Four highlights for the upcoming Spring Carnival
French horse Dunaden (right, yellow silks) ridden by Christophe Lemaire gallops to victory. AAP Image/Julian Smith
As the days get longer, the City2Surf has been run, and footy seasons wind into finals action, racing fans start to rub their hands together in anticipation. The Spring Carnival is almost upon us.
The 2012 Carnival promises to be one of the best in years and here are four highlights to look forward to this spring.
In the absence of Black Caviar, four-year old undefeated mare Atlantic Jewel is sure to be the star of the spring.
She’s won each of her seven starts at distances ranging from 1100 metres at maiden class to 2000 metres at Group Two level. Atlantic Jewel has also taken two Group Ones along the way, at 1600 and 1400 metres respectively.
Trained by Mark Kavanagh at Flemington, the Jewel is more advanced than what Black Caviar was at a similar time in her career and with the Cox Plate her aim, she is already threatening to tear the Carnival apart.
Along with a Cox Plate nomination, Kavanagh has Atlantic Jewel entered in the Caulfield Cup, hinting that the Fastnet Rock mare could possibly have the Melbourne Cup pencilled in at the end of her campaign.
While a tilt at the Cup may seem unlikely, if Atlantic Jewel was to remain undefeated through the spring, taking victory in both the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup, it would have to rank as one of the most incredible achievements in Australia racing history.
Atlantic Jewel would be an unbeaten Group One winner from 1400 metres through to two miles.
Perhaps only Phar Lap’s four victories in the space of a week during the 1930 Melbourne Cup Carnival at distances ranging from eight furlongs (1609 metres) to two miles, at both handicap and weight-for-age, can surpass what Atlantic Jewel might have in front of her this spring.
The Caulfield Guineas is the blue riband three-year old race each spring and this season’s renewal promises to be something else.
Two months out from the Guineas and with some of the key protagonists yet to make themselves known, anticipation is already beginning to build.
At this early point the Guineas looks to be a two-horse battle between the undefeated Triple Crown-winning two-year old Pierro and his autumn nemesis All Too Hard – the half-brother to Black Caviar.
When these two horses met at Randwick in April’s Sires Produce, it was Pierro who took full advantage of All Too Hard’s sluggish start to record a dominant victory in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
But even before that race was run, the Guineas was declared All Too Hard’s grand final by the Hawkes team, who train this hulking colt. And with good reason – the Caulfield Guineas is a stallion making race; the winner assured of a valuable career at stud.
By way of example, the 1999 Caulfield Guineas victor Redoute’s Choice went on to become one of Australia’s most influential sires, valued, at one point, at over $200m.
Owner Nathan Tinkler is trying to get his Patinack Farm breeding operation off the ground and if All Too Hard can win this race, his massive investment in the racing industry would begin to bear fruit.
Whether All Too Hard can turn the tables on the professional Pierro is another thing however.
Cox Plate Carnival
The 2012 weight-for-age championship promises to be the race of the spring. Last year’s Cox Plate failed to draw a quality line-up but just 12 months down the track, it looks like we are going be treated to a vintage Cox Plate.
The Moonee Valley Racing Club has gone all out for the 2012 Cox Plate. For the first time, the MVRC will run a two-day meeting for their showpiece event.
The Club has received a raft of criticism for the move with many punters and pundits raising concerns about the track’s capacity to remain bias-free, hosting 17 races in two days, including the Cox Plate which will be the second last race on the two-day card.
I think it’s a fantastic initiative that is sure to draw the racing world’s attention and I have every intention of making the trip down to the Valley for this historic event. Let’s hope the track plays fair.
Friday night, Cox Plate eve, will open the carnival with the Group One Manikato Stakes (1200 metres) that is set to draw an international field, possibly including champion Asian sprinters Rocket Man (Singapore) and Lucky Nine (Hong Kong).
And on the Saturday, Atlantic Jewel will probably start favourite in a race that should include the likes of More Joyous (undefeated in 2012), Pierro (champion two-year old) and Manighar (Australian Cup, Ranvet Stakes and BMW winner).
There may even be a couple of Europeans in the race. Reliable Man (French Derby winner who was fourth in Danedream’s King George) and Group One winner Planteur (the only horse to accept the MVRC’s June invitation) were nominated this month.
The 2012 Cox Plate won’t rival the legendary 1992 renewal in quality but it might not be too far behind.
Pierro is, in my opinion, the most exciting male horse in the country. He’s won each of his six starts, three at Group One level and none at what I believe will be his pet distance – 2000 metres.
This three-year old son of the great middle-distance horse Lonhro, showed professionalism beyond his years in the autumn, recording victory in the Australian two-year old Triple Crown; the first horse to achieve the feat since stable mate Dance Hero in 2004.
Trained by Gai Waterhouse at Randwick, Pierro proved himself to be at the head of the juvenile crop, racing at distances that appear, to the eye and on breeding, unsuitable.
The mother of Pierro was a 2400 metre horse, sired by the dual continental champion of the 1990s Daylami. With 2400-metre winners on both sides of his family, it wouldn’t surprise to see Pierro claim a Derby this season.
After Pierro destroyed his rivals in the Sires Produce in April, Waterhouse warned, “He’s brained them at 1400, what he’s going to do to them at 2000 metres?”
Pierro will be aimed at the Cox Plate, where he will attempt to emulate the feats of grandfather Octagonal, a horse that won the Cox Plate in his three-year old season.
To add even more interest to what shapes as a classic race, I hope Pierro and Atlantic Jewel arrive at Moonee Valley undefeated.
Pierro has a lot to live up to but he gives every indication he will be just as good as his champion lineage suggests.
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