Australia is the only country in the world to have a public holiday for a horse race. We are known for loving a flutter.
The Lightning Stakes carries Black Caviar’s name these days, in honour of Australia’s greatest sprinter.
It’s fitting that on the day her race is run, the mare that took her mantle as the most beloved thoroughbred in the country resumes her campaign.
While most people will have Winx up in Sydney as their number one focus on Saturday, the Lightning Stakes is the feature race of the day and the only Group 1 being run.
Already we are seeing the Lightning as a competitive betting race, with no clear-cut favourite, two-thirds of the field first-up and horses of all age and sex that haven’t met before.
The four three-year-old’s are all well in the market.
Sunlight is the favourite, an uber-consistent sprinting filly that was placed in the Golden Slipper at two and won the Coolmore Stud Stakes last time we saw her. Her best asset is that she makes her own luck up on the speed and can keep going quicker than her rivals.
It’s hard to see her not being in the finish at the end, unless they overdo it up front.
Lean Mean Machine was third to Sunlight in the Coolmore on Derby Day, after being ridden warmer than expected. We’ll likely see him in the second half of the field this time around, hoping for a hot tempo to unleash his turn of foot.
Written By was fourth in that Coolmore, behind both Sunlight and Lean Mean Machine, and really had no excuses despite ending up in the stewards report with some lacerations. He resumed first-up with a second to Bons Away, a smart sprinter in his own right, and was going to take plenty of benefit from the run.
The jury is out on whether he is going to make the top grade in open company.
Graff is something of an x-factor, given he didn’t run in the Coolmore against his fellow sprinting three-year-olds, instead taking on The Everest where he ran a very creditable fifth. That followed on from a Golden Rose third, so his credentials are sound for a race like this.
There’s no doubt he has the talent to win and has been primed to do so.
The Everest form is also represented by another couple of Sydney horses, Osborne Bulls and In Her Time.
As a five-year-old, Osborne Bulls has only had three preparations but has taken great strides in each one. Coming off a spring where he ran third in The Everest and effortlessly won a Group 2 down the straight on Derby Day lumping a lot more weight than his rivals, there is nothing to suggest he won’t go to another level again.
It would be a major surprise if Osborne Bulls didn’t win at least one Group 1 this campaign, but is the 1000m trip going to be just that bit too short for him? He’ll certainly be coming home like a hungry dog for dinner.
In Her Time has been a high-class sprinter for a couple of years now, as honest as the day is long. She does have a habit of finding one or two better at the highest level and has never raced below 1100m before, but it’s worth noting she hasn’t missed a place on a good track since April 2016.
In Her Time has been the best backed in the early markets, suggesting she’s ready to fire and produce a big one.
The fascinating runner is Jedastar, the two-year-old filly from the Lloyd Kennewell stable having only her third start. Having “a feather on their back” is an old racing saying for a light-weight chance, but carrying only 44kg’s under weight-for-age conditions is certainly an eye-opener.
Jedastar won at the track and distance on debut, so knows what the straight is all about. Lyre finished well behind her that day, and we saw that filly win the Blue Diamond Prelude on Saturday, so there is something there to recommend her.
Battle Hero, Glenall, Missrock and Divine Quality are the stragglers in the betting. The first two would appear to be lacking the class to trouble this field. Missrock does pop up occasionally, including when running third in this race last year, but isn’t at her best. Divine Quality could be the bolter to watch based on her win down the straight in Cup week – hers was a remarkable performance against some very good mares.
The Lightning is a $750,000 Group 1 over 1000m. Speed is going to be a given. The Perth horse Battle Hero likes to go quickly, as do Written By and Sunlight, who will be looking to use their three-year-old’s weight.
Jedastar’s best chance is to go quickly up front too – Chris Casserta should take up the lead on her with the others parking just behind her.
4.In Her Time
Also of interest at Flemington will be the CS Hayes Stakes, where the Australian Guineas hopefuls will have a crack at each other. It’s a hard field to dissect given differing formlines, and it’s hard to know which horses have made a leap after having a spell – Mickey Blue Eyes doesn’t look the worst at long odds if he has learned a bit more after some time in the paddock.
At Randwick, Winx in the Apollo Stakes is, of course, the headline act, but the race will also be important to see how the likes of Happy Clapper and Unforgotten have returned, among others. In fact, each horse in the race has loftier goals in mind, so the form out of it could be strong.
There are some good support races too. The unbeaten Brutal takes on the Sydney way of going for the first time under race conditions, after recording wins at the three main metropolitan tracks in Melbourne. He’s up against some handy sprinters, so won’t have it all his own way.
The Light Fingers Stakes for three-year-old fillies also has some good ones engaged. These horses will likely be targeting Group 1s against the older mares later in the autumn, even as far down the road as the Adelaide or Brisbane carnivals.
Hopefully, Winx can do her thing without giving us all a heart attack, as she can sometimes do first-up. And that the rest of the weekend’s racing lives up to expectation.