Thursday, February 27, 2020

Alligator Blood vs Catalyst - Round Two

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Alligator Blood & Catalyst – CS Hayes Stakes finish

It goes without saying that I am keenly looking forward to the Australian Guineas at Flemington next Saturday, where a rematch between Alligator Blood and Catalyst  in the feature race will be the must see event of the afternoon.

As well as the aforementioned rivals, Orr Stakes winner Alabama Express is an exciting addition in the field along with the mystery West Australian Superstorm. Let’s hope Alligator Blood and Catalyst have recovered from their fierce competition in the CS Hayes Stakes and provide another exciting contest. The Australian Guineas is run over 1600 metres, 200 metres longer the CS Hayes, and  that could make all the difference to the outcome of the race.

Last year, Tasmanian filly Mystic Journey thrashed the boys in the 2019 Australian Guineas, but this year’s crop of three year old colts and geldings are cut above those that ran in that race.

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Mystic Journey winning the 2019 Australian Guineas

Speaking of classy fillies, the Group 1 Surround Stakes at Randwick on Saturday has a really excellent field that includes Flit (2019 Thousand Guineas winner), Lyre (2019 Blue Diamond Stakes winner), Kiamichi (2019 Golden Slipper winner), Funstar (2019 Flight Stakes winner) , and highly regarded New Zealand filly Probabeel.

The other Group 1 race at Randwick on Saturday is the Chipping Norton Stakes. From 2016 to 2019 it was won by the mighty Winx, so this year another horse will have a chance to add it to their CV.

In contention are the usual suspects such as Happy Clapper, Avilius, Homesman, Dreamforce and Fierce Impact. The inclusion in the field of talented New Zealander Te Akau Shark, who ran third in the 2019 Cox Plate, makes it interesting.

Due to the Flemington train timetable, I’ll probably get to Flemington early in the afternoon, probably by race 3. Another mild and sunny afternoon is forecast – perfect for photography.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Blue Diamond Stakes Day Review

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Tagaloa holds off Hanseatic to win the Blue Diamond Stakes

There has been much commentary since Saturday regarding the track bias at Caulfield on Blue Diamond Stakes Day, which favoured on pace runners. And indeed watching the racing action, the winners of the four races I witnessed either led from the start or were close to the leader during the race. It was a disastrous day for favourites.

I took my time getting to Caulfield arriving just before race 4, the Group 3 Mannerism Stakes for mares over 1400 metres. Pretty grey mare Greysful Glamour led from the start and was never headed, winning by over a length from Bam’s On Fire and favourite Spanish Reef.

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Greysful Glamour burns down the straight with Bam’s On Fire in hot pursuit

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Greysful Glamour on her way to the barriers

La Tene in the Angus Armanesco Stakes (race 5) raced mid field on the fence, then broke through to overtake the leaders to win by a nose from Lady Lupino.

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La Tene & Lady Lupino fight out the finish

Race 6 was the first of the Group 1 events, the Futurity Stakes where it was expected that Kolding, Super Seth and Melody Belle would feature prominently.  The unfancied Streets of Avalon who hadn’t won for yonks,  took the lead shortly after the start and held off a challenge from Super Seth to win his first Group 1 race, and a chance to run in the All Star Mile. Kolding was a major disappointment, apparently not handling the Melbourne way of going, and finished fifth. Melody Belle ran a meritorious third.

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Streets of Avalon holds off Super Seth to win the Futurity Stakes

Hanseatic was the warm favourite for the Blue Diamond Stakes and was aiming to become the first horse to win the Blue Diamond Preview/Prelude and Blue Diamond Stakes since Sepoy in 2011. As was the pattern of the day he did not succeed, beaten narrowly by the 26/1 shot Tagaloa, though he tried hard to overtake him. Personal stormed from the back of the field to run third.

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Tagaloa parades in the mounting yard after winning the Blue Diamond Stakes

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Hanseatic playing up as he heads for the barriers

I did not stay for the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate.  Speedy mare Pippie led all the way to win from Zoutori and Crystal Dreamer. The trifecta paid almost $6,500.

There are only three more Saturdays of Group racing in Melbourne and next week features the Group 1 Australian Guineas at Flemington. Mystic Journey won it last year, but this year promises to be super special with Alligator Blood and Catalyst set to resume their rivalry. They will be challenged by Orr Stakes winner Alabama Express and the highly regarded West Australian Superstorm, among others.

