In AFL, they call it the premiership quarter. In the golf majors, they call in moving day.
Saturday was racing’s version. It was statement day for a number of horses, and some of our elite talent stamped themselves favourites for many of the big Group 1s coming our way in the next two months.
Market framing by its nature is reactionary and based on the recent events, but even allowing for that, the current ruling favourites in the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate, Caulfield Guineas and Thousand Guineas all won on Saturday.
Winx is always the headline act when she runs, and has obviously been an unbackable Cox Plate favourite ever since demolishing last year’s field.
She stepped away tardily in the George Main on Saturday, which is becoming a little problem for her, and settled third last with plenty of clear air around her as the field went along at a solid clip.
For the third run in a row this prep, race fans had a heart flutter mid-race while watching Winx. This time, she was under riding at the 800m and apparently struggling to keep up. It’s as dour and uncomfortable as she has ever looked in a race, particularly in her streak of 20 wins.
At the 400m, she still had some work to do. At the 300m, there was only a minor query. At the 200m, the race was over, and it was only a matter of her winning margin.
Winx (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Happy Clapper ran out of his skin to get within a length and a half of the great mare. Foxplay, a Group 1 winner and going well enough in her own right, was six lengths away in third. It was another marvellous performance from Winx, dominating anther Group 1 and leaving good horses a long way behind.
Melbourne Cup winners hold a special place in Australian racing’s pantheon, and Almandin proved his strength and quality in taking out the 2016 edition in a two horse war down the straight.
He returned to the winner’s circle on Saturday in arrogant fashion, lumping 61kg’s to a three length win over 2500m, beating a handful of stablemates and a few promising stayers. In doing so, he marked himself as the horse to beat for the Melbourne Cup again.
He’s been allocated 56.5kgs this time around, after carrying 52kgs to victory last year. Based on his two performances this campaign, he’s well in at that weight, and has clearly improved as an eight year old.
Almandin has only had 14 career starts, and is unbeaten in the five times he’s raced between 2200m-3200m. Whether he’ll receive a penalty for Saturday’s win is unknown, but one thing is for certain – if he wins the Caulfield Cup, he will still only carry the same weight in the Melbourne Cup thanks to the RVL ruling last week.
Frankly, team Williams would be stupid not to run him in the Caulfield Cup, and the five week break between now and then is perfect. He would then be 17 days into the Melbourne Cup.
While on the Caulfield Cup, Humidor launched himself into favouritism with his withering burst down the outside in the Makybe Diva Stakes.
The win itself was impressive enough, but it was the horses he sailed past and left well behind that spoke to the enormity of his victory. The Group 1 credentials of Hartnell and Black Heart Bart are beyond reproach, and by any reckoning they are in the best half dozen horses in the country. Yet they couldn’t get within three lengths of Humidor on the day.
Humidor has built a commanding record between the distances of 1600m-2040m, with eleven starts for six wins and four seconds, but the Caulfield Cup is run over 2400m. The horse has tackled that trip twice, to be beaten a combined 13 lengths.
Humidor’s two best wins have now been at Flemington, and it’s clear he appreciates the lengthy straight, where he can barrel along in a straight line of sustained speed. He runs well at Caulfield, but is yet to win there, so question marks are going to linger.
Catchy is favourite for the Thousand Guineas, even though the Hayes camp thinks enough of her to possibly tackle the Caulfield Guineas instead. She was a star two-year-old, airborne late to win the Blue Diamond, and has returned bigger and better after her Danehill Stakes win against the boys.
She didn’t jump cleanly on Saturday and copped a little buffeting in the early stages, but was able to sustain a 500m sprint for longer than her rivals once Regan Bayliss moved her out onto the crown of the track.
Catchy will meet all of her rivals from Saturday better at the weights if they meet in the Caulfield Guineas, and they’ll find it very hard to turn the tables. She appears to have the Thousand Guineas at her mercy if connections take that tack.
All of the above offered up sterling performances on Saturday, yet the win of the day might have been in a listed race for three-year-olds.
Royal Symphony was already the favourite for the Caulfield Guineas thanks to a winter campaign as a two-year-old that saw him record three victories in a row rising through the grades, each more dominant than the last.
He jumped even money favourite on Saturday, but despite jumping from barrier six was jammed up on the rail after the five horses drawn his inside all went forward. At the 800m, there was only three or four horses behind him and he was surrounded on all sides with no clear air to be seen.
Jockey Dwayne Dunn had no choice but to ride for luck once the field was straightening and it’s up for debate whether he made a couple of wrong 50/50 calls targeting the inside rail rather than hooking around 1-2 horses off the fence to where half-gaps were starting to appear.
Royal Symphony was hampered at the 350m, and Dunn almost had to stop riding and find another run. To the horses’s credit, he picked up and let down once he found room, to win from a position in which he was in no way entitled.
This was the win of a star in the making.
There were gun horses winning everywhere on Saturday, all of them with authority. They set the spring carnival on fire. Gauntlets have been thrown down. Let’s see if any challengers can rise.