Zipping Classic: Almandin on class, Big Duke on form, or The Taj?

Tristan Rayner Editor

By Tristan Rayner, Tristan Rayner is a Roar Editor


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    Almandin was our 2017 Melbourne Cup tip, but after a shocking ride in that race, the ex-German stayer finds himself in the Group 2 Zipping Classic (2400m) at Sandown on Saturday.

    Frankie Dettori gave Almandin such a wide run that he covered an extra 22m of ground, according to official Trakus data. That’s no more than loose change over 3200m, but considering the horse finished 11.2L off the winner, Almandin could’ve been finishing much higher.

    Bygones are bygones but Almandin has shorted from an early $3.50 chance into $2.50 for the $300k Zipping Classic, which is run at weight-for-age conditions, and not a handicap. Almandin just wins on his best, but his best has suddenly disappeared.

    The market says he faces two main rivals in the field of eight: Big Duke, who ran a huge (yuge!) fourth in the Melbourne Cup, and The Taj Mahal.

    Big Duke put in a slashing run in the Cup, at his absolute best for trainer Darren Weir in the race. Despite seven runs this preparation, including the Cup, he’s going into the Zipping Classic as well as ever. At four goes at 2400m he’s won twice and placed twice, and could reasonably be the outright favourite over Almandin going on form, rather than class. And, if this was a handicap.

    Under weight-for-age, he carries 59kgs, the same as Almandin – a 3kg turnaround in the weights from the Cup. That’s obviously considerable and leaves us with a real question mark on how he’ll fare in the race. Both jump from the inside barriers and will be looking to hold a position off the speed on the rail, so they’ll be stalking each other during the race.

    Big Duke wears blinkers for the first time – I suspect this is a bit of an overdue trial in a much lower prizemoney race than what he’s been in recently – and I have to stamp him the best chance in the race.

    The Taj Mahal is the other horse in the race, an Irish import who’s changed trainers from Aidan O’Brien to the Robert Hickmott/Team Williams stable (soon to be Liam Howley/Williams stable, following news Hickmott is out), and therefore new stablemate to Almandin, as he’ll stay in Australia. This son of Galileo didn’t threaten in the Caulfield Stakes where his then stablemate, Johannes Vermeer, was a flashy second, but he did grab fourth in the Group 1 Emirates Stakes (2000m) last week to show he’s capable.


    (AAP Image/Mal Fairclough)

    This Galileo horse was running in Group 1s around Europe and the USA before this, and backing up into this race is a big pointer from the Williams team.

    Those three are all under $4.

    On the next line of betting are both Berisha and So Si Bon. Berisha showed that the Geelong Cup form was accurate into the back-up stayers race on Melbourne Cup day over 2800m, finishing just down the track in both. I don’t think this is easier but he should go well.

    So Si Bon is an interesting runner – he was placing in Group level sprints and the Sir Rupert Clarke (1400m) before stepping up further in the Cantala and Emirates Stakes only to finish down the order in both, where not everything went his way. His third-last in the Emirates is much better when you consider he only finished three lengths form the winner, so I think he has upside.

    “He just had a swim on Sunday morning and again Monday morning and afternoon and then I had a look at the field and I thought he had the form and he was in the right shape to really give that race a real shake,” Laing told

    “There’s no doubt he’s a better horse when he’s got some room to move and he’ll get that at Sandown for sure.”

    “I thought his Emirates run in a really good field was excellent to be beat three lengths and the previous Saturday, he just couldn’t make ground and neither could horses like Tosen Stardom.”

    He’s a classy animal by So You Think but he’s a place-chance here behind the main three.

    Assign is also in the race, another Team Williams horse to make three here. He won the Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) this time about last year but has only plugged this season. He’s likely to lead and put pace into the race, and likes the distance, but it’d be a shock to see him win.

    Consommateur looks poorly placed in this race even with a mare’s allowance, coming off two six lengths defeats in same-sex races including the Group 2 Matriarch where she was just too far back. She’ll be battling on late but I can’t see her getting a win here.

    Dandy Gent is the rank outsider, with just three wins from 36 starts and disappointed in the Kyneton Cup (2000m) last start. The race before that was much better but he should be giving both Almandin and Big Duke about 15kgs in a handicap, and instead goes around at the same weight. No thanks.

    Ouch, what a hard prospect to tip. The story isn’t clear. Almandin is an eight-year-old stayer who should be in next year’s Melbourne Cup even as a nine-year-old, as this will only be his 17th start after missing two years through injury. He won so well in the JRA Cup over 2500m, then was average in The Bart Cummings (2500m), and went about as well in the Melbourne Cup when many expected him to fire.

    Is he going well? Is Team Williams sending him around because there aren’t too many chances left for him at his age?

