The Caulfield Guineas has long been the premier race of the spring for three year olds.
Run over the mile, now 1600m, it has a long and illustrious history stretching back to 1881.
Some of the best three year olds to have graced Australia’s racetracks have won the race, and in the last 20 years alone, they have included Mahogany (1993), Our Maizcay (1995), Redoute’s Choice (1999), Show A Heart (2000), Lonhro (2001), Wonderful World (2006), Weekend Hussler (2007), Whobegotyou (2008), Starspangledbanner (2009), Helmet (2011) and All Too Hard (2012).
It has also been a race which can produce an upset, none more so than 1986 when Abaridy sprung a surprise at the monstrous odds of 250/1.
This year does not appear to be a vintage year on paper, but it looks an open contest with the entire field of 14 looking to have some chance.
What makes this year’s Caulfield Guineas so fascinating, though, is that five of the 14 runners remain in contention for the Cox Plate. Given the strong record of three year olds in the Cox Plate, there is every chance this may be a relevant form reference come our weight for age championship.
However, this could just as easily be a warning that the Caulfield Guineas is losing its lustre as the premier race for three year olds during the spring.
This may be a premature call – last year’s clash between All Too Hard, Pierro and Epaulette was a classic contest and the form held up extraordinarily.
But the signs are there that the Caulfield Guineas is not the race it once was.
In the past, almost every three year old would be aimed at the Caulfield Guineas. It would be the race which would sort out those who could not stay a mile, those at their best at a mile, and those who would appreciate further in time.
The attrition rate among three year olds has actually been fairly low, with boom Kiwi colt Cauthen among the few casualties.
However, most horses who would normally run in the Caulfield Guineas are instead looking elsewhere, in particular targeting the Golden Rose earlier in the carnival and the Coolmore Stud Stakes on Derby Day.
Two horses who should have been lining up this Saturday, but will instead be at home, are Zoustar and Fast ‘n’ Rocking.
In the past, there would have been no question that a horse of the calibre of Zoustar would have targeted the Caulfield Guineas.
If you were to blindly present the facts about Zoustar – a winner of the BRC Sires Produce Stakes, stretched out to 1600m in the JJ Atkins as a two year old for a narrow defeat, and a barnstorming winner of the Golden Rose – it would be unthinkable that he wouldn’t target the Caulfield Guineas.
Instead, he’s targeting the Coolmore Stud Stakes on Derby Day. Given his arrogant victory in the Roman Consul Stakes, perhaps it is a good decision, but the reasoning behind targeting the Coolmore is perplexing.
Trainer Chris Waller told Racing Review that Zoustar was heading to the Coolmore because he was worried about hard luck in the Caulfield Guineas. He said he didn’t believe the mile was a problem.
Managing owner Sheriff Iskander also told the Telegraph’s Christian Nicolussi last month that he believes there are only three stallion-making races in Australia, with “the Golden Slipper being number one, the Coolmore [second] and then the Golden Rose.”
Personally, I’d rank the Caulfield Guineas above the Coolmore any day, but with the move continuing towards a speed-based breeding industry, it’s perhaps no surprise that its star is dimming ever so slightly.
In any respect, it’s a real loss for the Caulfield Guineas this year that Zoustar is not among those lining up on Saturday.
Another heading to the Coolmore is Fast ‘n’ Rocking, switched to a sprinting campaign after a disappointing seventh in the Caulfield Guineas Prelude.
As opposed to Zoustar, I think David Hayes and connections have made the right move with Fast ‘n’ Rocking.
He has failed at every start beyond 1200m, and he looks to be more a fast-finishing sprinter rather than a horse who is better over further.
Still, it would normally be the Caulfield Guineas which would provide definitive proof of his aptitude at a mile, just as it was for his sire Fastnet Rock in 2004.
What do you think? Is the Caulfield Guineas still the premier race for three year olds during the spring? Or are the Golden Rose and Coolmore Stud Stakes quickly catching up?