Bob Hawke was nonplussed. He’d just gotten off a typically eloquent speech in front of a claque of media, and no-one had a question for him.
Blue Diamond Stakes day is one of the best days racing of the Melbourne spring and complements the other big Group 1 days at Caulfield from the spring nicely.
The Melbourne Racing Club has a strong hand of races on their biggest days.
This year’s Blue Diamond field is sparingly raced indeed. Obviously, two-year-olds aren’t the most seasoned gallopers, but for a 14-horse field to only have 30 race starts between them is as light as has been seen for many years. No horse in the race has had more than three starts.
The fillies looked to have the edge in class over the colts in the lead-up, and that has been born out in the market with the first three in betting and five of the first six. Even if it’s quantity over quality, the fillies provide nine of the 14 runners.
Six fillies come from the Blue Diamond Prelude, including the first five across the line and the badly beaten hot favourite Catch Me.
Catch Me was too bad to be true, camped outside the leader Vinicunca, and providing nothing in the straight to finish a backwards tenth. Not too many big Group 1 races coming off such a performance, and you could only be taking her on trust.
Vinicunca stuck on well in typical Waterhouse fashion to claim second. She didn’t have a great deal of respect from punters before that races, and doesn’t appear to have gained many admirers since. Our eyes are naturally drawn to those running on rather than the ones setting the pace.
Lyre won the fillies Prelude well enough. She did have the perfect trailing run behind the right horse, and also had fitness on her side with two runs in January. The question is whether others will have taken more benefit from that run than her.
Athiri looked the horse to follow out of the race, a game third beaten less than a length by Lyre despite being three wide with no cover the entire race. You can easily make the case that if you swap her run with Lyre, the result would be reversed.
Athiri looks a lovely classy type but has drawn barrier 13 while Lyre jumps from gate five. Will the latter filly get the dream run again?
Brooklyn Hustle was the only other filly from the race you’d want to be following and could give some chance to. She hit the line well from the tail and had shown in the past she can come home in a hurry. She’ll be conceding a start again, but there is a scenario where she runs over them all.
Unusually, the Blue Diamond favourite doesn’t come from one of the Preludes, but the Chairman’s Stakes.
Loving Gaby won that race on debut, and displayed raw talent in doing so. She reared slightly when the gates opened, so had to be pushed along to stay in touch at the tail, and then railed well while the field spread but still was able to pick her way through a gap and accelerated when asked.
It was an impressive win, and she is hard to deny. She’s a big strong juvenile, which will hold her in good stead, but barrier 12 is a new challenge for her.
The colts and geldings Prelude was won by I Am Invincible, making it two from two for him after he won the Preview as well. He’s a professional two-year-old, making his own pace from the front and has been able to dictate in his races so far. He didn’t look like he would be eating up 1200m though.
Shotmaker was the best run of the race, four wide with no cover in the early stages and working, all of this on debut. Yet he was still there trying at the end, narrowly defeated by less than half a length. He must be better for the experience.
Three of the four most obvious runners have drawn the three widest barriers. Lyre is the other and has drawn perfectly to get a gun run. We saw last start she is good enough, and she looks a rock solid each-way bet.
2. Loving Gaby
The Oakleigh Plate is often a race where searching for value is the winning play. It is almost always a capacity 18-horse field, which we will certainly see again this year given four emergencies.
Nature Strip has come up $2.10 favourite, which rings warning bells in this sort of field. The only other time he tackled Group 1 company he started in red figures before fading out to finish well beaten. That was weight-for-age and this is a handicap, which should be more in his favour, and he is coming off a scorching win at the track and distance last start.
Nature Strip is fast. Not many go faster. But he can be his own worst enemy, and if he gets taken on in this field there’ll be no shortage of those to run over the top.
Eduardo is another rising superstar, a five-year-old having only his sixth start. He has been patiently trained and put in an eye-popping trial to prepare for this test. Barriers are often of little consequence at the Caulfield 1100m, but he will jump from the car park and is a go-forward horse.
