Monday, November 07, 2022

The Stars of the Turf– Champion Stakes Day Review

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Sign above Mounting Yard Gate at Flemington 5/10/22

Melbourne racing’s answer to Sydney, Champion Stakes Day, used to be called Emirates Stakes Day, and featured two Group 1 races – the Mackinnon Stakes and Darley Sprint Classic. It was also known as family day and was, and still is, the final race day of Flemington’s Melbourne Cup mini carnival. Generally it was a pleasant afternoon at the races and less crowded than Derby Day.

This year, however Racing Victoria launched a new concept race meeting that actually was better than Derby Day last weekend. It featured three Group 1 events, a sprint over 1200 metres, a mile race over 1600 metres and a middle distance competition over 2000 metres and had attracted quality fields in each.  What’s not to love in keen contests between class horses such as Nature Strip versus Giga Kick in the Champions Sprint, Anamoe versus Zaaki in the Champions Stakes and Alligator Blood versus Private Eye in the Champions Mile

The day dawned dry with a promise of sunshine, so it was a pleasure to set out for the big track and soak up the Group 1 action along with Vitamin D.

As trains to Flemington were running all afternoon at regular intervals, I took my time getting to the track and arrived as Race 3, the Amanda Elliot was in the process of running.

I had no trouble using my mobile ticket this time, having saved it to my phone for easy access.

The horses were returning to scale as I made it out onto the public lawn, so was was able to snap the winner, Magic Time heading for the mounting yard after the race.

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Magic Time returns to scale after winning the Amanda Elliott

As there was plenty of time in hand until the next race, I decided to head to the stalls and see who had arrived. Most of the horses I was interested in were present, so for a change I got some stalls shots.

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Nature Strip

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Giga Kick

Whilst I was cruising around the stalls I missed Race 4, the Queens Cup, so failed to get a photo of the highly regarded Irish import Soulcombe who won it by over two lengths from Luncies and Captain Envious.

The next race was the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes, run over 2000 metres for mares, so I headed for my favourite spot just past the winning post and there I stayed for the rest of the afternoon.

The Chris Waller trained Atishu was the winner by two lengths from Steinem with Tokorangi running third.

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Atishu wins the Matriarch Stakes

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Atishu on her way to the barriers

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Steinem on her way to the barriers

The next three races were the Group 1 Champions events, starting off with the Champions Sprint.

Nature Strip naturally started as the hot favourite, but this time he was outgunned by 20/1 shot Roch ‘N’ Horse who won by a narrow margin. Baller finished third.

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Jockey Jamie Mott celebrates Roch ‘N’ Horse’s victory in the Champion’s Sprint

Roch ‘N’ Horse obviously has an affinity with the Flemington straight as she won the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap there in Autumn.

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Nature Strip returns to scale

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Baller returns to scale

Favourites were rolled in the next two races as well.

In the Champions Mile, Alligator Blood, racing on the pace held on to win by half a length from Tuvalu and Mr Brightside. Favourite Private Eye finished seventh.

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Alligator Blood wins the Champions Mile from Tuvalu

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Alligator Blood on his way to the barriers

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Tuvalu on his way to the barriers

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Mr Brightside returns to scale

It was good to see Alligator Blood back in winning circles after undergoing treatment for a back problem, and  after all the controversy of his ownership, which at one time banned him from racing in Melbourne.

Last year Zaaki took out the Mackinnon Stakes as the Champions Stakes used to be known, and he repeated the feat  this year, leading from the start to the finish to win narrowly from stablemate Mo’unga with outsider Hezashocka relegated to third after a successful protest from Nash Rawiller, Mo’unga’s jockey. Anamoe started as firm favourite, but finished fourth.

When heading out for the barriers, Zaaki unseated his jockey Jamie Kah, but she quickly remounted and all was well.

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Zaaki unseats Jamie Kah on his way to the barriers

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Zaaki resumes heading for the barriers

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Zaaki wins the Champions Stakes

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Mo’unga (white cap) and Hezashocka vie for second place

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Mo’unga on his way to the barriers

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Hezashocka on his way to the barriers

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Zaaki returns to scale

There was one more race on the card but I did not stay for it, heading to the station and home after the Champions Stakes.

It had been a fine afternoon of first class racing action, and despite the crowds, which were larger than Derby Day, I was pleased to be in attendance after missing it for two years due to Covid restrictions.

So from now on my Saturday afternoons will be free, though I may attend the Zipping Classic meeting at Caulfield a few weeks hence.