won the Group 3 Tristarc Stakes on Caulfield Cup day, will be aiming to add a second Group 1 to her CV in the Myer Classic, a race for mares and fillies over 1600 metres.

Her main opposition comes from fellow mares Don’t Doubt Mama, Dixie Blossoms, Pearls and Rising Romance and fillies Whispering Brook and I Am A Star.

The Victoria Derby often throws up long shot winners, and favourites rarely win, though Tarzino was the favourite last year and won.

The current favourite for this year’s edition is Sacred Elixir who won the AAMI Vase last Saturday at Moonee Valley, which race has yielded quite a few Derby winners among its contestants. Last year it was won by Jameka who went on to win the 2015 Victorian Oaks and this year’s Caulfield Cup.

Sacred Elixir has good staying blood, his great grandam being Horlicks who famously won the Japan Cup in 1989 and was also the dam of 2000 Melbourne Cup winner Brew.

Another beautifully bred contender is So Si Bon who is a son of So You Think and Lonhro mare Black Minx. He is highly favoured by some pundits, though he has only one win from six starts. He does have the qualification of finishing third in the Vase, the same position Tarzino ran last year.

Although none of the big field of the Derby has won over 2500 metres, several have scored over 2000 metres and have the breeding to run the distance. High Chaparral  has sired quite few Derby winners and runners up, and there are four of his sons in the race – Silvera, Wine Bush, Highlad and Shine Tak Star. 

Or will perpetual bridesmaid Rocketeer, who always runs an honest race, finally have his moment of glory?

The final Group 1 is the Cantala Stakes run over 1600 metres.

Originally this race was known as the Mackinnon Stakes and run over 2000 metres. It has been renamed the Emirates Stakes and will be run on Emirates Stakes day the last meeting of the Flemington carnival of racing.

A field of fine milers will be contesting the Cantala Stakes and include Palentino, The United States, He’s Our Rokkii, Bon Aurum, Thunder Fantasy and Voodoo Lad. What a field! And hard to pick the winner.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bibliophiles Delight–The Chemical Wedding

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The Chemical Wedding – Small Beer Press Numbered Edition

Back in May this year there was a Kickstarter campaign by Small Beer Press to publish various exclusive hard cover editions of the 400 year old romance The Chemical Wedding in a new version written by the marvellous John Crowley.

I couldn’t resist pledging for a Numbered Edition:

Kickstarter Exclusive Signed, Numbered, Limited Edition.

Limited to 200 numbered copies (not including presentation copies to author, illustrator, and designer).

Signed on a two-color tipped in page by the author John Crowley, the illustrator Theo Fadel, and the designer Jacob McMurray.

Presented in a black cloth slipcase stamped with gold foil and accompanied by an exclusive woodcut hand printed, signed, and numbered in her studio by Theo Fadel.

Smyth sewn in oatmeal linen with black and red foil stamped cover. Printed in black and red ink on a beautiful 70# Finch Opaque Vanilla paper with black endpapers and a black ribbon.

It arrived in the mail yesterday and is a beautiful book as special as promised in the Kickstarter, with an attractive variation of red endpapers and a red ribbon instead of black as described above.

Theo Fadel’s illustrations are playful and apt and the numbered edition includes a separate numbered and signed woodcut by the artist.

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Theo Fadel special woodcut

I’m a sucker for slipcased editions and I love ribbon markers. The Chemical Wedding will look splendid  on my bookshelf next to the few precious slipcased editions that I already have in my personal library.

A paperback and ebook will be published on the 400th Anniversary date of the original, 8 November 2016.

There has been no recent news on the other John Crowley book, the 25th Anniversary Edition of Little, Big that I have been awaiting for close to 12 years. 

The last newsletter received in August indicated that the book may go to press by the end of the year, but I hold out little hope of that happening and live in expectation that it will be finally published in 2017.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Wind & the Rain and WINX– Wow Again

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Hugh Bowman & Winx celebrate her 2016 Cox Plate victory

The failure of top sprinter Chautauqua to run a place in Friday night’s Manikato Stakes left me feeling deflated; my high expectations for him to win with his usual last to first dash were disappointed.

