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.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Post Winx Era–Cox Plate 2019

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Winx heading to barriers in the 2018 Cox Plate

Last year’s Cox Plate was the most memorable race meeting I have ever attended - a great moment of Australian racing history, where the incomparable Winx won the race for a fourth time. It was moving and exciting and left me with a buzz for days.

This year will be quite different with no Winx, but as the Cox Plate, in my opinion, is the best race of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival it is sure to be interesting.

A full field of 14 runners will contest the event and include several International horses, most notably the Japanese mare Lys Gracieux who is the current favourite.  Other International raiders are Danceteria from Britain,  Magic Wand from Ireland, Kluger from Japan and Te Akau Shark from New Zealand.

Locally bred contenders include Tasmanian mare Mystic Journey, Verry Elleegant, Black Heart Bart and three year old colt Castelvecchio.

Seasoned imports Avilius, Cape of Good Hope, Harlem, Homesman and Kings Will Dream round out the field.

Personally I hope that Mystic Journey will win, but I’m wary of the Japanese mare and the Internationals. Mystic Journey has the advantage of winning at Moonee Valley previously;  on Cox Plate day last year where she won the Group 3 Moonee Valley Fillies Classic easily over 1600 metres.

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Mystic Journey on her way to winning the 2018 Fillies Classic

Moonee Valley will not be as crowded this year as it was in the past three years, where Winx attracted sell out attendances. Tickets for this year’s edition are no way sold out and even Grandstand seating is still available.

The weather is forecast to be coldish with possible rain, even hail, which will also discourage the crowds and make it easier to find a good position on the fence, if it’s anything like 2016 – cold and wet.

Of course that will result in photographic conditions that will be less than perfect.

Even though it will make for a long day – the Cox Plate is scheduled to run at 4.55 pm - I hope to arrive early this year, maybe before the gates open at 10.30 am, to grab a good spot on the fence to spend the day. It depends on how early I can get myself ready and what the weather looks like in the morning.  If it’s going to be like 2016, I can be relaxed about getting to Moonee Valley.

My photography friends Rebecca and George will be aiming for the same thing, so we can at least wander around without losing our spot if one of us minds the territorial claim.

That’s my idea anyway, even if it doesn’t come out quite as planned.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Chillin’ at the Caulfield Cup

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Mer De Glace hits the lead in the Caulfield Cup

To say Melbourne’s Spring  is capricious is an understatement with the weather last Saturday being quite unpleasant, an overcast sky, a sharp cold wind and occasional torrents of rain spoiling the carnival atmosphere at Caulfield.

Yes, it was Caulfield Cup day, one of the time honoured races in Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival.

The weather was tough, but so was assessing the Caulfield Cup field to find a likely winner, with half the acceptors being International raiders having their first start on Australian turf in the race. It was victory for Japan when the appropriately named (considering the weather) Mer De Glace won the prize from locally bred Vow and Declare and the British trained Mirage Dancer.

As the Caulfield Cup was scheduled to run late afternoon  at 5.15pm, I took my time getting to the track, arriving around 2.00pm.

The other big race of the day was The Everest at Randwick, and I must admit it was more interesting to contemplate than the Caulfield Cup, with the bulk of the field being familiar to Australian racing fans. Sydney has stolen the limelight from Melbourne’s Spring Carnival, diluting fields that would in the past have top Sydney performers as part of the action.

No wonder this year’s Spring Carnival is somewhat underwhelming so far.

Anyway back at Caulfield, the first race I witnessed was race 5, the Alinghi Stakes for fillies and mares run over 1100 metres. Despite the crowd, I managed to find a spot on the fence easily to photograph the race. Whilst waiting for it to begin, the bloke standing next to me showed me a video on his phone of his foal gambolling in a paddock – very cute. 

Vinicunca was the favourite for the Alinghi Stakes, but failed to run a place, Humma Humma won by a length from Demerara and Prophet’s Thumb.

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Humma Humma furthest wide in a line of mares, about to overtake them

The Group 3 Ethereal Stakes was the next to jump. A race for three year old Oaks bound fillies it is run over 2000 metres.  A  close relative of the mighty mare Winx , named Vegas Jewel was the starting favourite, but she was narrowly beaten by Gamay, with race leader Celestial Falls running third a length behind.

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Vegas Jewel tries to catch Gamay (dark blue silks) as they thunder to the finish

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Gamay on her way to the barriers

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Vegas Jewel on her way to the barriers

Miss Leonidas started as the warm favourite for Race7, the Caulfield Sprint (1000 metres) and didn’t let her supporters down, leading from the start to the finish to win by a half length from God of Thunder and Malibu Style.

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Miss Leonidas (pink silks) holds off a challenge from God of Thunder with Malibu Style trailing

There was an extended break between races after the Caulfield Sprint to allow for the running of The Everest in  Sydney, scheduled for 4.15pm.

We hung onto our spots on the fence and watched The Everest on the big screen. Three year old, Chris Waller trained Yes Yes Yes won the riches ($6,050, 000) from favourite Santa Ana Lane and Melbourne Racing Club candidate, Trekking.

