Tuesday, December 31, 2019

So Long to the 2010s

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Bingo early December

I really can’t complain about the 2010s as I have been retired from work for  9/10ths of the decade, but globally the world is a different place to what it was in 2009.

Actually, in my humble opinion, the world changed for good on 11 September 2001 with the fall of the two towers and has been going downhill ever since.

Anyway, to see out the old year here are some of my highlights for this year.


Though as usual I reread several old favourites, a number of new titles impressed me this year, notably two books by previously unknown authors – Diane Setterfield and Sarah Tolmie.

An engaging ghost story set on the river Thames, Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield gripped me from the beginning. It’s a sort of old fashioned tale that you comfortably settle into and follow delightedly to its satisfying conclusion.

ImageHandlerThe Little Animals by Canadian writer, Sarah Tolmie, is the book I loved the most this year; an unremarked gem of a novel about Dutch scientist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, known as the Father of Microbiology. He was a contemporary of the famous artist Johannes Vermeer who is also a character in the book. Another main character, who haunts the book and lends an otherworldly vibe to it, is the goose girl, transported from a Grimm fairy story to 17th century Delft to become a strange collaborator in van Leeuwenhoek’s scientific investigations into animacules (Little Animals). 

If like me you are weary of books banging on about modern social issues, The Little Animals is a welcome escape from these troubled times and a pleasure to read.

I also enjoyed new books by favourite authors – The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman and two new books by the wonderful American writer John Crowley, And Go Like This, a book of short stories, and Reading Backwards an illuminating, exquisitely written collection of essays and reviews covering an astonishingly wide range of topics.

Alas John Crowley’s 25th Anniversary edition of Little, Big was not published this year – no surprise really. Hopefully I get to finally hold it in my hands next year after a 15 year wait.

Next year I’m pleasantly anticipating Agency by William Gibson in January,  The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel in March, a new David Mitchell novel, Utopia Avenue, in June and after a 16 year hiatus Susanna Clarke (author of the magical Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel) has a new novel titled Piranisi coming in September.

We’re not doing anything special this New Year’s Eve and will be asleep by midnight, possibly awakened by fireworks, but more likely the cat Bingo.

He’s now three years old and just as mischievous as ever, not to mention noisily vocal. But he is a beautiful looking animal and a dear little fellow most of the time.

Let’s hope summer is not too trying. A few 40C+ degree days is normal in Melbourne, and luckily the few we’ve had so far  have only lasted 24 hours with a cool change following in a timely manner and lingering for days.

The hot weather has affected the horse racing industry. Several recent race meetings have been abandoned due to the heat, which is to be commended. Hopefully when the Group 1 racing resumes in early February the weather will be kind, though that’s unlikely. We wait and see.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the new racing season as I enjoy my Saturday afternoon outings to the track. It’s also pleasurable to speculate on the emergence of new stars of the turf in the Magic Millions two year old competitions in early January at the Gold Coast.

Whilst awaiting the new racing season I’ve been playing computer games, the current one on the go being Blade Runner, a 1997 game recently rejigged for modern computers by GOG.

Despite it’s 80s retro visuals, I recently  enjoyed a very well made game called Detective Di: The Silk Rose Murders.  The game is based on a real life ancient Chinese judge and investigator Di Renjie, who was also the hero of a series of novels by Robert van Gulick, quite few of which I have in my personal library.

As support for Windows 7 expires mid January, I’ll be obliged to either update my current computer to the dreaded Windows 10 or purchase a new one.  Despite this Windows 7 computer still going smoothly, I’m favouring getting a new computer for Windows 10 for several reasons. Firstly the SSD C: drive on this computer is running out of space, and secondly it being close to  five years old, the bios is pretty ancient and is probably not up to date or updateable.

I intend to buy another desktop with all the bells and whistles, ie a good graphics card, a fast CPU with lots of RAM. Hopefully my favourite old software will still work on a new machine and in Windows 10.

Windows 7 in my opinion has been the best version of Windows I’ve ever used. It’s stable, fast and problem free in the main and runs all my old beloved software programs.

