The Mounting Yard heads back to Caulfield this week for a bumper nine-race winter program.
Group 1 racing is upon us once again, albeit earlier in the racing season than we are used to.
The Memsie Stakes at Caulfield has been the Group 1 kick off since its upgrade in 2013, but the ATC can’t live with Victoria stealing a march, thus performing an unnecessary upgrade of their own.
The Winx Stakes, formerly the Warwick Stakes, is now a Group 1.
Winx herself has won the race in the last two years, a fitting name on the honour roll that includes champions like Bernborough, Tulloch, Kingston Town, Super Impose, Sunline and Lonhro.
That doesn’t mean the race itself should attain Group 1 status, especially given the best horses are only ever going to use this as a campaign kick-off.
That said, this year’s field is a good one and we can look forward to it with relish.
Last year, Winx’s win in this race was the most narrow of her 25-run winning streak. Hearts were in mouths across the nation after the great mare bungled the start before she got off the canvas and posted arguably her most thrilling win. The ‘will she, won’t she’ took place all the way down the straight.
Is Winx becoming more vulnerable as time goes on? It would be understandable if so. Four of her wins in the last 12 months have been by a length or less. In the previous two and a half years, there was two.
If she is going to be susceptible, it will be around this 1400m trip early in her campaign, but is there a horse in the race that can expose her?
Kementari is the one most likely.
It’s easy to forget that he didn’t win a race last spring, with a second in the Caulfield Guineas his campaign highlight. He became a new horse in the autumn, however, winning three races in a row upon resuming, culminating in an authoritative Randwick Guineas win.
He was too good for the likes of Trapeze Artist, Pierata and D’Argento back in these races.
He then showed he could mix it at the top level with a third in the George Ryder behind Winx and Happy Clapper, beaten only a length and a half.
Kementari lost no admirers a fortnight ago over 1200m in the Missile Stakes, getting busy late after being held up, and almost running down Pierata who is on a short-course campaign. Second-up and 1400m appeals for him to improve significantly, which he will obviously need to in order to claim victory.
With Kementari drawn seven compared to Winx in five, the Godolphin horse will likely push across the field to take up a position in the third pair, behind a number of known on-speed runners – Religify or Cabez De Vaca will probably take up the pace, but Classic Uniform and Oriental Runner will be up and handy too.
Bowman on Winx will likely be stalking Kementari everywhere he goes. He’ll be wary of letting him get any sort of break on her.
Chris Waller has two others that he hopes will go onto establish themselves as Group 1 open company performers.
D’Argento is coming off a Rosehill Guineas win and a Doncaster fourth in the autumn, establishing himself as a serious racehorse. All eyes will be on him to see how he has returned as a four-year-old.
Unforgotten won the ATC Oaks and is on a Cups campaign. It’s always exciting to see how the resuming stayers are going to stack up in the early weight-for-age races with longer goals in mind.
Ace High, the VRC Derby winner, is coming off a thankless campaign where he ran well all the way through but just couldn’t nail a win. Keep an eye on him from a Caulfield Cup perspective.
4. Ace High
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There are some other interesting races taking place, at both Randwick and Caulfield.
The Golden Slipper place-getters, Oohood and Sunlight, will be running. Oohood was three times Group 1 placed in her two-year-old year, and we saw Sunlight resume in Adelaide behind Nature Strip a fortnight ago.
The Lawrence Stakes at Caulfield will also see some big names starting up again including Hartnell, Humidor, Boom Time, Caulfield Guineas winner Mighty Boss, and Australian Guineas winner Grunt.
It promises to be a race of intrigue and quality.