Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Cats Rule! Group 1 Racing at Caulfield

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Jungle Cat  on his way to the barriers prior to winning the Rupert Clarke Stakes

Was it an omen that the first horse I saw when walking into Caulfield Racecourse last Saturday was Apache Cat, in light of the feature event, later in the afternoon being won by another cat, in this case the Irish sprinter Jungle Cat?

Apache Cat was there as the special guest from Living Legends and corralled in the kids zone, where I paused to take a photo.

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Apache Cat

It was by chance that I passed by the popular Living Legend as my time of arrival coincided with the start of Race 3,  where Blue Diamond Stakes winner Written By kicked off his spring campaign with a win.

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Written By returns to scale after winning the Skyline Education Foundation Plate

Written By hasn’t started since running fourth in the Golden Slipper Stakes back in March, so it’s pleasing that the handsome colt is back on the scene in good form.

The feature race on Saturday at Caulfield was the Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes, a sprint over 1400 metres. It was scheduled as Race 8, so there were four other races to watch before it was run.

Race 4 was the Living Legends Handicap, a race for mares over 1400 metres.

Again it was a pleasing result where class mare Tulip was victorious, beating Shoko by a narrow margin, with Mamzelle Tess running third.

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Just past the post in the Living Legends Handicap

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Tulip returns to scale

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Shoko on her way to the barriers

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Mamzelle Tess on her way to the barriers

As it was an alternate weekend, the afternoon was mild and sunny, quite a contrast to the ghastly weather at Flemington last week, and the light was excellent for photos.

A not particularly interesting race, the Grassroots Sports Club for Mirabel Handicap resulted in a win for Sydney based sprinter Spending To Win.  The highly regarded and previously unbeaten Eduardo was not disgraced running a close second and Bryan ran third.

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Spending to Win on his way to the mounting yard

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Eduardo on his way to the mounting yard

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Bryan on his way to the mounting yard

Race 6 was the Aquis Jim Moloney Stakes for Pinchapoo, for three year old fillies over 1400 metres.  Tasmanian filly Mystic Journey upstaged the local girls, winning at big odds. Spanish Whisper and Tahitian Dancer filled the minor placings.

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Just past the post in race 6 

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Mystic Journey returns to scale

Next up was the Naturalism Stakes, considerably of more interest than the preceding races. It gives the winner ballot free entry into the Caulfield Cup, so a good field of stayers accepted for the 2000 metre event. The field included English stayer Folkswood, last seen in Australia in the 2017 where he won the Cranbourne Cup, then finished third to Winx in the Cox Plate.

Race favourite however was Night’s Watch who delivered in spades in quite spectacular fashion, running wide from the tail of the field to snatch victory from Rising Red and Odeon.

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Naturalism Stakes just past the post

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Night’s Watch returning to stalls after presentation

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Rising Red on his way to the barriers

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Odeon returns to scale

Folkswood after running on the pace for most of the race finished last, leaving his connections puzzled.

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Folkswood on his way to the barriers

Finally it was time for the feature Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes. My photos of the finish were not worth saving, but I did get decent shots of the field as they headed to the barriers, though not all of them.

Jungle Cat, as previously mentioned, won the bickies. This was his first start in Australia, his previous start being in Dubai where he won the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in March.

Home of the Brave was the starting favourite, but he finished out of a place in fourth.  Runner up was long shot Dollar for Dollar and the well fancied Land of Plenty finished third.

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Jungle Cat returns to scale

Mid afternoon I took time out to watch the other feature race of the day, which was the Golden Rose at Rosehill.  The Chris Waller trained The Autumn Sun was the outstanding winner, swooping from the back of the field to overtake his stablemate Zousain with race favourite Graff finishing third. 

I’m looking forward to seeing The Autumn Sun racing in Melbourne in the Caulfield Guineas next month. He arrived in Melbourne yesterday with stablemates Winx, Youngstar, Invincibella and Another Dollar.

I didn’t tarry after the Rupert Clarke and headed home despite the next race being quite interesting with a super field of mares competing. It was won by Winter Bride from Ellicazoom.

Next weekend the races in Melbourne are at Caulfield again, but run on Sunday so as not to clash with the AFL Grand Final. The Group 1 Underwood Stakes is the feature with a good support card that includes two Guineas Preludes.

