Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Planes, Trains & Winx

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Winx overtakes Happy Clapper on her way to winning the George Ryder Stakes

Unlike the last time I went to Sydney for the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, on this occasion the only travel hitch was the plane from Melbourne to Sydney, which took off a hour after the scheduled departure time.

So I got to Sydney around 12.30pm, but everything proceeded smoothly from then on. Stowing my carry on case at a storage facility at Central Station took only a few minutes, so I was on a train to Rosehill by 12.40 pm.

As it’s quite a long trip out to Rosehill, it was fortunate the train was a limited express, and took approximately half an hour to reach Clyde, where you were obliged to change to a train heading to Rosehill. It was not a long wait between trains and I arrived at Rosehill shortly before the running of Race 3, the N E Manion Cup, a Group 3 race for stayers run over 2400 metres. After purchasing racebooks and Golden Slipper pins, I headed trackside and easily found a spot on the fence near the mounting yard to practice photography.

The mounting yard view is limited for general admission patrons, so I concentrated on getting photos of horses leaving the yard and proceeding under the Yellow Rose Arch to the track, and action shots of the races, as the fence is quite low and you can get rail free shots.

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Alward (who ran second) heading to the track from the mounting yard.

The race was won by the Darren Weir trained Master of Arts, with Alward a narrow second and race leader Peribsen hanging on for third.

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Master of Arts leads the field to the finish line

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Master of Arts returns to scale

I killed time until the next race by visiting the stalls area, and found Winx there. As usual there was a crowd outside her stall, but nothing like the throngs that surrounded her stall at Moonee Valley on Cox Plate day last year.

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Winx in her stall

Nearby was star three year old colt Kementari, a beautiful black son of Lonhro, who is  said to be the spitting image of his famous sire.

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Kementari in his stall

The first of the Group 1 races was up next, the Ranvet Stakes, and the Darren Weir trained Gailo Chop was the starting favourite and didn’t disappoint, winning the Ranvet by three lengths from the game Single Gaze, with Prized Icon running third.

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Gailo Chop streets ahead charging to the finish line

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Prized Icon (red silks) and Single Gaze neck and neck in pursuit of Gailo Chop

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Gailo Chop returns to scale

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Single Gaze returns to scale

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Prized Icon returns to scale

As the George Ryder Stakes was next to run, I stayed where I was to be sure of getting a good spot to watch Winx. A lot of other people had the same idea and soon fence positions were scarce. Winx flags fluttered from hands along the fence and an air of sharp anticipation rippled through the course.

The small field proceeded along the path to the mounting yard, but everyone had eyes only for the star attraction.

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Happy Clapper on his way to the mounting yard

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Crack Me Up

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Invincible Gem

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Winx – masked

Here’s some more photos of the main contenders leaving the mounting yard

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Happy Clapper

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Winx- unmasked

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Winx on her way to the barriers – glowing with health

Any race Winx contests is always of the utmost interest, and even though you expect her to win, there’s the question of how she will accomplish it and by how much of a margin to the second horse. Winx’s first race this autumn saw her win by 7 lengths. This time she had a fight on her hooves with Happy Clapper putting up a challenge down the straight. Winx ran the fastest last 600 metres section of the day and prevailed over Happy Clapper by almost a length. Kementari did well to run third 1.5 lengths behind.

Winx has now won 24 consecutive races and a record breaking 17 at Group 1 level. She is set to equal Black Caviar’s unbeaten winning sequence of 25 in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes on 14 April and will possibly surpass the great sprinting mare’s tally either overseas (now thankfully off the agenda), or next Spring, which will hopefully include a 4th Cox Plate.

If we lived in extraordinary times during Black Caviar’s racing career, racing fans are now enjoying  an even more awesome champion of the turf in Winx, perhaps the best ever.

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Winx returns to scale

Rosehill is a pleasant little race course, much the same size as Moonee Valley, and I was glad to be back there again. There were obviously no restrictions on taking photos or the focal size of lenses. There were several other amateur photographers near where I was standing, including a guy with an enormous lens that blocked everyone else’s views.

After the Ryder Stakes I decided to go and get a drink from the nearest bar in the JR Fleming Stand, which meant standing in a queue for quite a while before being served.  I visited the stalls after that to see if Chris Waller was around and willing to sign my racebook. There was no sign of him, but Winx was resting in her stall, looking bright and beautiful despite just running a race.

