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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.