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The Roar's Australian racing calendar restructure: Sydney and Melbourne autumn

Where should you put your pennies this Saturday at Randwick racecourse? (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Expert
1st March, 2016
53

The Roar‘s racing calendar restructure continues today with a rundown of the proposed changes for Australian autumn racing, after Cam Rose walked us through our spring improvements on Tuesday.

The proposed spring program trimmed the current 28 Group 1 races down to 19, with the biggest changes affecting the sprint and mile ranks.

Most racing fans would agree that the current autumn calendar holds even more issues and that is represented by more radical changes below.

I will use 2016 dates to outline our proposal.

Saturday, February 6 – Caulfield

Orr Stakes: Downgrade to Group 2

Autumn racing starts a week earlier under our proposal and the Orr Stakes is the first of 11 autumn Group 1s to get the chop. That may seem harsh for a race that was a few years ago (off the back of Black Caviar’s 2012 victory) officially rated as one of the best in the country.

The bottom line is the Orr is the autumn’s Memsie. It usually draws a reasonably strong field of horses looking to kick off their autumn campaign. The fact that Sydney has the Apollo as its equivalent means that the best eligible horses are split across the two cities.

Saturday, February 20 – Caulfield

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Blue Diamond Stakes: Downgrade to Group 2
Futurity Stakes: Downgrade to Group 2
Schillaci Stakes: Transferred from the spring as a direct swap with the Oakleigh Plate and remains at Group 2 level but run over 1100m instead of 1000m

Usually the Lightning meeting would sandwich the Blue Diamond Stakes meeting at Caulfield but under these proposed changes, Saturday, February 13 would be free of any serious Group racing.

The Blue Diamond meeting takes the biggest hit of the autumn. The Blue Diamond itself is downgraded to Group 2 status on the basis that there only needs to be one 1200m Group 1 for two-year-olds each season. Naturally, that would be the Golden Slipper Stakes which is almost always the premier juvenile race in Australia each season, not to mention the world.

Furthermore, the Blue Diamond is run at the same time as Sydney’s Golden Slipper lead-ups which means the Diamond will hardly ever draw a field with the depth of the Slipper.

The Futurity Stakes at 1400m suffers the same fate as the Orr. It is usually a weaker race than the Orr in any event with many Orr runners progressing to the Peter Young 1800m, also run on this program.

The Schillaci Stakes fills the void left by the vacated Oakleigh Plate.

Saturday, February 27 – Caulfield

Black Caviar Lightning: Group 1

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The Black Caviar Lightning is moved a week forward so that it sits two weeks before the Newmarket in what is a significantly different autumn sprinting program. The race rightly retains its Group 1 status.

We have opted to move the Black Caviar Lightning to the track Black Caviar called home, Caulfield, largely because we think it will help draw the strongest field possible in the Newmarket Handicap, without actually impacting on the Lightning contingent.

On Monday, I spoke about the Sprinters’ Quintet – The Manikato Stakes, Darley Classic, Black Caviar Lightning Stakes, Newmarket Handicap and TJ Smith Stakes – as the premier series for the elite sprinters. The issue with the Quintet is that three races are held down the Flemington straight, a course which does not suit everyone. Moving the Black Caviar Lightning to Caulfield seems logical.

Saturday, February 27 – Canterbury

Canterbury Stakes: Revert to Canterbury, downgrade to Group 2, elevate in distance from 1300m to 1550m

I’m all for Canterbury hosting important Group races and to make this possible we have moved the Canterbury Stakes to the position of the Chipping Norton and changed the distance to 1550m to make the move to Canterbury Park possible.

The reason for the downgrade to Group 2 status, is that much like the Orr and Futurity, this race is very much a kick-off point for horses who are looking to peak deeper in the Carnival.

Friday, March 4 – Moonee Valley

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William Reid Stakes: Downgrade to Group 2 and move three weeks earlier in the calendar

The William Reid Stakes has become a Group 1 in name only. The race is currently run at the end of March and typically draws a field of tier two and three sprinters. For that reason the race loses its Group 1 status.

But by moving the race three weeks forward, we are attempting to breathe life back into the William Red. Essentially, this becomes the final lead-up for the Newmarket Handicap and a race that we expect many Schillaci horses will use on route to the Newmarket.

Saturday, March 5 – Randwick

Australian Guineas: Moved to Randwick to replace the now defunct Randwick Guineas
All Aged: Move from the final day of the Carnival to the place of the Canterbury, downgrade to Group 2, keep at 1400m

We are big fans of limiting the amount of Guineas run in Australia to only three – the Caulfield Guineas, Thousand Guineas and Australian Guineas.

Because the Caulfield and Thousand Guineas are run in the Melbourne spring for the respective sexes, the Australian Guineas should be run in Sydney in the autumn. We have decided to disband the Randwick Guineas – a race that has caused many programming issues since it replaced the Canterbury Guineas and was moved to 1600m.

We expect the Australian Guineas to be the premier 1600m three-year-old race in the country, bringing together the best fillies and colts from Sydney, Melbourne and New Zealand.

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The All Aged moves to the place of the Canterbury. At 1400m, instead of the Canterbury’s 1300m, we expect this race will stop drawing the attention of horses that should be running in the Sprinters’ Quintet series. The race loses its Group 1 status because the race is run too early in the autumn to attract all of the best sprinter-milers in the country. It will remain the major George Ryder lead-up.

