After a solid result last week, Sydney racing takes a dip behind an exceptional Moonee Valley card.
Turnbull Stakes day is often referred to as moving day, to steal a phrase from the golfing world.
The race itself has traditionally been the one where horses targeting the Melbourne and Caulfield cups and the Cox Plate might clash before branching off in their different directions. You also have races where three-year-olds might announce themselves for the Vic Derby, Thousand Guineas and Coolmore Stud Stakes.
Coming into this spring, two things were undisputed: Verry Elleegant was the queen of the Australian turf and our best-credentialed weight-for-age horse, and Zaaki and Incentivise were the two most exciting new horses on the scene that might challenge her.
To this point of the spring Verry Elleegant has run in the Winx Stakes and George Main for a second and a first, Zaaki in the Tramway and the Underwood Stakes for two wins, and Incentivise in the Makybe Diva Stakes for a win.
All have lived up to their lofty reputations and expectations so far, but they are yet to meet each other on the track. Finally, the day is here when two of them do.
Verry Elleegant holds favouritism, especially given the forecast for some rain in the lead-up to Saturday. As good as she is in all conditions, she grows a leg on wet ground, although the Flemington surface is the best in the country in absorbing rain.
In her last seven starts at 2000 metres to 2400 metres Verry Elleegant has four wins and three seconds, and each one of those seconds was to the same horse, the European Addeybb. She hasn’t been beaten by a locally trained galloper in the distance range since the 2019 Cox Plate.
Can Incentivise do what others couldn’t? He does meet the great mare 1.5 kilograms better off than if they were running at WFA. Our best line on how they might fare against each other is Sir Dragonet, also engaged in this.
Sir Dragonet was between 1.6 and 2.3 lengths behind Verry Elleegant when they met in the autumn, both at 2000 metres. He was half a length behind Incentivise in the Makybe Diva. All of those races were at WFA, so when we consider the relative weight swing towards Incentivise here there may not be much between them at all.
Verry Elleegant may have a slight fitness edge given she is third up and Incentivise is second up. The fact that they are drawn next to each other can only add spice to proceedings. It is very likely that Incentivise will lead with the mare tagging him. Does that stalking role mean she will have that last crack at him, or will he power away down the straight and leave her unable to catch? What a race.
Sir Dragonet is certainly in with a chance too, and if the two favourites bring each other undone, he’ll be perfectly placed to pounce. It looks like he’s come back in terrific order.
Colette has been crying out for 2000 metres and wet ground and may well get both at Flemington. The problem is she’s run into the best wet tracker we’ve seen in Verry Elleegant, and Sir Dragonet, who won his Cox Plate on the slops. Incentivise is unbeaten on soft ground but in much inferior grade, so the jury is still out on him at this level, but it’s clear he doesn’t hate it.
It would be a surprise if the winner were to come from outside these four.
Explosive Jack and Johnny Get Angry won three Group 1 derbies between them last season, and we get to see them at a more appropriate distance now at four. Young Werther ran placings behind both of these in the VRC and ATC derbies and was impressive first up. He looks a horse.
Persan, Chapada and Mount Popa are on cups campaigns and will be more suited in easier grade than this. There’s been good money for Persan down in the weights, but it looks an ask for him to beat them all.
Selections: 1. Incentivise, 2. Verry Elleegant, 3. Sir Dragonet, 4. Colette.
The Bart Cummings is a race that always creates much interest, with the winner guaranteed a start in the Melbourne Cup.
It was shaping as a match race between Tralee Rose and Grand Promenade, but the former has drawn the car park while the latter will get a beautiful cosy run. Advantage Grand Promenade. Perhaps a horse like Pondus can figure after drawing Gate 1, and Sheraz will have plenty of admirers bringing in really solid French form with his first start for Chris Waller.
The Danehill Stakes has been moved to this day and gives the three-year-old sprinters their chance on the way to the Coolmore. Ingratiating and Ranch Hand are clearly the testing material, but don’t be afraid to put a dollar or two on Forbes at $41. He was very good first up and has his share of talent.
There are plenty of other good races at Flemington, and we’d expect nothing else as we hit October. Hopefully we can line our pockets and attack the Caulfield carnival with purpose and enthusiasm.