The Manikato Stakes was taken out by 60/1 shot Rebel Dane, a shock result for everyone, with Fell Swoop running a very close second, and Japonisme a length back stealing into third place. Chautauqua failed to fire and finished seventh. As his jockey remarked he is not the same horse that took out the Chairman’s Sprint back in May.  He will not continue with his spring campaign and has been spelled. I hope there is nothing wrong with him and that we’ll see him again in autumn.

We will not see old trooper Buffering again as his connections have decided to retire him. He was grand old sprinter who competed against the best in the land and overseas, including Black Caviar, and himself won seven Group 1 races. His last win was in Dubai in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint earlier this year. He will join The Cleaner and all the other wonderful old champs at Living Legends.

On to the Cox Plate…

Weather wise, it couldn’t have been a worse day to go to the races.
A cold wind and frequent showers of rain persisted from morning to night. The temperature barely reached 13°C and was probably a lot colder than that with the wind chill factor.

The race meeting at Moonee Valley seemed as if was being held in winter rather than spring and was reported as being the coldest Cox Plate meeting in 46 years.

That was not enough to put me off attending, so I braved the elements and headed for the bus stop around 12.30pm in plenty of time to board the 12.50pm bus.

Sounds simple enough, but all my careful planning was put in disarray when the bus failed to stop for me. The Moonee Ponds Busline curse had struck again! I had to wait for the next one and decided to kill the time by walking to Clifton Hill Station and catching the bus there.

I finally arrived at Moonee Valley shortly after 2.00pm and, after purchasing a race book,  wandered out to the stalls area to see who had arrived.

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Happy Clapper – Cox Plate hopeful in his stall

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Black Heart Bart posing with strapper & owner (I assume) for photos

Winx was not in her stall, but I discovered her being walked in the parade ring…

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Winx in the parade ring

… and Yankee Rose was there as well.

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Yankee Rose with her cheerful strapper in the parade ring

The weather was challenging for photography, and when reviewing my photos some were too over exposed (too bright) and others were under exposed (dark) just like the rapid changes in the weather - sunny one minute, then raining the next.

However, I am not going to complain about the weather as the upside was that the crowds were down in number, and fled the public lawn every time it rained, so it was easy to get a good position on the fence if you didn’t mind getting a bit wet.

With forethought I had purchased, for the princely sum of $4.00, an emergency poncho. Certainly not haute couture, it looked like a white garbage bag with holes for your arms and came equipped with a hood. It may have looked ridiculous but it kept me and my camera dry.

You may wonder why I didn’t take an umbrella, but I loathe carrying them around, and like to keep my hands free.

Imagine my surprise when watching SBS News on Saturday night and seeing myself on TV wrestling with my emergency poncho in the wind when trying to put it on. I managed to save the screen print below from the video.

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Rebecca (fellow racehorse photographer) & myself at the fence on the public lawn

Shortly after the above footage was shot, race 6, the Fillies Classic was set to run, so I gave the camera a test run when the fillies moved onto the track and snapped them as they came around the corner into the straight.

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Fillies Classic down the straight

It was won by the oddly named Nurse Kitchen, who I admit I had never heard of. She’d only had a few starts previously but surprised even Greg Miles the race caller with her flashing run down the outside to pip race favourite Sezanne at the post at the last minute. I Am A Star ran third.

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Nurse Kitchen on her way to the barriers

The Cox Plate was scheduled as race 9 on the program, so there were two other races to watch before the big one.

Remarkably, despite the frequent showers of occasionally horizontal rain, it cleared when the races were on.

Back in the stalls area more Cox Plate contenders had arrived and were either in their stalls or in the parade ring.

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Hartnell in the parade ring

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Hauraki in his stall

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Lucia Valentina in her stall

Also out and about in the stalls area, was two time (2003/2006) Cox Plate winner Fields of Omagh the special guest from Living Legends.

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Fields of Omagh in the parade ring

Race 7 was the Crystal Mile, so I returned trackside to watch it.

The Lloyd Williams owned The United States was making a delayed start to his spring campaign in this race and successfully held off Lidari and Ulmann to win by a length.

