Derby Day used to be the pinnacle for the Australian punter.
Are you a horse-racing lover who cares about tradition? If so, the Brisbane winter carnival doesn’t have much to offer any more.
I remember when the Doomben 10,000 and Doomben Cup were both handicaps, and horses sought to emulate the great Bernborough in winning both in the same year.
While the switch to weight-for-age of the two events might have aided this quest, the lamentable reduction in distance of the former from 1350 metres to 1200 metres has made the double all but impossible.
There are many more examples of the total disregard for the Brisbane racing history in the current carnival programming.
The Brisbane Cup used to be run over 3200 metres, whereas now, there seems no major distinction between the Cup and its lead-up races.
Some of the recent schedule tinkering is, of course, related to the botched renovation of the Eagle Farm racecourse, but I don’t see any particular reason that the Oaks should be now permanently run at Doomben.
This smashing of tradition would not be quite so bad if it had been done in the service of a clear goal such as better quality racing, but I just don’t see it.
In short, the carnival seems diminished by recent changes, and the fields assembled for Saturday merely act to underscore the point.
For all of this, I am a proud Brisbanite and lovers of our sport who have never made the trip north or east to take in some of the action should really make the effort one year.
At the time of writing this, it is mid-morning and about 20 degrees. The sky is utterly clear, and the promise of a beautiful warm day is all about. Watching Group 1 racing in such conditions is a great treat, even if the depth of the events is not what it used to be.
As for the events themselves, one of our carnival’s enduring strengths is the running of the Oaks a week before the Derby.
As a consequence, several fillies usually compete in the mile-and-a-half classic, and quite a few have triumphed over the years. This differs from the programming in the southern states, where the top fillies usually avoid the Derby to concentrate on the Oaks.
For weight of numbers, fillies are particularly well represented in this year’s Derby, and one or two of them have real claims.
The Stradbroke is a race that does seem to become weaker with each passing year. The Bostonian is not a good enough horse to be handicapped with 58 kilograms in a Group 1 event, but the fact he remains a strong winning chance speaks volumes for the quality of his opponents.
The horse I did want to be on this Saturday was Sixties Groove in the Brisbane Cup. He has raced well at his three appearances this preparation, and importantly, he seems to have gradually improved each outing.
Crucially, he will appreciate the wide-open spaces of Eagle Farm, and I think he can overcome a high weight and poor barrier draw to put himself in the finish.