Monday, September 18, 2017

Cool Day, Hot Racing–Makybe Diva Stakes

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For a welcome break from the tiresomeness of unpacking boxes, I headed off to Flemington for the Makybe Diva Stakes Day race meeting. It promised quite a few exciting competitions and didn’t disappoint.

There were finishes that were spectacular in a variety of ways – several nailbitingly close and others where the winner was impressively dominant with a long margin separating first from second.

My intention was to arrive at Flemington half an hour before Race 2 as I wanted to see unbeaten colt Royal Symphony, who had won all three of his starts by several lengths and appeared to  be a potential super star.

This I accomplished, so I headed for the mounting yard to watch the field parade. They hadn’t started the parade as yet, but Living Legends Paris Lane and The Cleaner were being walked around the mounting yard and posing for photographs.

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Paris Lane & The Cleaner in the mounting yard

The Listed Pin & Win Plate, run over 1400 metres, was Royal Symphony’s toughest test to date, and though he only won narrowly over Eclair Sunshine, he did so in spectacular fashion. He was bumped and blocked all through the charge up the straight and looked in an impossible postition as the finishing post loomed closer, but as soon as he got clear running he went boom and won at the last minute.

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Royal Symphony wins the Pin & Win Plate

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Royal Symphony returns to scale

Saturday in Melbourne had dawned cold and wet, but fortunately the weather cleared by lunchtime, and the rest of the afternoon was overcast with an occasional burst of welcome sunshine.

It made taking photos a challenge, with alternate dark and bright lighting playing havoc with one’s exposure settings.

I was pleased to catch up with my photographer friend Rebecca who had kindly obtained a Winx cap for me, as an expression of gratitude for helping her get her camera at Caulfield on Memsie Stakes Day.

After watching Royal Symphony’s race, we headed to the stalls area to see who had arrived.

Catchy who was entered in the Group 2 Danehill Stakes was there, as was her trainer David Hayes who graciously signed our race books. I was hoping we didn’t put a jinx on Catchy.

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Catchy in her stall

Also waiting for the Danehill Stakes was New Zealand colt Summer Passage

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Summer Passage in his stall

…and Jukebox.

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Jukebox in his stall – a very pretty boy

With Race 3, The Sofitel, up next we returned to our prime spot at the access gate just past the finish post.

Like the Pin & Win Stakes it is run over 1400 metres and Theanswermyfriend started as race favourite ahead of Mr Sneaky and they finished in that order, Theanswermyfriend winning by 1¾ lengths.

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Theanswermyfriend comfortably wins The Sofitel

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Theanswermyfriend returns to scale

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Mr Sneaky on his way to the barriers

The Bobbie Lewis Quality, a Group 2 sprint over 1200 metres was first of the Group races scheduled and Voodoo Lad, a last start winner, was the favourite. However, Redkirk Warrior, the former British horse now with the David Hayes stable,  who won the Newmarket Handicap at his first Australian start in autumn, then failed to place in two Sydney starts, was the sensational winner.  He took command halfway up the straight to win by 2½ lengths from Scales Of Justice with Land Of Plenty a further length back running third.

My photo of the finish has Redkirk Warrior as the sole runner in the frame.

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Redkirk Warrior wins the Bobbie Lewis Quality

It seems patently obvious that Redkirk Warrior is dynamite when he is first up, and he obviously loves the big Flemington track.

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Redkirk Warrior returns to scale

Back in the stalls area more horses had arrived , namely Hartnell and Inference who I was hoping to get snaps of.

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Hartnell in his stall

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The beautiful Inference – a son of So You Think

Back trackside the field for the Group 2 Danehill Stakes were parading in the mounting yard. For three year olds, run over 1200 metres, the field comprised eight colts or geldings and three fillies.

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Catchy – she’s certainly a big girl!

The dramatic fall of Limestone near the finish line somewhat marred the outcome of the Danehill Stakes which was won by Catchy, her second victory over the boys. She is of course the winner of the Blue Diamond Stakes. Jukebox finished second with Booker the other filly (along with Limestone) in the race running third. Fortunately both Limestone and her jockey Damian Lane both were uninjured in the fall, which was caused by interference from Jukebox who clipped heels with another horse who in turn clipped heels with Limestone.

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Danehill Stakes finish – Catchy is the widest runner

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Catchy returns to scale

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Jukebox returns to scale

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Limestone runs riderless after recovering from her fall

We returned to the stalls area after the Danehill Stakes and were hovering around waiting for Winx to race in the George Main Stakes which was scheduled for 3.15pm. There are screens scattered throughout the stalls area, and we found one and noticed Peter Moody, famous as the trainer of Black Caviar, was close by. As the George Main Stakes field were loading into the starting gates, a small group gathered around the screen. I thought it was poignantly ironic, and felt chuffed, that Peter Moody was part of the group as we watched Winx win her 20th race in succession and 13th Group 1, again seeming as if she couldn’t catch the leader Happy Clapper in time. But she ended up winning comfortably by over a length.