As a consequence of all this dillying and dallying I missed the Rosehill Guineas and arrived back trackside as the winner, D’Argento, was returning to scale, an elated Hugh Bowman on his back. Hugh had reason to be cheerful having just won a Group 1  double.

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D’Argento  returns to scale

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Hugh Bowman being uncharacteristically exhuberant

As the Golden Slipper Stakes was up next, I figured it was time to peg out a spot on the fence to watch it.  Unlike Moonee Valley on Cox Plate day last year, where we had to guard our spot on the fence for over four hours, at Rosehill it was amazingly easy to find a good position. The Rosehill outdoor public area is tiered, with several steps going up from ground level, so just about everyone gets a good view of the racing action.

This was the first time I had attended a Golden Slipper meeting and watched the famous (and richest) race for two year olds in person, though I have religiously watched it over the years on TV. So it was a bit of thrill to be at Rosehill for the 2018 edition.

I was particulary keen to get photos of Sunlight, the winner of the Magic Millions Two Year Classic, and I got quite few, such as the one below

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Sunlight leaves the mounting yard for the track

The best looking colt was Blue Diamond Stakes winner Written By.

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Written By

Anyway before the race was run, there was a bit of pomp and ceremony, starting with a line of 16 girls bearing name banners for each horse in the race. They marched up the path to the mounting yard, and stood around colourfully while the Golden Slipper jockeys were introduced one by one.

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Banner girls

Then the field started assembling in the mounting yard, and shortly afterwards proceeding to the track.

The weather looked threatening with a dark cloud moving over the course, but the rain held off until after the race was run and won.

Unfortunately my photos of the race finish turned out too dark to use, but I got lots of photographs of Estijaab returning to scale after her thrilling victory. She led from the start to the finish, and had enough in the tank to hold off Oohood who finished second, and Sunlight who ran third. So it was a fillies trifecta, with Written By officially fourth.

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Estijaab returns to scale

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Oohood head shot

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Sunlight head shot

Though the final Group 1, the Galaxy was yet to run, I decided to call it quits after the Golden Slipper and head back to the city, as I was feeling weary after a long day on my feet.

On the train back to the city a couple of guys were sitting near me all dressed up and ready to party. They obliged me by posing for the following photograph – Sydney personified!

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Guys on train

Once back in the CBD I collected my bag from the storage place and headed for my hotel, where I dined in the Bistro and retired early to my room.

I had to get up at 5.00 am the next morning to catch a 7.00 am plane to Melbourne. This flight departed only ten minutes late and I got back to Melbourne well before midday after an uneventful flight.

By the time I finally made it home, I had travelled by train to Sydney airport, by plane to Melbourne airport, by bus to Southern Cross station, from where I caught a train to Clifton Hill, then a bus to Ivanhoe Station and walked the rest of the way.

So that was my weekend.

Though tiring, it was worth the effort and I’d do it again, now that I’ve sorted out all the contingencies involved.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Golden Slipper & Winx

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Written By – can he win the Blue Diamond / Golden Slipper double?

As I’ve previously mentioned the Melbourne autumn racing season was disappointing overall, but in Sydney this weekend the race card at Rosehill looks excellent by contrast.

It’s Golden Slipper Day and it features five Group 1 races that include wonder mare Winx in the George Ryder Stakes.

As I had a concert to attend on this coming Saturday night, I originally planned not to attend the Golden Slipper meeting. That’s all changed as B, who was attending the concert with me, decided he didn’t want to go as getting to the venue (Palais Theatre in St Kilda) would be difficult in the extreme. With all the roadworks in progress between the northern and southern suburbs, it would be a pain to drive through. I have seen the artist Jason Isbell several times before, so don’t really mind missing the show. I sold the tickets on Gumtree in no time flat as the seats were actually very good.

Anyway, with the concert no longer an obligation, I decided I’d  go to Sydney for the Golden Slipper after all. So I’m Sydney bound again and hope things go more smoothly than the last time I travelled there.

Besides the Golden Slipper and George Ryder Stakes, there is also the Rosehill Guineas, Ranvet Stakes and Galaxy, all attracting quality fields, so it promises to be excellent in terms of good racing.

