Friday, October 26, 2018

A Grand Moment in Australian Racing History Impending (Hopefully)

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Winx parading after winning the 2017 Cox Plate

So far the Spring racing carnival has been pretty interesting, but it goes up several notches to peak excitement this coming Saturday with the running of the 2018 Cox Plate.

It’s all because of the magic mare Winx who will be attempting to rewrite history by winning a fourth Cox Plate, a feat never before achieved in the annals of Australian Racing.

Winx faces seven rivals this year, the most threatening being the British horse Benbatl who recently won the Caulfield Stakes at his first start on Australian turf. There are those who opine that he will give her a run for the money and  possibly spoil her party.  He’s obviously a very good horse being a triple Group 1 winner, but can he beat Winx on her favourite track, in a race she has been set for over this Spring?

She’s getting on in years, but appears to be just as good as ever. She looked fantastic at Moonee Valley on Tuesday morning, bright eyed and glowing with health.

Other contenders with claims in the race are Humidor who ran 2 lengths second to Winx in  last year’s Cox Plate, Avilius who won The Bart Cummings at his last start and looks a seriously good horse, but is mainly focussed on the Melbourne Cup. Then there’s the New Zealand  mare Savvy Coup and Winx’s stablemate D’Argento who could easily run a place.

It does look a fascinating race, despite the small field, and all of Winx’s many fans of course will be hoping she wins, and with any luck, by many lengths. Go Winx!

The other Group 1 race this weekend is the Manikato Stakes on Friday night at the Valley.  It has mustered a full field of 14 runners and includes four International raiders (is nothing safe?), all trained by the famed Irish trainer, Aiden O’Brien.  Looking at the form, sole three year old, the speedy Sunlight has the best looking picket fence against her name. I’d be delighted if she won, but she does face some tough competition with the likes of Kementari, Malaguerra, Voodoo Lad and mares Houtzen, Tulip, Invincible Star and Spright, not to mention the aforementioned Internationals.

Sunlight has a 5 to 7 kilo weight advantage over her rivals and has also drawn a handy inside gate, so has an excellent chance of winning her first Group 1 race.

I have decided to take the train to the Valley tomorrow, now that I know where the station is in relation to the racetrack. Trains are more predictable than buses and also not prone to traffic jams. Hopefully I can reach Moonee Valley by 11.00 am.

It’s going to be a long day as the Cox Plate is scheduled for 5.00 pm, but with any luck Rebecca and I can grab a good spot on the fence to spend the day.  We can divert ourselves by getting plenty of photo practice with the earlier races – all eight of them -  as the afternoon progresses.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Breakfast with The Queen

Moonee Valley Breakfast Program

Not being a morning person, it would have to be something pretty special that would get me up at 4.00 am. 

That something was the free Moonee Valley Breakfast with the Best, where wonder mare Winx was the star attraction, having her last jumpout at the Valley before the Cox Plate.

So I dragged myself into the shower shortly after 4.00 am, fed the cats, made a coffee to go, and headed off in the dark to the station to catch the 5.03 am train. At Flinders Street I caught another train to take me to Moonee Ponds and got to the track shortly after 6.00 am.

Quite a few people had made the effort to attend the Breakfast with the Best, no doubt to see the star mare. There was quite a crowd around her stall, but I managed to find a vantage point and snapped a few photos while Winx was being saddled up for her exhibition gallop.

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Winx fans gather around her stall

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Winx in her stall being prepared for her jumpout

Dawn was on the horizon when I took the above photo, so the light was terrible for photography.

Artificial light, also not good for photos,  illuminated the track when Winx emerged for her gallop, and paraded up the straight before doing a circuit.

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Winx parades along the outer rail

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Pre gallop, Winx comes back along the rail

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Winx at the top the straight on her jumpout

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Winx with stablemate Egg Tart return after their jumpouts

It’s a pity the light was so poor when she raced up the straight, but it was lovely half an hour later, when I caught up with Winx again being walked.

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Winx in the walking ring

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Winx with devoted strapper Umut Odemislioglu

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Chris Waller at a press conference in the stalls area

Winx stablemates Egg Tart and D’Argento were also being walked.

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Egg Tart in the walking ring

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D’Argento in the walking ring

Also strutting her stuff was Sunlight who is contesting the Manikato Stakes on Friday night.

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Sunlight prior to her jump out

I did not partake of the free breakfast, nor did I purchase any merchandise.

The Merch stall was doing a roaring trade, and there was a wide variety of Winx related items available, such as caps, stubby holders, t-shirts, key rings and cuff links etc.

The Barrier Draws for both the Manikato Stakes and Cox Plate were both drawn this morning, though I didn’t hang around for them, heading home (via bus & train) after being at Moonee Valley for over two hours.

It was well worth getting up early for the event; something different to do and a mini adventure of sorts. And I discovered yet another way to get to Moonee Valley - by train, though the station is a fair (walkable) distance from the Moonee Valley racetrack.

