The return of my weekly specials comes this Saturday, 29 June, at Caulfield.
Racing has once again been making headlines for the wrong reasons due to the Darren Weir scandal.
It’s more disappointing than shocking when stories of this magnitude are revealed within the sport of kings.
We’d all like to think dodgy practices in order are a thing of the past, but human nature dictates this will never be so – this is exacerbated in racing with huge amounts of wagering involved, the whole premise of which is built on finding an edge over bookies and fellow punters. It’s part of why we love it.
The Darren Weir shadow will linger over the entire autumn carnivals in Melbourne and Sydney, given many of the gallopers formerly under his care will play a prominent role.
The C F Orr Stakes, the first Australian Group 1 race of the calendar year, is an example of this, with four horses from his yard in the race, including three of the first four in betting.
All four ex-Weir horses resumed in the Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley two weeks ago, and that is our starting point.
Whispering Brook (ex-Weir, now back to Simon Miller) took out the race after getting a dream run on the rail behind the speed, justifying her favouritism. She really did have every favour, but may well be caught in the midfield ruck from an awkward draw this time around.
The battle-hardened campaigner Fell Swoop was second to Whispering Brook, but has been scratched from this event. He was the likely leader, so it does shake things up.
The eye-catchers of the Australia Stakes were Land of Plenty (ex-Weir, Cairon Maher) and Redkirk Warrior, who both came wide from the tail into 3rd and 5th respectively.
Land of Plenty proved himself a Group 1 horse, albeit at handicap level, in the spring, but this type of weight-for-age race is within his scope, especially stepping up in distance.
Redkirk Warrior is enigmatic, and it’s been almost two years since he raced beyond 1200m but has been set for longer races this time in.
Brave Smash (ex-Weir, Kris Lees) was fairly ordinary first-up, ninth of 10 in the Australia Stakes, but his former trainer rarely had them ready to fire under those circumstances, so we can expect better.
Manuel was 7th in the same race, and is outclassed at this level. Fifty Stars (ex-Weir, David Hayes) was okay in sixth sticking to the rail while others were tracking wide, but it didn’t scream coming Group 1 WFA winner.
There are a number of horses having their first start this prep, which can often lead to success in the Orr Stakes.
Kementari is the best of these, and the clear testing material of the race. While he hasn’t won since last March when he took out the Randwick Guineas, he has three Group 1 WFA placings in the meantime, plus a couple of fourth’s at that level too.
He’s always around the money, and first-up over 1400m strikes as a good recipe for him – James McDonald should position handy from an inside draw too.
Kementari should look the winner at some stage, or will have gotten desperately unlucky.
D’Argento is similar to Kementari, in that he won the Rosehill Guineas back in March last year and hasn’t passed the post first since, but has run top four a few times at the elite level.
His first-up third to Winx at 1400m last prep would put him right in the conversation here, and it’s worth remembering he did beat home Kementari there. He must be a player.
Material Man is the interesting runner, over from Perth. He ran good placings in the WA Group 1 races in November, but it’s been a while since the talent from over there measured up.
Best of Days is the only last start Group 1 winner in the field, remembering he took out the Cantala Stakes on Derby Day last year.
WFA is a new test, but if he has progressed between preps as much as he did during last campaign he’s a sneaky chance.
Of the rest, Shillelagh is a high-quality mare that is good for a win every now and then, but it’s usually reserved for 1600m and a bigger track.
Moss ‘N’ Dale is a hardy beast that will give an honest account and it wouldn’t shock to see him fill a hole.
Holbien would need to grow another leg. So Si Bon is outrageous odds at 100-1 for a horse that’s in form and has been Group 1 placed at the track and trip – he should be a third of that and is worth a place ticket. Mask of Time has too much against him.
The speed could go either way with no natural leader engaged, but there are a few that could take it up. If a number of jockey’s have the same idea it could inject some speed into the race, but otherwise they might all hold back and a dawdling affair will ensue.
Selections: 1.Kementari 2.Land of Plenty 3.So Si Bon 4.D’Argento
The Blue Diamond is only two weeks away, so much will be gleaned from the Preludes to be run on Saturday.
The fillies edition looks stronger at face value, and the betting markets in both races are sure to be as interesting as the races themselves.
The Rubiton Stakes also holds a great deal of interest with the return of Nature Strip. Controversy is never far away with this horse, and the fact he is another ex-Weir horse ensures that will be the case for some time to come.
What can Chris Waller do with him? His old stablemate Voodoo Lad, no with Cairon Maher, will be closing hard to expose any chinks in his armour.
Up in Sydney, there are a couple of Inglis races worth seven figures that will lead to some very happy connections. Being restricted races, it’s hard to know how these races will measure up against all opposition.