The Mounting Yard stays in Melbourne this week and also stays at Caulfield for the Easter Saturday meeting, where the punters get to have a crack at a nine-race program.
With spring well behind us and summer soon to turn to autumn, these are the horses from across the ditch punters should keep an eye on for the year ahead.
1. Te Akau Shark
It will come as no surprise to Australian readers that the ‘shark’ is No. 1 on the list given his efforts in the spring. Finally breaking through on the weekend for his maiden Group 1, the Sydney autumn is destined to be the time he stamps his mark as an Australasian superstar.
Lethal from 1200 metres up to 2000 metres, the Shark possesses a devastating turn of foot that gives his rivals first-degree windburn. For those still doubting his ability, I urge you to watch the replay of the BDC sprint at the weekend. He was seven lengths off them at the 400 and still four lengths from leader Mitigator at the furlong pole. However, in a few bounds he strode to the lead at the 100. Te Rapa is a track that favours on speed runners, so this performance was simply outstanding.
Although his spring campaign was a success where he had Group 1 placings in the Epsom and the Cox Plate, I expect he has gone to a new level. My advice would be get on him.
This boy is something special. He’s won his last six starts, including the Group 1 2000 Guineas, a race whose winners include Australian performers Turn Me Loose, Atlante, Madison County, Sacred Falls, Jimmy Choux and Catalyst’s father Darci Brahma. He seems to do things on his ear, which is the scary part. The penny may not have dropped yet. He has been sent to Melbourne for two mouthwatering clashes with boom Queensland superstar Alligator Blood. Although both horses are class, I would give the edge to Catalyst, who also provides better value in the market. There will be no doubt there are Cox Plate aspirations with this horse.
3. Melody Belle
Although she had won nine Group 1 races before she hit Australian shores in spring, there were the usual Aussie doubters who questioned what she had beaten to win them. This bonny mare changed all opinions in one race, the Group 1 Empire Rose on Derby Day, in which she came from a mile off them and won with a leg in the air.
Perhaps her greatest ever performance was the following week in the McKinnon when second to Magic Wand in a run that needs to be seen to be believed. Equally adept on any surface, the tracks in autumn may play into her hands more so than any other of her rivals. It’ll take a massive performance to beat her in the All-Star Mile.
4. Two Illicit; 5. Jennifer Eccles
Both the Roger James and Robert Wellwood-trained Two Illicit and the Shaune Ritchie-trained Jennifer Eccles are now the two best three-year-old fillies this side of the Tasman and will now no doubt be set for the ATC Oaks at Randwick.
Two Illicit smashed her rivals in the Group 2 Waikato Guineas on the weekend, traditionally an excellent form race for the Group 1 New Zealand Derby. She won by seven lengths over the classy filly Travelling Light and made it look easy. A run of 2400 metres shouldn’t be an issue. Roger James is no stranger to winning races in Australia, so this filly deserves a big watch.
Jennifer Eccles actually bet Two Illicit over a mile on Boxing Day in the Group 2 Eight Carrat classic. Her turn of foot is sublime, something I haven’t seen from a three-year-old filly since Rising Romance, the winner of 2014 ATC Oaks. I think this filly could turn out as good if not better than Rising Romance. She hasn’t had a lot of luck in big races in which she’s been hindered by bad gates. She stormed home in the Group 1 1000 Guineas when second to Loire, running her last 600 in a blistering 32.82. Jennifer’s last 600 in the Group 3 Desert Gold was even quicker, coming home in 32.25. Sectionals like this will make her more than competitive across the Tasman. She won a Group 2 over 2000 metres on Saturday, so 2400 metres won’t be an issue.
6. The Chosen One
The Chosen One’s spring campaign was hampered by bad draws and races that were run against his racing pattern. ‘TC1’ burst onto the scene with a brilliant fourth placing in the 2019 ATC Derby, in which he sustained a long spring from last at the 800-metre marker. This was one of the best runs in a derby in recent memory and was only beaten by drawing the outside barrier. He then won the Group 3 Frank Packer plate two weeks later with a similar run, again from last at the 800.
The last horse to run fourth in a derby then win the Frank Packer? The immortal Might and Power. I’m not saying he is Might and Power, but he does have unquestioned talent. This was no more evident than winning the Group 2 Herbert Power at Caulfield beating home Prince of Arran, who subsequently ran second in the Melbourne Cup. The difference with this race compared to his other spring starts was that it was run to suit, with pace on at the front allowing him to unleash his freakish finish.
His run in a slowly run Melbourne Cup was much better than on first glance. Again he was taken back from his barrier and in the straight was blocked not once but twice when looking for a run, and even so he still carved off the fourth quickest last 600 of the race. Randwick suits him, he’s had success there. Look out – Aussie TC1 is on his way.