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Down the straight in the Crystal Mile – The United States is about to pass race leader Federal

With the penultimate race before the Cox Plate being the Moonee Valley Gold Cup, I decided it was timely to grab a possie on the fence as near to the finishing post as possible and reconnected with Rebecca who I’d lost sight of for the past hour and who had snaffled a good spot on the fence in the meantime.

And there we stayed for the remainder of the afternoon, enduring the wind and the rain, surrounded by a jolly crowd of punters.

The Moonee Valley Gold Cup is run over 2500 metres and resulted in a Chris Waller quinella, when Grand Marshall outstayed stablemate Who Shot Thebarman.

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Grand Marshall & Who Shot Thebarman fight out the Moonee Valley Cup down the straight

There was then an hour to wait until the Cox Plate. The intervening time was occupied with various ceremonies and the traditional appearance of Darryl Braithwaite singing “The Horses” to the singalong accompaniment of the exuberant crowd.

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Darryl Braithwaite sings  The Horses on the balcony of the Grandstand

As the clock ticked down….

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…the excitement built and a palpable atmosphere of pent up anticipation infected the pressure cooker ampitheatre that is Moonee Valley Racecourse.

The rain thankfully held off and soon enough the Cox Plate field filed out onto the track.

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Black Heart Bart

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Lucia Valentina

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French horse Vadamos

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Yankee Rose

A huge cheer erupted when Winx stepped out onto the track to make her way to the barriers at the top of the straight.

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Winx on her way to the barriers

The race was run at a pretty leisurely pace initially with Black Heart Bart uncharacteristically ending up in the lead as they raced past the winning post the first time.

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Down the straight the first time – Black Heart Bart leads, Hartnell on his outside. Winx is on the inside behind Awesome Rock (checked red silks)

As they sorted themselves out around the back stretch, the French horse Vadamos took the lead and at one stage was five lengths ahead of the rest of the field, setting a rattling pace.  As they turned into the school side of the track before the final turn into straight, the gap between Vadamos and the rest shortened dramatically. Hugh Bowman had got Winx to the outside, and fastest side of the track, and tackled Hartnell as they turned for home. The two horse battle was short lived as Winx zoomed away at the turn and swept up the straight to win by eight lengths, the crowd uproariously cheering her to the finish line.

Hartnell headed the rest with Yankee Rose only ¾ length behind him running third.

The burst mode on my camera shows Winx, then many frames of daylight.

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Winx on her way to winning her second Cox Plate

We had just witnessed something extraordinary, which made the whole afternoon of being harried by wind and rain worthwhile.

Winx eight length win broke the previous record seven length winning margin set by Dulcify in 1979 and Sunline  in her second Cox Plate back in 2000.

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Winx returns to scale and a media scrum after parading down the straight

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Winx in the winners rug

It had been an amazing afternoon at the races, with the ghastly weather being more than compensated for by witnessing the star mare win her 13th race in succession and second consecutive Cox Plate in such a sensational fashion. 

Luckily I was curse free getting home, managing to catch a bus at Moonee Ponds Junction as soon I got there and arriving home half an hour later.

Next Saturday the racing action is at Flemington for Derby Day and will seem like an anticlimax. It’s a quality day of Group 1 racing, but will have to be pretty good to beat the Cox Plate.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Great Expectations - 2016 Cox Plate

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Winx rugged after winning the 2015 Cox Plate

The Cox Plate is my favourite race of the Spring racing season and this year it looks as if it will be a classic competition, awaited with excited anticipation by all fans of the sport of kings.

A cracker field of ten contestants have accepted and include superstar mare Winx who won the race last year by over four lengths, breaking the course record.

In this year’s Cox Plate she faces her toughest opposition from Hartnell who actually ran in the race last year and finished fifth, ten lengths from Winx.  He seems a different horse this year having comprehensively won his last three starts by large margins. His only defeat this season was his first up loss to Winx in the Warwick Stakes back in August, which she won by over three lengths.

Hartnell’s form was franked by Jameka’s Caulfield Cup victory, considering that he beat her by over three lengths in the Turnbull Stakes.

Winx form this spring is faultless. She has won all her starts effortlessly. My heart will be with her on Saturday as she goes for her thirteenth win in succession and second consecutive Cox Plate, a feat achieved by very few – prime examples being So You Think, Sunline, Northerly and Kingston Town, all champions.

