Now we’re talking. The big guns are beginning to come back in Sydney, and we have three Group 1 races in Melbourne to get into.
The Caulfield Cup is here again and this year’s race might not look a rare vintage, but there’s an evenness among many of the top hopes that makes it supremely interesting.
Sadly, Admire Deus is out of the Cup and continues to fight on, but the good news is that Bonneval proved her fitness, overcoming a contentious lameness issue that her trainer refuted anyway.
One of the interesting things about this race is that there’s half a dozen horses who put the writing on the wall in the lead-ups, before not going on with it in their next outing.
Bonneval, Harlem, Humidor, Jon Snow, and arguably Hardham on a much lower level, won impressively and then faded on their next runs. All of those horses get their chance again, although Hardham winning will cause me to seek a tremendously strong drink.
Speed should be in the race with Team Williams declaring their hands with Johannes Vermeer expected to be much further forward than last start, and Sir Isaac Newton to be making the pace, as he’s better when rolling. Jon Snow should lead or be right there.
Change of Tactics: 21-10-2017 Caulfield R8 – No.3 Johannes Vermeer – positive, ideally 3rd-5th
— RVStewards (@RVStewards) October 19, 2017
Change of Tactics: 21-10-2017 Caulfield R8 – No.6 Sir Isaac Newton – lead, better rolling than being restrained
— RVStewards (@RVStewards) October 19, 2017
That speed should give us a truly run 2400m race and a staying event.
Let’s take a look at the runners.
He put himself forward in the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) and thrashed some of his rivals in this race, but then next outing he was third behind Winx when some thought he’d genuinely challenge. He beat the likes of rivals Gailo Chop, Ventura Storm and Inference in the Makybe Diva but then couldn’t get past Ventura Storm down the Flemington straight.
Trainer Darren Weir said after that he’d play with his gear, and has added a bubble cheeker to stop him hanging and tongue tie. He’s a bit of a difficult horse to train and ride according to reports, but if his head is in the game he’s a chance.
Query over a strongly run 2400m leads me to put him behind some others. Much prefer him at 1600m-2000m, but they won’t know until they try.
Brings strong French staying form out of the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m) and that makes him immediately in with a chance in the Caulfield Cup if he can unleash that here. Hugh Bowman chose Marmelo over a few rivals and that’s a big tick.
The query is that the Kergorlay this year was a bit of a funny race where they walked it. His main aim is the Melbourne Cup and it’s not often you happen to win another Group 1 on the way unless things go very right. The odds are generous but I’m much more keen on him in the Melbourne Cup and just want to see him run well here.
3. Johannes Vermeer
The Aidan O’Brien-trained runner, part-owned by Lloyd Williams, gave everyone notice when he flashed home last week in the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m). He drew an ideal barrier and was in form back home, winning the Group 3 International Stakes (2000m WFA) and was second in G3 Ballyroan Stakes (2400m). He’s only a young horse and has a win second-up, and drops in weight from last start.
There aren’t a lot of negatives but I’ll throw in that he’s never backed up as fast before, and his form is better over 2000m given he hasn’t won over 2400m. This distance test, only his second try, might not be as hard as what he’s faced back home but there’s a query there.
But the more you watch this, the more confident you might be:
You can't say he ain't much Gailo Chop!
— 7HorseRacing ? (@7horseracing) October 14, 2017
One other query – as we said at the start, all the horses that had their name in lights didn’t impress on the next run. Johannes Vermeer didn’t win but can he be as good second-up?
4. Jon Snow
Would dearly have appreciated some sting out of the ground but doesn’t look like he’ll get anything but a good surface. He was third last week behind Gailo Chop and Johannes Vermeer and is a little vulnerable without a damp track, being a bit one-paced.
But he stays, and Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman should have him right to go. The draw means he should be leading without using him up early. I can’t see him not running well.
5. He’s Our Rokii
Not going well, and is a query at the distance given he’s never raced beyond 2000m. He’s drawn wide and altogether, that’s enough to look elsewhere. He does like Caulfield at least, where he won the Toorak this time last year. Hasn’t done much since unfortunately!
6. Sir Isaac Newton
The only runner from last year who’s back, and he was seventh then, and not sure he’s doing better now. Will appreciate 2400m but he has drawn widest in 17, and they still want him to be on the speed. That early burn might get him galloping room which helps, but he’ll spend his tickets early. Prefer others.
7. Ventura Storm
He’s a leading chance. All throughout his prep, they’ve been talking about both peaking him for this race and that they can’t wait to get him out to a further distance. He was a good second in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) last start, and has Group 1 form in Europe although that is in Italian Group 1s which are struggling to hold their status.
He’s drawn well and should be in the top four – and importantly, should improve again into the Melbourne Cup. Damien Oliver on board is a good sign. He might just lack some dash that we can find so useful in Australian racing but the truly run race should help.
Here he is winning the Group 1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club – the call is half the fun.
8. Wicklow Brave
The old boy is back for Willie Mullins and is using the Caulfield Cup as a lead-up in the Melbourne Cup. Over 2400m he’s only raced once for no result, preferring much further distances.
I’m happy to leave him out and drawn wide makes that even easier, but a big watch to see how he goes for the Melbourne Cup later. Would be the oldest ever winner at nine. One of the few I’m ruling out.
An interesting runner and one that’s under the radar even though he won the Randwick Guineas. Dwayne Dunn has been riding him throughout and has been consistently happy with him and talking up his chances over 2400m, but he’s actually unproven over the distance and also hasn’t won on a good surface in eight goes.
Blinkers go on him for the first time which is an entirely fair roll of the dice for trainers Michael, Wayne and John Hawkes. His sire was the great So You Think, so maybe the 2400m does suit.