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Yes Yes Yes photographed at Rosehill on Golden Slipper Day – 23 March  2019

There was a short wait after The Everest before Race 8, the Group 3 Moonga Stakes (1400 metres) was set to run. Irish horse Royal Meeting, unbeaten in his only two starts, was highly fancied to win. However, locally bred Streets of Avalon proved the victor, beating Variation by a length with Royal Meeting running third a little behind.

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Streets of Avalon hits the front tailed by Variation and Royal Meeting

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Royal Meeting on his way to the barriers

Dark clouds were threatening rain as the Caulfield Cup pomp and circumstance pre-race ceremony was underway. Girls marched down the straight carrying flags bearing the silk colours and names of the Caulfield Cup starters.

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The Cup itself was carried behind by Neale Daniher and his daughter

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Neale Daniher & daughter Bec

It started to rain as the Caulfield Cup contestants were making their way to the starting gates and persisted throughout the race. It was very chilly too and I saw more than one flimsily dressed young racegoer wearing a puffer jacket over her outfit.

Understandably it made photography challenging.

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Mer De Glace burns up the straight in the rain

I did not stay for the last race and made it home before 6.30pm, connecting trains coinciding nicely.

Next Saturday is my favourite race, the Cox Plate. It’s the first Cox Plate in four years without Winx, so it should make an interesting change. The field was finalised this morning and looks very classy on first glance. I might write a preview, time and inclination permitting.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Super Guineas Day

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Super Seth parades in the mounting yard after winning the Caulfield Guineas

A mild partly sunny day made it a pleasure to head to the track for Caulfield Guineas Day,  featuring four Group 1 races, each of which was closely contested.

I arrived shortly before the running of Race 3, the Group 3 Thoroughbred Club Stakes, a race for three year old fillies over 1200 metres.

As I was in the stalls area when the race was about to start, I watched from the hill and snapped the finish, where California Zimbol beat hot favourite Loving Gaby by over two lengths with Don’ttelltheboss a further two lengths behind running third.

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California Zimbol still ahead of Loving Gaby past the finishing post

For the rest of the afternoon I joined my friend Rebecca on the front lawn, preferring these days to photograph the action down the straight.

Manicure was the starting favourite for Race 4, the Group 3 Bass Straight Beef Steaks (nice pun); a race for mares over 1200 metres.

Tofane, unfancied in the betting,  stormed from the tail of the field to beat Manicure by a length, with Sweet Scandal running third.

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Tofane (yellow cap) overtakes Manicure in the straight

A number of International runners, here for the Melbourne Cup, were part of the field for the Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes, including Prince of Arran who ran third in last year’s Melbourne Cup and also third in the 2018 Herbert Power.

Race favourite was the Irish bred import Steel Prince. who was dramatically scratched at the barriers, after kicking out in the gates and hurting a hind leg.

I was delighted to see New Zealand bred, Murray Baker trained, The Chosen One win the race from Prince of Arran with fellow New Zealander Sully running third. The Chosen One with his win gained ballot free entry into the Caulfield Cup.

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The Chosen One (pink cap) & Prince of Arran head to head down the straight

The first of the Group 1 races was the Thousand Guineas for fillies and run over 1600 metres.  Flit was the favourite and won by a very short margin from Missile Mantra and Southbank .

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Southbank leads with Flit just behind and Missile Mantra on her outside

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Thousand Guineas finish line shot

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Flit parades in the mounting in the winner’s rug

The beautiful Avilius was the warm favourite for Race 6, the Group 1 Ladbroke’s Stakes, but racing at the tail of the field he was left wanting at the finish, and ended fourth. Old Black Heart Bart looked to steal the race as they approached the finish line, but the unfancied Cape of Good Hope stole the prize by a nose at the post in a photo finish. Harlem ran third.

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Black Heart Bart is about to overtake Gailo Chop, with Cape of Good Hope on the outside

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Cape of Good Hope on his way to the starting gates

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Black Heart Bart on his way to the barriers

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Harlem on his way to the barriers

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Avilius on his way to the barriers

The feature Caulfield Guineas was up next and again resulted in a photo finish. Alligator Blood stole a march on the rest of the field from the top of the straight and looked the winner up until the last second, when Super Seth bounded from the tail to overtake him and win by a nose.  Groundswell finished third over two lengths in arrears.

The burst mode on my camera showed over ten frames with just Alligator Blood in the picture, until the last few frames.

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Alligator Blood burns up the straight

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Super Seth looms to tackle Alligator Blood close to the finish line

As the afternoon was getting late, I didn’t stay for the final Group 1 race, the Toorak Handicap which was won by 18/1 shot Fierce Impact from Night’s Watch and Age of Chivalry.

I also missed the Schillaci Stakes, the final qualifier for a place in The Everest. Trekking won the honours.

Next Saturday is the Caulfield Cup in Melbourne and The Everest will be the feature race at Randwick, to be run one hour before the Caulfield Cup.