Though it’s hard to look beyond Winx and Hartnell, and as we all know anything can happen in racing, others who could steal the show are lightweighted filly Yankee Rose, the highly regarded French horse Vadamos and Lucia Valentina, especially if the track is rain affected.

Black Heart Bart who has won two Group 1 races and run second in two others this season, has been pretty well overlooked, but is likely to be in the finish somewhere, though I doubt he can beat Winx or Hartnell.

Though I will not be attending the Manikato Stakes meeting on Friday night it being run at the late hour of 9.30pm, I’ll certainly watch it at home.

Last year the grey speedster Chautauqua provided, along with Winx in the Cox Plate, one of the wow moments of the Spring racing carnival with his stunning last to first win in the feature race. He’s out to redeem his reputation after his disappointing showing in the Moir Stakes.

The Manikato Stakes is run over 1200 metres, which is more to Chautuaqua’s liking, so one would expect him to win this time.

He’ll certainly be hard to beat, but trying will be old Buffering, the only horse still racing who competed against the great Black Caviar.  He may be past it, but I’ve thought that before and he’s proved me wrong.

Other challengers in the field with a chance to topple the star sprinter are Fell Swoop and The Quarterback and sole mare English. Golden Slipper winner Capitalist is a lightweight chance, but his form this spring has been disappointing where he has failed to beat his own age group.

The weather forecast for the weekend is pretty dismal with heavy rain on Friday, clearing by Saturday afternoon.

God knows what state the Moonee Valley track will be in after 8 races on Friday night and another 8 races on Saturday afternoon before the Cox Plate is run at 5.00pm, but it has coped in previous years remarkably well.

I hope to reach Moonee Valley rather earlier than I did last year, by catching a different bus to the one I would normally use, it being badly affected by Cox Plate traffic conditions on its route. The alternate route to Moonee Ponds Junction appears to avoid the main traffic snarls around Moonee Valley racecourse, so perhaps it will run on time.

The support card is mildly interesting, with the usual mix of Listed and Group 2 or Group 3 class races to watch while waiting for the main event, but I’m not going to consider them here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Jameka, Queen of the Turf–Caulfield Cup Day Review

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Nick Hall all smiles after Jameka wins the Caulfield Cup

The Caulfield Cup meeting on Saturday was considerably better than I thought it would be and culminated in a stunning victory for locally bred racehorses, when Jameka beat the International raiders by a comprehensive margin in the Caulfield Cup.

My afternoon at Caulfield started fairly early at around 1.15pm which was in plenty of time to watch the third race, the Listed Alinghi Stakes for fillies and mares run over 1100 metres.

There was a much bigger crowd for the Caulfield Cup than for Guineas Day, so I avoided the front lawn and spent the afternoon out the back in the stalls area and up on the hill, which as I’ve mentioned before is ideal for taking photos of horses going to and from the barriers and returning to scale, though not for them racing down the straight.

It was a fine sunny day with a strong head wind blowing directly down the straight, which adds kudos to the winners fighting against it and their rivals.

The Alinghi Stakes was won by outsider Palazzo Pubblico from Aegean Sea and Vezalay, also long odds runners.

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Alinghi Stakes just after the post – the winner Palazzo Pubblico is the second from the left

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Palazzo Pubblico returns to scale

Race 4 was the Group 2 Ethereal Stakes and I was glad to be present to witness Eleonora appropriately winning the race named in honour her granddam.

She showed considerable staying power over the 2000 metres distance to win by 1¼ lengths from a fast finishing Tiamo Grace with Savvan a length further back running third. Eleonora will now head to the Crown Oaks at Flemington on the Thursday after the Cup.

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Just past the post in the Ethereal Stakes

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Eleonora returns to scale after winning the Ethereal Stakes

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Tiamo Grace returns to scale

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Savvan returns to scale

The colts and geldings version of the Ethereal Stakes, the Ladbrokes Classic, also run over 2000 metres, was the next race on the program.

