In the spring, we get strong Sydney races leading into the Melbourne spring carnival, while as summer becomes autumn, we get Victoria hosting their Group 1’s first, before all attention moves north to New South Wales for what will be a lead up to the Championships.
While there are four Group races at Randwick tomorrow, all eyes will be on Caulfield for what many might call their strongest card for the year, although with the recent changes to Caulfield Cup week, Guineas day will now lay claim to that beyond dispute. Either way, it’s a wonderful time of the year for fans of the sport.
Let’s get into the first of three Group 1’s – the $1 million Blue Diamond Stakes for two year olds, over 1200m.
Two horses have been dominating all Blue Diamond talk over the last two or three weeks, the Snowden filly Earthquake and the Gerald Ryan colt Rubick. Their profiles are eerily similar.
Both strolled in by two and a half lengths on debut at Randwick before coming to Melbourne and treating their rivals with contempt in the Blue Diamond Preludes at their second start. They even ran identical time while doing it, despite both races being run in vastly different fashion.
Earthquake was more impressive to the naked eye, accelerating off a slower speed and showcasing the turn of foot required to win a Blue Diamond, trouncing the leader Eloping, who had shown her quality in winning her Blue Diamond Preview two weeks earlier.
Rubick was flat-out sprinting from the start in order to hold the lead on the rail, with three horses on the outside pestering away. They all tired early in the straight and finished well back in the field while the backmarkers made their play. Despite coming of the hottest of tempo’s, none could reel in the leader, who fought on doggedly to still win by a margin in what was considered a deeper Prelude.
While it seemed the market might be unable to make up their minds about the merits of the two wins, Earthquake had maintained her position ahead of Rubick at the top of the betting. Her favouritism was never threatened, all the way until Tuesday’s barrier draw.
Rubick drew well in gate 10, as Ryan and jockey Brenton Avdulla had publicly declared a preference for a middle barrier, but Earthquake was treated unkindly in drawing 15. Thus a devastating swing in the markets occurred, the filly easing from around $2.70 to $3.70, with the reverse occurring to the colt.
It’s extremely hard to see both favourites being beaten given even luck in running, and bad luck would need to befall each of them in order for another horse to claim victory.
Chivalry is next best, and rightly so when drawing a line through Bugatty two starts back, as well as his blazing finish last time out. He has shown a preference to get right back even when drawing well though, and may be forced to dodge a few traffic hazards when having last crack at them.
Nayeli also has Bugatty as a reference point, and would be fighting for favouritism in many other years. Gai Waterhouse will be full of confidence that her horse is actually the one to beat but, as we know, she’d be full of confidence that she could take out a Newmarket Handicap with Mourayan.
Jabali could run a competitive race despite never having greeted the judge ahead of all others, and Nostradamus has got more than his share of talent, and could also be competitive with the right run from a tricky gate 11.
The others look to be making up the numbers from a winning perspective, while acknowledging that any horse in the field could jump out of the ground to run a minor placing.
My bet for this race was going to actually be a reasonable go at Lumosty the place at big odds, after she ran a giant of a race behind Earthquake. Once she wasn’t going to be in the field, I was happy to go with whichever of the two favourites was at the best odds.
While it looked likely to be Rubick for the most part, now Earthquake will be the one for me. When you can’t split two horses, I’m happy for the odds to make the decision for me, always leaning toward the greater.
Selections: 1. Earthquake 2. Rubick 3. Chivalry 4. Jabali
The Oakleigh Plate must be one of the toughest Group 1 races to pick on the 12 month racing calendar. There is often a hot favourite or two coming off a dominant win, but rarely do they find their number in the frame. The first dozen across the line often barely seem to have a length between them!
The average price of the winner in the last ten years has been $14, with only three in single figures in that time – all three year olds, and all already Group 1 winners – Fastnet Rock ($3.10, Lightning), Weekend Hussler ($2.15, Caulfield Guineas, Coolmore) and Starspangledbanner ($7, Caulfield Guineas).
Tomorrow’s favourites don’t quite have pedigree of those mentioned above, but they are both coming off three successive wins of increasing margin in pretty good company.
Lankan Rupee sits at the top of the market, and certainly deserves his place there. He has a super winning record, especially since being gelded, he’s at his home track, and has a barrier draw that should enable him to stalk the speed. All of these are to his advantage.
Knoydart is another that has appreciated being gelded, and showed off an explosive turn of foot to win the Hareeba last start. One of the most versatile horses in the race, he’ll have come in a long way in a short time if he can go from a benchmark 80 to Group 1 glory in less than two months.
Shamal Wind hasn’t always been the easiest horse to catch since winning her first three starts, but is a talented sprinter who burned home to just haul in General Truce last time out. The latter will appreciate a bigger drop in weight, while the extra 100m tomorrow plays more into the hooves of the former. One is $8.50 and the other $31.
Bel Sprinter is the top weight, a first-up specialist in a race that is often won by a horse appearing for the first time in a prep. He’s often slow to begin, and too many times for my liking has to make do with excuses rather than prizemoney.
