The Mounting Yard stays at fabulous Flemington this week with a bumper nine-race program in store for the punters.
The inaugural running of the All Star Mile is here, notwithstanding its share of controversy along the way.
In a clear response to the popularity of The Everest and the brazenness of Racing New South Wales, Racing Victoria created their own race out of thin air. Doubtless, they did this in the hope of luring Winx and The Autumn Sun away from their northern rivals, but that has not turned out to be the case.
With ten spots in the field determined by the voting public and four wildcard selections to fill out the race, the All Star Mile is the first of its kind in Australia.
Connections of battling horses highlighted a flaw in the system – last place will receive $90,000 prizemoney, so there is no disincentive for any old goat to take a spot if it can win enough votes – and it is clear that the minimum rating must rise considerably; up to 105+ for older horses, and perhaps 95+ for three-year-olds.
Still, if we forget the five or six horses making up the numbers, then the other eight runners should provide a high-class event.
1. Happy Clapper
Happy Clapper is to Winx what Hay List was to Black Caviar. Every champion needs a support act, and it has been his lot to provide that to the greatest horses we’ve likely ever seen.
The old marvel was at it again last start in the Chipping Norton, taking up the running and trying to steal the race from the front. For a few strides in the Randwick straight it looked like he might even do it, but then Winx got to work as she always does. In the end, Happy Clapper was less than two lengths behind Winx, but four in front of third.
Second in the 2017 Mackinnon is Happy Clapper’s best performance at Flemington, but his overall record at 1600m in recent years is simply outstanding. He’s won a Doncaster and an Epsom, and run second to Winx three times. The number 1 saddlecloth sits very comfortably on him.
Hartnell is another grand galloper lining up in the All Star Mile, a fellow eight-year-old to Happy Clapper.
Once the undisputed second-best horse in Australia behind Winx and rated top ten in the world, he isn’t the same runner he was in 2016 when at his hottest, but is still full of class.
While he stopped chasing home Winx a while ago, his 2018 calendar still shows two Group 1 wins and a couple of placings at the highest level to boot. It’s been wonderful to see him take on big handicaps like the Epsom and Toorak with top weight, winning one and finishing second in the other.
Hartnell showed he is ready to run a big race in the All Star Mile with a fast-finishing third in the Futurity Stakes behind Alizee. Remember that Flemington is the home to his best ever win – the 2016 Turnbull Stakes, when he donkey-licked a quality Group 1 field.
3. Material Man
While Happy Clapper and Hartnell were given wildcards into the All Star Mile field, Material Man was voted in by the public, with the Perth horse no doubt getting the vast majority of Western Australian votes.
Material Man has had three runs this prep, taking on the Orr, Futurity and Blamey in readiness for this assignment, but the fact is he hasn’t looked up to Group 1 class. Some would say he was unlucky in his first two runs, and then he pulled up with excuses in the Blamey, but he’ll need to find a few lengths to be a winning chance.
Grunt is still lightly raced for an autumn four-year-old, having only had 11 career starts. Two of those have delivered Group 1 wins, both over the Flemington 1600m, in the Australian Guineas and Makybe Diva Stakes.
Outside of those two wins, he’s never finished higher than fifth in his last seven starts, showing that he is a horse that can peak on his day, but can’t be trusted from a consistency perspective. This is what separates him from the veterans like Happy Clapper and Hartnell.
Rather than take the WFA path to this race, he carried 61.5 kgs first-up in a Group 3 handicap and was okay with the big weight, but it wasn’t a run that screamed ‘coming winner’. An awkward draw won’t make things any easier for him either.
5. Moss ‘N’ Dale
Moss ‘N’ Dale is as honest as the day is long, and rarely offers anything less than a competitive effort. He’s always around the mark in country cups and Saturday handicaps, but did finish the spring with a Group 3 win up in Sydney on his preferred heavy going.
He strikes the All Star Mile second-up, but was found severely wanting in the Orr Stakes first-up and it’s hard to think he can turn things around enough to challenge for the win here.
Moss ‘N’ Dale isn’t the worst horse in the field, but that is only a backhanded compliment given how long the tail is in this race.
Foundry finds himself in the All Star Mile after being voted in due to support from country Victoria and a concerted effort by connections. This nine-year-old strikes the race first-up and will be exactly 500 days between runs.
In his favour is that he actually has a good record at Flemington, has run some handy races at 1600m, and did win a Group 1 last time he was in work – that was the Metropolitan up in Sydney where he carried 50.5 kgs to victory.
Still, he’s a long way from being a contender.
7. Man Of His Word
Man of His Word hasn’t won since December 2016, but has run some useful races since. The best of these was in the Hollindale Stakes last May, where he finished third to Oregon’s Day and Tom Melbourne, both proven Group 1 performers.