Winx faces five rivals in the George Ryder Stakes,  and should win it easily, especially as the track is likely to be on the slow side.  Her biggest threats are Happy Clapper and three year old star colt Kementari.  Hopefully the unthinkable will not happen and that Winx will clock up her 24th win in succession and 17th Group 1 victory. Go Winx!

The Golden Slipper has a field of 16 runners and comprise equal numbers of colts and fillies. Top picks of the colts are Blue Diamond Stakes winner Written By who is yet to be beaten having won his four starts, Santos and Aylmerton who have both won their last two races, and the Chris Waller trained Performer who was the early Golden Slipper favourite.

Of the fillies the standout is Sunlight who has a picket fence of five wins from her last five starts against her name, winning the Magic Millions Two Year Old Classic back in January , and the Group 2  Silver Slipper Stakes and Group 3 Magic Night Stakes at her last two starts. She certainly looks special. Other fillies with a chance are Enbihaar, Estijaab and Seabrook. As it’s a race for two year olds, anything can happen and often does.

The Ranvet Stakes (2000 metres) is the first of the Group 1 events and has a small field of familiar contestants that include the 2018 Australian Cup trifecta  Harlem, Gailo Chop and Ventura Storm along with Single Gaze and The Taj Mahal and 2016 Victoria Derby winner Prized Icon. The last mare to win the Ranvet Stakes was Silent Achiever back in 2014 , the only time before next weekend that I  have been to Rosehill. Does that bode well for the honest Single Gaze?

As for the Rosehill Guineas eight of the eigthteen strong field are New Zealanders with good NZ form and it’s understandable that NZ trainers would send their young stayers to Sydney in the autumn, as quite few Kiwis have won the Rosehill Guineas and Sydney Derby.  Last year Gingernuts won the Rosehill Guineas, and before him there was  Volkstok ‘n’ Barrell (2015) and It’s a Dundeel (2013). My sentimental pick is Ace High, so I hope he wins, but he’ll have to beat New Zealand Derby winner Vin De Dance, trained by the canny Murray Baker, and the in form Cliff’s Edge among several other challengers.

Sydney weather on Saturday is forecast to be partly cloudy and 28°C, though as it has rained there over the past few days, the track should be rated soft, which will suit the mighty mare.

Anyway, here’s hoping for good fortune in Sydney on Saturday and that I am not cursed by public transport, as I was yesterday when I went to Victoria Market and chose to catch the 250 Bus. Just near Rushall Station (my old stamping ground) the bus driver advised that he had been ordered to terminate the bus trip. So I plodded to Rushall Station and caught the train for the rest of my journey to the city.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Seeing Double - Blue & White Stripes to the Fore

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Harlem wins the 2018 Australian Cup

The training team of David and Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig certainly had a good day last Saturday, winning both Group 1 races with imported horses.

Redkirk Warrior accomplished a rare consecutive win of the Newmarket Handicap and Harlem, unfancied in the betting, won the Australian Cup at big odds of 60/1.

Despite the extreme heat of the day, it was worth making the effort to attend, though it seemed to me to be a long drawn out afternoon, and it was with relief that I climbed onto the train after the running of the Australian Cup.

Being obliged by train timetables – the last Flemington train was at 12.30pm – I arrived at the course as horses engaged in Race 2 were filing onto the track.  I didn’t bother photographing the action, but noted that Kings Will Dream notched up his fifth win in succession.

I headed for the stalls and dallied there, missing  Race 3 as well, as it didn’t strike me as all that interesting. It was almost impossible to get photos of the horses in their stalls owing to the rampant roses, and besides many of the Group 1 runners had not yet arrived.

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Rose hedge around the stalls

Might and Power and Efficient were the special guests from Living Legends so I did manage to snap a shot of old fave Efficient.

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The Group 2 Sires Produce Stakes was the fourth race on the card, so I trudged up the public lawn to my favourite spot at the access gate on the west lawn. As the rail was out 4 metres, it was difficult to get shots without the outer rail intruding. I’d normally move further up the west lawn to get clear photos of horses going to the barriers, but this area was blocked off by a wine and food pop up facility.

A race for two year olds over 1400 metres, it was won by the unfancied Not A Single Cent, having only his second start.  Favourite Seberate ran second with Akkadian running third.

