Rick McIntosh could barely call the action at all at Kilmore, with "Pea Soup" fog blanketing the course providing for some comical moments as…
Derby day at Flemington has traditionally been the race day that the purists look forward to more than any other.
Four Group 1 races, a host of classy support fields, and each event looks tough and competitive.
Often referred to as ‘favourite’s day’ due to so often the best horse just winning, nothing would surprise on Saturday. Six favourites could win, or none. There are top quality horses in each race, but there seems so much depth this year. Massive fields are the order of the day.
Let’s take a look at each race.
Race 1: Carbine Club Stakes – 1600m
When Prix De Turn ran an eye-catching second to Extreme Flight on debut at Sandown last month, he immediately looked a Carbine Club horse, and did nothing but enhance that thinking with a fantastic seventh in the Caulfield Guineas behind six high-quality horses. He should get us off to a winning start in Cup week, as long as he doesn’t meet with bad luck from an inside draw.
Fangirl is currently favourite after winning the Reginald Allen at Randwick two weeks ago. It was basically a field of maiden winners, and Caulfield Guineas form is preferred. She should be behind Prix De Turn in the run, but does have the McDonald/Waller factor. Chances to Brigantine, Wilsons Prom and Daily Bugle.
Selections: 1.Prix De Turn 2.Brigantine 3.Fangirl 4.Wilsons Prom
Race 2: Hotham Stakes – 2500m
This isn’t the greatest Hotham Stakes ever assembled, and with the Melbourne Cup thinning out by the day this year, the demand to win the last chance ticket into the big race is not as high.
The improving Great House picks himself on top after fifth placings in both the Caulfield Cup and Metropolitan in his last two starts.
Mankayan has been racing well without winning in benchmark grade, and is in the right yard to step up to this level against some battling types. Mirage Dancer might have one last good run in him. Perhaps Knights Order can run a race if setting a more moderate pace than he has in recent runs.
Selections: 1.Great House 2.Mankayan 3.Mirage Dancer 4.Knights Order
Race 3: Wakeful Stakes – 2000m
The three-year-old fillies have consistently been seen as incredibly even this season, no matter what distance they have raced over. Almost every time they clash, the races are messy and incident-filled, making it hard to draw a clean line on many, and the Wakeful looks a particularly competitive affair.
Barb Raider is coming off a Thousand Guineas third, where she was the only horse that raced on the speed to still be standing at the end. Coming off an easy 1800m win at Flemington beforehand, the step back to 1600m didn’t suit her but she had the stamina to tough it out, and she will relish every bit of 2000m.
El Patroness is the one Barb Raider will likely have to run down, and that pair may even dominate the race on the speed. She has been really impressive taking on the boys, and deserves favouritism.
The Wakeful is a hard race to carry penalties, which works against Yearning and Daisies. What to make of Kapalua Sunset after her plain performance in the Ethereal? Yes, it was Brett Prebble’s worst ride this spring, but she was entitled to do more late than she did. Let’s see if she can bounce back.
Native Girl will have admirers at $41 stepping up in distance on the back-up from Moonee Valley last week.
Selections: 1.Barb Raider 2.El Patroness 3.Native Girl 4.Kapalua Sunset
Race 4: Salinger Stakes – 1200m
This race has lost a bit of its lustre since its glory days as a Group 1 race, now relegated to Group 2, but what a competitive field has been assembled here. It’s hard to split them.
Instant Celebrity and Brooklyn Hustle are Group 1 talents that haven’t really shown it for one reason or another this campaign. Back to a handicap and down in the weights could be the key to unlocking their ability, but Flemington hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for either thus far.
Kemalpasa and Kementari are the grand old campaigners at the top of the weights, both in form and sure to run well. There wasn’t much between them in the Gilgai. Godolophin stablemates Isaurian and Pandemic are honest sprinters that are up to this with the right run.
Oxley Road is the one we can be confident in saying hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, and looks the star on the rise. His third to Masked Crusader is Everest form, and he franked that by winning the Caulfield Sprint two weeks ago. He’s won down the straight before too.
Selections: 1.Oxley Road 2.Brooklyn Hustle 3.Kemalpasa 4.Instant Celebrity
Race 5: Empire Rose Stakes – 1600m
This must be as good an Empire Rose as we’ve seen assembled, with a host of top-end talent and a fabulous, in-form second tier of chances.
Tofane is the favourite, albeit short enough at $3.40 at the time of writing. But she won two Group 1s in Brisbane during the winter, and the horses to beat her this campaign are the likes of Incentivise, Mo’unga, Behemoth and I’m Thunderstruck. Fair to say that none of them are here. She’s drawn to get the box seat run, and you can’t see her doing anything but being right there in the finish.
Colette is all class, but was two lengths behind Tofane in the Makybe Diva at this track and distance. She was back in business on wet ground last time out, but is back on dry here, where she just isn’t as effective.
Sierra Sue already has one Group 1 win in the bank this prep, and was too bad to be true in the Toorak. Hungry Heart is a good mare, but is she a 2000m horse that keeps being raced at a mile?
The Tasmanian mares Still A Star and Mystic Journey are in great form, the horses coming down from Sydney all have claims, Sirileo Miss keeps taking all before her, and what about Flying Mascot who absolutely bolted in at the Valley last week? The list goes on.
Selections: 1.Tofane 2.Flying Mascot 3.Sierra Sue 4.Colette
Race 6: VRC Derby – 2500m
The Vase from Moonee Valley last week provides six of the 16 runners in the Derby, and appears to be the key form reference.