There are only four more sleeps till the Cox Plate – still my heart – I can hardly wait.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Simply the Best – Caulfield Cup Review

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Best Solution wins the 2018 Caulfield Cup

The Caulfield Cup has gone the same way as the Melbourne Cup, with the bulk of the field made up of International horses, and very few locals even getting a run.

Such was the case last Saturday where the field of 18 starters was comprised of six Internationals having their first start in Australia,  seven acclimatised Imported stayers and five Australian & New Zealand bred contenders.

Last year local breds took out the quinella (first & second) and only one International ran a place.

Not so this year, as Internationals Best Solution and Thecliffsofmoher filled first and third places, with the imported Homesman splitting them. The local hopes ended way back, Youngstar finishing the best in 7th place.

As there were no must see rare white fillies racing last week, so I took my time getting to Caulfield, arriving in plenty of time for the fourth race, the Alinghi Stakes, a sprint for fillies and mares over 1100 metres.

From Within took the lead shortly after the start and held on, despite being challenged by Working From Home, to beat her by over a length, with Soothing running third close behind.

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Just past the post in the Alinghi Stakes

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From Within returns to scale

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Working From Home returns to scale

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Soothing returns to scale

The weather on Saturday was in stark contrast to the Guineas meeting, Melbourne waking to heavy rain, which cleared around midday.  The Caulfield track was rated a Soft 6 and the rail was out 6 metres. It rained on and off throughout the afternoon, sending the party crowds scuttling for cover. I’m glad I had dressed for the weather, unlike many young things who must have been cold in their flimsy finery.

Oaks bound fillies contested Race 5, the Group 3 Ethereal Stakes, which is run over 2000 metres, and hot favourite Verry Elleegant didn’t disappoint her fans, winning by half a length from Aristia with Sizzleme running third. Verry Elleegant is now warm favourite for the Crown Oaks.

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Verry Elleegant & Aristia shortly after the finish line

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Verry Elleegant on her way to the barriers

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Aristia on her way to the barriers

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Sizzleme on her way to the barriers

The colts and geldings version of the Ethereal Stakes, the Group 3 Caulfield Classic was won impressively by the Gai Waterhouse trained Thinkin’ Big, leading from start to finish to defeat Chapada by three lengths with Sikorsky a further two and half lengths behind in third place.

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Thinkin’ Big burns around the corner from the finishing post still lengths ahead of the rest of the field

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Thinkin’ Big returns to scale

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Chapada on his way to the barriers

A rare dead heat was the result of Race 7, the Group 3  Coongy Cup, when Mask of Time and Best of Days fought out a thriller down the straight to the finish and hit the line together.  Life Less Ordinary finished third a length and a half behind.

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Mask of Time & Best of Days with Life Less Ordinary just past the finish line

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Mask of Time heading to the mounting yard

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Best of Days on his way to the barriers

The weather had deteriorated and it started to rain again after Race 7, and looked as if it would set in for the Caulfield Cup which was the next race on the program. Luckily it cleared, so I was able to grab my favourite spot well before the race was run and managed to get photos of the runners as they headed from the pre-parade ring to the mounting yard.

Here are some of the main contenders…

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Ace High

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Best Solution

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Kings Will Dream

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The usual pomp and ceremony preceded the race with the National Athem being sung by some young person I didn’t recognise, followed by a parade of colours down the straight to the mounting yard.

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Colours parade followed by jockey introduction

Rugby star Billy Slater got to deliver the Cup…

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…and then the horses were filing onto the track and heading for the starting gates half way up the straight.

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Just after the start to the first corner

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Round the corner

Again it was a hard fought race, this time between Best Solution and Homesman down the straight, with Best Solution prevailing by a whisker, with Thecliffsofmoher finishing almost two lengths behind the leading pair.

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Just after the finishing post

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Best Solution returns to scale

Thankfully it had not been a long day at the track, but it had grown chilly by the time the Caulfield Cup had run, so I headed for home, and didn’t stay for the final two races.

I’m keenly antipating, yet also dreading, attending the Cox Plate next Saturday.  It’s a sell out again, so Moonee Valley will be jam packed with Winx fans. I intend to get there early in order to snaffle a spot on the fence, as good if not better than we, my friend Rebecca and I,  managed to secure last year. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Sun in Splendour – Caulfield Guineas Day Review

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The Autumn Sun - winner of the 2018 Caulfield Guineas

Melbourne weather put on a spectacular warm and sunny day for the races on Saturday, and two races were won by horses with names reflecting the star that rules our galaxy.

Sunlight won the prize in race 3 and The Autumn Sun was the outstanding winner of the feature event, the Caulfield Guineas.

As mentioned in my previous post, it was a long day, but flashed by quite fast with plenty of racing action to stave off boredom.

I arrived at Caulfield in plenty of time for Race 1 the Debutant Stakes, where the star attraction Utzon, the pure white filly, was having her first start.