Spirit of Boom is an incredibly consistent dry-track sprinter that comfortably beat Shamal Wind over this track and distance in the spring and meets her a kilo better for it. $18 the win and $5 the place is attractive if you want a rock-solid shout for your money. Good distance record, good track record, good first-up record, good ‘good’ record, good price.
Look past Richie’s Vibe’s last start failure against Knoydart when he was found to have mucous and you’ll see a weight-for-age victory over subsequent Group 1 WFA winner Moment of Change two starts back. When you see he’s at $26 you gain an understanding of why horses at such odds often win this race.
Karacatis is another at $26, and beat Richie’s Vibe last time they met, which was at Caulfield. Karacatis now has Moment of Change tied into his formline too, and meets Richie’s Vibe better at the weights for that victory as well.
Dystopia is the resident distance specialist in the field, and some say 1100m is a race for those. She’s another who left Shamal Wind in her dust in the spring, and is right in the hunt at $15.
Happy Galaxy will be the best 50-1 chance anywhere in Australia this week if he turns up in his best form. He basically hasn’t been seen in a year, when he walked away with a Group 2 WFA win in the Expressway at Warwick Farm.
Flamberge is one of the hardest runners to assess, but his Standish win and overall prizemoney has him as one of many in the conversation.
There are also plenty of three year olds to add another dimension to the race.
Kuroshio is the speedster of them, a colt whose Victorian record (7: 3-1-2) is far superior to his overall thanks to his Sydney failures.
He was able to scoot around the Valley to defeat Moment of Change and General Truce in the WFA McEwen in the spring, and his third in the Schillaci looks even better after last week’s Lightning Stakes, where the quinella of the former both ran superbly to finish top five in the latter.
Gregers also has speed and is capable of using it, Iconic normally finds himself a few lengths astern of the best horses but is sure to run well, while Minaj is yet another who’ll go forward and is a Listed winner coming off a six length Friday night demolition.
First Command, Vatican and Magnus Reign look outgraded here at the weights, but could all still finish in the top half dozen with the right run.
As I often like to say, this is a leg where you could take field in the quaddie and still not find the winner!
On paper, the race looks set to be run at breakneck speed. Over a sprint trip, this can often see the leaders keep going as they get the chasers off the bit, while at other times the backmarkers will come storming home.
We also have to allow for some of the natural leaders to want to take a sit, which may mean a slower tempo than expected.
Good luck deciding on who to back in this lottery, but I’m going to stick with the horses at odds.
Selections: 1. Spirit of Boom 2. Karacatis 3. Happy Galaxy 4. Kuroshio
If you’re still with me in this extra-long preview (and I think you’ll agree that the best racing deserves it), we’ll try and fly through the other main races of the day.
The Futurity is the remaining Group 1 of the day, and will be heavily favoured to be taken out by either Moment of Change or Bull Point.
Moment of Change is the current measuring stick for these sort of races. Finish well in front of him and you’re a very good horse, but finish too far behind and you may never quite make the WFA grade.
Bull Point’s credentials are well established by now, and his impressive first-up win at Caulfield should see him taken seriously in everything he contests.
Lidari could spring the surprise of the day. His first-up win at this track and distance last campaign sticks in the mind, and it was followed up by a unlucky WFA third in the Feehan Stakes, beaten 0.3 lengths behind the flying Fiorente, which we now know was Cox Plate-type form. We haven’t reached the ceiling for this horse yet.
Polanski is the interesting runner who should prove up to this if his delayed campaign hasn’t taken any toll, while the likes of Sizzling, Pinwheel and Smokin’ Joey should find this grade just beyond their reach.
Moment of Change will no doubt lead again and try to repeat his Orr Stakes heroics, but this time Bull Point and Polanski will be the three year olds trying to chase him down, rather than Eurozone and Shamus Award. Lidari will provide the X-factor if right.
Selections: 1. Bull Point 2. Moment of Change 3. Lidari 4. Polanski
Elsewhere around the place, in the Peter Young Stakes Foreteller looks a good price for a horse that won a G1 WFA race second-up last campaign, and won this race last year under those circumstances. His first-up run was everything it needed to be.
Fiorente is obviously the one to beat, and we’ll be keenly watching a few still-improving horses like Pakal, Star Rolling and Let’s Make Adeal to see if they can make the jump in grade.
Not Listenin’tome looks to have the Zedative in his keeping if he runs, although Thermal Current will keep him honest. Lion of Belfort was flat out disappointing first-up, and needs to improve.
The Mannerism is the last race on the Caulfield card, and I’ll be looking for Bonaria to either consolidate a winning day or save me from a losing one.
Looking at Sydney, I’m an Albrecht fan and will be following his progress in the Southern Cross Stakes, the Light Fingers looks a magnificent affair as we see the return of Guelph, Boban gets to prove his doubters wrong in the Apollo after a flat first-up performance and Appearance will ensure he’s tested again, and the Triscay to finish the card looks anyone’s race.
As racing fans, these are the days we live for. Bring it on!