Forgot You was the winner there, albeit narrowly in something of a gut-buster. His form previous suggested he had several lengths of quality on his rivals there, yet there weren’t the gaps in that field at the finish that we might have expected. The jury is out on this horse now, perhaps unfairly, although he is a deserved favourite.
Commander Harry almost stole the Vase after Linda Meech went early on him, and looks to have genuine staying prowess. Jungle Magnate was the quickest home there after settling last from the widest barrier, but draws much friendlier here and looks the best roughie accordingly.
Akihiro ran into fourth and looks like he’ll keep whacking away at 2500m.
Gunstock was equal favourite with Forgot You until the barrier draw, which sees him jumping from 15 of 16. There’s no more treacherous start in racing than the 2500m at Flemington – drawing wide in a Derby means going right back and making it harder to gain ground at the end, while pushing forward means you could be posted wide for 500m and your race is done.
As good as he was in the Norman Robinson, you couldn’t back him with any confidence now.
Teewaters is one to keep an eye on from that Norman Robinson, racing in inferior ground on the inside while Gunstock had all the favours racing with cover and sweeping into race on the better part of the track.
Hitotsu didn’t race in either the Vase or the Norman Robinson and comes into the Derby after contesting the Caulfield Guineas, finishing fractionally in front of Forgot You. It’s certainly the right form race for three-year-olds this season, as Anamoe proved beforehand in the Golden Rose and afterward in the Cox Plate.
Let’s not forget that two starts back Hitotsu comfortable accounted for Commander Harry, the horse that Forgot You just nailed late in the Vase.
The Spring Champion is the Sydney form line that holds up so well in the Flemington carnival. Alegron was about three lengths inferior to Profondo the last couple of times they met, and that horse is the rising star of the staying three-year-olds – he’d be favourite if running here, and with a ‘2’ at the start of his price.
It certainly puts Alegron in the game somewhere, and not many horses are going backwards with Brett Prebble in the saddle this spring.
The Geelong Classic can usually be overlooked as a Derby lead-up, and nothing about Tutukaka and Character says that should change here, although the former has been the subject of much backing this week.
Selections: 1.Hitotsu 2.Jungle Magnate 3.Teewaters 4.Forgot You
Race 7: Coolmore Stud Stakes – 1200m
What a fascinating shape this race has taken over the past couple of months. The early favourites performed poorly and dropped out of the reckoning; Ingratiating and Ranch Hand were promoted to the top of the market after the Poseidon but relegated after both flopped in the Danehill, then the Golden Rose and Blue Sapphire winners rose to prominence.
In The Congo has been well backed in recent days – the Golden Rose is the key race for three-year-olds every spring, and it was hard not to be taken by his work down the Flemington straight this week.
Paulele is one-all with that horse this season, the two of them running the quinella both times when they clashed. Home Affairs beat Paulele into second when they met in the Heritage, and has since run respectably in an Everest.
Artorius was also in the Golden Rose, and drops back to 1200m from a mile. He’s been getting so far back in his races and been asked to do too much – that won’t happen in a straight race, and he’ll be close enough to unleash his dazzling sprint if he’s still got it after the Guineas run.
Extreme Warrior is the fresh horse on the scene, as much as $81 for this race two weeks ago, and now around $4.50 after his incredible Blue Sapphire win. You can draw a line through Profiteer to Home Affairs via Trekking, and it all says he’s in the game. The straight is a different proposition to kicking off the Caulfield turn though.
There are a handful of others that could pop up as well, if things go their way. It shapes as nothing less than a great race.
Selections: 1.Paulele 2.In The Congo 3.Extreme Warrior 4.Artorius
Race 8: Cantala Stakes – 1600m
It’s just one capacity field of depth after the other, the longer this Flemington program goes. Good luck to those playing in the quaddie.
Mr Brightside is the favourite after six wins in a row, the last five of them at 1600m. Obviously his stiffest test by far here, but he’s drawn to get the box seat run and get every chance.
We’re looking for horses on the up here, that have a handicap that doesn’t reflect their ceiling. Chaillot is one of those, having had only nine starts. Her first-up win was one of the performances of the spring, and she was beaten less than a length in this race last year, with many saying she should have won.
Quantum Mechanic is knocking on the door, both she and Superstorm ran so well in the Toorak but were just no match for a potential star. Icebath burst through the door last week in the Invitation, silencing those who said she needed a wet track to produce her best. Epsom form is strong, which also brings Aramayo into the game after his half-head second there. He’s airborne at the moment for Chris Waller.
Selections: 1.Chaillot 2.Aramayo 3.Quantum Mechanic 4.Mr Brightside
Race 9: Furphy Sprint – 1100m
A 19-horse mares race down the Flemington straight to try and end the day on a winner. Awesome.
September Run and Swats That were Group 1 standard as three-year-olds, but haven’t shown it yet at four. Their best form last season was down the straight though, and they’re finally back there. D-day for both.
Dirty Thoughts keeps rising to every challenge but doesn’t appeal as a straight horse. Ballistic Lover only had Everest horses in front of her in the Moir, but this might be a tough race to make the pace and win, as she will attempt to do.
Written Beauty hasn’t lived up to expectations since winning at this track and distance on Oaks Day last year, but might achieve greatness now for Chris Waller. We haven’t seen her for seven weeks. Has he had enough time to work his magic?
Minhaaj has run well down the straight several times, winning early in her career and then chasing September Run a couple of times. She came back in terrific order after transferring to John O’Shea and is the mare in form with the right credentials.
Selections: 1.Minhaaj 2.Swat’s That 3.Written Beauty 4.September Run