Racing welcomed the Spring Carnival with five Group Ones and some horrible weather but ‘Super Saturday’ at Randwick and ‘Carnival Preview Day’ at Flemington lived up to the hype.
Good horses make good racing, and it was again the case in the Spring Champion Stakes (2000m, Group One, three-year olds) at Randwick.
The Champion isn’t the most prestigious Group One race on the calendar but you will have to travel many miles to see a better race than the one fought out by the undefeated three-year colts Proisir and It’s A Dundeel on Saturday.
2000 metres is the perfect distance for a thoroughbred horse race and it was proven on Saturday. The Spring Champion was a race of changes and tactics, of speed and stamina, and the finish was something else.
New Zealander It’s A Dundeel was tipped to finish second to Proisir because his passive racing style – where the horse is held up at the rear of the field until the final stretch – was expected to play into the hands of front-runner Proisir.
But when the Gai Waterhouse-trained Proisir sat deep and didn’t face the breeze, the race was turned on its head.
With a half-mile to go, Proisir was only a length ahead of It’s A Dundeel (perhaps four lengths further back than what many had expected) and it eventually proved the difference at the end.
At the final corner Nash Rawiller took Proisir inside It’s A Dundeel, who had charged around the field, and the Australian colt looked home when he dashed two lengths clear at the 200m mark.
But just as he has done in each of his three previous Australian starts, It’s A Dundeel became airborne inside the furlong pole, charging late to steal his fifth win from as many starts at the death.
Some punters may’ve claimed Proisir didn’t run the 2000m distance out; after all he’s bred to be a sprinter, but I think he was beaten by a slightly stronger, more superior animal. If it wasn’t for the Kiwi, Proisir would’ve been hailed a five-length victor.
Watching It’s A Dundeel on television doesn’t do him justice. On the two occasions I’ve seen him live at the track, his desire to win has been blaringly obvious. I’ve used the word ‘airborne’ a few times to describe his finish and that’s because it’s exactly what he becomes.
You can see the horse lengthen stride as the finish approaches. He really does, as the saying goes, jump out of the ground.
It’s something I’ve rarely seen. But because It’s A Dundeel does it often, he is a very special horse.
I’m not sure the High Chaparral colt will remain undefeated for long – his racing style will defeat him one day – but he is one of the more exciting prospects in Australasia.
It’s A Dundeel will travel to Melbourne for a Derby lead-up on Cox Plate Day before backing-up the following week in the 2500m classic.
His first acquaintance with Flemington may be historically significant because, with a bit of luck, It’s A Dundeel will become a common fixture in future Melbourne Cups.
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters when Waterhouse confirmed Proisir’s next run will be in the Cox Plate (2040m, Group One, weight-for-age) but I saw no reason to alter the plan after Saturday’s run.
Providing the son of Choisir begins well, he will be hard to catch with 49.5kgs on his back. In saying that, I would’ve preferred him on a Caulfield Guineas trail.
Last week, I wrote that the Caulfield Cup (2400m, Group One) winner would be an Australasian-trained horse and I’m pretty confident in that prediction after Saturday.
Glencadam Gold will start favourite in Saturday week’s $2.5m handicap after a brilliant four-length victory in the Group One Metropolitan (2400m, handicap) at Randwick.
The imported galloper made it four from four in Australia and gave Waterhouse and jockey Tommy Berry a Group One double after Fat Al won the Epsom by a slender margin earlier in the day.
Glencadam Gold is going to be a big player this spring. Regardless of the weight penalty he receives on Monday, he’s going to be carrying a small impost in the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups and will be hard to beat in both.
The five-year old gelding strikes me a powerful stayer. When he won the Newcastle Cup a few weeks ago, he was attacked in the lead but was very strong, with 58kgs on his back, at the end.
But on Saturday, with only 53kgs, Glencadam Gold carved out a relatively quick gallop after being left alone in front. In the home straight, he produced a devastating burst of speed to clear out from his rivals. It was a completely dominant display.