The weather is expected to be similar to last Saturday, mild and sunny.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Blue Diamond Stakes Day 2020

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Hanseatic – favourite for the 2020 Blue Diamond Stakes

The jewel in the crown of Caulfield’s autumn race program, Blue Diamond Stakes Day is always worth attending. Not only do you get to watch the babies vying for riches in the Blue Diamond Stakes, but there are two other tasty Group 1 events on the card.

This year’s Autumn racing season has so far been constantly interesting with a bunch of new and exciting horses hitting the track, as witnessed last week at Flemington. This coming Saturday there will be more of the same with a great field of acceptors in each of the feature events.

A full field of 16 runners has accepted for the Blue Diamond Stakes, comprising 7 colts and 9 fillies. Having watched the Blue Diamond Previews and Preludes I have some grasp of who are likely to be in the finish.

Of the colts, Hanseatic stands out, being the unbeaten winner of both the Colts Blue Diamond Preview and Prelude.  Can he emulate Sepoy and win the Blue Diamond Stakes as well? 

He faces stiff competition from fellow colt Rulership who he just beat in the Blue Diamond Prelude, but several very smart fillies could spoil his party, such as Magic Millions Classic winner Away GameA Beautiful Night,winner of the fillies BD Preview, Letzbeglam who was impressive winning the fillies BD Prelude at her last start.  Muntaseera and Arayaaf who respectively ran second in the BD Prelude and Chairman’s Stakes could also be in the finish.

The first of the Group 1 races on the program is the Futurity Stakes (1400 metres) which has a great field that includes Epsom and Golden Eagle winner Kolding, star New Zealand mare Melody Belle and Caulfield Guineas winner Super Seth along with the tried and true Black Heart Bart and Cape of Good Hope.

A huge field of 18 runners will be contesting the Oakleigh Plate, a sprint over 1100 metres. I don’t think I’ll be staying at the track for it, but top chances are Bivouac, Faatinah and the three year old Anaheed and Free of Debt.

The weather tomorrow is forecast to be cool and sunny as a change from last week.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Al and The Cat and Black Caviar

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Alligator Blood wins the CS Hayes Stakes from Catalyst

It was a shame about the weather, which was truly atrocious, but the racing action was superlative last Saturday at Flemington.

A drizzly fine rain was leaking from the sky as I set out for Flemington from Ivanhoe, and was pretty much the same out west at the big track for most of the afternoon.

Upon arrival I headed directly for the Western Lawn to my usual photography spot just past the finishing post. Race 3, the Talindert Stakes was set to run, so I captured the action as best I could  in the conditions. Black Caviar’s cousin Ole Kirk kicked off his career with a win and paid big odds of over $30.00. He beat Nitrous and favourite Mildred by a narrow margin.

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Ole Kirk (no. 12) noses out Nitrous on the line

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Ole Kirk returns to scale after winning the Talindert Stakes

The fine rain created a misty haze on the photo above, but otherwise the afternoon light was quite lovely as a contrast to bright sunlight.

After the Talindert I headed off to the stalls area to see who had arrived.

Alligator Blood was in his stall looking super confident…

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Alligator Blood

…and Catalyst was being groomed in his stall.

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Also present were the special Living Legends equine guests, champion greys Efficient and Fawkner.

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Further along was the hot favourite for the Black Caviar Lightning, Nature Strip

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Nature Strip

…and Loving Gaby.

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Loving Gaby

Back trackside it was almost time for race 4, the Ebor Trophy, a race over 2000 metres for middle distance runners and not terribly interesting over all.

It resulted with Salsamor narrowly winning from Skelm and Classic Wei Wei.

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Ebor Trophy finish – Salsamor has the lime green & blue silks

With time to kill before the highly anticipated CS Hayes Stakes we headed back to the mounting yard to grab a prime spot. Efficient and Fawkner were parading around as their illustrious careers were displayed on the big screen.

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Soon enough the field for the CS Hayes Stakes were filing into the mounting yard.

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Alligator Blood

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Soul Patch

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The 2020  CS Hayes Stakes lived up to expectations and was the highlight of the afternoon racing program. A terrific race, with Alligator Blood and Catalyst racing side by side from the start with Alligator Blood having a slight lead over Catalyst. As they turned into the straight, the real competition began as they upped the tempo, going head to head to the finish line, Alligator Blood winning by a nose. It was classic stuff reminiscent of the great two horse duels of the past – Our Waverley Star vs Bonecrusher, Testa Rossa vs Redoute’s Choice are two that come to mind. Chenier finished third a length behind.