A fair crowd of interested spectators was outside her stall when I got there, but it was easy to get photos of the exceptionally pretty young thing.

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Utzon in her stall being saddled up for the first race

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Utzon in the pre-parade ring

Though she did not look likely to win, it didn’t help that she was stopped in her tracks when another horse careered across her path halfway down the straight, so she ended up finishing ninth.

The race was won by Champagne Boom from Biscara and Wedgetail.

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Champagne Boom wins the Debutant Stakes

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Utzon in action just past the the winning post

Utzon certainly stands out from the crowd with her pure white colouring and turned pink when she was hosed down after the race.  It must cost her connections  a fortune in sun screen as well as shampoo to keep her looking sparkling.

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Utzon being hosed down

Fast forwarding to race 3,  the Group 3 Thoroughbred Club Stakes, it was pleasing to see speedy filly Sunlight win again, after leading from the start to the finish, despite drawing a wide gate.  She’s one tough filly having now won seven of her ten starts.  She won the Thoroughbred Club Stakes by over a length from Humma Humma, with Meryl a further length away in third place.

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Sunlight returns to scale

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Humma Humma returns to scale

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Meryl returns to scale

The first of the Group 1 races, the Thousand Guineas was scheduled as race 6, so there were two races to watch before it ran. In race 4, the Cape Grim Beef Steaks, Queensland based filly Winter Bride registered her second win on the trot down south. scoring narrowly from Booker and Our Crown Mistress.

And in race 5, the Group 2 Schillachi Stakes, Ball of Muscle led from start to finish to win by ¾ length from Spirit of Valour with Missrock running third.

Smart Melody was the hot favourite for the Thousand Guineas, and though she raced on the speed for most of the race, she faded to finish 7th.  There was some doubt about her ability to run a solid 1600 metres, which was obviously the excuse for her failure.  Amphitrite, the eventual winner, on the other hand, came from last to first down the outside to win narrowly from 100/1 shot Fundamentalist with Seabrook a further length away running third.

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Thousand Guineas just past the post – Amphitrite is the widest runner

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Amphitrite on her way to the barriers

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Fundamentalist on her way to the barriers

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Seabrook (all four feet off the ground) on her way to the barriers

Over all, I’m really pleased with the photos I snapped last Saturday, especially those I took of horses heading for the barriers. My vantage point was the small section above the pre-parade ring , which I basically had to myself. It was however disadvantageous for getting photos of the finish, being a bit too far away from the action.

The second Group 1 to jump was the Toorak Handicap which was won by Land of Plenty, another who swooped from the back of the field to win by over a length from old trooper Hartnell and Siege of Quebec.

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Just past the post in the Toorak Handicap

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Land of Plenty on his way to the barriers

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Hartnell returns to scale

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Siege of Quebec on his way to the barriers

International invader Benbatl demonstrated that he could be the horse to test Winx’s mettle in the Cox Plate, his win in the Ladbroke Stakes causing a flutter in the hearts of Winx fans everywhere. Will he be the one that spoils her attempt at a fourth win in the famous race?  I fervently hope not.

The Chris Waller trained D’Argento and Unforgotten shared favouritism for the Ladbroke Stakes, but both finished unplaced, the firmish track being blamed for their uncharacteristic performance. Benbatl raced on the speed along with Homesman and fellow International Blair House, and fought the latter to the line to win by a whisker. Humidor came from the back of the field to score third place.

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Just past the post in the Ladbroke Stakes

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Benbatl on his way to the barriers

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Blair House in the pre-parade ring

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Humidor on his way to the barriers

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D’Argento on his way to the barriers – a handsome grey!

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Unforgotten on her way to the barriers

Having been at Caulfield since the first race, it was relief when the Caulfield Guineas was finally set to run. The afternoon had not been wasted as my friend Rebecca and I did manage to catch up with Chris Waller and get our Winx racebooks signed – it adds to their value should I wish to sell them (god forbid!)

Anyway, The Autumn Sun, another of Chris Waller’s stable stamped himself as a potential champion of the turf with his stunning win in the Caulfield Guineas. He raced three wide for most of the race, then overtook the leaders at the top of the straight to win by 4½ lengths from 100/1 outsider Vassilator with the filly Oohood running third.

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Just past the post – James McDonald celebrates The Autumn Sun’s victory

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The Autumn Sun still in full flight around the corner

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Left to right – Oohood, Good ‘n’ Fast & Vassilator

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The Autumn Sun returns to scale

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Vassilator on his way to the barriers

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Oohood on her way to the barriers

I did not stay for the final race on the program, the Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes, which was won by Yucatan from Brimham Rocks and Prince of Arran – all imports.

We did take time out to watch The Everest, run at 3.15pm, that resulted in Redzel winning it for a second time. Trapeze Artist and Osborne Bulls ran second and third.

Next Saturday is the first of the big Cups, the Caulfield Cup, which I’ll be attending of course, then it’s only a week to the Cox Plate.