Does he get posted wide, does he slot in nicely behind Nature Strip, who will string them out? How will he handle that sort of pace being set? These are questions for such a lightly-raced galloper in a high-pressure race. He’s got a Group 1 in him, but is it this one?
With Shoals scratched Viddora is the class runner of the race, but it’s never easy for mares to give weight to males at this level. There is a long tail to this field though, so there’s only a handful of genuine chances she has to beat. Bowditch won’t want to get too far out of his ground on her, and riding her like he did in Viddora’s Moir Stakes win is the way to go.
Her acceleration at the end of a race is unmatched when right.
Bons Away is a good sprinter that never runs poorly, and is always a good each-way bet. He will likely settle in the back half of the field jumping from a wide gate next to Eduardo, and be kept for one run. He’s got form around the right horses, like Eduardo, Osborne Bulls and Written By.
Spright was something of a surprise packet in the spring Group 1 sprints, flying home in three WFA events. She can’t be forgotten if she brings that form with her.
Booker is a classy mare that has a liking for Caulfield and is capable of a big first-up run down on 52kg’s. The weight relief could well be important for her given she is used to carrying big weights in mares grade. She carried 51.5kg’s in this last year as a three-year-old filly and was beaten less than half a length.
I’ll Have A Bit is an underrated sprinter from the McArdle yard. Her last five starts have seen starting prices of $151, $51, $41, $16 and $12, for one win, three thirds and a fourth. Two of those were at Group 1 level, and she’s at $21 here. She is yet another that win from the back if Nature Strip starts paddling in the last 100m.
Fell Swoop appears back near the top of his game, based on his four runs this prep, and lines up for this third Oakleigh Plate remembering he ran second in 2016. He used to be placed at Group 1 level behind the likes of Chautauqua, so shouldn’t be forgotten in multiples betting.
Encryption is a smart three-year-old that is a level below the best of his age group, but can be competitive in this sort of handicap.
There’s no doubt they’ll be going quickly from the outset here, although it’s doubtful anything will want to lead Nature Strip. Fell Swoop will be up there, the Queensland mare From Within likes to go fast, Eduardo will likely push across and a couple of others like Ashlor and Fuhryk don’t mind making their presence felt up on the speed either.
3. Nature Strip
4. Bons Away
An interest Futurity Stakes awaits us, with half of the field having met each other in the Orr Stakes only two weeks ago at this track and distance.
There was only 1.75 lengths covering the six in question, and in finishing order they were Manuel, Land of Plenty, Brave Smash, Best of Days, Material Man, and Redkirk Warrior.
They were all good enough in a race controlled from the front by Manuel and finished in the order they raced – the exception to this was Land of Plenty who made a huge impression worse than midfield. His was the run out of the race to follow going forward, and the only slight niggle is whether he is looking for 1600m now, and he is right on track for the All Star Mile if he gets a wildcard entry.
Manuel had a soft lead in the Futurity, and could easily do so again here with nothing likely to take him on, on paper. So he must be respected on an each-way basis again.
Three horses come down from the Expressway Stakes in Sydney, all of them stars in their own right.
Alizee blitzed the small field there, franking her first up win and confirming she has made the transition from three-year-old filly to four-year-old mare with ease. We can’t forget that she missed the spring, and that she was a dual Group 1 winner at three.
She’s the hot favourite here, and rightly so, and has seen Caulfield before when running third in the Thousand Guineas.
Le Romain ran second to Alizee in the Expressway over 1200m, and will appreciate an extra furlong. He’s both consistent and high class, a proven WFA performer and will give his usual honest account.
Hartnell loves Caulfield, and is a Group 1 winner at the 1400m here, so knows what it is all about. Resuming at 1200m was a first for him, an indication he needed the gallop, and will have to pull out his best to win here.
Ringerdingding creates interest as the lone three-year-old. He was okay without setting the world on fire first-up and faces a tough ask now against the older horses. Let’s wait and see something before tipping into him.
The race sets up to be no more than moderately run, with Manuel surely leading again. The opposition is stiffer this time, with the arrival of those from north of the border and a horse like Land of Plenty with an extra run under his belt.
2. Land of Plenty
3. Le Romain