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.