Sadly, since then he’s had seven starts but finished no closer than fifth, and his form seems to be going backwards. Still, if he can produce one of his better runs he might finish ahead of the other long odds horses.
8. Balf’s Choice
Balf’s Choice is another Saturday handicapper that finds himself in the field due to savvy manipulating of the voting by connections. The Adelaide veteran usually runs well in Saturday grade over there, and pops up for a win every now and then.
His best form was the 2017 spring when winning the Balaklava Cup and Seymour Cup, both Listed races. That latter of those had fellow All Star Miler Moss ‘N’ Dale running third.
9. Mr Money Bags
Mr Money Bags is a consistent four-year-old that has been on the scene about a year and a half, and is improving gradually over the course of his career. He’s run well behind Fifty Stars a couple of times, and we saw that horse win the Blamey Stakes a couple of weeks ago.
Mr Money Bags has a win and four placings this campaign, and isn’t normally far away in his races. Obviously, this is a bridge too far for him, but connections will have a day out and pocket $90,000 in prizemoney once he finishes the race.
10. Urban Ruler
Urban Ruler comes into this race having been beaten a combined 17 lengths at his last two starts in Brisbane, and has the lowest rating of any runner in the field. There’s really not much else to be said.
Alizee is currently equal favourite in the All Star Mile, unbeaten in three runs this campaign and on a winning streak of four.
The four-year-old mare is already a three-time Group 1 winner, with two of those coming at 1600m. Both of those wins were at Randwick, the biggest track in Sydney, so it’s easy to conclude that she will relish Flemington as well.
Alizee’s three wins this prep have all been striking – first up she was dominant with a big weight in listed company, second-up she gave good horses windburn in an arrogant display, and then last start in the Futurity she had to display heart, grit and fighting qualities after being three wide the trip and pushed wider on the turn.
She’s the complete package, and the horse to beat of the older brigade.
Hawkshot is one of three three-year-olds in the All Star Mile, and the race is all the better for them. This gelding from the Hayes yard was a controversial wildcard recipient given he has no Group 1 wins to his name and was running in benchmark 64 grade two months ago.
He put his name up in lights with an authoritative wire-to-wire win in the Autumn Classic at Caulfield, and followed that up with a second to star filly Mystic Journey in the Australian Guineas.
With no natural leader already in the race, and a number of acceptors potentially jogging around to collect $90,000 prizemoney down to last, it’s clear the organisers needed a front-runner to ensure a genuine tempo and to give every horse their chance. At least with Hawkshot, you get the x-factor of an improving three-year who has just run a Group 1 second at the course and distance two weeks earlier.
13. Mystic Journey
Mystic Journey is on her way to becoming a superstar, and well and truly stamped herself as the best filly of the season with her win in the Australian Guineas.
She received a peach of a ride from Anthony Darmanin in the Guineas, and was good enough to put away a well-credentialled field. Hawkshot had no answer to her in the straight, and Amphitrite was left in her wake – there was no visually stunning electric burst from Mystic Journey there, just sustained speed to run the quickest last 600m and 400m, and only 0.02 seconds of having the last 200m as well.
Look back at Mystic Journey’s win at Moonee Valley in October where she beat Fundamentalist by more than two lengths – that filly is an excellent measuring stick given she was just nosed out by The Autumn Sun in the Randwick Guineas, after also running placings in the Surround Stakes, Empire Rose and Thousand Guineas.
Mystic Journey takes on the older horses for the first time, but has the right platform to do it from. She is equal favourite with Alizee and rightfully so.
Amphitrite looked like being the star filly of the 2018-19 racing season, until Mystic Journey came along. She went from maiden class to Thousand Guineas winner in the space of a month in the spring, and then was desperately unlucky in the Empire Rose on Derby Day when jumping favourite.
Amphitrite resumed with a comfortable win in the Vanity first-up, before tackling the Australian Guineas second up. She ran a nice third there, and had some good horses behind her, but she couldn’t match motors with Mystic Journey when the whips were cracking.
It is great to see the Australian Guineas trifecta all running in the All Star Mile – each of these three-year-olds is in great form, and they will add another dimension to the race.
Hawkshot is the definite leader, unless something goes amiss, and Happy Clapper should be sitting not far off him given he has run so well twice this prep either setting the pace or being right there.
Mystic Journey and Amphitrite have decisions to make from double-figure gates. Hartnell should be no worse than midfield from an inside draw, and Grunt and Alizee also have to make their way across, and should be midfield or a touch worse.
Selections: 1. Happy Clapper 2. Mystic Journey 3. Alizee 4. Hartnell