Told she was too small to make it, Ash Barty has most definitely had the last laugh.
The Mounting Yard returns this week after a three-month hiatus and I couldn’t pick a better program with which to kick off 2020: the Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning Stakes Day at Flemington.
The track should be between a Good 4 and Soft 5 with the weather predicted, and Flemington generally plays fairly, so tempo should dictate whether they can run or not.
Let’s get into it!
Benchmark 78, handicap, fillies and mares, 1600 metres
A tough way to kick off the program at headquarters this weekend with it being a wide-open affair. There looks to be absolutely no speed in the race, and that’s why I put Quantum Mechanic on top. This mare was very good two back over this track and trip when very unlucky not to have beaten the likes of Fundraiser after finding trouble in the straight. She then went to Sandown last start and was narrowly beaten by Kansino, who has since won again in the city. From the wide gate (10) Jamie Kah should be able to slot her in nicely on the speed and she should prove very hard to run down.
White Hibiscus looks very short but does look like one of the dangers. The Kiwi mare was excellent two-back at Sandown against a poor field before never firing a shot over this track and trip last start. She has the talent but would want to improve off that. Maximak and Selica both map perfectly and are a must for all exotics.
Recommended bet: Win bet on No. 8 Quantum Mechanic at $4.40.
Listed level, two-year-old, 1100 metres
The juveniles go down the straight here in what should be an entertaining affair and one to keep an eye on for some futures markets. I think the O’Brien-trained Treporti is over the odds here. I thought he was outsprinted in both runs last preparation over 1000 metres, but the way he hit the line when three lengths behind Ingratiating was the sign of a good horse. He spelled for three months, and his trial at Cranbourne leading into this was superb. He looks to have improved and matured off a break and at $16 I am prepared to have something on him hoping they go quick in front.
Golf of Suez is the main danger. This Gelding was brilliant two back in Adelaide when winning by nearly six lengths and had plenty of excuses last start at Caulfield, being caught three-wide without cover for the entirety and still running on well. General Beau was the winner of that race and has since won the Prelude, so the form stacks up. The Godolphin pair of Frost Flowers and Ingratiating will both put themselves in the race and neither winning would be a surprise.
Recommended bet: No. 4 Treporti each-way at $16.
Handicap, 1400 metres
It looks like a two-horse affair here in the third and I found it very hard to split the two favourites. I was against Regardsmaree last week, but he was just completely dominant in making it two on the bounce. He never gave anything else a chance under a beautiful ride from Luke Currie, winning by 3.5 lengths. He draws perfectly again today (6) to get a lovely run a couple of pairs back, and with clear running room and if Buffalo River starts to feel the pinch first-up, he should be the one storming over the top of them with the light weight of 54 kilos.
Buffalo River is the danger and does have the runs on the board at the top level. First up last preparation he was half a length off the ultra-talented Windstorm before finishing second in the Group 1 Toorak behind Mr Quickie while beating the likes of Superstorm home. Jamie Kah is booked and if she can pinch a few cheap sectionals, he will be hard to run down again. I don’t think anything else can win, but Irish Flame has turned a corner here in Melbourne and maps for a perfect run, while Morvada will put himself into the race and be battling on.
Recommended bet: Leaving this one alone. No value on offer!
Benchmark 84, handicap, 2000 metres
Another tricky race for the punters to assess here over what is now considered a staying type of trip. I am happy to be with War Critic on an each-way basis. The son of Dundeel has been very good in his last couple of starts, running on well over 1500 metres at Sandown behind Translator two back before beating the talented Hasseltoff last start over 1800 metres at Caulfield. He drops four kilos from that run and – outside of the favourite –I don’t think this field is more talented than his last start. From the low draw (1) he should get a perfect run and be hard to run down.
Coolth is the untapped talent in the race but I just can’t have him at $2.80 here. They went at a pretty quick tempo and he still took forever to get into his work last start and won by only 0.75 lengths. I would have preferred him at 2400 metres fourth up and I think although he is a big danger, he is too short. Takumi had no excuses here two back in the race that Coolth won, which obviously puts him behind the leading chances, and Five Kingdom isn’t the worst but would also need to improve.
Recommended bet: No. 10 War Critic each-way at $6.
Group 3, fillies, set weights and penalties, 1400 metres
One of the only races to date on the program that I have a high level of confidence in and it is the first group race on the program. The Matthew Ellerton-trained Island Joy looks very hard to beat here. Her last two runs have been very good. Two back at Caulfield she was a certainty beaten behind the likes of Bella Tiara and Vespertine before coming to Flemington over a mile last start and winning by 4.25 lengths in a completely dominant display. She has the fitness edge over most of her rivals, the class edge on most of those who have the fitness base she does, and from the ideal draw (5) she will get the run of the race just behind the leaders.
