Super Saturday at Flemington in the autumn is always one to look forward to, with the Newmarket Handicap and Australian Cup the two best races in Melbourne at this time of year. This years fields do not disappoint.
There’s nothing quite like 20+ horses tearing down the Flemington straight six in the Newmarket Handicap. Many would argue that it is the sight of Australian racing.
The Lightning Stakes, a 1000m WFA race, is the A-form when it comes to 1200m Newmarket lead-ups, and eight of the first nine home from this year’s edition front up here.
In Her Time won the race, another sterling performance in a career full of them. Osborne Bulls, who many believe is the best sprinter in the country, charged home late to just miss – and as is the way of these things, the eye-catching horse is a third of the odds of the one that beat him.
Yes, Osborne Bulls meets her 1.5kg’s better at the weights, but 1200m suits them both better than 1000m, and In Her Time is underrated once again.
Osborne Bulls seems to be more powerful each time he steps out, and he will surely win at least one Group 1 race this prep. There’s a reason he’s at the top of the market, and the high pressure race should him above all others.
While Osborne Bulls had the flashing lights all over him in the Lightning, Graff in fourth wasn’t far behind running the second best last 200m and 400m behind that horse.
He was outstanding in The Everest and great in the Golden Rose too – he’s a serious horse. Is his 2kg’s swing over Osborne Bulls from the Lightning going to be enough to turn the tables?
Sunlight was great in the Lightning too – she led the hot field up, and burned off a horse like Written by and set it up for the other to run over the top of her. Only In Her Time and Osborne Bulls did. She won the Coolmore at the Flemington 1200m, and is a proven quality.
If any horse is going to win from the Lightning, it’s those four, and while the handicap conditions helps Missrock, Lean Mean Machine, Divine Quality and Glenall, it just feels like there are too many high class horses here for any of them to win.
Six horses from the Oakleigh Plate line up in the Newmarket, with Booker looking to do the double. She’s a Group 1 horse no doubt, and only goes up 1kg while most others stay the same weight from that race. It’s not a harsh penalty for a strong win.
Encryption was a level below the best three-year-olds like Sunlight in the Coolmore in the spring, and was second in the Oakleigh Plate to tie those form lines together. On Derby Day we saw Osborne Bulls be too good for Bons Away despite carrying 5kg’s more, and Bons Away ran his usual honest race in the Oakleigh Plate into 4th.
While it’s clear that the Lightning form is stronger than the Oakleigh Plate, as it should be given one is weight-for-age and the other a handicap, there is one Oakleigh Plate horse that looks destined for greatness. That horse is Eduardo, and he is really doing things that not many thoroughbreds could do given his paucity of career starts.
Eduardo’s Oakleigh Plate run had just as many flashing lights as Osborne Bulls did in the Lightning, albeit from wide on the speed rather than from the back, and you instinctively wanted to be with both next time they took to the barriers.
A few horses here are dropping back from the 1400m Futurity Stakes.
Whispering Brook didn’t seem to see out 1400m at Group WFA 1 level, and her previous win over Fell Swoop (fifth in the Oakleigh Plate) puts her a couple of lengths of winning this.
Redkirk Warrior and Brave Smash were both good in the Futurity, no match for Alizee, but are proven sprinters. Redkirk Warrior has won two Newmarket’s already and is $26 if you don’t mind, while Brave Smash was second in this last year and has Group 1 talent.
The top class of the field is Santa Ana Lane. In the last 12 months he’s won four races, at starting prices of $26, $14, $10 and $10, with three of those at Group 1 level. He’ll probably be at least $10 again, and will produce a paralysing finish as usual.
Voodoo Lad was second in the Newmarket in Redkirk Warrior’s first win, and he’s another Group 1 winner in the field whose best stacks up. Dothraki is just so honest, usually carrying big weights in the lower grades – his 54kg’s here is the lowest weight he’s ever carried in what will be his 54th start. That also tells us how hot this field is.