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Alligator Blood returns to scale

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Catalyst on his way to the barriers

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Chenier returns to scale

Catalyst and Alligator Blood meet again in a fortnight in the Group 1 Australian Guineas and Super Seth will be there as well.

Race 6 was a sprint, the Royal Ascot Handicap and was won by Sirius Suspect from Taniko and Prezado.

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Sirius Suspect (yellow silks) wins the Royal Ascot Handicap from Taniko

After the Royal Ascot  we dashed back to the mounting yard as Black Caviar was scheduled to parade after the post race 6 ceremonies and we wanted to get a front fence position.

Though the crowds were down at Flemington last Saturday, no doubt due to the weather, everyone converged on the mounting yard for the great mare’s arrival and the crowd was three deep on the fence. We were lucky enough to score a special poster of Black Caviar being handed out behind us.

Black Caviar’s appearance was heralded by flag bearers who stood around the mounting yard until her connections were in place then marched off elsewhere.

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Flags herald Black Caviar’s appearance

I took over a hundred photos of Black Caviar I reckon. Continuous shooting tends to result in a surfeit of shots, but I saved 50 as they were mostly alright and I couldn’t decide what to keep and what to discard.

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Black Caviar parade 1

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Black Caviar parade 2

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Black Caviar parade 3 – Peter Moody offers the mare a carrot

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Black Caviar parade 4 – the great mare surveys her old kingdom

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Black Caviar parade 5 – not more photographers!

She paraded around the mounting yard for quite some time, doing at least three circuits. She looked extremely well, her coat dappled and glowing with health and it was great to see her again after a 7 year hiatus.

She had no sooner left the mounting yard than the Black Caviar Lightning field were making their way thence.

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Loving Gaby

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Nature Strip

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Nature Strip was the short odds favourite for the Black Caviar Lightning, but ended unplaced after over-racing on the wrong side of the track (outer rail) and tiring before the finish. Loving Gaby who also raced along the outer rail finished third. However, the winner Gytrash, raced along the inner rail with Redzel, hot on his heels, running second. Luckily I focussed my camera on the inside rail so got a photo of the finish.

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Black Caviar Lightning finish – Gytrash heads off Redzel as they approach the finish line.

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Gytrash returns to scale

As trains back to the city were running again I headed home after the Black Caviar Lightning.

It had been a better than usual race meeting despite the less than perfect weather but worth it to see Alligator Blood and Catalyst fight out the CS Hayes Stakes.

Next Saturday is Blue Diamond Stakes Day at Caulfield with the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate and especially the Futurity Stakes being sterling accompaniments to the Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes.

Hopefully the weather will be more clement next week.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Great Horse Day – Caviar Back on the Menu

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Black Caviar returns to scale after winning the 2012 Lightning Stakes

I was already keenly anticipating the Black Caviar Lightning meeting at Flemington, but the icing on the cake was the announcement on Tuesday that the great lady herself, none other than Black Caviar, will be present in the flesh for the occasion.

Black Caviar won the Lightning Stakes three times – 2011, 2012 and 2013 – and the race was renamed in her honour in 2013, so it’s thrilling that she will be there to parade before the race. She is having a break from motherhood this year, hence her appearance at Flemington on Saturday. She will be accompanied by all her connections – owners, Peter Moody, Luke Nolen and former strappers Donna and Patrick. It is most unusual for a retired mare to be brought back to the scene of their great victories - I certainly can’t think of another.

Anyway I look forward to seeing her again having last set eyes on her at her farewell back in April 2013.

The 2020 Black Caviar Lightning has only attracted a small field of seven runners, but include the exciting Nature Strip, dual Everest winner Redzel and 2019 Manikato Stakes winner Loving Gaby, who are the top contenders.

The race, however, that has every horse racing fan’s heart pounding is the CS Hayes Stakes, where top three year olds  Alligator Blood and Catalyst will be facing off for the first time. Super Seth is bypassing this race to run against the older horses in the Futurity Stakes on Blue Diamond Stakes Day.

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Alligator Blood  - Caulfield 29/9/19

Alligator Blood has attracted a wide following and is now the most popular racehorse in Australia. He has won 8 of his 9 starts, his only loss coming from Super Seth in the Caulfield Guineas last Spring. He is related to Black Caviar being sired by her half brother All Too Hard.

 Catalyst has won 6 of his 7 starts and is regarded as New Zealand’s top three year old.  The only others with a chance in the race are Dalasan, Yourdeel and Soul Patch.

