Thursday, August 31, 2017

Spring Rose & Jon Snow–The Memsie Stakes

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Yankee Rose – Oaks Day 2016

There’s only a week to go before the big house move, but I’m distracting myself with the start of the Spring Racing Carnival this Saturday at Caulfield Racecourse.

Finally it’s here – the first Group 1 race of Spring, which since 2013 is the Memsie Stakes.

A splendid field has been assembled for the 1400 metre race that includes nine Group 1 winners in a field of twelve.

I’m particularly pleased to see Yankee Rose in the field. She has not raced since finishing second last in the Crown Oaks last spring, but prior to that ran third to Winx in the Cox Plate and  won the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes and Group 1 Sires Produce Stakes against the boys, and ran second in the 2016 Golden Slipper Stakes.

So she is a class mare and could possibly take home the prize in the Memsie Stakes.

However she faces stiff competition from the likes of Black Heart Bart who won the race last year, Vega Magic, Humidor, Le Romain and Hey Doc, not to mention fellow mares I Am A Star and Single Gaze. The interesting runner is the New Zealander Jon Snow, having his first start in Melbourne. He won the ATC Derby back in autumn, so the Memsie may be too short for him, but I’m looking forward to seeing him in the flesh.

In Sydney, the marvellous Winx will be aiming for her 19th consecutive win in the Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes run over 1600 metres.  She has 11 rivals, quite a few of them being her stablemates. Crown Oaks winner Lasqueti Spirit is also in the field, but Winx should win easily if she doesn’t blow the start.  She will race in ear muffs for a change - a ploy to prevent her getting over excited in the barriers. She normally wears the ear muffs in her stall and for parading in the mounting yard.

The weather in Sydney will be fine and the track on the fast side, whereas in Melbourne showers are predicted for the afternoon, though the track will be on the good side.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

At Moonee Valley With The Stars

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Fragonard – the winner of race 2 returns to scale

Last week I came down with a cold – no doubt caught on public transport - which after a few days appeared to get better, then returned with a vengeance on the weekend. To distract myself from the sniffles and sneezes, not to mention the cough, I headed off to Moonee Valley on Saturday for an afternoon of racing action in the outdoors. The weather wasn’t all that bad, overcast for the main but with little wind and the occasional burst of sunshine.

There were several horses I wanted to see, Golden Slipper placegetter Tulip for one, and Almandin, 2016 Melbourne Cup winner for another.

As I wanted to arrive before Tulip’s race, the Johnny Walker Plate, I headed off early and reached Moonee Valley in time to watch race 2 , the Dr Sheahan Plate, a race for mares over 1200 metres. Race favourite Fragonard fought out the finish with Hear The Chant and went onto win by 1¼ lengths.

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Fragonard overtakes Hear The Chant in the straight

Tulip was being saddled up as I wandered around the stalls area out the back, and Almandin was returning to his stall after a walk.

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Only six fillies were competing in the Johnny Walker Plate and included Limestone who hasn’t raced since early February.

Tulip was rolled by 7/1 shot Roomooz who won by a nose.

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Roomooz & Tulip fight out the finish of race 3

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Roomooz returns to scale

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Tulip returns to scale

Limestone managed to finish fourth.

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Limestone on her way to the barriers

As the races were 35 minutes apart, it didn’t take long until Race 4, the Ranvet Handicap was off and running. The winner was the unfancied Spunlago, getting the head bob in a wall of horses from Sin To Win and Cosmic Lights.

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Ranvet Handicap finish – Spunlago is the outside horse with blue silks and red cap

Race 5 was the MSC Signs Handicap, run over 2040 metres, where the focus of interest was 2016 Melbourne Cup winner Almandin having his first start for the spring.  He wasn’t expected to win, but he ran a really good  race, finishing a close second to the favourite PacodaliFoundation, an Irish import finished third.

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Approaching the finish line in the MSC Signs Handicap – Pacodali is outside Almandin with Foundation on his inside

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Pacodali returns to scale

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Almandin returns to scale

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Foundation returns to scale

Another 35 minutes passed before the feature event of the day was run. This was the Listed Essendon Nissan McKenzie Stakes, a race for three year old colts and geldings over 1200 metres. It was pretty evenly matched field and Bandipur was the starting favourite. He was outclassed by outsider Overshare who won by a length. Sunquest ran third.

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McKenzie Stakes finish

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Overshare on his way to the barriers

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Bandipur returns to scale

With the races spaced so briefly apart, the afternoon flitted by remarkably fast.

