Group 1 racing returns to the calendar this Saturday with the running of the Winx Stakes (1400 metres) at Randwick.
The best thing about spring racing is not only the quality of horses and top races, but also the journey you get to follow.
With each new season you get to see which two-year-olds elevate themselves to the elite level, or which three-year-olds handle open company.
Although our sprinting ranks lack the class of previous years, the middle-distance ranks are superb this season. And the good thing about some of the upcoming stars is that they are mares, not colts, so we won’t see a repeat of All Too Hard and Pierro being sent off to stud before the public is ready to farewell them.
I’ve taken a look at ten horses which are worth keeping an eye on this spring – some are obvious, others not so much, perhaps.
Provided all are happy and healthy, I expect them all to be lining up in Group 1 races over the next three months.
Prizemoney: $3.2 million
This four-year-old mare is the real deal and is the favourite to win this year’s Cox Plate and take Winx’s crown as Australia’s favourite horse.
The Tasmanian has put together six wins on the trot and is odds-on to make it seven when she resumes this Saturday in the PB Lawrence Stakes. Trainer Adam Trinder appears to have her in tip-top shape based on her two trials at Devonport and there’s no reason she won’t continue her winning ways in the spring.
With the Australian Guineas and All-Star Mile already in the trophy cabinet, expect more bling in the coming years.
Prizemoney: $1.5 million.
The runner-up of this year’s Golden Slipper is going to be a serious horse as a three-year-old.
The James Cummings-trained colt showed his fighting ability when he won the Sires Produce at Randwick in April on unsuitable wet ground. Provided he can stay on firm footing during the spring, this three-year-old ca add more Group 1s to his collection.
The Moir Stakes at Moonee Valley on September 27 could be a winnable race, but the Coolmore Stud Stakes over 1200m at Flemington on November 2 could be his grand final.
I don’t think he’ll be a miler, but Microphone is talented enough that he could win over further ground. Definitely one to watch.
Prizemoney: $1.1 million
Could this be the beginning of something beautiful? In the 1990s we were treated to battles between Northerly, Sunline and Lonhro that will be remembered for generations. Could Arcadia Queen and Mystic Journey become great rivals? Let’s hope so.
You can’t question this four-year-old mare’s talent. She’s been to the races six times for five wins and a third placing. Each time she’s raced she has been favourite and wins over 1200m, 1400m, 1600m and 1800m prove her versatility – but all her races have been in Perth.
Now in the care of Sydney trainer Chris Waller, the real test starts.
Arcadia Queen has been nominated for the Cox Plate and you’d have to presume that’s her grand final this spring, but she should be a joy to watch along the way.
Te Akau Shark
Currently the $7 favourite for the Epsom Handicap on October 5, Te Akau Shark could take Australia by storm.
The New Zealand gelding has notched some impressive wins in his short career across the Tasman and he looks top class. Trained by Jamie Edwards, the Cox Plate could also be on the agenda should his stable star perform while abroad.
The horse is owned by a handful of players from the Cronulla Sharks NRL team so expect him to be largely based in Sydney during the spring, but there’s so much upside about this five-year-old.
His first run this preparation shouldn’t be far away, so stay tuned.
Career: 5-3-0-0. Prizemoney: $1.6 million.
The two-year-old with the most upside from the autumn, the son of Dundeel had five runs for three wins, yet only one of them was at what I would call a suitable distance.
Castelvecchio’s win in the Champagne Stakes showed he is going to be one to watch in the derbies and guineas this spring, however the fact he won over 1200m twice showed his true class.
My advice to punters is to avoid backing him early in this campaign. Trainer Richard Litt knows he’s got a serious horse on his hands but he will need 1600m or further to show his best.
He’s got another big Group 1 in him this prep.
This is a bit of a longshot, as we don’t even know that he’ll come to Australia, but if Coolmore decides to pull the trigger and send Ten Sovereigns here, he’s going to be a must-watch horse.
Brilliant when winning the July Cup, he would pose a real threat to our sprinters, who are at their lowest echelon for some years.
Coolmore Australia boss Tom Magnier said last month that the outstanding young sprinter would be considered for The Everest, saying, “We’ll put Ten Sovereigns into the mix now but we’re not close to making a decision.”
I hope for racing fans that he is sent this way.
This six-year-old enjoyed being transferred away from Darren Weir’s stable when the disgraced trainer was given a three-year ban, putting together five wins on the trot since arriving at Anthony Freedman’s yard.
His last was 11 weeks ago at Flemington for the Listed Andrew Ramsden Stakes, which gave him exemption into the Melbourne Cup, which will no doubt be his target race this spring.
The former Irish galloper might lack the class of some of the imports, but he is shaping up as the best of the local hopes three months out from the race.
It’s early in this three-year-old colt’s career, but like Castelvecchio, this son of Dundeel has enormous upside.
He stormed onto the racing scene with a six-length win at Ballarat on debut and then backed it up at Caulfield three weeks later with a win in April.
On Anzac Day, he was sent out a short-priced favourite at Flemington, but led for the first time and just didn’t handle it. He’s a horse that will be better with experience and ridden with cover.
Based on his breeding, I’d expect a Caulfield Guineas campaign to be right up his alley.
This James Cummings-trained filly caught my eye in the autumn on debut at Bendigo. She was the $2 favourite that day and a lot went wrong for her – last out of the barriers, she got stuck behind traffic and then flashed home strongly to be third.
The next start she was sent to Flemington for a Group 3 race and won in a dead heat. Her only other run was at Randwick where she got too far back but stormed home to be second in a Group 2.
If Cummings can get her to jump a little better, show some early toe and still finish strongly, she’s going to be a serious horse.
Put her in your black book.
Prizemoney: $1.2 million
Another ex-Weir galloper that also improved with a change of scenery.
Now in the care of Chris Waller, this four-year-old mare has three wins and a second placing since relocating. The challenge for Waller is finding the right kind of races for her. She has been competitive over 1400m and 1500m, but she produces her best at 2000m-plus.
She’s not the right kind of horse to win a Cox Plate, but she could win a Metropolitan in Sydney en route to the Caulfield Cup. If I owned her, that would be the direction I would be heading.
Whether she gets to the Melbourne Cup remains to be seen, but two miles doesn’t look to be her distance, anyway.