The Sydney autumn carnival is in full cry now, and even with no Winx on the Randwick card there are still eight black-type races to be run and won, headlined by two Group 1 events.
The Autumn Sun was anointed the next superstar of the Australian turf after his breathtaking wins in the Golden Rose and Caulfield Guineas in the autumn. Claiming these two races made it three Group 1 wins in six career starts thanks to his JJ Atkins win in Brisbane as a two-year-old.
He resumed with a win in the Hobartville Stakes a fortnight ago, and while most thought his first-up run would be his most vulnerable this campaign it was more of a grinding effort than his supporters might have liked. Still, he got the money on a shifting track that was not to his liking, remembering that his only defeat came in similarly wet conditions.
The Hobartville would normally make up at least half the field of a Randwick Guineas, but this year’s was a weak affair with either no depth among the Sydney three-year-olds or connections avoiding The Autumn Sun.
Only two from the Hobartville are back to take on the hot favourite.
Vegadaze led in the Hobartville as predicted, fit and hard after three wins in a row at the lower grades. And he certainly gave The Autumn Sun something to catch in an honest performance and he looks like the kind of horse that will never put in a bad run.
Purple Sector was okay to be fourth in the Hobartville but was four and five lengths of the first two home.
The main challenge to The Autumn Sun are the fillies, and it is great to see three of them on the back-up from last Saturday.
Nakeeta Jane won the Surround Stakes with a fast-finishing effort, just nailing the leader Fundamentalist (also lining up here) in the shadows of the post in a blanket finish. Both performances were full of merit given their different racing patterns.
Fundamentalist has now been placed four times at Group 1 level at four different tracks in three separate states, proving her class, consistency and versatility. One of those was behind The Autumn Sun in the aforementioned JJ Atkins when they were two-year-olds.
Nakeeta Jane has only had the five starts herself, so could well be a star on the rise given she placed in the Flight Stakes and now has a Group 1 win on her resume. She can make a race of it.
Miss Fabulass is the other filly in the race, and has been very poor in her two runs this time in, settling back in the field and making no impression. She needs to turn her fortunes around to have an impact here, but there is talent within.
Madison County creates interest as a dual Group 1 winner in New Zealand, given the Kiwi summer form often stands up in the Sydney autumn. The only issue is he ran third to Long Leaf last start, and we’ve seen he isn’t an A-grader in this country.
Aramayo is a consistent colt on the Derby trail that could sneak a place, maybe. Dimplomatico is being asked a lot of, coming from a second in a Benchmark 88, but the Hawkes camp rates his ability highly.
Vegadaze and Fundamentalist should ensure a genuine tempo, which would only play into The Autumn Sun’s favour, but it should see every horse get their chance in a field of nine.
1. The Autumn Sun
2. Nakeeta Jane
A small but select field has been assembled for the Canterbury Stakes, with each horse in it either first-up or coming from a different lead-up run. It makes or a fascinating mix of form, and thus a betting race of intrigue.
Trapeze Artist is the firm favourite, as he was when beaten first-up in the Expressway Stakes. Alizee gave him windburn that day as she passed him in the straight, and while his run was okay, it left something to be desired for a horse that had won that particular race the year before.
In fact, Trapeze Artist hasn’t won since last autumn now and, despite running second in The Everest in that time, the jury is a little bit out on where the three-time Group 1 winner is in his career.
Kementari resumed with what is becoming his non-winning habit when second in the Orr Stakes. It was another good run from the consistent galloper, but questions are being asked if he is afraid of the winning post. Dropping back 100m should be okay for him, and it will also help that the best sprinters are down in Melbourne contesting the Newmarket Handicap.
Fell Swoop has been racing in great heart and held his own in the Oakleigh Plate last time out. There’ll be no fitter horse in the race.
Cool Passion has never really been a Group 1 horse but has run well in mares grade coming into this and meets a softish edition of the Canterbury Stakes here with question marks over a few of the good ones. Connections are obviously hoping for a place here, to enhance her breeding value.
A good three-year-old is always needed to spice up a weight-for-age contest, and Brutal gives us one here. He took on the older horses in the Southern Cross first up, and lost no admirers in running third as a short favourite after enduring a wide run. He was entitled to give up the ghost a little, but put his head down and fought all the way to the line to show his heart.
There are three first-up horses in the field.
Pierata beat Kementari first-up in the Missile Stakes last campaign, and followed that up with a dominant win in the Sydney Stakes running quicker time than The Everest on the same day. He then was third behind Santa Ana Lane and In Her Time in the VRC Classic, and we know the quality of those two. If he’s right, he’s the horse to beat.
Shoals is a three-time Group 1 winner in her own right, and resumes having last been seen in The Everest when running down the track as the favourite. If she is primed for a first-up performance, then it will be no surprise to see her run over the top of these and win going away.
Prompt Response has always been a high-class competitor in mares grade, but is coming off a flat spring and takes on the boys here. Her very best would be good enough to mix it up here, but you could only be taking her on trust.
There are a few who could lead this, so tactics will be key. Fell Swoop will probably take them along, but Brutal will be up there, the mares Cool Passion and Prompt Response not far away. Trapeze Artist and Pierata like to be handy too. Shoals is versatile enough that Tim Clark can place her anywhere, but they might be hoping for speed and take a position in the back of the field.
Elsewhere on the card Redzel resumes in the Challenge Stakes, a race he won last year. Golden Slipper winner Estijaab takes him on along with veteran Ball of Muscle who is coming off a superb spring.
The 2019 Slipper is only two weeks away and two of the key players are Exhilarates and Time To Reign. They are at the sharp end of betting for the big race, and run in the Riesling and Todman Stakes respectively on Saturday. Both races have some quality juveniles engaged, and we will know a lot more after they have been run.