However, the late afternoon shadows were encroaching on the track when Race 7, the Carlyon Stakes was run. It had a pretty interesting field so I decided to stay for it before heading home.

Heatherly had won this race last year so was aiming to make it back to back this year. However, she was pipped by Missrock at the finish with Lady Esprit filling third spot, several lengths ahead of the rest of the field.

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Missrock & Heatherly fight it out in the Carlyon Stakes

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Missrock on her way to the barriers

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Heatherly returns to scale

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Lady Esprit on her way to the barriers

It was pleasant being back at Moonee Valley as I like the course and it’s good for taking photos at day meetings. It’s a pity really that most of their interesting races are at night, which I am not inclined to attend with getting home being a problem.  However, before the night racing kicks off, there is the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes meeting on Saturday week, which is always a fascinating race.

Hopefully I will have recovered from my cold by next Saturday when Caulfield hosts the first Group 1 race of the Spring, the Memsie Stakes.

Winx will also be racing at Randwick in the Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes. Let’s hope she doesn’t miss the start this time.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Heart Stopping Action–Spring Has Sprung

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Hartnell returns to scale after winning the PB Lawrence Stakes

Saturday dawned cold, gloomy and wet and definitely didn’t look promising for an afternoon at the races. However, the weather cleared after midday and when I arrived at Caulfield at around 2.00pm it was bright and sunny.

And sunny it stayed for the remainder of the afternoon, which turned out to be a very interesting race meeting.

I just missed Race 4, so I had plenty of time to wander around the stalls area before the Quezette Stakes, so got a few photos of the horsey stars in their stalls or walking in the parade ring.

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Black Heart Bart

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Catchy naturally started as hot favourite for the Quezette Stakes, but the super fit Crown Witness stole the show, beating Catchy by a head.

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Quezette Stakes finish – Crown Witness leads with Catchy & Ploverset just behind

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Crown Witness in the pre parade ring

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Catchy returns to scale

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Ploverset returns to scale

Next up was the Vain Stakes, but before that was run, the Warwick Stakes was due at 3.00pm, where Winx was aiming for her 18th win in succession.  We found a screen to watch the race, and what a race it was, with Winx blowing the start and ending up 4 lengths behind the rest of the field. You could hear an audible gasp when it happened, then silence as everyone watched Winx slowly catch up.

Will she make it?

That was the question in everyone’s minds, as her position looked impossible as they turned the corner into the straight. Foxplay had grabbed the lead from Ecuador and looked the winner until the very last moment, when Winx flew down the extreme outside to win on the line. An extraordinary performance by the great mare assisted by a cool headed ride, coupled with perfect timing, on the part of her jockey Hugh Bowman.

The Vain Stakes was almost an anti climax after the Warwick Stakes, and resulted in a win for Jukebox, who prevailed over Plutocracy to score by a neck. Poseidon’s Pool finished third.

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Vain Stakes finish – Jukebox (blue & green silks)

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Jukebox returns to scale

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Plutocracy returns to scale

Shadows were lengthening over the track by the time the feature race, PB Lawrence Stakes, was run.

It was no great surprise that Hartnell won despite having his first run at Caulfield. He didn’t mind the soft track and won easily by 2.25 lengths from on the pace leader Charmed Harmony. Black Heart Bart scrambled into third place a further length back.  Without Winx to spoil his party, Hartnell is a force to be reckoned with and could well go on to greater glory this spring.

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Just past the post in the PB Lawrence Stakes

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Hartnell on his way to the barriers

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Charmed Harmony returns to scale

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Black Heart Bart on his way to the barriers

I decided to tarry at the course for the  Listed Regal Roller Stakes to see the hyped Brave Smash, a former Japanese horse now with the Darren Weir stable. This was his first start in Australia and  he acquitted himself well,  running a close second to favourite Vega Magic and with better luck in the running would have won.

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Vega Magic & Brave Smash just past the post

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Brave Smash in the pre parade ring

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Vega Magic returns to scale

With the shadows encroaching on the remnants of the sunny afternoon, I headed home.

It had been an enjoyable afternoon at the races and I was pleased that my hunches regarding the winners of the Quezette, Vain and PB Lawrence were spot on, though I didn’t bet on any of them.

The first Group 1 of the Spring racing season is only a fortnight away, but in the meantime there is a reasonably interesting meeting at Moonee Valley next Saturday.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Early Spring Fever – Winx, Bart, Hartnell & Catchy

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Black Heart Bart at Caulfield after winning the Futurity Stakes

Technically it’s still winter, but the  Spring racing season gets a fine taster of what is yet to come this Saturday at Caulfield and Randwick.