    He just wins based on his best form but we aren’t seeing it. Big Duke, on the other hand, is in career best form and even though he’s not quite as classy as Almandin, just keeps running hard. Blinkers on when back in distance is a little unusual but it might give him what he needs to keep him sharp.

    The Taj Mahal looks very very capable – originally out here for the Cox Plate – and is down in weight from his Emirates Stakes fourth.

    1. Big Duke
    2. The Taj Mahal
    3. Almandin
    4. So Si Bon

    Tristan Rayner
    Tristan Rayner

    Tristan is a writer, consultant, racing enthusiast and former Editor of The Roar who has turned the Melbourne Cup into a year-round study via

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    The Crowd Says (22)

    • November 17th 2017 @ 7:36am
      Jim said | November 17th 2017 @ 7:36am | ! Report

      A nice edition of the Classic tomorrow. Without that goose Dettori on his back, i expect Almandin will run much better. But Big Duke was great in the cup. Those two clearly on top for mine, but hard to split.

    • November 17th 2017 @ 8:40am
      Razzar said | November 17th 2017 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Good preview Tristan. A little disappointing with only a small field though. Big Duke for mine.
      Wonder if Lloyd will be gracing the Noble fields of the Greater Sandown district on this coming Saturday?

      The Sandown Guinness looks a good beating race. Medium to good tempo expected.
      Hypnotist looks the likely leader with Snitzepeg and i’ll Have a bit racing handy.

      Snitzepeg has reasonable form, and gets a nice run here, his real test is the mile. Comes through Carbine Club, but not completely convinced he’s a genuine miler. $8.50 rating

      Beau Geste reads to have upside on his side here. Fit, looks ready to show his best. $5 rating

      Octabello is hard fit, should sit back in field, with possible good cover. Capable of winding up late. $8.50 rating

      Vinland is a solid maiden winner last start. Obviously tougher here, slight chance in competitive race. $20 rating

      Villermont was recently beaten as fav, not having best of runs. Has upside, and can threaten here. $8.50 rating

      I’ll have a bit. Chased Banish at the Valley last start. That form for mine deserves respect, gets nice forward run here. Looks a good chance. But is only filly in race. $11 rating

      Good luck punters

    • November 17th 2017 @ 9:05am
      Razzar said | November 17th 2017 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      R10 the Mares race, good speed here.

      Petition does read to get another win here. Had little luck of late. Should be better than most, if not all of these.$3.20 rating

      Oregons Day looks about only threat, should enjoy a better run here, compared to recent starts. $5.50 rating

      Miss Gardenia looks to run in leading pack, got fitness on her side, could be cheeky, slight chance of stealing it. $11 rating.

      G L Punters.

      • Editor

        November 17th 2017 @ 4:19pm
        Tristan Rayner said | November 17th 2017 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

        Thanks for the thoughts across the day Razzar as always. Good punting!

    • November 17th 2017 @ 11:26am
      MAX said | November 17th 2017 @ 11:26am | ! Report

      Hallo Herr Rayner,

      I respect your knowledge and scholarship and enjoy your opinions.

      This race is the biggest trap of the day. Too many ifs and buts.
      Big Duke and The Taj Mahal are debits on my books, but I won’t be chasing.

      The ‘Be Careful’ sign is stamped on most races. Luqyaa (br13?) and Petition
      are my only two bets with confidence.

      Donald on Sunday with Weir/ Rawiller to fill the coffers is far more appealing.

      • Editor

        November 17th 2017 @ 4:11pm
        Tristan Rayner said | November 17th 2017 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

        Danke Max! I agree that it’s a tricky race and we should always remember not to chase, in any sort of investing indeed! 🙂

        I look forward to those Donald tips 😉

    • November 17th 2017 @ 3:25pm
      andrew said | November 17th 2017 @ 3:25pm | ! Report

      no horse has a worse prep all spring than so si bon. it is quite laughable really. no wonder he has a horse with a high rating who has won only 1 race. i dont think the trainer himself even knows if the horse is a kept fresh run on sprinter, miler or stayer. its the trainers job to work this out, map a program accordingly, and then his horse to peak on the day/race its set for.

      • Editor

        November 17th 2017 @ 4:20pm
        Tristan Rayner said | November 17th 2017 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

        I always like to think the trainer knows better than I do, but it is highly unusual. And he does run so well so often!

        • November 17th 2017 @ 4:46pm
          no one in particular said | November 17th 2017 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

          This time last year he had Miissrock running 3rd in the Wakeful and 5th in the Oaks, and in 12 starts since she has gone past 1200m once

    • November 17th 2017 @ 6:54pm
      Johnybulldog said | November 17th 2017 @ 6:54pm | ! Report

      Good stuff Tristan,great work over the spring mate…I’m waiting to hear KV’s thoughts…..he’s a genius in form!