The next race at Flemington was named to honour another great mare, this being the Let’s Elope Stakes, a Group 2 race for mares over 1400 metres,  and a big field of 16 contendants had accepted. I Am A Star was the pre-race favourite, but she failed to place. It was won by Sword of Light narrowly from Swampland. Lovani finished third.

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Sword of Light wins the Let’s Elope Stakes

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Sword of Light returns to scale

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Swampland on her way to the barriers

By the time the feature event, race 7, the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes was run, the afternoon had turned quite chill and shadows were encroaching over the track.

It was however worth staying to witness Humidor upstage hot favourite Hartnell and win by over 3 lengths in impressive style. He’s another one that loves Flemington, his last win being on the track in the Australian Cup in autumn. He’s now favourite to win the Caulfield Cup. Good old Black Heart Bart, honest as the day is long, finished third.

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Humidor wins the Makybe Diva Stakes

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Humidor returns to scale

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Hartnell on his way to the barriers

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Black Heart Bart on his way to the barriers

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Humidor in the winner’s rug

I would have liked to have stayed for Race 8, the Japan Racing Association Trophy, where a good field of stayers had been assembled to contest the 2500 metre event. But as I’d been at the course since early afternoon, I didn’t feel inclined to hang around and wait. Last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Almandin won the race by over 2 lengths, toting a massive 61.5 kilos of weight to defeat his stablemates Crocodile Rock and Aloft. It wouldn’t surprise in the least if Almandin won the Melbourne Cup a second time, a feat not accomplished since Makybe Diva in 2004, who of course went on to win it a third time in 2005.

It was a great day’s racing, somewhat surprising this early in the season when it’s generally pretty low key.  Flemington was nowhere near crowded, which is the good thing about attending at this time of year.

Next week, the sole Group 1 race is the Golden Rose in Sydney at Rosehill.  In Melbourne Caulfield has the Group 3 Naturalism Stakes as its feature race. I may attend, but if the weather is too miserable I’ll think twice about going.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Scrambling Up From The Rubble

Almost a week has passed since moving day, and it’s only today that I managed to get my regular Internet up and running. In the meantime I have been using a dongle that I had forethought to purchase on Ebay, which came with a free prepaid Optus SIM.  It worked a treat most of the time, but it’s a relief to have my old ADSL 2 connection back all the same.

The delay in connecting was not due to slackness on IINET’s part, but rather the lack of a viable telephone point near the computer. This was fixed today by an electrician who also attended to various other electronic irritations such as a television connection point in the living room. It’s not as if the house was devoid of television connections, they were in practically every room, but not where one wanted them to connect to a TV.

It has been stressful and exhausting this move and I certainly don’t recommend it to anyone. Unpacking is definitely more tiresome than packing.

I wouldn’t say I’ve settled in, but the cats have, and have shown no inclination to run away back to Northcote.

Unlike them I’d love to run away back to the old house, but I know that is impossible. I’m home sick for the old street.

My 37 boxes of books still remain unpacked, while we consider where to put them. This house lacks wall space on which to place bookshelves. I had to leave my biggest bookshelf behind as it was virtually built in and dismantling it was too hard.

The large bookshelf in Northcote

So all the books that lived there will have to be accommodated somehow with new shelving.

Public transport, as anticipated is not anywhere near as convenient as it was in Northcote. The station is a 15 minute walk away, but I ventured out last Saturday to the races at Moonee Valley and caught the train to Alphington Station, from where I could take a bus to Moonee Ponds.

It was a pleasant day for the races and the events themselves were of great interest - the four I witnessed anyway.

The McEwen Stakes, field wise, made for an exciting competition with Russian Revolution, Houtzen and Heatherly pitted against each other. Russian Revolution was the outstanding winner, overtaking Heatherly near the finish line to win by 1¼ lengths with Houtzen a couple of lengths back making third place.

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Russian Revolution overtakes Heatherly near the finish line

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Russian Revolution returns to scale

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Heatherly on her way to the barriers

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Houtzen strolls back to scale

The feature race was the so called “Cox Plate Qualifier”, the Group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes, a race over 1600 metres. The winner of the race gains exemption from the Cox Plate Ballot.

It was full of drama, with race favourite Star Exhibit rearing at the start and losing his rider. He joined in the race riderless and actually finished first. It must have been quite unnerving for the others in the race, but there were no mishaps, thank goodness.