Saturday, March 5 – Flemington

Australian Cup: Group 1, change to handicap

The Australian Cup, and it’s main lead-up, the Peter Young, have been moved forward a week to try and get the best horses from this race to Rosehill where they would be two weeks into the Ranvet or three weeks into the BMW.

Australian racing is desperate for a feature 2000m handicap and the Australian Cup is the perfect candidate because it is a meaningful race that is run towards the start of the autumn when some middle-distance stars (like Winx this year) are still gaining fitness over shorter distances. Of course the race was run as a handicap between 1863 and 1978 and 1982 and 1986.

Saturday, March 12 – Flemington

Newmarket Handicap: Group 1

The whole Melbourne sprint program has shifted in an attempt to restore the Newmarket Handicap to its former glory. The idea is that if all roads point to Flemington the strongest Newmarket field possible will be assembled.

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I’m hoping our changes to the program will have all the gun sprinters meeting five times through the season in the Sprinters’ Quintet. This race is key to the Quintet because it is the only handicap.

Saturday March 12 – Rosehill

Coolmore Classic: Downgrade to Group 2

An important race for mares in any event, the Coolmore Classic has not drawn enough Group 1-quality fields in previous years to retain its Group 1 status.

The Sky High Stakes is run over set weights and penalties over 2000m on this day and will probably become the feature race on this Rosehill card, acting as Sydney’s version of the Turnbull – the fork-in-the-road race for middle-distance gallopers. An upgrade to Group 2 status will probably happen in the coming years.

Saturday, March 19 – Rosehill

Golden Slipper: Group 1
George Ryder: Group 1
Ranvet Stakes: Group 1
Rosehill Guineas: Group 1, change name to Autumn Champion
Galaxy: Downgrade to Group 2

The Golden Slipper, George Ryder and Ranvet Stakes rightly retain their Group 1 status. I think many trainers appreciate having the Ranvet run three weeks before the Queen Elizabeth in what is a very modern program.

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The Rosehill Guineas changes its name to the Autumn Champion in keeping with our decision to run three Guineas each season, all at a mile. The Autumn Champion is the natural partner to Caulfield’s Spring Champion.

The Galaxy is the major TJ Smith lead-up for the tier-two Sydney sprinters – I would expect most tier-two Melbourne sprinters would now have a go at the Newmarket the week before and be three weeks into the TJ Smith if they dare to have a throw at the stumps. Therefore the Galaxy should no longer hold its Group 1 status.

Saturday, March 26 – Rosehill

BMW: Group 1
Storm Queen Stakes: Downgrade to Group 2

I was initially very critical of moving the BMW away from Slipper Day when this was done for the first time in 2015 but the program worked – even if the race-day attendance was abysmal.

The BMW is still the best 2400m race in Australia, but now also acts as a key Sydney Cup lead-up. And, importantly, this all helps make the Sydney Cup relevant again.

For the record, It’s a Dundeel used the BMW as his lead-up to Queen Elizabeth victory in 2014. He proved you could drop back in distance 400m in a two-week space successfully.

The Storm Queen is usually won by the dominant filly each season but it really doesn’t possess the depth of a Group 1 race, especially when the Australian Oaks is the true grand final.

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Saturday, April 2 – Randwick

Doncaster Mile: Group 1
TJ Smith Stakes: Group 1
Australian Derby: Group 1
Sires Produce: Group 1

This is clearly my favourite race meeting of the year because we get to see maybe 12-15 of the best 20 horses in Australia on the one day. Which other meeting in Australia can boast that?

All four Group 1s are deserving of their status, even if the Sires Produce is not the race it was 60 years ago. The Championships truly are the grand finals of Australian racing.

A $1 million prize money bonus will be awarded to the best-performed horse through the Sprinters’ Quintet which concludes with the running of the TJ Smith.

Saturday, April 9 – Randwick

Queen Elizabeth: Group 1
Sydney Cup: Group 1
Australian Oaks: Group 1
Queen of the Turf: Group 1

Another race meeting full of grand finals. Queen Elizabeth aside, you won’t see the same quality as we do the previous week but all four Group 1s are deserving of the title.

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Now that the Coolmore Classic and Storm Queen have been downgraded, the Queen of the Turf and Australian Oaks become crucial Group 1 races.

Saturday, April 16 – Warwick Farm

Chipping Norton: Group 1, shorten the distance to 1400m, replaces the moved All Aged
Champagne Stakes: Downgrade to Group 2

Cam was a massive advocate of running the last day of the Carnival at Warwick Farm and I think it’s a good idea, noting the success of Sandown Guineas Day in the spring.

As we saw in the 2015 All Aged, the end-of-autumn 1400m feature can produce a top field full of Doncaster and TJ Smith runners. For that reason the Chipping Norton keeps its Group 1 status – becoming the only Group 1 at 1400m through the autumn.

The Champagne, however, has not been able to consistently draw the depth of a Group 1 race so it loses Group 1 status.

And there it is – 11 Group 1 downgrades. The Newmarket is restored to its former might after a clean-up of a very messy sprinting program. I think turning the Australian Cup into a handicap will be a boon for the race. Most importantly, the clash of the two Guineas races is solved once and for all.

Be sure to drop a comment below, letting us know if you think we’ve nailed it or perhaps suggesting some other areas from improvement. After all, improvement of the calendar is what we are after.

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Our Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide readers will be excited to know that Cam will be looking at those cities’ Group 1 races tomorrow. A broom will be taken to the current calendar, making for interesting debate.