Zou Dancer looks like the only real danger. She was another who was good two back at the Valley when having to kick up and sit wide after missing the start. She was far from disgraced there and last start beat the likes of Bella Tiara (who Island Joy was unlucky against) with ease. She draws well (2) and shouldn’t have any excuse with Jamie Kah on board. Personal is a Victorian Oaks winner and so obviously has the talent, but the 1400 metres might be a bit short for her. Watch for her late in the piece.
Recommended bet: Win bet on No. 2 Island Joy at $4.20.
Benchmark 84, handicap, 1600 metres
Another intriguing and wide-open race arrives in the sixth. Without much confidence I put Milton Park, who is going for a hat-trick of wins, on top. The Moloney Gelding was very good on resumption over 1400 metres at this track, beating the talented El Salto before going to Sandown and winning with ease over Bella Tiara, who a few I fancy in previous races have also ran well against. The mile for the first time looks like the main query, but with the perfect barrier (2) and the five kilo weight drop from last start the conditions favour him majorly.
Skyman might have the class edge over most of these, but he can mix his form. His first two starts in Australia were tremendous before he stepped up in grade and was outclassed by the likes of Shandy. He was good first up when running on strongly behind Viral and he should be fitter for that. Rising to the mile is a big tick at a spacious track like Flemington.
It’s pretty much a raffle outside of the two. Polanco is very honest and maintains form that might be enough to go close here, while Dadoozdart is much better than what we have seen to date in Australia.
Recommended bet: Win bet on No. 10 Milton Park at $4.50.
Group 3, three-year-old, colts and geldings, set weights and penalties
Arguably the hardest race on the program for any punter is the time-honoured CS Hayes Stakes with it being $5 the field. I am going to give the reigning Blue Diamond Champion Tagaloa one more chance. Barring his disgraceful Caulfield Guineas run last preparation, he was without luck in both the Rupert Clarke and the McNeil Stakes at Group 1 level. First-up this preparation he was again without any luck when being caught three wide and without cover in a five-horse field. I thought he did a pretty good job to finish only a length away, and from the rails draw (1) today he should get a comfortable run in transit and go close.
Embolism is one of the many dangers. He was terrific at Caulfield last preparation when winning by three lengths and putting another three lengths on the third horse. He went up in grade to group level and was completely taken out of the race on the bend, so you can forget he went around there. He has been tipped out for four months and his trial leading into this points to a bold showing.
Cambourne has plenty of ability and probably had enough in the Caulfield Guineas last preparation. He is another who trialled up well and looks to have improved. Aysar is another who has been running well in higher grades and should get a nice run.
Recommended bet: No. 1 Tagaloa each-way at $10.
Group 1, weight for age, 1000 metres
What a cracking race the Lightning Stakes is this year with some of the best sprinters in the world taking their part. I am happy to be with Nature Strip in the feature. The enigmatic champion struggled in Sydney last preparation in both the Premiere and the Everest but was somewhere near back to his best down the straight in the Sprint Classic behind Bivouac. He had the better of his biggest challenger here in Bivouac in a recent trial at Rosehill, and over 1000 metres, where Nature Strip has a fantastic record (12:7-2-0), compared to Bivouac’s record (2:0-1-1), I am happy to back the Waller Gelding at a much bigger price than we would usually get.
Outside of those two September Run is the clear next best. The Waller Filly was excellent when winning the Coolmore last preparation and is undefeated from three tries down the straight, so she clearly has the ability and the conditions that favour a bold showing.
Recommended bet: Win bet on No. 1 Nature Strip at $4.20.
Benchmark 84, handicap, 1200 metres
Another wide-open race ends the program here at Flemington and, like most of the races on the program, it’s a tricky race to assess. Zakat looks like the one to beat. The Sydney form he brings down from last preparation has lengths on this field. Two back he ran a neck away from the ultra-talented Criaderas, who I expect to go on to bigger and better things, before carting them up on a Heavy 10 and running third and three lengths off Elaborate. He was tipped out after that run and his trials leading into this first-up assignment, which I think is a target race, have been fantastic.
Laverrod comes over from Western Australia after finishing only a couple of lengths away from the likes of Kementari and Celebrity Queen. That form reads well for a race like this. Impi is without doubt the most talented horse in this field, but it’s hard to know how he has come back after some serious problems last preparation. If he is at his best, he just wins this, while Platini has been going well enough to at least be competitive here.
Recommended bet: Win bet on No. 7 Zakat at $4.80.
Best bet: Race 5 No. 2 Island Joy
Next-best bet: Race 1 No. 8 Quantum Mechanic
Best value: Race 2 No. 4 Treporti