This is turning into a marathon post, so I’ll end here, wishing my readers, whoever you are, a Happy 2020 and a more enlightened world.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Pictures & Pages–Elise Hurst Signing in Coburg

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Pictures & Pages Bookshop in Sydney Road Coburg

I would not normally venture out to the north western suburb of Coburg - in fact I can’t remember the last time I was there - but the special occasion of local artist  Elise Hurst signing copies of her recent collaboration with famed writer Neil Gaiman, an illustrated edition of his novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, drew me thence.

Illustrated edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

It was actually quite easy to get to Coburg from Ivanhoe via public transport, the convenient 510 (Ivanhoe to Essendon) Bus allowed me to alight at the corner of  Sydney Road and Moreland Road and take a short tram trip north that got me to the venue, a specialist Children’s Bookshop called Pictures & Pages, in a little over 30 minutes.

Elise Hurst is a remarkably talented Melbourne artist whom I first discovered in December 2017 when a friend gifted me with her 2018 Calendar for Christmas.  I’ve been a great fan since and have met Elise several times at the Brunswick Sisters Market and purchased her cards, books and prints.

As well as being dazzingly talented, Elise Hurst is a lovely person, sweet, unaffected, friendly and easy to talk to.

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Elise Hurst signing books at Pictures & Pages

Naturally I bought a copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and got Elise to sign it. She also had prints of illustrations from the book for sale, but I resisted the temptation to buy the perfectly composed skulking  Fox  print. I may yet cave in and buy a copy before they sell out.

The Fox – an illustration from The Ocean at the End of the Lane

As I haven’t previously read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I’m looking forward to reading this beautiful edition, a handsome hard covered book that is highly collectable if you’re a bibliophile who appreciates beautiful books.

It was an interesting excursion to Coburg,  a mini adventure of sorts for a Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Wave of a Magic Wand and the Carnival is Over

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Magic Wand wins the Mackinnon Stakes

The final day of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival at Flemington on Saturday was held once again under cloudy skies, though thankfully the rain held off most of the afternoon. There hasn’t been such a consistently wet and wintry spring racing season for ages, a least not since I’ve been a regular attendant. A few sunny days wouldn’t have gone astray.

So it was an unusual carnival and the Winx factor was sadly missing with only Nature Strip winning more than one of the 28 Group 1 races, and Melody Belle who won four Group 1 races in New Zealand prior to winning the Group 1 Empire Rose Stakes on Derby Day.

Unfortunately Melody Belle was denied a second Australian Group 1 win in the Mackinnon Stakes, having drawn the widest barrier, racing at the tail of the field and being unable to quite catch Magic Wand at the finish.  We can look forward to seeing her back in action in the Autumn in Melbourne.

For grand old warhorse Hartnell, now at the ripe old age of nine, the Mackinnon Stakes was his swansong. Many hoped that he would end his illustrious career with a win, but he had to settle for third place behind the girls.

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Hartnell Farewelll on the big screen

He was suitably farewelled by having his career played out on the big screen and Godolphin were giving away caps embroidered with his name as a memento of the popular galloper.

I first saw Hartell in the flesh on Turnbull Stakes day 2015 where he finished unplaced. He also started in Winx’s first Cox Plate in 2015 and ran 5th. That was the first time he raced against the mighty Winx and in seven races all up, he ran second to her in three.

Instantly recognisable, he is a beautiful looking beast with a handsome head. I’ll miss seeing his familiar presence in the future. He will be lovingly cared for in retirement. Bart Cummings old foreman Reg Fleming will be his caretaker and Hartnell will possibly have a new career as a show horse.

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Hartnell in his stall last Saturday

Back to the races, I arrived at Flemington around 1.30 pm and met up with my friend Rebecca in the stalls area. She had called me in a panic when I was on the Flemington train. She had forgotten to put a memory card in her camera.  By chance I had a spare on my person, so that problem was solved when I arrived.

Many of the Group 1 contenders were present in their stalls, so I got some nice photos whilst I was there.

