Saturday is the 2014 Caulfield Cup Day, with the feature event being the best 2400m handicap in the world, the $3 million 2014 Caulfield Cup (2400m).
Lucia Valentina, the superb winner of the Turnbull Stakes (2000m) is the top pick in betting, ahead of the Japanese front-running stayer Bande.
But we have already had a good look at the big one. Let’s focus on the the support races.
Some of the leading contenders for both the Derby and Oaks will strut their stuff in the $750,000 Group 3 Caulfield Classic (2000m).
I am going to put Bachman on top. He has been set for the Derby since day one of his prep and all the signs are pointing to him being the leading contender. He was very good last time out in the Dulcify Quality (1600m) behind Hampton Court when running third in a leader-dominated race, and that form of course has been Group 1 franked. Up to 2000m suits and has the relative fresh legs compared to some of his rivals.
Magicool was a strong winner of the UCI Stakes (1800m) at Flemington on Turnbull Day, and the margin certainly flattered his opposition given that the horse was left in front a fair way from home and he wanted to have a good look at his surroundings. Ridden with cover and saved for the last crack at them, he can be even better, and improve enough to be a serious chance here.
Merion was one of the best runs of the beaten brigade in the Caulfield Guineas (1600m) last week, sitting worse than midfield, then being forced near the centre of the track on the turn, before picking up and making good ground to the line. Has always given the impression that 2000m and beyond will be his go and he gets his chance here to show his Derby credentials.
Bachman (3) ahead of Magicool (4), Merion (2) and Kumaon (1).
The mares get to tune-up for the Myer Classic (1600m) on Derby Day by going around in the $200,000 Group 2 Tristarc Stakes (1400m).
I am going to put Politeness on top. Her two runs this time in have been outstanding. First-up in the How Now Stakes (1200m) she was wide with no cover, yet surged late to run a close up fourth. In the Blazer Stakes (1400m) she was one of the runs of the day when fourth to Forever Loved given she was hooked straight back to last and made up a stack of ground late. Hopefully won’t be too far away from the good gate, and now being third-up, she should just about be at peak fitness.
Catkins has enough credit in the bank to forgive her for her last-start failure in the Golden Pendant (1400m) when second to Arabian Gold. Her first-up win in the Sheraco Stakes (1200m) was brilliant, but when it comes to the really good races, she lacks the killer punch to win, so that’s the worry. But on class and guts, she is the one to beat.
Sweet Idea was burnt early on in the Sir Rupert Clarke and while she got the dream split at the top of the straight, the damage had been done earlier on in the race when she was forced to hand up the lead. She draws outside Girl Guide, so I expect those two to fire out and control the tempo, perhaps with Sweet Idea crossing over and dictating given that Girl Guide is unknown at 1400m. Either way, a great chance.
Politeness (7) just, over Catkins (4), Sweet Idea (3) and May’s Dream (2).
Sprinters possibly heading towards races like the Sallinger Stakes (1200m) on Derby Day or the Darley Classic (1200m) on Stakes Day will test out their credentials in the $200,000 Group 2 Caulfield Sprint (1100m).
Driefontein is clearly on top. The Group 1 winner for Gai Waterhouse hasn’t been seen since finishing down the track in the Tatt’s Tiara (1400m) behind stablemate Cosmic Endeavour, and retirement was on the cards after that. But she is back, and for good reason if her Flemington jumpout win is any indication, where she led and won by about 10 lengths under only light hands and heels. I doubt she will cross I’m All The Talk, but she flies fresh and is another who seems to race best racing anti-clockwise.
Unpretentious wasn’t too far behind them in the Moir Stakes (1200m) when fifth of six to Buffering in a blanket finish. Away from the Valley should suit, as should getting away from weight-for-age and getting a genuine speed here to run on to. At his best, he can win this, and he gets conditions to show that.
A fast run 1100m might just suit Shamal Wind. She got too far back last week behind Griante, but in saying that, she was there to win 150 metres out, but she just didn’t finish. Maybe that’s because she had to do too much, maybe it’s because she doesn’t run 1200m. Fast run 1100m looks perfect for her.
Driefontein (2) to beat Unpretentious (3), Shamal Wind (7) and Bel Sprinter (1).
Brambles looks the best bet on the card in the David Jones Cup (2000m). The 2012 Queensland Derby winner had been struggling to find his best, but he produced it in the Turnbull Stakes (2000m) with a slashing third to Lucia Valentina after sitting on the speed. If he gets in the Caulfield Cup field, he will be a definite contender, but if not, bet on him here and watch him win as he heads towards the Melbourne Cup.
The big improver is Vilanova. His last start effort in the Craven Plate (2000m) was full of merit when third to Moriarty and Rising Romance, two contenders for the Caulfield Cup. We know he is a much better horse when racing anti-clockwise, so tying that with the nice weight drop and good gate, he is a threat if Brambles is off his game.
The other who could improve racing anti-clockwise is Slow Pace for Kris Lees. The former import has performed admirably in Sydney since coming over from the UK, but he really hasn’t show his best form, so perhaps coming back to this racing direction and a trip away could sharpen this horse right up.
Brambles (1) a special to beat Vilanova (7), Slow Pace (4) and Signoff (9).
A good lead-up for the Emirates Stakes (1600m) is the $150,000 Group 3 Moonga Stakes (1400m). Boban won this race last year en route to the Emirates, and I am tipping Leebaz to do the same. He has had a good break from racing, where he last ran in the Doomben Cup, finishing a narrow second to Streama. He is a Group 1 horse, make no mistake about that, and there is bigger fish to fry, so expect improvement from this run, but he looked sharp in a barrier trial at Rosehill early in September behind stablemate Entirely Platinum. Flies fresh and looks well-placed against this lot.
Ron Leemon produced one of the great training efforts to get Manawanui to win first-up in the Bill Ritchie Handicap (1400m) after nearly 12 months off. Prior to that, his last run was in this race last year behind Boban, where he was beaten five lengths. He went to the trials on Tuesday at Rosehill and was slick in the way he went about it when third. He has to prove that the first-up win was no fluke, and so far, he is going about proving that wrong in the best way possible.
Generalife… yikes. Enough said about last start. It was ugly to watch if you backed him (not me because I backed Famous Seamus), but what it did prove is that he is no ‘Winter Wonder’ and is capable of mixing it with the big boys at the right time of the season.
Big test here against this lot, but he does have race fitness along with residual fitness from the Winter on his side.
Leebaz (6) to win, over Manawanui (3), Generalife (8) and Under The Louvre (9).
In other races on the card:
Azkadella looks a special in the opener.
Stratum Star can continue the Darren Weir/Brad Rawiller hot streak.
Maastricht should be winning the Ethereal with normal luck from the barrier.
Miss Steele, Anatina or Cradle Me will win the last.