In fact it is a super weekend of races with Moonee Valley kicking off their Friday night meetings with the Group 1 Moir Stakes, and Sydney featuring three Group 1 races on the Saturday.

A final photo before I close this post of ravens in flight, captured at Caulfield during a lull in proceedings. I’ve been trying to get such a photo for ages, so I’m glad the opportunity presented itself when I had a camera in hand.

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Ravens in flight – ragged silhouettes in the blue sky

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The O’Reilly Boys & Winx 27

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Grunt wins the Makybe Diva Stakes

It’s probably fortunate that over this first winter in Ivanhoe I have learned to endure the cold.  Being of a stoical nature, this stood me in good stead on Saturday at the Flemington races, where truly awful weather was the bane of the afternoon. It was cold. It was windy. It rained.

As racing  continues as scheduled, mostly regardless of the weather, you basically have to endure the capricious Spring conditions if you want to witness first class racing.

The O’Reilly boys of the title of this post are Grunt and Brutal, both sired by the New Zealand stallion  O’Reilly by different dams and trained by Mick Price (Grunt) and  the Hawkes (Brutal). Curiously enough both won their respective races on Saturday, and it’s interesting that both have really macho names. They are both very striking young fellows also.

I reached Flemington at around 1.40 pm, in time to witness the running of Race 3, the Listed The Sofitel (registered as the Tontonan Stakes) a race over 1400 metres.

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The Sofitel finish – Violate wins from Dollar For Dollar & Eclair Calling

Brutal’s race, the Antler Luggage Plate was next to jump, but before that I cruised through the Stalls area, snapping a photo of the Makybe Diva statue on my way there.

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Makybe Diva – the first stalls area is to the left of the statue

Living Legends Paris Lane and Brew were the special guests for the meeting.

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Paris Lane with Living Legends CEO Dr Andrew Clarke

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2000 Melbourne Cup winner Brew

Returning to the public lawn I caught the Antler Luggage Plate field parading in the mounting yard

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Leonardo Da Hinchi

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The race itself was exciting with Brutal leading from the start to the finish with Leonardo Da Hinchi challenging him most of the way. The lead changed several times as the two colts fought out the finish with Brutal toughening it out to win by a nose. Good N Fast ran third a length behind the leading pair.

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Brutal (inside) & Leonardo Da Hinchi cross the line together

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Brutal returns to scale

Needless to say, taking photos was challenging with the wind and the rain. Early in the afternoon the sun occasionally popped out from the clouds, but as the afternoon advanced the light worsened.

Race 5 was the Group 2 Bobbie Lewis Quality, a sprint over 1200 metres. Thankfully the field didn’t split, but raced down the centre of the straight. The Sydney based Dothraki, now 8 years old, was the eventual winner, with First Among Equals, missing out by nose, running second with former Japanese sprinter Kemono filling third place. The photo below of the finish is deceptive due the angle of shot (diagonal pov).

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Dothraki (red silks) & Kemono (inside) followed by First Among Equals (yellow cap)

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Dothraki returns to scale

As Winx’s race in Sydney was scheduled to start at 3.10pm I found a place to sit down across from the big screen to watch it.

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Winx heading to barriers for the George Main Stakes (screen view)

Naturally Winx won easily, as usual giving the field a head start by racing at the tail  before rounding them up and drawing level with the game Le Romain who had taken the lead shortly after the turn into the straight. Winx passed him in a flash and she went on to win by five lengths. That was her 27th consecutive win, 20th Group 1 win and third consecutive George Main Stakes victory.  She is simply amazing!

It started to rain as the mares were parading in the mounting yard preparatory to running in the Group 2 Let’s Elope Stakes, hence the less than perfect photos hereafter.

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I Am A Star

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Bella Martini

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Once again it was a closely fought finish up the straight, this time between I am A Star and Bella Martini where I Am A Star won by the narrowest of margins. Sheezdashing finished third. The rain was was pelting down as the race was run, the mares, like all the previous runners, facing a stiff breeze in the straight.

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Bella Martini & I Am A Star cross the finish line together

Typical of Flemington racing, very few favourites won on the day, most of the winners paying double figure odds.

And such was the case with the feature Makybe Diva Stakes. I must admit I had lost faith in Grunt after his previous two disappointing runs this season at Caulfield. He obviously likes Flemington as he absolutely flew in the closing stages of the Makybe Diva Stakes, emerging from mid field to overtake the leaders and win by two lengths from Kings Will Dream and Jon Snow.