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Star Exhibit crosses the line ahead of the rest

The real winner was New Zealand mare Bonneval who beat fellow mare Abbey Marie to the prize with Rhythm To Spare running a distant third.

Bonneval is the first mare since Sunline in 2000 to win the Dato Tan.

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Bonneval wins the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes

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Bonneval on her way to the barriers

I was delighted to witness Bonneval win, and look forward to her next start. Perhaps she will win the Caulfield Cup - she has the class.

Next Saturday the racing is at Flemington, the feature race being the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes. In Sydney Winx will be gunning for her 20th win in succession, and we all fervently hope that she will succeed.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Goodbye Old House

Northcote House

Today is the last day I will spend in the current residence as we are moving house tomorrow to the house in Ivanhoe.

After almost 31 years I am sad to be leaving, as I’ve always regarded the area as one of the best spots in Melbourne’s inner north suburbs.

It has certainly changed over the 30 or so years we’ve been resident.

Back in the 1980s it was a predominantly working class suburb with every second house owned by people of Greek, Italian, Macedonian, or Croatian heritage.

These days it’s very much professional couples who have taken over. There are doctors, lawyers and such occupying half the houses in the street. There are remnants of the old residents still here, the Crone across the road for instance.  We’ve never actually known her name, but she has provided us heaps of inadvertent amusement over the years with her busy bodying and nosiness and crazy obsessions with leaves and gutters. She’s always out in the street peering over fences and into parked cars.  On the original Google Earth map, there she was standing outside her house.

When we first moved in, back in October 1986 we had two cats and a dog. I can’t show photos of them as the old snaps are packed away, but the said animals were a black male cat called The Bear, a long haired black and white female cat called Maggie and my elderly Springer Spaniel dog, Arabel.

Arabel died in 1987 after swallowing a bone. We rushed her to Animal Urgent but they were unable to save her. She had been my constant companion for 14 years.

The Bear was very attached to Arabel having known her since he was a kitten, so missed her when she was gone. He died in January 1991 of kidney failure at the age of 10. Maggie survived for another five years before disappearing one night, never to be seen again. We’d found her as a kitten in a pub, to whence she had followed some patrons. We adopted her on the spot and she was a delightful cat who got on with other cats and dogs.

We replaced The Bear with Oscar, a beautiful Siamese cross who looked Burmese.  He was very sick as a kitten, suffering from Cat Flu from the day we acquired him. We nursed him back to health and he survived for 13 years before dying of a cancerous growth in his throat. He was a great cat, always a gentleman and very affectionate. 

Lizzie the Abyssinian took the place of Maggie and she and Oscar were great friends, curling up together and eating off the same plate.  She died of old age in 2012 at the grand cat age of 16 and I still feel sad when I come across a photo of her.

Oscar’s replacement was Willy whose recent death we still mourn.

And now of course we have Bingo and Talya, the last in a long line of cats who have cohabited this place over  30 + years.

So there are a lot animal memories we’re leaving behind as well as personal history.

With Spring imminent there are several things I shall miss when we move, such as the blooming of the lilac, the bush grown from a suckling from a lilac tree that grew in the backyard of a previous address. It took twenty years to produce flowers.

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The sweet smell of the honeysuckle vine that grows in a fragrant ball on the pergola over the back decking. It’s a survivor as well – has always been there.

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The purple irises which have been blooming every spring since we moved in…

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…and the elegant Dutch irises – more recently planted.

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Finally the Bella Donna lilies, which have bloomed every summer since we’ve lived here, always a surprise when they snake up from the ground and produce a gaudy display of lipstick pink lilies.

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I’ll also miss the local birds – the game little blackbirds, the raucus wattle birds, lorikeets  and magpies, the tribe of local ravens, the tiny silver eyes and sundry other avian visitors.

No doubt there will be similar species out in Ivanhoe. In fact I spotted  a raven when were out there on Monday checking out the place in a final inspection.

The house in Ivanhoe hasn’t much of a garden just a vast expanse of lawn in the back. At least it may be possum free; native animals I will not miss at all no matter how cute they are. They are responsible for tree murder at the current address and are busy trying to kill more.

Hopefully the cats will settle in easily. They’re apprehensive at all the packing activity and no doubt will be alarmed when the moving van turns up. Talya should be OK, but we intend to lock Bingo out of harms way while its happening. And we’ll keep them both confined indoors for several days at the new place.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Memsie Magic – Caulfield Racing Review

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Memsie Stakes finish – Vega Magic still  leads after the turn

I was on the train to Caulfield Racecourse last Saturday when my fellow amateur photographer friend Rebecca rang me and said she was turned back at the gates because her camera had a 300mm lens. She was obliged to take her camera back to her car and gloomily contemplated an afternoon without photos. I understood her predicament as photographing race horses is an addictive hobby. Fortunately my camera lens is only 200mms, so I’d pass the new rules imposed by Racing Victoria or whoever.

