Zipping Classic: Almandin on class, Big Duke on form, or The Taj?

Tristan Rayner Editor

By , Tristan Rayner is a Roar Editor

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    Almandin was our 2017 Melbourne Cup tip, but after a shocking ride in that race, the ex-German stayer finds himself in the Group 2 Zipping Classic (2400m) at Sandown on Saturday.

    Frankie Dettori gave Almandin such a wide run that he covered an extra 22m of ground, according to official Trakus data. That’s no more than loose change over 3200m, but considering the horse finished 11.2L off the winner, Almandin could’ve been finishing much higher.

    Bygones are bygones but Almandin has shorted from an early $3.50 chance into $2.50 for the $300k Zipping Classic, which is run at weight-for-age conditions, and not a handicap. Almandin just wins on his best, but his best has suddenly disappeared.

    The market says he faces two main rivals in the field of eight: Big Duke, who ran a huge (yuge!) fourth in the Melbourne Cup, and The Taj Mahal.

    Big Duke put in a slashing run in the Cup, at his absolute best for trainer Darren Weir in the race. Despite seven runs this preparation, including the Cup, he’s going into the Zipping Classic as well as ever. At four goes at 2400m he’s won twice and placed twice, and could reasonably be the outright favourite over Almandin going on form, rather than class. And, if this was a handicap.

    Under weight-for-age, he carries 59kgs, the same as Almandin – a 3kg turnaround in the weights from the Cup. That’s obviously considerable and leaves us with a real question mark on how he’ll fare in the race. Both jump from the inside barriers and will be looking to hold a position off the speed on the rail, so they’ll be stalking each other during the race.

    Big Duke wears blinkers for the first time – I suspect this is a bit of an overdue trial in a much lower prizemoney race than what he’s been in recently – and I have to stamp him the best chance in the race.

    The Taj Mahal is the other horse in the race, an Irish import who’s changed trainers from Aidan O’Brien to the Robert Hickmott/Team Williams stable (soon to be Liam Howley/Williams stable, following news Hickmott is out), and therefore new stablemate to Almandin, as he’ll stay in Australia. This son of Galileo didn’t threaten in the Caulfield Stakes where his then stablemate, Johannes Vermeer, was a flashy second, but he did grab fourth in the Group 1 Emirates Stakes (2000m) last week to show he’s capable.

    Almandin

    (AAP Image/Mal Fairclough)

    This Galileo horse was running in Group 1s around Europe and the USA before this, and backing up into this race is a big pointer from the Williams team.

    Those three are all under $4.

    On the next line of betting are both Berisha and So Si Bon. Berisha showed that the Geelong Cup form was accurate into the back-up stayers race on Melbourne Cup day over 2800m, finishing just down the track in both. I don’t think this is easier but he should go well.

    So Si Bon is an interesting runner – he was placing in Group level sprints and the Sir Rupert Clarke (1400m) before stepping up further in the Cantala and Emirates Stakes only to finish down the order in both, where not everything went his way. His third-last in the Emirates is much better when you consider he only finished three lengths form the winner, so I think he has upside.

    “He just had a swim on Sunday morning and again Monday morning and afternoon and then I had a look at the field and I thought he had the form and he was in the right shape to really give that race a real shake,” Laing told Racing.com.

    “There’s no doubt he’s a better horse when he’s got some room to move and he’ll get that at Sandown for sure.”

    “I thought his Emirates run in a really good field was excellent to be beat three lengths and the previous Saturday, he just couldn’t make ground and neither could horses like Tosen Stardom.”

    He’s a classy animal by So You Think but he’s a place-chance here behind the main three.

    Assign is also in the race, another Team Williams horse to make three here. He won the Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) this time about last year but has only plugged this season. He’s likely to lead and put pace into the race, and likes the distance, but it’d be a shock to see him win.

    Consommateur looks poorly placed in this race even with a mare’s allowance, coming off two six lengths defeats in same-sex races including the Group 2 Matriarch where she was just too far back. She’ll be battling on late but I can’t see her getting a win here.

    Dandy Gent is the rank outsider, with just three wins from 36 starts and disappointed in the Kyneton Cup (2000m) last start. The race before that was much better but he should be giving both Almandin and Big Duke about 15kgs in a handicap, and instead goes around at the same weight. No thanks.

    Prediction
    Ouch, what a hard prospect to tip. The story isn’t clear. Almandin is an eight-year-old stayer who should be in next year’s Melbourne Cup even as a nine-year-old, as this will only be his 17th start after missing two years through injury. He won so well in the JRA Cup over 2500m, then was average in The Bart Cummings (2500m), and went about as well in the Melbourne Cup when many expected him to fire.

    Is he going well? Is Team Williams sending him around because there aren’t too many chances left for him at his age?

    He just wins based on his best form but we aren’t seeing it. Big Duke, on the other hand, is in career best form and even though he’s not quite as classy as Almandin, just keeps running hard. Blinkers on when back in distance is a little unusual but it might give him what he needs to keep him sharp.

    The Taj Mahal looks very very capable – originally out here for the Cox Plate – and is down in weight from his Emirates Stakes fourth.

    Tips:
    1. Big Duke
    2. The Taj Mahal
    3. Almandin
    4. So Si Bon

    Tristan Rayner
    Tristan Rayner

    Tristan is a writer, consultant, racing enthusiast and former Editor of The Roar who has turned the Melbourne Cup into a year-round study via racingtalk.com.au.