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Grunt in the mounting yard

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Kings Will Dream on his way to the barriers

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Jon Snow in the mounting yard

I did not stay for the Danehill Stakes even though it had a super field of aspirant Guineas contenders. The blue blood Encryption (Lonhro / Guelph) won it at big odds from Thorondor and Tavisan.

Next weekend the Group 1 action is at Caulfield for the Sir Rupert Clark Stakes, and in Sydney at Rosehill, the Group 1 Golden Rose is the feature race.

Winx’s next appearance to all intents and purposes will be at Flemington in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes on 6 October. Can’t wait!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Makybe Diva Stakes Day & Go Winx

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Humidor winning the 2017 Makybe Diva Stakes

Group 1 racing returns to Flemington this Saturday with the running of the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes, and at Randwick in Sydney, superstar Winx continues her progress towards the Cox Plate in the Group 1 George Main Stakes the day after her 7th birthday.

So there’s lots of action as the Spring racing carnival gathers pace.

Much as I’d like to be in Sydney to watch Winx race, I’ll be attending the Flemington meeting. It is very likely that Winx will contest the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington in early October, so I’ll be content to wait until then to see her in the flesh in what may be her last racing season.

It all depends on the train timetable at which time I will reach Flemington, but I hope to be there in plenty of time to watch Race 4, the Listed Antler Luggage Plate where the handsome Brutal will be aiming to keep his so far unbeaten run intact.  His main opponents are The August, Good ‘n’ Fast, Crockett and Declarationofheart.

Besides the Makybe Diva Stakes, there’s a solid support card with three Group 2 races, the first to run being the Bobby Lewis Quality, a sprint over 1200 metres. Hey Doc, who disappointed at Moonee Valley at his last start will probably start as favourite.  The rest of the field is not much chop, the best being Rich Charm, Grand Rosso and Crack Me Up.

The Let’s Elope Stakes has attracted a nice field of well performed mares that include I Am A Star, La Bella Diosa, Miss Gunpowder, Merriest, Bella Martini and Kenedna returning after a long break. 

As the Makybe Diva Stakes has not been consecutively won by the same horse since the 1950s, can last year’s winner Humidor achieve this rare double?  He surprised at big odds winning the Memsie Stakes at his second start for spring 2018.  Half of the 12 strong field that contested the Memsie Stakes have accepted for the Makybe Diva.  Added to the usual suspects – Happy Clapper, Humidor, Kementari et al  are the in form Comin’ Through, New Zealander Jon Snow and  Western Australian Pounamu.  Other than the aforementioned the romantically named Kings Wiil Dream looks top pick having won over the distance at Flemington previously.

Run after the Makybe Diva Stakes, the third of the Group 2 races is the Danehill Stakes for three year olds run over 1200 metres. Top chances are Native Soldier, Tavisan and Ef Troop. I probably won’t witness it first hand as I plan to leave Flemington after the feature race.

The must see race of the day is of course the George Main Stakes where Winx will be facing seven rivals, four of them her stablemates Who Shot Thebarman, Religify, Egg Tart and Unforgotten. Unforgotten won the Chelmsford Stakes at her last start, a race won by Winx the previous year. Though not likely to beat the invincible Winx, she is very likely to run second. 2017 Victorian Derby winner Ace High and three time Group 1 winner Le Romain are also not without place claims.

There are also some quality Group 2 races at Randwick, The Shorts for instance, a sprint over 1100 metres that pits three The Everest stakeholders against each other, namely Redzel, Brave Smash and Invincible Star. It looks a doozy of a race.

Though it is warm and sunny in Melbourne today, the weather is forecast to be cold and wet tomorrow. Hopefully it will not be as bad as predicted.  It seems that each weekend of this spring racing season the weather alternates between one extreme and the other – sunny and soggy.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Moonee Valley Magic

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Magic Consul wins the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes

What a contrast between one Saturday and another with the Caulfield race meeting beset by rain, and Moonee Valley this weekend being fine and mostly sunny.

I was rather hoping for overcast weather where the lighting is less dramatic in terms of light and darkness, knowing how the Moonee Valley Grandstand overshadows the track in the late afternoon at this time of year.

So my photos of the feature race, the Group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes are dark, though I notice that even official photographers had trouble with light viz The Age Sports Page today.