For a start, the wonderful Winx will be kicking off her spring campaign in the Group 2 Warwick Stakes at Randwick, a race she won last year on her way to her second Cox Plate. She faces seven rivals, whom she should easily account for, the most threatening being her stablemates Fox Play and Antonio Giuseppe and young gun Inference. Winx will be gunning for her 18th consecutive win. We all hope she succeeds.

Hartnell was runner up to Winx last year in the Warwick Stakes, and many other times besides, so his path this spring will not cross with hers. We get to see him in Melbourne this weekend in the feature race at Caulfield, the Group 2 P B Lawrence Stakes, where he will take on local hero Black Heart Bart.  The Lawrence Stakes has attracted a classy field that include Australian Cup winner Humidor, 2015 Mackinnon Stakes winner Gailo Chop,  former Japanese horse Tosen Stardom, He’s Our Rokkii and Group 1 winning mares Abbey Marie and Montoya’s SecretLankan Rupee was an acceptor for the Lawrence Stakes, but has been scratched to take an easier option at Morphettville. He ran a great second in the deferred Bletchingly Stakes, only narrowly beaten by Ability.

As well as the Lawrence Stakes there is also the Quezette Stakes and Vain Stakes, both Group 3 over 1100 metres for three year olds heading for the Thousand Guineas and Caulfield Guineas later in the season.

The Quezette Stakes for fillies has a super field, highlighted by the return of Blue Diamond Stakes winner Catchy. 

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Catchy returning scale after winning the Blue Diamond Stakes

Up until the Golden Slipper Stakes, where she ran last on an extremely heavy track, Catchy was unbeaten in her previous four starts.  She will no doubt start favourite in the Quezette Stakes and is the top pick.  Tulip who ran third in the Golden Slipper Stakes is a serious rival along with Crown Witness, unbeaten in two starts and Arctic Angel to a lesser degree. I Am A Star won this race last year and has since proved a talented filly with a Group 1 race (Myer Classic ) to her credit.

As for the Vain Stakes,  Jukebox and Kobayashi appear the best chances along with Lone Eagle and Wait For No One. Last year Russian Revolution was the Vain Stakes winner, and he went on to win the Group 1 Galaxy against the older horses in autumn.

The weather on Saturday in Melbourne is forecast to be cold and wet, but that doesn’t put me off attending this first interesting meeting of the new season. It can only get better from now on.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Old Man Mad About Drawing – The Hokusai Exhibition

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The Great Wave

Hokusai’s signature picture is of course The Great Wave off Kanagawa – every man and his dog recognises it as his work straight off. I admit that I class myself in the aforementioned category, so it was illuminating to discover that Hokusai was not a one trick pony, but a major Japanese artist who had many strings to his bow.

The exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria features 176 works from  Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto, plus those in the NGV collection and was surprisingly extensive. Just when you thought you had seen everything,  you’d find another room featuring a different aspect of Hokusai’s art.

You start off with a selection of prints from Hokusai’s early period, such as this image of Shishi – Mystic Lion Dogs.

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Mystic Lion Dogs (detail) 1820 ink on silk

Also included in this section were pictures of Kabuki actors in various roles.

The biggest section featured 36 Views of Mount Fuji, which were wonderful to see all displayed together, causing the viewer to marvel at the various perspectives – no two alike – of the iconic mountain. I was really struck by the perfect composition of Hokusai’s images – they were quirky but nothing jarred as being out of place

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Mt Fuji and the old pine

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South wind, clear sky Red Fuji

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Inume Pass in Kai Province

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Lake Suwa in Shinano Province

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Umezawa hamlet fields in Sagami Province

From the views of Mt Fuji one moved on to The Great Wave where two almost identical prints were displayed side by side, one owned by NGV the other by Ukiyo-e Museum.

Waterfalls were next…

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Falling mist waterfall at Mt Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province

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The Amida Falls in the far reaches of the Kisokaidō Road

…then bridges.

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But there was more to come – One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse, Hokusai interpreting visually the meaning of various poems, Eight Views of the Ryūkyū Islands, Ghosts, Birds and Flowers, Snow, Moon and Flowers, and finally a series of notebooks, known as Hokusai Manga, a voluminous collection of sketches covering a wide range of subjects.

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The mansion of the plates – Ghost

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Cuckoo and azaleas

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Hydrangeas and swallow

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Wisteria and wagtail

Photography was permitted, so I snapped a great many shots at the exhibition, most of them wood block prints. It is certainly a truly great exhibition well worth the cost of entry – a modest $13.00 with Senior’s Card discount on Wednesdays.