Friday, October 23, 2020

Cox Plate 2020

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2019 Cox Plate – Lys Gracieux overtakes Castelvecchio in the straight

Despite Covid 19 restrictions being eased in Melbourne, the Cox Plate meeting will be run without public attendance. I’d love to be there at my favourite race, but I’ll just have to watch it on television as has been the case all through the Spring Racing Carnival.

The weather is forecast to be pretty dire, so I’ll probably be glad not to put up with cold and wet conditions similar to last year’s Cox Plate.

A full field of 14 runners will be contesting the event this year and a likely winner does not stand out, though there are several with the credentials to take the prize.

The last five Cox Plates were won by a mare, admittedly the great Winx being victorious in four of them with Japanese mare Lys Gracieux winning the 2019 edition.

Four mares are part of the field this year, notably Arcadia Queen and Probabeel who are last start winners and ooze class.

Of the male contingent Kolding and Russian Camelot are of the most interest, though there are question marks over both of them. Kolding has been in great form in Sydney winning the Group 1 George Main Stakes and Group 2 Hill stakes at his last two starts. Those two victories were on good tracks and his record on soft tracks is not that good. Also, the last time he raced in Melbourne, it was reported he didn’t handle the Melbourne way of going -  anti clockwise vs clockwise as in Sydney.

Russian Camelot was being hailed as a potential champion of the Spring Racing Carnival until his defeat in the Caulfield Stakes by Arcadia Queen, so with the bubble burst at least he’ll start at longer odds. He’s also drawn the widest barrier which may be either a blessing or a curse.

There are several International runners Aspetar, Magic Wand (now scratched) and Armory who all have good form in Europe. Magic Wand ran fourth in last year’s Cox Plate and won the Mackinnon Stakes on the last day of the 2019 Spring carnival.

The oldest horse in the race is Humidor (now 8 years old) and the youngest is Jameka’s little brother Grandslam, a three year old colt who, like 2013 Cox Plate winner Shamus Award, ran third in the Caulfield Guineas at his last start.

Humidor finished a narrow second to Winx in the 2017 Cox Plate and ran third in her historic fourth in 2018. He recently won the Group 2 Feehan Stakes and  was placed behind Russian Camelot in the Underwood Stakes and ran third in the Caulfield Stakes. He loves Moonee Valley and could well spring a surprise like Fields of Omagh did in 2006.

As for Grandslam, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he could win as Shamus Award did in 2013.

Whatever the outcome, it will be as usual fascinating to watch.

Tonight is the Group 1  Manikato Stakes where a field of 11 will be vying for Group 1 glory in the historic sprint. Top chances are Trekking, Dirty Work, Pippie and Diamond Effort.

Oh, and it’s AFL Grand Final day on Saturday, though it is being played at night so as not to clash with the Cox Plate, and in Brisbane at the Gabba.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Caulfield Cup 2020

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Mer De Glace – winner of the 2019 Caulfield Cup

The weather on Caulfield Cup Day last year was intemperate – cold, wet and windy – and it appears that this year’s edition will also be run on a soft track under similar conditions.

Not that it matters to me as the Covid 19 pandemic has prevented public attendance at the races all spring. It’s remarkable that racing has continued all through the pandemic with very little drama in the way of biosecurity breaches.

Caulfield Guineas Day last week was fantastic, as interesting as you’d expect during the pointy end of the Spring Racing Carnival. The highly regarded short priced favourite Russian Camelot was defeated by Western Australian mare Arcadia Queen in the Caulfield Stakes, Black Caviar’s close relation Ole Kirk won the feature race, and in Sydney, star filly Montefilia beat the boys in the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes.

As well as the Caulfield Cup tomorrow, Randwick features the fourth running of The Everest, where a choice field of top sprinters compete for a share in the $15 million prize money.

A full field of 18 runners will be contesting the Caulfield Cup,  and as is the norm these days, comprise a bunch of International challengers along with seasoned imports and local stayers.

The top International is Anthony Van Dyck who has excellent form in Europe having performed meritoriously against top stayers, such as Stradivarious and Gaiyyath.

Of the imports, those with a good chance are Mirage Dancer, Finche and Master of Wine.

Isn’t it about time for a mare to win?

There are three of the fairer sex engaged in the race, most notably Verry Elleegant who has been in great form this spring. She won the Group 1 Winx Stakes, then came to Melbourne and took out the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes at her last start, beating her stablemates Toffee Tongue and Finche.

Toffee Tongue won the South Australian Oaks in the autumn, and ran a close second to Verry Elleegant in the Turnbull Stakes. She’s a great lightweight chance in the Caulfield Cup and is bred to stay the distance. The other mare is True Self whom I witnessed winning the Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Mackinnon Stakes Day last spring.

