There was a claim (and counterclaim) of interference in a bizarre case of 1st v 1st, as it seems like connections of Ciccina and Vendidit weren’t happy with having to share the prize money. But stewards dismissed the objections.
Group 1 racing returns to Sandown for the first time this century on Saturday, with the Underwood Stakes program having been moved there in a shuffling of the spring carnival by the Melbourne Racing Club.
As with everything in racing, this track adds a layer of intrigue, particularly given that 80 per cent of the Underwood field has never raced there before. I would love to know when that last happened in an Australian Group 1 race.
Zaaki is of course all the talk, a short-price Cox Plate favourite that has put together four impressive wins in a row. Three of these were in the Queensland winter carnival, including a seven-length domination of the Doomben Cup that you just don’t see at Group 1 level here more than once a decade or so.
The horses that ran second behind Zaaki in Brisbane were Fifty Stars (2.2 lengths in the Hollindale), Toffee Tongue (seven lengths in the Doomben Cup) and Homesman (1.5 lengths in the Q22).
Now, they were all well beaten, and all have won Group 1 races in their own rights, but none is what you would consider any more than a solid citizen at weight-for-age level in Australia. Homesman and Fifty Stars have lost plenty of races by a couple of lengths, and Toffee Tongue was beaten by seven lengths in the Caulfield Cup last year and by nine lengths in the Chipping Norton back in February.
It does beg the question, and yes he was soft in some of those wins: is Zaaki a touch overrated at this stage? He’s clearly a star on the rise, and we love to see it, but Black Caviar and Winx aside, racing rarely goes to script every single time at the sort of prices Zaaki is starting at.
His return was arrogant though, winning the Tramway in comprehensive fashion and putting away a decent field in the blink of an eye. Annabel Neasham clearly has this horse absolutely flying.
Can he be beaten?
Probabeel is seen as the horse most likely, backing up from a really solid run in the Rupert Clarke last week. She’s been beyond 1600 metres three times in her career without winning, but all three have been on wet tracks, which we know she doesn’t handle well.
These small fields are such tactical affairs, but you’d suggest she will either lead Zaaki or he will lead her. Her best chance of trying to beat him would be to lead and for Brett Prebble to weave some magic in peeling off slow sectionals through the early and middle stages before gradually increasing the tempo and then trying to catch Craig Williams on the hop. Williams is surely too crafty for that though.
Superstorm won the Feehan Stakes at Moonee Valley in a blanket finish, as that race so often is. He’s shown that he can be a decent Group 1 handicapper and is up to Group 2 class, but he needs to graduate to Group 1 WFA. He’s not the finished product by any means, and let’s not forget he did get within a couple of lengths of Verry Elleegant in the Turnbull Stakes last year. Can he do the same to Zaaki?
The Chosen One also comes through the Feehan, only half a length behind Superstorm. While he’s never quite measured up to WFA company here, he is a classy customer with a good turn of foot. He’s run top four in the Melbourne, Caulfield and Sydney cups but tends to taper off second up compared to some sharp first-up performances.
Fifty Stars rounds out the field, one of those that was victimised by Zaaki up in Brisbane a few months ago. He’s been poor in his two runs back, in the Memsie and Craiglee, and needs to show signs of life soon.
Middle-distance weight-for-age races in Australia tend to be sit-and-sprint type affairs at the best of times, and the smaller the field, the more they dawdle. They’ll be absolutely jogging here, with either Zaaki or Probabeel taking them along. They’ll likely stay that way until the top of the straight unless one of the other jockeys decides to mix this up midrace.
Selections: 1. Zaaki, 2. Probabeel, 3.Superstorm, 4. Fifty Stars.
The Sandown Stakes is the main support race on the Underwood card, a Group 3 quality over 1500 metres.
Elephant is the testing material here after proving himself at WFA in the Feehan Stakes when just getting nailed by Superstorm in the shadows of the post. It was only his second start in Australia after crossing the Tasman and his first time racing in group company. He’s the obvious pick.
Cherry Tortoni caught the eye several times as a three-year-old, settling a mile back and running on hard. Sometimes he got there for the win, but more often he didn’t. He produced more of the same first up as a new-season four-year-old, looking good in second behind Harbour Views and suggesting he’s going to win races.
Harbour Views won the race, putting himself back on the radar after more than ten months off the scene. He’s always had a touch of quality but has rarely been able to stay sound for long, as proven by having had only 15 starts as a seven-year-old. He now meets Cherry Tortoni a couple of kilos worse off, which may make a few punters jump ship.
Ziegfield is an interesting runner, coming off two 1700-metre runs and dropping back to 1500 metres here, having already dropped back from 2000 metres to 1700 metres initially. He should be running over 1800 metres in the Underwood, where they are paying $20,000 for running last. He’ll need to finish in the top two to get that payday here. He’ll lead the field without opposition here so may get to run a merry race.
Romancer backs up after an unlucky run in the Rupert Clarke, where he still wasn’t disgraced. He’s racing in great heart at the moment and is ready to win a race at this level. Don’t let him under your guard.
The bookies can never write a ticket for Lunar Fox, and he’s the most despised once again. His biggest moment will always be winning the Australian Guineas at $301, but he did back that up with a fourth-place finish in the All Star Mile. He was okay in a hot Bobbie Lewis first up and will be better for it.
Worsfold has been racing well in lesser company, working his way through the grades, and steps up to his stiffest test here. He was very good behind Mr Brightside at Moonee Valley a few weeks back, and that horse has since won again, peeling off five in a row. It’s good form for this kind of event.
Selections: 1. Elephant, 2. Ziegfeld, 3. Chery Tortoni, 4. Romancer.