Legendary mare Winx has taken yet another win in her penultimate race at the George Ryder Stakes, making it a record 32 consecutive victories.
It’s almost Stakes day at Flemington, the last day of the Melbourne Cup week carnival at Australian racing’s headquarters.
It’s been a long and punishing week on the punt for some, including this writer, but rewarding for others I’m sure.
It’s time to either bounce back, or surge further ahead, and there are two big Group 1’s on offer.
VRC Sprint Classic
This is clearly the race of the day, if not the race of the carnival altogether as Australia’s best sprinters gather in the one place, soon to thunder down the Flemington straight six.
Five of the 14 horses here ran in the Everest, which is always going to be a hot form race going forward.
Redzel bounced back to form in the Everest, relishing the heavy going to take it out for the second year running. He’s been at or near the top of the sprinting ranks in Australia for almost two years and will be awfully hard to beat again, as he always is.
The bottomless track saw a few come undone in the Everest, and In Her Time, US Navy Flag and Brave Smash can all fall into that category.
Brave Smash has already come out and won the Manikato which was his second Group 1 weight-for-age win this year. In is only run down the straight, he ran second in the Newmarket earlier this year. He’s the overs of the race, probably because he had all the favours in the Manikato while many of his rivals didn’t.
In Her Time is a super honest mare, but is probably a length or so off the real topliners, and usually finds one or two better at this level. This is her first trip to Flemington, so she’s making her straight track debut.
US Navy Flag’s two runs have been inconclusive since arriving in Australia. He finished last in the Manikato won by Brave Smash but was on the back foot out of the gates and never got into the race. By the time he might have shown something he had no room and got chopped out. It’s hard to know how well he’s going, but he is a Group 1 straight winner in the UK.
Santa Ana Lane ran sixth in the Everest, but it wasn’t so much the wet track as how far back he was that robbed him of his best chance, while Redzel was doing what he liked up in the lead. His Flemington record isn’t flash, but all of those runs were well over a year ago, before he became the star he is.
A number of others shape up from the Manikato Stakes behind Brave Smash, including the next four horse across the line with only a length between them and boy there were some great runs in there.
Raider Spirit of Valour was second in the race after being three wide on the speed, and it was this galloper that Brave Smash sat on the back of conserving all energy before just grabbing him in the shadows of the post. It’s easy to think if you swap their runs you swap their positions. The start before he was a top second at Caulfield behind the in-form Ball of Muscle, so you can trust him.
Kementari was third in the Manikato, trying to reel them all in from the tail. He really surged once they straightened up and if this race was at 1400m instead of staying at 1200m he’d be $2.50 favourite. Seven times he’s run top four at Group 1 level.
Spright also charged late in the Manikato, to finish fourth. Kementari had her back and used her to take him into the race, so she lost no admirers by comparison but is five or six times the price. She’s drawn beautifully assuming the grandstand rail is the place to be.
Invincible Star led them along in the Manikato and gave her all to only be beaten a length while the others were coming over the top. It was a good return to form, but it’s no easier here.
Fleet Review was four and five wide in the Manikato and had to weaken, but a number of others look to have his measure. Intelligence Cross doesn’t get out of the barriers, and even his European form tells us he’s not the most reliable conveyance.
There are three other runners in the field, and all add considerable intrigue.
Redkirk Warrior is the outstanding straight horse of the field. He’s won two Newmarket Handicaps, a Lightning Stakes and a Bobbie Lewis at the Flemington 1200m, and has proven he can do it from the front or back. He flopped badly in his two UK runs, but has proven to be a deadly fresh horse in his time under David Hayes. You’d be taking him on trust.
Jungle Cat won the Rupert Clarke Stakes with top weight back in September, no easy feat, but has been freshened since failing in the Toorak. He’s a fighter, no doubt, and has his share of class, but this is a tough ask.
Pierata is the fresh sprinter on the scene after taking out the Sydney Stakes on Everest day in quicker time than Redzel won the big race. He accelerated like a top-class horse and clearly relished the going but is also a real talent. He beat Kementari when they met at 1200m in August.
Invincible Star will lead from Redzel, with Redkirk Warrior sure to be prominent, and the others will shuffle around behind them. We have to think wider barriers are the order of the day, but this is a very difficult race to be confident in.
Selections: 1.Redkirk Warrior 2.Spirit of Valour 3.Redzel 4.Spright
The Mackinnon has been moved from day one of Cup week to day four, but the fact is it has drawn a pretty ordinary field. If it wasn’t for the presence of two internationals, this would almost be a Group 3.
Blair House is the ruling favourite due to being the only horse with any sort of Australian Group 1 WFA lead-up form. He ran fourth in the Underwood Stakes in a great run from last, and then was nosed out by Benbatl in the Caulfield Stakes – we know that horse is world class and ran second to Winx in the Cox Plate.
Latrobe is coming off three Group 1 runs in Europe, winning the Irish Derby and placing in the Irish St Leger. He beat Rostropovich in the Derby and we saw that horse run top five in the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday. It’s easy to think he’s got the quality to figure in the finish.
Shillelagh has been flying all prep, and we know what she’s going to do – she gets back and rattles home, and every now and she gets there. She always runs well though, and is a dual Group 1 winner, both at Flemington, one of them coming last Saturday in the Empire Rose Stakes.
Trap For Fools will lead this field along, which gives him some chance. There’s no fitter horse in the race, and we know he got within two lengths of Winx in the Turnbull, and had some very good horses around him. He might just be able to pinch it, but will give a great sight for your money regardless if you want to bet around the favourites.
It’s Somewhat is going okay, but just okay, at the level below. He’s a place chance given the lack of depth here. Prized Icon and Octabello have been racing consistently in weaker races than this but are first four hopes if everything goes their way.
Not too many hit a $2M Group 1 at Flemington off consecutive runs at Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Randwick and Sale, but here is the well-named Doubt Defying. He doesn’t know how to run a bad race and has won five of his last six, so why not a throw at the stumps for him. He won’t run last.
There are two three-year-old colts backing up off the Derby on Saturday, and both add intrigue to the race.
Extra Brut was a barnstorming Derby winner that has shown a love for Flemington. Will he still have the freshness in his legs to be able to sprint in WFA company after running over 2500m only a week ago? He’s a player.
Mickey Blue Eyes has run well at 2000m earlier in his campaign and has shown he possesses a sharp finish. The Hayes camp has a knack for getting these sort of things right, so don’t be surprised to see him somewhere around the mark.
Trap For Fools will certainly lead, and likely have his own time of it. That could make things interesting depending on how hard John Allen wants to go. Latrobe and Blair House shouldn’t be far away, while Shillelagh and the two three-year-old ’s should be out the back.
Selections: 1.Blair House 2.Latrobe 3.Trap For Fools 4.Shillelagh