I suspect he is a horse that prefers the ground to be firm so his main danger in the Cups could be Melbourne’s dubious weather.
As a horse on the on rise, Glencadam Gold could be the imported version of Might And Power.
Might And Power was the last front-running handicapper to take the Spring Carnival by storm after winning the 1997 Cups double.
If the weather proves to be no adversary for Glencadam Gold, he will be tested by the similarly-imported Seville. Seville was second to stablemate Green Moon in Saturday’s Turnbull (2000m, Group One, set weights) at Flemington.
Green Moon, who will head to the Cox Plate as a winning chance, was brilliant in victory after sitting wide on the speed but Seville’s run was eye-catching.
The former Irish galloper came down the outside and got with a neck of victory. Seville will carry only 53.5kgs in the Caulfield Cup which is a kind handicap. He is a major player.
In Seville’s 2011 European three-year old campaign, the son of Galileo was placed twice at Group One level. His second to Meandre in the Grand Prix de Paris (2400m, Group One, three-year olds) was a world-class performance.
He beat the third-placed Reliable Man by three lengths on that occasion and Reliable Man was a close-up fourth in July’s vintage King George And Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2400m, Group One, weight-for-age) at Ascot.
December Draw finished third on Saturday and while he’ll be highly fancied in the Caulfield Cup, I’m unconvinced about his ability to run a strong 2400m.
Voila Ici didn’t seem interested in racing on Saturday – he required some encouragement from trainer Peter Moody to make his way to the start – but was strong in fourth. I’m still very keen on his Caulfield chances.
Voila Ici may get a soft run behind Glencadam Gold and could be hard to hold out in the straight. 2400m is right down his alley.
The top four horses in the Turnbull are all imported European gallopers and are high quality stayers.
The imports may not be the best thing for the long-term health of Australian racing but they have added plenty of strength to our staying ranks and without them, the Turnbull would’ve been a poor form reference.
The best of the beaten (or, in other words, Aussie) horses was Ethiopia. The Australian Derby (2400m, Group One, three-year olds) winner was flying late to grab sixth and will press on to the Cox Plate.
I don’t think he can win the championship but if Pat Carey presses on to the Melbourne Cup (3200m, Group One, handicap), I’d have to concede Ethiopia a winning chance. He’s a promising stayer.
There were a couple of disturbing runs in the Turnbull. I was keen on Southern Speed for the Caulfield Cup but she was dreadful in 15th. Jockey Glen Boss said the mare felt lame after the race but veterinary tests have failed to pinpoint any issue post-race.
I was also upbeat about Moudre’s Cup chances before Saturday but he too was horrible in last. Moudre pulled-up with a sore shoulder so perhaps his run can be forgiven but like Southern Speed, there is a massive cloud hanging over his campaign.
A special mention should go to Team Williams who prepared the Turnbull quinella of Green Moon and Seville. In a remarkable effort, the other three horses they sent to the races won on Saturday.
Mourayan was strong in the Group Three weight-for-age Craven (2000m) and appears on track for the Melbourne Cup. He will get appear next in the Mackinnon (2000m, Group One, weight-for-age) on Derby Day.
Tanby will head to the Geelong Cup (2400m, Group Three, handicap) after his victory over 2010 Melbourne Cup runner-up Maluckyday in the Listed Bart Cummings (2500m, handicap).
And the winner of the last at Flemington (1400m, Listed, handicap) Fawkner, is on-track for the Emirates (1600m, Group One, handicap) on the last day of the Carnival.
Fawkner created history on Saturday. He was the third metropolitan winner for mother Dane Belltar on the day.
The 2003 VRC Oaks (2500m, Group One, three-year fillies) runner-up has only had three of her progeny reach the racetrack but they were all victorious on Saturday (the other two winners were in Adelaide and Brisbane).
I’m unsure if that feat has occurred previously in the 200-year history of Australian racing but it’s an incredible performance all the same.