My intention is to get to Flemington by Race 3, the Talindert Stakes, a race for two year olds over 1100 metres. All Too Hard had his first start in this race back in 2012 and won. The top chance is smart filly Mildred this year, though the field also includes a close relation to Black Caviar, colt Ole Kirk, whose dam is Black Caviar’s full sister, having his first start.

Unfortunately the weather does not look promising with rain forecast to fall during the afternoon.  It will however be on the cool side as compensation.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Orr Stakes Express

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Alabama Express returning to scale after winning the Group 1 Orr Stakes

Due to the positively awful weather I chose not to attend the first Saturday meeting of February at Caulfield, much as I would have liked to go, so was disappointed not to see Super Seth take out the Manfred Stakes in impressive fashion. I did however watch the races on my computer, and seeing the rain bucketing down, was thankful to be home and dry.

The weather last Saturday was warm and sunny, though a stiff breeze made it somewhat less than perfect, but it was the first Group 1 meeting of the new Autumn racing season and one not to miss.

Trains thankfully were back on track, so it took less time to reach Caulfield and I arrived in plenty of time to see the first of the Blue Diamond Preludes, the Group 2 Fillies Prelude run over 1100 metres.

As the field was heading out to the starting gates, one filly, Clean Machine, ditched her jockey, Luke Nolen, and took off back to the mounting yard. She was easily caught and guided out once more without drama. I assume a slipped saddle caused her to rear as I noticed she was resaddled at the barriers.

The race itself ended in 30/1 shot Letzbeglam running away with the prize, winning by over 2 lengths from Muntaseera and Geist. Starting favourite was Fresh who finished last.

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With a swish of her tail Letzbeglam takes off down the straight

It was different story in the colts and geldings  Blue Diamond Prelude with second favourite Rulership looking the winner up until the last minute when Hanseatic bolted from the tail of the field to snatch victory on the line.  Raithlin finished third.

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Rulership & Raithlin fight it out down the straight

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Hanseatic charges into the picture to overtake Rulership

The next three races on the card were won by favourites, the first of these being the Group 2 Autumn Stakes, a race for three year old's over 1400 metres. Microphone who won the Group 1 Sires Produce Stakes last year and ran second to Kiamichi in the 2019 Golden Slipper was the class colt in the race and the natural favourite.  He looked at one stage as if he couldn’t win, but rallied and tackled the leader Banquo to win by a narrow margin. Adelaide Ace ran a close third.

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Microphone about to overtake Banquo as they approach the finish line

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Microphone on his way to the barriers

Race 6, the Group 2 Rubiton Stakes was up next. A sprint over 1100 metres it has been won in the past by the likes of Chautauqua, Lankan Rupee, and Nature Strip last year. The favourite was three year old filly Anaheed, who romped in to win by 1¼ lengths from Bold Star and All Too Royal.

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Anaheed in full flight down the straight

The feature race was of course the Group 1 C.F. Orr Stakes, scheduled to run as Race 8 at 4.50pm, so the Group 3 Carlyon Cup was next up.  A race over 1600 metres, Miss Siska, a half sister to Black Caviar’s great rival Hay List, was the favourite.

She delivered in spades, and after racing three wide for most of the race, won by 1¼ lengths from Odeon  and Guizot.

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Miss Siska flashes down the straight

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Odeon leads the rest of the field behind Miss Siska

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Miss Siska on her way to the barriers

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Odeon on his way to the barriers

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Guizot on his way to the barriers

It had been a long afternoon so it was a relief when the Orr Stakes field finally filed out onto the track.

As my photos of some of the contenders turned out rather well here is a selection.

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Begood Toya Mother

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Hey Doc

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Scales of Justice

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So Si Bon

Former Western Australian horse Scales of Justice started as favourite, but ended up unplaced. Hey Doc and Begood Toya Mother fought out the lead for most of the race, then were swamped by Alabama Express who had been racing handy in fourth place and sailed past to win by a neck from the fast finishing Fierce Impact and Kings Will Dream.

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Alabama Express takes the lead

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Alabama Express in full flight down the straight

Alabama Express was the sole three year old in the field, so he did have a weight advantage. A son of Redoute’s Choice, he emulated his sire who won the C.F. Orr Stakes at the age of three 20 years ago in 2000.

I can’t say I’ve ever taken much notice of Alabama Express and obviously the punters didn’t give him a chance as he paid a generous double figure dividend.

Next Saturday the racing is at Flemington for the Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning, starring Nature Strip. Also on the card is the C S Hayes Stakes which looks like it could be a doozy of a race with the exciting prospect of Alligator Blood taking on top New Zealand colt Catalyst and possibly Super Seth as well.