Australia is the only country in the world to have a public holiday for a horse race. We are known for loving a flutter.
Another racing season has all been run and won, with the 2017-18 season to officially close on Tuesday.
I’ll discuss Saturday’s races a bit further down, because we were treated to some terrific spectacles on the weekend, but now is as good a time to reflect on the year that was.
I’ll start with the positives and then reflect on some of the negatives that rocked the industry over the past 12 months.
Winx elevates herself from champion to legend
Let’s be honest, we’ve run out of superlatives to describe this wonderful mare. This season, she contested eight races – seven of them Group 1 events – and won them all.
Winx now has won 29 of her 35 career races, including 25 in a row. Her last defeat came way back in 2015 in the Group 1 ATC Oaks at Randwick. And if anyone remembers, she was given a poor ride by Moreira on a day when the fence was the place to be.
Chris Waller continues to get her ticking over and the fact she can win first-up over 1400m against fit horses is a testament to his training regime and her class.
A reminder of the races Winx won in 2017-18: Warwick Stakes (G1), Chelmsford Stakes (G2), George Main Stakes (G1), Turnbull Stakes (G1), Cox Plate (G1), Chipping Norton (G1), George Ryder (G1), Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1).
We are truly blessed to be watching her. She’s one of the greatest horses of all time.
Redzel becomes Australia’s best sprinter
He’s not bulletproof like Winx has become, but Redzel certainly stamped himself as Australia’s best sprinter this season.
The Peter and Paul Snowden-trained gelding contested eight races in 2017-18 and won five of them.
Importantly, though, he won the race that mattered most, The Everest. To win a $12 million race is a big deal and connections would have been rapt with the result.
Redzel also claimed the Concorde (G3), The Shorts (G2), Darley Classic (G1) and Challenge Stakes (G2), while was runner-up in the Lightning Stakes (G1) and TJ Smith (G1).
A terrific season and the challenge for him will be to back-up in the next 12 months. He’ll turn six on Saturday so needs to make hay while the sun shines.
The Everest captures the attention of the racing world
While I’m sure there are some grumpy old men out there who hate the idea of The Everest, there’s no doubt it has become Australia’s most talked about race.
As we saw on the weekend, when the two main sprint races were done and dusted all connections were asked about was The Everest.
I don’t want to go into it too much, because I wrote a piece about it a couple of weeks ago, but I cannot wait for this year’s running of what is now a $13 million event.
Lloyd Williams wins another Melbourne Cup
I’m not sure if this is a positive or a negative, but it happened again. The millionaire from Mount Macedon became the first owner in 157 years to quinella the race, when Rekindling narrowly defeated stablemate Johannes Vermeer in a punishing finish.
In front of a crowd of 90,536, Williams said that world racing had uncovered the next best horse trainer in Joseph O’Brien, the man who put the finishing touches on Rekindling.
As much as Lloyd deserves his success on the racetrack and has given plenty to the industry over many decades, I would dearly love to see a rags-to-riches tale at this year’s Cup.
The Melbourne Cup has become a playground for rich men and that’s why racing diehards are fast losing interest in the race that stops a nation.
Eagle Farm renovation a deadset disgrace
It’s been four years since the Eagle Farm track was first ripped up and after too many false starts we did not see one race run there in 2017-18. We might not see a race held there in 2018-19, but there are suggestions the track could be ready for racing at the end of this year.
It’s been an embarrassment for Racing Queensland and the Queensland government and the biggest loser has been the racing industry in the state, with trainers losing owners and revenue down as a result of shifting events from the state’s premier track.
Doomben is a decent racetrack, but it has suffered as a result of Eagle Farm’s closure and will likely need remedial works when the track across the road is finally ready for racing.
The fact it took at least three attempts to get it right – and we have yet to see proof that this attempt has worked – is simply not good enough.
Fingers crossed we see racing at Eagle Farm sooner rather than later.
Aquanita team damages an industry
It seems every year we have a scandal rocking the racing industry. Once again it was in Victoria involving one of the biggest operations in the state, Aquanita Racing.
Five horse trainers and three stablehands were charged with doping-related offences by Victoria’s Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board. Together, they faced 271 charges. Among those involved were trainers Robert Smerdon, Stuart Webb, Tony Vasil, Trent Pennuto and Liam Birchley.
Horses were found to have been illegally treated on race day, with some brazenly treated at the track before their races.
Bizarrely, Racing Minister Martin Pakula said it was “a good day for racing” and praised the work of the integrity unit.
“It shows that if you want to do the wrong thing, if you are determined to breach the rules of racing, you will be caught, you will be prosecuted, you will be found guilty,” he said.
I thought it was a good day for Racing Victoria, but a terrible day for racing. So many people bet on races hoping for a level playing field. So many people were dudded by the fact this ‘regime’ was able to be carried out undetected for such a long time.
Vega Magic back to his blistering best
Now for a look at Saturday’s action and the obvious highlight was seeing Vega Magic blow away the field in the Group 3 Bletchingly Stakes at Caulfield.
As predicted on this site on Friday, Vega Magic was the clear standout horse in this field and if he showed his best he would prove too good. And he did just that.
He’s almost certain to be offered a slot in The Everest now. Interestingly, head trainer David Hayes suggested Vega Magic would head to the Memsie Stakes (1400m) again.
“He might not wear the blinkers in the Memsie and might get them back on for The Everest,” he said.
“We needed no mistakes today but I feel, in a high-pressure race, the blinkers will be fine on him. I think the horse is every bit as good as last year.
“It’s good to see him back to his best and he’s a blockbuster sprinter on his day. That was impressive enough, hopefully, to gain a slot. He made some very in-form, good horses look ordinary.”
One horse that’s likely to face Vega Magic in the Memsie is Black Heart Bart, who was beaten a long way in the Bletchingly on Saturday, but finished the race off nicely. If he finds his best there could be a good race or two for him in the spring.
The other sprinter everyone was talking about was Nature Strip, who produced a brilliant sprint in the Lightning Stakes at Morphettville to confirm his credentials as a potential top-liner.
Trainer Darren Weir’s foreman Jarrod McLean said the Adelaide trip proved a point.
“That was awesome. We thought we’d get that today and that was a great result for the stable. He was on the back foot from the start. That wasn’t the plan to obviously be slow away but once he was able to get into his gear and muster the way he did, he buried them on the line,” McLean said.
With Chautauqua in doubt for The Everest, there’s every chance Nature Strip could find himself in the race in October.
The talented gelding ran 33.27 seconds for the final 600m despite being eased down on the line.
How we went
It was another successful day for followers, with Vega Magic getting the chocolates and Eusebio winning at nice odds in Sydney. It could have been more fruitful if not for Hiflyer’s unlucky run at Rosehill, where he finished fourth. He was wide the trip and didn’t have the sprint later to win, but he finished off well enough to suggest he’s a horse to follow.
Total spend in 2018: $406*
Total return in 2018: $561*
* Based on $20 spend per selection and CrownBet’s top tote dividend.
Randwick (NSW), Moonee Valley (VIC), Doomben (QLD), Belmont (WA), Morphettville (SA), Darwin (NT).