Champagne Cuddles has never won a Group 1, but has run second to Trapeze Artist in the Golden Rose, second to Alizee in the Flight Stakes, and third to Santa Ana Lane in the Stradbroke. We know how good those horses are. Zousain was second to Sunlight in the Coolmore, ahead of Lean Mean Machine and Encryption, and that was after being second to The Autumn Sun in the Golden Rose – he was okay first-up but was claimed by the Caulfield curse.
Sometimes, you just have to sit back and say “what a race”. And despite the depth of quality in the field, most people will have the same horses in the top few because they all have something special about them, are due to win a big race, and would be worthy victors.
Selections: 1.Eduardo 2.Osborne Bulls 3.Graff 4.Santa Ana Lane
The Australian Cup has also assembled a good field, even if there is one horse with a stranglehold on the betting
Avilius is expected to be the star of the show, currently holding an iron grip on the market as an even money chance with no other horse in single figures.
He’s won six races from eight starts in Australia, and has shown that when he starts winning he can string them together. The fact that he’s won from 1600m – 2500m here also shows how versatile he is, and the 2000m of this race is right in his wheelhouse.
Avilius won the Peter Young Stakes in effortless fashion, and when you’re only losses in this country have come in a Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup, you know you’re dealing with a classy customer.
Seven horses that ran behind Avilius in the Peter Young are lining up to take him on again, and if the favourite has even luck it’s impossible to make a case on any of them turning the tables.
Trap For Fools was second, and as a Mackinnon Stakes winner that got within two lengths of Winx in the Turnbull Stakes last spring his credentials are sound. Ace High was good running into third from midfield, he’s a very good dry track horse that is a little underrated.
Night’s Watch was fourth in the Peter Young, chasing home Avilius for the second time this prep. He’s a horse that has had a bit of a spruik on him as well, but the fact is he’s just an inferior galloper to the favourite.
Of the others from the Peter Young, Shillelagh will be running on from the tail as always but be giving too many good horses a start; The Taj Mahal is more of a Group 2 galloper than Group 1; and the Hayes duo of Harlem and Ventura Storm ran first and third respectively in this race last year, but need to find a few lengths although they are from a yard that is the best in the business at peaking for a grand final.
There are four first-up horses in the field, which always adds some intrigue.
Almandin always runs well when resuming, but is a nine year old now and this is a top field. Muntahaa is a bit of an unknown quantity, but it will be interesting to see how much sprint Hayes has been able to put in his legs. Sound ran in the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, beaten a long way in both and is more likely on a Tancred Stakes / Sydney Cup trail.
The real interest of the first-up horses lies with Rekindling, who won the 2017 Melbourne Cup as a northern hemisphere three-year-old and hasn’t been seen since. He’s obviously a world class horse, so we wait to see what he’s got for us as the X factor of this race.
There are three other horses in the race, all in good form in the lower grades.
Yogi ran placings to Avilius and Trap For Fools in the spring, and came back with a big win at Caulfield a month ago. The ex-Weir galloper has continued to improve with every preparation and it wouldn’t shock to see him win.
So Si Bon and Sikandarabad are make up the fourth and fifth runners from the Hayes camp contesting the Australian Cup. So Si Bon has turned into a very consistent horse since being gelded, while Sikandarabad is also honest and was second to Avilius two starts ago. Both have place hopes.
Trap For Fools will lead the race from The Taj Mahal, so a genuine tempo should ensue. No doubt every jockey in the race will be looking to keep Avilius in a pocket from barrier one, so that is probably the one thing that could be his undoing.
Selections: 1.Avilius 2.Trap For Fools 3.Ace High 4.Rekindling
Elsewhere on the Flemington card, looking at Race 3 Exemplar from the Lloyd Williams stable could be a nice bet first-up in this country. Fine Dane looks well overs in Race 4, and is worth an each-way ticket. Angelic Ruler looks hard to beat in the Kewney and is priced according. Sometimes it’s as simple as the best filly should just win, and she is probably that.