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Melody Belle chewing her lead

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Rondinella in the stall next to Melody Belle

Melody Belle poked her head over the partition into Rondinella’s stall to check her out. Whoa! That was a mistake as Rondinella recoiled from the contact with a squeal, thereby startling Melody Belle who recoiled as well. It was an amusing encounter for us bystanders.

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Nature Strip in his stall also munching on his lead

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Santa Ana Lane – hot favourite for the Sprint Classic

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Girl Tuesday – the daughter of former star mare Tuesday Joy from Street Cry

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2019 Manikato Stakes winner Loving Gaby

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Former New Zealand mare Danzdanzdance now with Chris Waller

Chris Waller had a large contingent of horses running on Saturday and for once he was present at Flemington. Rebecca and I waylaid him later in the afternoon and got him to sign our Winx racebooks from last year’s Cox Plate (in Rebecca’s case) and her last three races (in my case).

Chris Waller trained horses won both the Sydney “pop up” races, The Everest and The Golden Eagle with Yes, Yes, Yes and Kolding respectively, so he’d remained in Sydney for most of the Melbourne Spring Carnival.

Back trackside we were in time to catch Race 4, the Group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a race over 2600 metres, a sort of consolation race for horses who missed out on running in the Melbourne Cup.

Irish mare True Self, who ran second in the Geelong Cup, was the warm favourite and delivered the bickies winning by 1.5 lengths from Carif, with long shot Maurus running third.

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True Self winning the Queen Elizabeth Stakes

The win of the afternoon has to go to Nature Strip in the Group 1 Darley Sprint Classic, run down the long Flemington straight over 1200 metres.

As is typical of sprints down the straight, it is difficult at the best of times to get good photos of the finish, with the official photographers congregating in front of our favourite spot. During the Spring carnival, you also have to put up with security guys placing themselves at regular intervals along the fence. 

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Official photographers and security guards hinder my POV as Nature Strip zooms into shot

This time the runners all ran along the outside rail with Nature Strip leading the pack from the start.  He increased his lead 400 metres from the finishing post to win by over three lengths from Loving Gaby and In Her Time.  Santa Ana Lane didn’t fire and finished 5th.

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Nature Strip wins the Darley Classic Sprint

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Nature Strip returns to scale in the mounting yard an ecstatic James McDonald salutes the crowd

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Nature Strip in the winners rug

Nature Strip certainly killed any doubts that he couldn’t win over 1200 metres, Chris Waller’s training efforts, to get him to relax and not overexert himself early, paying off big time.

Race 6 was the Group 3 Matriarch Stakes, a race for mares over 2000 metres. Girl Tuesday was the tote favourite, but she ended up unplaced. Oceanex won at big odds from Miss Siska and Aristocratic Miss.

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Matriarch Stakes finish – Oceanex is outside Miss Siska and Greysful Glamour

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Oceanex on her way to the barriers

Only one race remained to be run before the feature Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes and that was the Group 3 Chatham Stakes, run over 1400 metres.  Admiral’s Joker was the starting favourite but he was denied victory by 11/1 shot Reykjavic.  Noble Boy ran third.

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Reykjavic (outside) and Noble Boy cross the finish line

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Reykjavic on his way to the barriers

As previously mentioned the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes was won by tough Irish mare Magic Wand. She certainly had a full program during her sojourn in Melbourne, running in the Cox Plate where she ran fourth and also competing in the Melbourne Cup and running tenth. 

I was disappointed that Melody Belle was defeated, but she certainly wasn’t disgraced, running a great race from last to second place.

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Magic Wand on her way to the barriers

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Melody Belle returns to scale

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Hartnell returns to scale after running his last race

And so ended the 2019 Spring Racing Carnival.

It was mostly memorable due to the awful weather and extremely negative press, but I enjoyed the racing action and remained interested all through the season despite no potential super stars making an impression. Horses of the calibre of Winx and Black Caviar are few and far between, but you never know when a new star may arise to capture our attention again.