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Verry Elleegant – Caulfield Cup Day 2018

Verry Elleegant is the current favourite for the Caulfield Cup, and she could well win the bikkies, especially if the track is on the heavy side.

The Everest will be run an hour before the Caulfield Cup at 4.15 pm and has a super field that includes Nature Strip, Gytrash, Classique Legend, Behemoth and Bivouac as top chances, along with speedy mare Libertini who thrashed Classique Legend at her last start in the Group 2 Premiere Stakes.  It’s a must watch race.

So that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow; i.e. watching the races.

On the reading front I must mention a recent read, that being Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession. It’s a brilliantly written, immensely likeable novel about two middle aged guys who lead very low profile lives, introverts uncomfortable with  the noisy world at large.  I loved it and highly recommend it for a sublimely pleasant reading experience. It is laugh out loud in parts as well. It outshone the new Rose Tremain novel Islands of Mercy, and has made my current read, The Midnight Library  by Matt Haig, less than satisfying so far, the quality of writing not being a patch on Ronan Hession.

As for games, nothing much to report other than occasionally engaging with The Shade in The Longing. I’m running out of things to do with The Shade having explored all the caves and have even found the secret places beyond the darkness.

Update Sunday

I’m pleased to see that my preview of the Caulfield Cup was pretty accurate with Verry Elleegant putting in a gutsy performance to win, beating the highly regarded International Anthony Van Dyck, who charged from the back of the field to miss by half a length. Long shot The Chosen One ran third. Interestingly, Zabeel is the grandsire of both Verry Elleegant and The Chosen One, so the old Zabeel factor still rules the staying ranks in Australian horse racing

Classique Legend won The Everest with Bivouac and Gytrash filling the minor placings.

Friday, October 02, 2020

As Time Goes By…

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Bingo watching television

Bingo the wonder cat demonstrated the other night that cats actually do notice stuff on television. His taste in TV shows relate to nature programs, especially if there are birds involved.

He was lolling on one or the other of our knees in front of the heater as we desultorily watched  a program on SBS about Russia’s Wild Sea, exploring the Sea of Okhotsk that lies between the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Japanese island of Hokkaido, termed the last and greatest unspoiled ocean on Earth, when his attention was captured by the sea eagles flying around on the screen. He sprang to the floor and sat beneath the TV to get a closer view and remained fascinated long enough for me to take a photo.

People on the screen hold no interest for him; it’s only birds and animals that grab his attention.

It’s October already and here in Melbourne we are still in stage 4 lockdown, though hopefully with cases of Covid19 diminishing by the day, we may be able to experience greater freedom soon. Wow, I might even be able to go to the Victoria Market in a couple of weeks!

Unfortunately the easing of restrictions will not include public attendance at the races over the pointy end of the Melbourne Racing Carnival. I’m particularly aggrieved to miss going to the Cox Plate.

However, as usual I have been following the racing action as the season progresses. This weekend for instance has four Group 1 races to watch, the Turnbull Stakes in Melbourne and the Flight Stakes. Epsom Handicap and Metropolitan feature at Randwick in Sydney.

To console myself I have been having the occasional wager with mixed results, my best win being on Kolding in the George Main Stakes, which boosted  the funds in my Sportsbet account, thus giving me plenty of play money for the rest of the season.

On the home front I’ve as usual been killing the time with reading and computer games.

After finishing the Dublin Trilogy, which I enjoyed quite a lot, I read Lanny by Max Porter and the enchanting  new Susanna Clarke novel, Piranesi. I must admit I was not as enraptured by Lanny as I was by Piranesi, which continues to haunt me. I acquired it in an exclusive signed hardcover edition from Waterstones. It is a handsome edition, quite the bibliophile’s delight with ornate boards under the dust jacket.

Piranesi hardcover binding

Piranesi Dust Jacket

The novel has received rave reviews from all and sundry so I’m not going to provide one here.  There’s a summary of the reviews on Literary Hub.

LONGING_packshotAs for games, I’m still playing The Longing and have progressed – at snails pace – in that the Shade has acquired more books, has explored most of the caves and collected various items to enhance his abode. He has expanded his one room into four chambers that include a bathroom and mushroom farm. He’s yet to find enough pieces of wood to make a bed. Most days I set him off on a journey to see if anything has changed and generally close the game when he’s back home reading a book.

I’m also playing a 2018 game called Unforeseen Incidents. Ironically it deals with a viral plague afflicting a town called Yelltown. As a person living in a similar situation in Melbourne, one feels slightly alarmed to see the game characters walking around without PPE and failing to be infected. It’s moderately amusing to play and the story is interesting so far.

So life goes on and one must be thankful that we’re still alive to report on it.