I’d throw him right in on a wet track but in the dry, he’s only top eight or so.
10. Single Gaze
Another quiet achiever who has been looking for 2400m, with jockey Kathy O’Hara saying as much at each of her outings so far this prep. She’s a tough mare, and drops 4kg from her last start where she was only just off Jon Snow.
She’s rock hard fit and has been gearing up for this race and a possible Melbourne Cup. The knocks are she might not be classy enough, hasn’t placed yet at Caulfield, and is just one of from nine at Group 1 level.
I like her and she stays, and while I’d be surprised if she wins, she’s a must in exotics.
Ah, Bonneval. She looked the Caulfield Cup winner from her form in the Group 1 Underwood Stakes (1800m), beating Hartnell and Gailo Chop. That was her sixth straight win and all was rosy.
That was, until, last start, where things went wrong to finish back in sixth, and she was found to be lame by vets after only running okay and with some skin off as well.
Her Kiwi training partnership of Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman – Baker anyway – said there was nothing wrong with her. She was graded 2/5 lame on Saturday, 1/5 lame during the week and finally passed fit on Thursday. Baker is a straight-shooter, saying after the vets found her fit: “I’m relieved it’s all okay, now I can go and have a beer and that’s what I’ll be doing.”
Jockey Kerrin McEvoy taking the ride is a plus on the form he’s in, and she’s very, very classy. I’m keeping her safe and she’s got a nice light weight, but the barrier didn’t do her any favours which is my biggest knock assuming she’s right.
He was incredibly disappointing when second in a restricted Inglis Cup at Caulfield, especially after a good win at Flemington before that. Going back, his form isn’t bad, when third in the ATC Derby, beaten less than a length by Jon Snow, but doesn’t get a lot of weight relief off him.
Trainer David Brideoak said back in autumn: “I think 2000m is his go but he’s a very clean-winded horse so when he gets racing, he’ll tell us where we go.”
Brideoak also indicated they might not even run him in the Caulfield Cup after his last start performance. I’m not including him in exotics just off that.
13. Boom Time
He’s an Australian stayer still proving himself. Last campaign culminated in him jumping up to the Sydney Cup, where he more or less failed in heavy conditions.
The Caulfield Cup on a good track will suit him better and he has at least won at this distance and at the track. He was fourth in the Herbert Power last start which is pretty good form but he’s not well weighted compared to classy types like Jon Snow. Top half for mine but aiming a little high.
14. Abbey Marie
Formguides show she hasn’t won since the Group 1 Schweppes Oaks (2000m) but she hasn’t been too far off them in her preparation, including a close second to Bonneval in the Group 2 Dato’ Tan Chin Nam Stakes (1600m) and in the tough Naturalism was solid enough.
Her race last week in the Caulfield Stakes again looks bad in the form guide but she put in good final sectionals that seem to show she’ll be enjoying the 2400m with a ligh tweight. Another hitch is that the Mick Kent-trained mare hasn’t run that distance before. Prefer others with more proven claims.
A really interesting import who gave notice when romping home in the Group 3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) when second-up. He then was more or less very disappointing in the Group 3 Bart Cummings (2500m) when he didn’t finish off. He drops a considerable 5kg to 51.5kg from that run and is a genuine lightweight chance.
I’m further influenced by the blinkers going on for the first time by trainers Hayes, Hayes and Dabernig, but drawing gate 1 might be tricky for jockey Chad Schofield.
Look, I’m prepared to forgive him in the Bart Cummings. A close look at the replays seemed to show he lost concentration for some reason – distractions or didn’t enjoy being hard ridden. Many others are seriously downgrading his chances from it, but with the blinkers on and the weight pull – including on Amelie’s Star by 2kg – means he’s in this. Looks like he prefers a firm surface too.
All in all, he’s one I’m including in everything.
16. Amelie’s Star
She’s a great lightweight hope for the Darren Weir stable, and finally put things together after warming up in her preparation to belt them in the Group 3 Bart Cummings (2500m). Craig Williams takes the ride after things went wrong with Admire Deus which is a boost. She’s also won twice at this distance.
She’s by no means home and hosed – no wins at the track in three starts, it’s just her second time at Group 1 level, and the draw looks bad for her as she’ll likely to be just worse than midfield, and needing some luck. If she gets it, she’s a big chance.
17. Lord Fandango
It’s been a big rise for Lord Fandango, who wasn’t taking names in BM 78 races at Bendigo and the ‘Bool when he first arrived as an import from England. But then he won the Benalla Cup and took them up in the Herbert Power Stakes to win by a length as a bit of a bolter.
He’s now arrived in the Caulfield Cup with a meteoric rise behind him and nothing on his back, carrying 50kgs.
There’s a little question mark on the back-up since the Caulfield Cup wasn’t his plan initially, and the Herbert Power has only seen Caulfield Cup winner from it in the past 47 years courtesy of the old Master O’Reilly in 2007. But he has that turn of foot which saw him win the Herbert Power and owners OTI Racing know what they’re doing. Track and distance are ticks and the draw was ok. I’d be surprised if he won but it’d be some story. Exotics for mine.
It’s a wide open Caulfield Cup. Betting markets back this up further and there’s really not that many you can rule out and feel safe.
Since writing this Johannes Vermeer has come further in and is almost silly odds he’s so short. I couldn’t back him as short as $4 and even though he’s my on top selection I don’t think he’s value.
It’s really not an easy race to feel confident with, but here are my top four selections:
1. Johannes Vermeer (3) – but not backing under $5
2. Bonneval (11) – looks genuine overs
3. Harlem (15) – replace with Jon Snow (4) if worse than a Good 3 track on the day
4. Ventura Storm (7) – big hope