Anyway, I look forward to returning to the track in late January and the Autumn carnival and seeing my photographer friends Rebecca and George, and our new acquaintance – Jiei, a young Japanese guy, in Australia to learn English, who is also a keen racing fan and amateur photographer.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Melbourne Cup 2019

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Surprise Baby at Moonee Valley September 2019

The annual 24 piece puzzle has come around again and racing fans are pondering the odds of tipping the 2019 Melbourne Cup winner.

The form “experts” are tipping the current favourite Constantinople, last year’s winner Cross CounterCaulfield Cup winner Mer de Glace,  the Chris Waller trained Finche and various other International contenders.

Local hopes rest on Surprise Baby whose sire Shocking won the Melbourne Cup in 2009, and Vow and Declare who ran second in the Caulfield Cup.  The Zabeel factor, which used to be quite reliable, is largely missing these days, but the New Zealand trained The Chosen One has Zabeel as his grandsire, and is the sole runner with the Z Factor in his pedigree.

There are two mares – Youngstar and Magic Wand who are not given that much chance. The last mare to win was Makybe Diva who triumphed three times running (2003 to 2005), a feat as yet to be duplicated.

You might as well stick a pin in the form guide; it’s as good a method as anything.

My online Sporstbet account is flush with money, and as I haven’t had a bet all spring, I may wager a few dollars each way on Finche, Surprise Baby and Il Paradiso (I like his name!) with not much confidence.

Anyway, Good Luck if you’re having a flutter on the Cup.

Tuesday Afternoon Update

So much for my tips, but then again all the experts were out as well. Good to see victory for an Australian bred horse, that being Vow & Declare, who coincidently was sired by Declaration of War the Victoria Derby winner  Warning’s dad. 

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Vow & Declare – photo from Turnbull Stakes Day 2019

Irish horse Master of Reality ran second, but was relegated to fourth after a protest was upheld, so Prince of Arran was awarded second place and Il Paradiso third. Surprise Baby ran fifth.

Mud & Champagne–That Was Derby Day 2019

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Warning wins the 2019 Victoria Derby

Derby Day dawned with a downpour of rain that persisted practically the whole day. Cox Plate day was inclement, but this was the worst weather I’ve experienced at the races in all the years I’ve been going to the track.

You may say that  I was mad to attend the event, but strangely, challenging weather conditions made the experience memorable and unique.

It was raining when I left home, B obligingly driving me to the station, and was still raining when I arrived at Flemington. Race 4, the Lexus Stakes was in process of being run and was won by Downdraft who gains automatic entry into the Melbourne Cup.

As the next race was the first of the four Group 1 events of the afternoon, I decided to visit the stalls area and kill time before it ran.  I didn’t linger long and only got photos of Melody Belle and Derby favourite Shadow Hero.

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Melody Belle in her stall

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Shadow Hero in his stall

Squelching back to my accustomed spot just past the winning post I endured the downpour while waiting for the Group 1 Empire Rose Stakes to start.

The super New Zealand mare Melody Belle, who has won more Group 1 races than any other horse this year, started as favourite and relished the soggy conditions, winning the Empire Rose easily from local mare Aristia with Spanish Reef running third.

To say that photographic condition were difficult is an understatement and there is not much you can do when the rain is bucketing down.  Hence the speckled effect in most of my photos of the action.

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Melody Belle wins the Empire Rose Stakes

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Melody Belle in full flight

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Aristia with an umbrella clutching audience watching on the opposite side of the track

Melody Belle may race again next weekend at Flemington in either the MacKinnon Stakes or Matriarch Stakes, hopefully in kinder conditions.

I was quite wet, as was my camera, after the Empire Rose Stakes, so I took shelter in the crowded Saintly Stand to dry off.

By the time I got back to the fence the rain had eased and the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes was run in a light shower rather pouring rain. Another mud lark, Exceedance, won from the well fancied Golden Rose winner Bivouac.