James Cummings, grandson of the late great Bart, trained the winner, Good Standing. Good Standing has done most of his racing in Sydney and contested the Caulfield Guineas without running a place, but started as favourite for the Ladbrokes Classic. He didn’t disappoint his backers winning narrowly from Rocketeer. Inference finished third

Rocketeer must be the unluckiest horse in Australia, running a close second again to a better horse on the day for the fourth time this spring. 

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Just past the post in the Ladbrokes Classic – Good Standing (red & black stripes) & Rocketeer (lime green) lead the rest of the field around the turn.

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Good Standing returns to scale

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Rocketeer on his way to the barriers

The afternoon passed remarkably quickly, the races being spaced 35 minutes apart, no doubt adding to the sense of  having little time to do anything, before another race was about to start.

Race 6 was the Group 3 Coongy Cup run over 2000 metres as well. It marked the last race in which popular front runner The Cleaner would compete. His owners finally have made the decision to retire him, for which I am glad.  Now 9 years old, he has not looked anywhere like winning for over a year, so it has been sad watching him try.

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The Cleaner returning to scale after the Coongy Cup

Back to the race, It’s Somewhat was the starting favourite, but he only managed to run third.

The Chris Waller trained Vanbrugh having only his second start in Melbourne won the prize from Tom Melbourne.

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Vanbrugh returns to scale

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Tom Melbourne returns to scale

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It’s Somewhat on his way to the barriers

I was looking forward to the next race with keen interest and hoping to get a good photo of First Seal who was having her first start in Melbourne.  The race was the Tristarc Stakes for mares run over 1400 metres.

Tycoon Tara was the popular favourite, but First Seal proved her quality by beating her narrowly on the line.  Pearls ran third.

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Tristarc Stakes finish (l to r) – First Seal, Pearls & Tycoon Tara

It’s great to see First Seal back in winning circles. She obviously had no trouble racing the Melbourne way.

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First Seal returns to scale

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Tycoon Tara returns to scale

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Pearls (no 3) returns to scale

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First Seal – head shot with her tongue hanging out– returning to the stalls area

There wasn’t long to wait after the Tristarc Stakes for the main event, so I stayed on to my spot on the fence on the hill and watched The Cup being driven past to the presentation area, but was too late to get a photo.

The horses paraded down below in the pre parade ring as the National Anthem was sung, then the field began to make their way to the mounting yard.

It was an interestingly run race, with the lead changing as the race progressed. Looking at the big screen I was pleased to see that Nick Hall had Jameka up near the pace in about fifth spot. As they turned into the straight Scottish had the lead and somehow Hall had got Jameka clear of the fence and running wide. She overtook Scottish and tore away for an easy win three lengths ahead of Scottish with Exospheric coming late to run third.

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Past the post in the Caulfield Cup – Nick Hall celebrates Jameka’s win

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Jameka returns to scale

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Scottish returns to scale

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Exospheric returns to scale

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Jameka returns to the stalls area after the presentation

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Jameka’s strapper and, I assume, one of her owners pose for snaps

With old favourite Lankan Rupee engaged in the next race, I did not depart like most of the crowd after the Caulfield Cup, but stayed to watch the running of the Group 2 Caulfield Sprint.

Lankan Rupee started from Barrier 1, which is either a blessing or a curse, and it proved the latter in this race, when he was blocked for a run and only found a gap at the last minute. Carrying 61kgs, he did well to run third.

Our Boy Malachi stormed down the outside to win by 1½ lengths from Fatinaah.

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Past the post in the Caulfield Sprint – horses spread out as they turn the corner

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Our Boy Malachi returns to scale

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Fatinaah returns to scale

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Lankan Rupee returns to scale

It had been a very enjoyable day at the races and gratifying that most of my favourite horses were successful in their various races.

The icing on the cake of course was Jameka’s victory in the Caulfield Cup.  She will now contest the Melbourne Cup and has been penalised to carry 53.5kgs. If she were to win the big one, it would be a weight carrying record for a four year old mare.

Next Saturday is the highly anticipated Cox Plate at Moonee Valley, where Winx and Hartnell are set to clash for a mouth watering contest that also involves the mystery French horse Vadamos and the three year old filly Yankee Rose.

Sounds like the stuff of legends – I can’t wait to see it.