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The day before Queen Elizabeth Stakes Day is a time for both looking forward to some more Group 1 races and for looking back on the carnival that has gone by thus far.
In setting out on this task,the first challenge was how to correctly refer to the final day of the carnival, given that it has been so drastically altered from how it was a few years ago.
There has been a lot of commentary about this, which is no bad thing in and of itself. My own view, for what it’s worth, is that the last day has been at once strengthened and diminished by the recent program tweeks.
The transfer of the Kennedy Mile to Derby Day obviously weakens the meeting, but I would argue that the appearance of the VRC Sprint probably compensates for the loss.
Having said that, the fact that the best mares have to choose between the Kennedy Mile and the Empire Rose on Derby Day is far from ideal.
The repositioning of the Mackinnon Stakes has been more controversial. I wrote earlier in the week that the jury is still out on this one.
I would simply add that last year’s Mackinnon, brilliantly won by Tosen Stardom, was the event of the carnival, while this year’s looks really down on quality. It is a poor race, with no Cox-Plate runners backing up, which must be unprecedented
Elsewhere during the carnival, I felt that the three-year-old classics were the worst examples of each for many, many years. The Derby provided a blanket finish on the back of a crazy pace, while the Oaks just looked like a weak race.
The favourites didn’t stay, and lacked the class to make up for this deficit. The Cup was reasonable, but the winner was only having his eighth run, which probably says something about the quality of his opponents.
It will be interesting to follow the development of the carnival in future years, but I do feel that the VRC has a major challenge ahead of itself in keeping the Melbourne Spring at the forefront of our sport, where it has traditionally sat very comfortably.
Tomorrow’s program, aside from the Mackinnon and I would argue a shallow Matriarch Stakes, has held up quite well.
Finding a winner will be as tricky as ever, but I do feel there are a couple of good value options to consider. Redzel will no doubt dominate market for the VRC Sprint, but I think the wet track flattered his Everest triumph.
Redkirk Warrior is an outstanding straight horse as we all know, and there is no reason at all to dismiss the possibility of his repeating his Lightning Stakes victory earlier in the year over Redzel.
Pierata has a huge chance also, but the one I really fancy at the odds is Spirit of Valor. Both his Australian outings have been terrific, especially his close second in a very strong Manikato Stakes to Brave Smash, one of his rivals again tomorrow.
I think he can improve and his barrier position might be the place to be on a wearing track. I would be very surprised if numbers nine to 14 were good enough to figure here.
Blair House is awful value in the Mackinnon at about $2.25. While his two starts in Melbourne have been excellent, he hasn’t run for a month, and his assignment tomorrow is very different from what was asked of him in his two Caulfield runs. I love the arc of improvement drawn by Trap for Fools in recent times.
His run in the Turnbull was outstanding, coming off a poor showing at Moonee Valley in the JRA Cup. Last time out, he was brave in defeat in the MV Cup, and dropping back to the Flemington 2,000 metres should suit him nicely.
Shillelagh is in the mix, but the 2,000 might be as far as she wants and I just wonder if she is quite good enough to win two Group Ones within a week. It is a weak Mackinnon, as I have said, so she should not be discounted entirely.
In the Queen Elizabeth, meanwhile, Jaameh deserves favouritism on the back of an excellent third in a strong Lexus last Saturday.
It might be one of those situations, however, where he will either win easily or miss a place – maybe not the kind of circumstance into which punters should stumble. Once again, good luck to one and all.