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Exceedance wins the Coolmore Stud Stakes

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Exceedance returns to scale

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Bivouac returns to scale

The rain held off for the running of the Victoria Derby. The hot favourite was Shadow Hero who had recently won the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes, but he didn’t fancy the soft track and finished fifth, 10 lengths from the winner Warning who won by over 3 lengths from Southern Moon, with Soul Patch another length in arrears, running third.  Southern Moon, incidently, is the son of Puissance de Lune, a photogenic grey I followed in 2013/2014.

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Warning returns to scale in the rain

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Southern Moon & Soul Patch cross the finish line in the wake of Warning

The rain returned with a vengeance after the Derby, so I decided not to wait for the fourth Group 1 – Cantala Stakes – and headed for the station and home.

Champagne still flowed abundantly and the mode du jour appeared to consist of rainwear and umbrellas on top of flimsy finery.

In Sydney, on Saturday the feature race was the new fangled Golden Eagle,  a 7 million dollar race for 4 year olds that had attracted a very classy field.  Run over 1500 metres, it resulted in a win for the Chris Waller trained Kolding. Sunlight, having her first start beyond 1200 metres, almost stole the show, losing by a whisker on the line after leading throughout.

Tomorrow is the Melbourne Cup, which I might ponder in a blogpost. It’s the usual puzzle, the field mostly comprised of International runners. I won’t be attending, but will go to Stakes Day on Saturday, which hopefully will not be as wet as the last few Saturday racedays, but I’m not holding my breath for a sunshiny day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Goodness Gracieux – Cox Plate Review

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Lys Gracieux on her way to winning the 2019 Cox Plate

Compared to the past four Cox Plates, this year’s edition lacked the heightened excitement that super mare Winx attracted whenever she hit the track.

Even Daryl Braithwaite was missing; a large choir rendition of his traditional “The Horses” not being a patch on the original version.

As anticipated it was a long day, but everything went to plan as I reached Moonee Valley half an hour before the gates opened and was among the first entrants at the main gate.

After passing without any hassles through the security check, I headed directly for the public lawn and found my friend George ensconced in the prime postion closest to the finishing post.  As it was in a corner nestled up to a vacant space where various sponsor signs were stowed,  it didn’t matter if we stood on our steps (in George’s case, his ladder) as nobody complained about us spoiling their view.

Rebecca arrived shortly later and we basically stayed there all afternoon, taking turns to venture to the stalls and/or merchandise store.

A Japanese photographer (also equipped with a step) whose camera had an enormous lens, was my neighbour on the fence, but he didn’t at anytime stymie my shots. He lasted the distance through sun and rain as did we three.

The weather was predominantly inclement and changeable - one minute sunny, the next raining.

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Cox Plate countdown at around 10.50 am

The first race was scheduled for 12.10 pm, so there was a bit of a wait to start photography practice. The big screen showed replays of past Cox Plates throughout the afternoon on a loop.

Once the the first race was underway, the afternoon went quite quickly, and as our steps also came in handy for a seat, it was not that stressful.

As is traditional the Inglis Banner, for two year olds started off the racing program and was won by Ideas Man from Bella Nipotina and Arctic Ice.

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Ideas Man about to overtake Bella Nipotina in the Inglis Banner

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Ideas Man in the winner’s rug

With the changeable weather, photography was challenging, but overall I’m quite pleased with how my photos turned out.

Race 2, the Bendigo Bank Handicap, a sprint over 955 metres resulted in an easy win for Fine Dane, who beat the favourite Esperance by 1½ lengths.

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Fine Dane on his way to winning race 2

Last year Mystic Journey won the Group 2 Fillies Classic easily from Fundamentlist. In this year’s race Fascino and La Falaise deadheated for first, not something you witness every race day.

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La Falaise about to draw level with Fascino as they charge to the finish line

Rebecca and I decided to miss Race 4, and go to the stalls area, leaving George to mind our spot. We timed our arrival outside Mystic Journey’s stall perfectly. She had just been washed and was looking black and beautiful in her stall.