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Sires Produce Stakes finish – Not A Single Cent is about to overtake Seberate

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Not A Single Cent returns to scale

As it was far too hot in the sun, between races I sought out shade in various spots around the public lawn, and only returned to the access gate when the runners in the next race were leaving the mounting yard for the track. I don’t know why I bothered taking photos with the rail being a problem, but I suppose it was a distraction from the relentless sunshine.

Race 5 was the Group 2 Kewney Stakes for three year old fillies and is run over 1400 metres.  The so far unbeaten Summer Sham was the starting favourite and led for most of the race, but she was outclassed over the distance and finished well back in eighth place.  The winner Bella Martini raced just off the speed in third place and toughed it out to beat Shokora and Palazzo Vecchio.

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Bella Martini wins the Kewney Stakes

The Newmarket Handicap was the next race to jump, so I pegged out a rose free spot on the mounting yard fence for the pre-race parade.

Here are some of the main contenders.

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Brave Smash

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Redkirk Warrior

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Merchant Navy

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So Si Bon

As is the norm in sprints down the long Flemington straight, the field split into two, one on the inner rail and the other on the outer. As a result, Redkirk Warrior who was brushing the roses on the outer fence, defeated Brave Smash on the inner fence by a half head, with Merchant Navy running third.

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A distant shot of the Newmarket halfway up the straight with split field

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Outer fence view approaching the winning post

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Inner fence view approaching the winning post

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Redkirk Warrior returns to scale

The first of the Group 1 races at Randwick, the Canterbury Stakes,  was scheduled shortly after the running of the Newmarket Handicap, so I sauntered closer to the big screen to watch it and found a place to sit down, albeit in the sun.

The rose hedge was splendidly in full bloom…

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Rose hedge close to the Clock Tower

Anyway, the Canterbury Stakes resulted in a win for Happy Clapper with Global Glamour running second and Invincible Gem third.

Back at Flemington, Race 7 was the Group 3 Schweppervescence Trophy, a race for fillies and mares over 1600 metres. Spanish Reef was one of the few favourites to win at Flemington on Saturday. She defeated Samovare by three quarters of a length with Jester Halo two lengths back running third.

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Spanish Reef wins the Schweppervescence Trophy

As I was fed up with trying to get rail free photos, I decided to go back to a spot opposite the finish line where the horses returning to scale enter the path to the mounting yard. It’s not a bad spot for taking photos from a different angle, with the bonus of the winning post in the background.

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Spanish Reef returns to scale

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Samovare returns to scale

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Jester Halo returns to scale

Before the Australian Cup field assembled in the mounting yard, I watched the Randwick Guineas on the big screen. Kementari was the outstanding winner.  Pierata ran second and Trapeze Artist third.

I’d been at Flemington for four hours, so I was thankful the feature race was finally ready to race.

Here are some of the major contenders in the mounting yard…

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Gailo Chop

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Single Gaze

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Ventura Storm

It was reported in the racing press that Lloyd Williams, who had three horses entered in the Australian Cup (Almandin, The Taj Mahal and Homesman)  had advised that he would recommend that The Taj Mahal and Homesman be ridden positively (i.e. on the speed) and Almandin ridden quietly. This all sounded as if he was using the former two horses as pacemakers for Almandin, and a challenge for Gailo Chop who likes to lead.

That plan unravelled when The Taj Mahal and the Gai Waterhouse trained Supply and Demand fought out the lead for most of the race, only to fade and finish well back. Harlem raced handy in fourth spot on the fence, then was blocked for a run, but he found a gap and went on to beat Gailo Chop by half a length with Ventura Storm another length back running third. Almandin ended up running fourth.

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Harlem returns to scale

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Gailo Chop and Homesman return to scale

And that was another Australian Cup run and won.

I was contemplating going to the Blamey Stakes meeting at Flemington next Saturday ostensibly to see 2017 Melbourne Cup winner Rekindling who was nominated for the feature race, but owner Lloyd Williams has decided not to run him this autumn after all.

Anyway, next Saturday is forecast to be as hot as the previous one, so I’m glad not to attend.

As for Melbourne’s autumn carnival, as I’ve mentioned before, it has been underwhelming with very few highlights that I can think of, though of course I can say I saw Redkirk Warrior win both the Lightning Stakes and Newmarket Handicap

Group 1 racing continues on in Sydney and we have Winx next race to look forward to on 24 March.