However, earlier in the afternoon it was perfect for taking photos.

I reached Moonee Valley at around 2.10pm, again travelling on the 510 bus, which I will definitely be using to get to the Cox Plate on 27 October. It will be mostly unaffected by the heavy traffic, being farther north of the area that surrounds the near environs of the racecourse on that day, which slows down the other three buses I could take.

Race 4, the Harrolds Handicap, run over the same distance as the Cox Plate (2040 metres) was about to start as I reached the public lawn. Trap For Fools, last seen winning the I Print Handicap a fortnight ago started as favourite and won easily after leading from the start, despite being troubled by the unruly Gai Waterhouse trained Hush Writer, to defeat the fast finishing Yogi by a length with Bondeiger running third.

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Trap For Fools has a good lead up the straight

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Trap For Fools returns to scale

I headed out to stalls area after Race 4 to see which of the equine stars had arrived at the course. The first I saw was none other than Might and Power, the Living Legends guest of honour.  Might and Power won the Cox Plate 20 years ago, so it was apt that he was present for Cox Plate Qualifier Day.

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Might and Power

Also out and about was Hartnell, cruising around the parade ring and instantly recognisable.

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The Group 2 McEwen Stakes had a whiz banger of a field that included exciting new sprinter Nature Strip, triple Group 1 winner Shoals and 2017 Magic Millions Two Year Old Classic winner Houtzen, now a four year old mare.

Here they are parading before heading to the mounting yard.

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Nature Strip

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The race was run at the speed of light, Nature Strip leading from the jump, unchallenged throughout, to break the course record. Houtzen came closest to beating him, losing by a nose on the line. Shoals was almost 4 lengths behind the leading pair in third place and a further 2 lengths separated her from fourth placed Viridine.

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Nature Strip & Houtzen cross the finish line

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Shoals crosses the finish line 3.85  lengths behind Nature Strip & Houtzen

As I had not seen Nature Strip in action before, the McEwen Stakes was the highlight of the day for me. He’s a handsome dark chestnut horse. Also, as I’ve been following Houtzen since her juvenile days, I was delighted that she performed so well. Another few strides and she would have beaten Nature Strip.

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Nature Strip returns to scale

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Houtzen returns to scale

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Shoals returns to scale

Fortunately the rail was in the true position last Saturday, so there was no obvious bias, horses winning from the inner rail to wider on the track, swoopers and on pacers all having a fair go.

As the feature was scheduled as Race 8, there were two races to watch before it was run, the first of these being the Listed Atantic Jewel Stakes for three year old fillies run over 1200 metres. Shoals won the race last year and this year’s winner was Thrillster who defeated Humma Humma and Krone to win the bickies.

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Thrillster wins the Atlantic Jewel Stakes

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Thrillster returns to scale

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Humma Humma returns to scale

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Krone & Assertive Play (4th) return to scale

As you can see the light was getting problematical as the afternoon advanced, and there was still one race to run before the Dato Tan.

This was the Bendigo Bank Stakes, another race over 1200 metres.

The Darren Weir trained Land of Plenty and Peaceful State ran the quinella with race leader Al Passem holding on for third.

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Land of Plenty is about to overtake stablemate Peaceful State to win the Bendigo Bank Stakes

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Land of Plenty returns to scale

The Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes resulted in 19/1 shot Magic Consul stealing the prize from his classier opponents. Hartnell looked as if he was a winner as they approached the finishing post, but he weakened, allowing  Magic Consul, Homesman and Night’s Watch to overtake him, relegating him to fourth. The disappointing runner was New Zealand mare Bonneval who was never a winning chance. Ditto Mighty Boss.

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Magic Consul returns to scale

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Homesman returns to scale

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Night’s Watch returning to the stalls area post race

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Bonneval – head shot in the parade ring

And so ended another stimulating day at the races.  I won’t be returning to Moonee Valley until Cox Plate Day,  Flemington and Caulfield being the major Group 1 venues over the next month or so.

Next week features the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington, and Winx will be contesting the Group 1 George Main Stakes at Randwick and aiming to win her 27th race in succession and 20th at Group 1 level.

A last photo before I  publish this post of an aeroplane that flew over the Moonee Valley Racecourse late in the afternoon. As I had my camera handy (ha!) I snapped a picture as it passed overhead. It turned out quite well I think.

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Plane over Moonee Valley