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Mystic Journey in her stall

A small contingent of Tasmanian fans were there, so we were roped in to appear in a Mystic Journey promo for Tasmanian TV.  We scored a very nice Mystic Journey cloth flag for our participation. Rebecca who’d purchased a Mystic Journey cap at the Merch Stall on the way through,  also had the opportunity of getting it signed by Adam Trinder.

Returning trackside, we witnessed race 5, the Group 3  Australia Stakes, which Sartorial Splendor won easily.

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Sartorial Splendor on his way to winning the Australia Stakes

After the race 5 presentation was over,  a Winx tribute was scheduled, where her connections (owners) were driven down the straight to the finishing post.

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Peter & Patty Tighe the first car down the straight

All four of Winx’s Cox Plate trophies were lined up with the connections just past the winning post. It was hard to get a clear photo as pesky cameramen hogged my POV. I didn’t hear a word of what was said.

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Winx tribute

After that, there were only three races to run before the Cox Plate, the first of these being the Moonee Valley Vase, run over the same distance as the Cox Plate. It’s normally contested by Derby bound three year olds.

Soul Patch, a son of 2013 Cox Plate winner Shamus Award was the tearaway winner.

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Soul Patch burning up the straight to the post

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Soul Patch in the winners rug

The next two races (three if you count the Cox Plate) were won by International raiders; the Moonee Valley Gold Cup being won by the stunning Irish goodlooker Hunting Horn, who beat local favourite Mr Quickie by 1¼ lengths.

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Hunting Horn on his way to winning the Moonee Valley Cup

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Hunting Horn in the winner’s rug

The Group 2 Crystal Vase was taken out by British horse Chief Ironside, who defeated last year’s winner Cliff’s Edge by a head.

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Chief Ironside (outside) about to overtake Cliff’s Edge in the Crystal Vase

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Chief Ironside on his way to the barriers

As you can see from the above photo the sun had come out for Race 8, but soon enough it clouded over and the Cox Plate seemed likely to be run in a rain storm.

That didn’t eventuate thankfully, as during the pre-race ceremony it cleared again, though it was overcast.

A stage was assembled in the middle of the track as the jockey’s were introduced and the National Anthem was sung.

The choirs (four of them) trooped onto the stage and surrounding stands, tallest to smallest.  As previously mentioned, the choirs did not have the same crowd pleasing presence as old rocker Daryl Braithwaite, and the singalong was lacklustre in comparison to last year.

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Massed choir with kids waving blue ribbons and dancing at the front.

The track was cleared and all of sudden it was only 15 minutes until the Cox Plate start.

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Cox Plate countdown at around 4.40 pm

Soon enough the Cox Plate field were out on the track heading to the barriers. Some contestants whizzed past too fast for me get a photo, but others took their time.

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Mystic Journey

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Black Heart Bart

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Local hopes rested with the Tasmanian mare Mystic Journey, but alas it was not to be her day. She raced this time up on the speed in about third place for most of the race, but was swamped, first by three year old colt Castelvecchio, who was in turn overtaken by the Japanese mare Lys Gracieux who came from the tail of the field with Te Akau Shark hot on her tail.

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Down the straight the first time – Mystic Journey is second behind Magic Wand with Black Heart Bart on her outside

It was an impressive victory by Lys Gracieux, clearly the class horse in the race and I was glad I was there to see it.  If Winx had been in the field, who would have won? My guess would be Winx.

Castelvecchio held on to finish second and Te Akau Shark ran third. Mystic Journey finished 5th, the best of the locals, just behind Magic Wand.

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Lys Gracieux poses for photos in the winner’s rug

It had been a long day and I did not regret enduring the trying weather conditions, but I did not leave the course with the same warm glow I had experienced over the past four years when Winx reigned supreme.

The crowds were down on last year, not surprisingly, so it didn’t take long to leave the course. I made it home by 6.30 pm.

Next Saturday is Derby Day at Flemington which no doubt will be different, though the weather again is forecast to be somewhat damp. I’m looking forward to seeing top New Zealand mare Melody Belle in the flesh in the Empire Rose Stakes.