I’ve just looked at the Conditions of Entry  of all three Melbourne race courses, and it seems that only Caulfield (MRC) has the 200mm lens limitation. As long as you take photos for your own personal use and not for commercial purposes it’s OK on the other courses as there is no mention of lens sizes at Moonee Valley or Flemington.

Arriving at the main entrance gates, I was expecting to be asked about my camera, but I managed to slip past the security guards at the gates without being searched.

I caught up with Rebecca and devised a method to allow her to fetch her camera and get back in without being stopped. I won’t reveal the stratagem here in case Racing Victoria reads this blog, but it was successful. My other friend George had no trouble entering the course and was unaware of the new limitations for amateur photographers, though later he told us that one of the regular casual photographers was prevented from bringing his 300mms + camera into the course and subsequently gave up trying, and headed back home to Phillip Island – quite a drive.

It was a grey old day, but mercifully the rain held off, and the track was upgraded from Good 4 to Good 3, causing the scratching of several runners who are not their best on firm tracks.

Race 4, the Group 3 HDF McNeil Stakes, a race for three year olds over 1200 metres was the first of four races I witnessed over the afternoon. Merchant Navy was the starting favourite and didn’t disappoint winning by short margin over Booker and Muraahib.

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HDF McNeil Stakes just after the finish – Merchant Navy is in blue & green silks

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Merchant Navy returns to scale

Cruising through the stalls area, I did manage to get a lovely photo of Yankee Rose being affectionate with her strapper. She has grown bigger and prettier since I last saw her in November last year.

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Yankee Rose in her stall

For race 5, the Cockram Stakes, I decided to watch it from the front lawn. There is a gate for emergency access where you can get a good spot for photos without the hedge being in the way. Unfortunately it was popular with feral kids who, as well as being noisy were unruly too, shaking the gate and attracting the attention of the security guards who subsequently chucked everyone out of the area. Luckily this was after the race was run.

Savanna Amour, unfancied in betting, ended up the winner from Flying Jess and Written Era.

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Savanna Amour takes the lead down the straight

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Savanna Amour on her way to the barriers

I went back to my usual spot above the stalls area for the next two races which was pretty well deserted and thankfully child free.

Another Group 3 was next on the schedule, The Heath 1100, a sprint for older horses.

The popular Voodoo Lad finally got his 5 minutes of fame and won by .75 lengths from the beautiful So Si Bon and Crystal Dreamer.

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Just past the post in The Heath – Voodoo Lad is the outside horse in red and yellow silks

The feature race of the day was of course the Group 1 Memsie Stakes and it was up next.

But before that was run, we watched Winx win her 19th race in succession on one of the many screens near the stalls area. It was another of those nail biting races, with the lowly Red Excitement setting the pace. He was miles ahead of the rest of the field when they turned into the straight. Again it looked as if Winx could not get there in time, but somehow she did, winning with a bit to spare over Red Excitement with Chocante several lengths behind running third.

Watching Winx race takes me back to Black Caviar’s days. People gather around the screen to watch her race and all cheer when she wins yet again, just like they did with Black Caviar.

I must admit Vega Magic is not a horse I have taken much notice of in the recent past. Formerly racing in Western Australia he is now with the David Hayes & Tom Dabernig stable and has won 12 of his 17 starts.  I witnessed him winning the Regal Roller Stakes at Caulfield at his last start. He started as favourite for the Memsie Stakes with Black Heart Bart highly fancied as well. Vega Magic led from the start and was never headed, winning by almost two lengths from Black Heart Bart with Tosen Stardom running third.

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Vega Magic returns to scale

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Black Heart Bart returns to scale

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Tosen Stardom returns to scale

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Jon Snow on his way to the barriers

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Yankee Rose on her way to the barriers

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Single Gaze returns to scale

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I Am A Star returns to scale

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Le Romain returns to scale

Next Saturday the racing is at Moonee Valley.  Looking at the nominations it appears to be a really interesting meeting.  Magic Millions Classic winner Houtzen is entered in the McEwen Stakes as is Russian Revolution. Two New Zealand mares are contesting the feature Dato Tan Chin Nam StakesBonneval who won the Sydney Oaks and Lizzie L’Amour who has not raced in Australia previously.

I’m pretty keen to attend, so I’ll have to find my way to Moonee Valley from the new residence in Ivanhoe.  We’re moving this Thursday – perish the thought – so I’ll need a break from unpacking on Saturday.