Victoria has two Group 1 races this weekend, at different venues across Friday and Saturday night.
The Australian Cup is the marquee event, with an honour roll that is long and distinguished, but the race doesn’t hold the same appeal as the glory days of the late 90’s and early 00’s, when the likes of Saintly, Octagonal, Dane Ripper, Northerly, Lohnro and Makybe Diva were in the winner’s circle.
The William Reid has tended to get a bit lost among the sprinting riches available elsewhere in this country, but any race that counts Black Caviar as a winner will always hold a special place.
16 horses will greet the judge on Saturday, with three emergencies waiting on a run in the advent of any scratchings. The field doesn’t quite have the top end talent that a $3 million purse deserves, but it’s incredibly even, which makes for competitive betting and racing.
Cascadian carries the number one saddlecloth, and favouritism. What a hardy weight-for-age competitor he is, coming off another great run in the All-Star Mile last week, where he finished second to Mr Brightside. The last time he backed up in seven days, 1600m up to 2000m, he ran second to Zaaki in the Mackinnon Stakes.
Mo’unga is second favourite, also backing up from last week. He ran third in the Ranvet, jumping favourite, but wasn’t in the same class as Dubai Honour. He’s now run eight Group 1 placings since his last win.
There is no Anamoe, Zaaki, Alligator Blood, I’m Thunderstruck, Mr Brightside or Incentivize there on Saturday, so both grand campaigners get their chance. Cascadian holds a 4-2 record over Mo’unga in their clashes, but there has rarely been much between them.
Noncomformist didn’t come up in the spring, with a series of runs where he made no impression at all. But he came back with a vengeance in winning the Blamey Stakes three weeks ago, and it’s worth remembering he did split Probabeel and Zaaki in running second at Group 1 weight for age not that long ago.
Right You Are is the other horse in single figures, and what a classic Maher & Eustace trained animal he is. He was a handy benchmark horse when transferred from the Price & Kent stable in the spring, and has now won five in a row punching through the grades. He deserves his shot at this level.
Steinem is a good mare, and proved it by beating Gold Trip in the Peter Young Stakes at Sandown, in what was a tough affair. She’s always had a touch of class, and might now be ready to put it all together. She’ll run well.
Emissary got better as he went deeper into his prep last campaign, and is good enough to figure. Numerian could pop up, but I would prefer him on the wet. Pounding has been in great form, and is another that ran well in the All-Star Mile when out graded, but he’s yet to tick the 2000m box.
Lunar Flare might be the best long odds roughie in the race. Hers was a sneaky, good return in the Blamey behind Nonconformist, she will appreciate the step up to 2000m more than most, and meets the winner a couple of kilo’s better off.
Bank Maur was close up in the Australian Guineas, and then franked that form by winning with authority last week. Virtuous Circle worked through the line nicely once clear of the fall in the Australian Guineas. Whether they are up to this sort of race is unknown, but unlikely.
There is a good amount of speed engaged in the race, so a genuine tempo should be the order of the day, and every horse will get their chance.
This is sure to be one of the better William Reid fields we’ve seen in recent times.
Imperatriz is New Zealand’s current star mare, and her form across the Tasman more than held up in the Canterbury Stakes last start when she shot clear and was just nailed by Artorius in probably the best run of his career. She is top quality, but 1200m at the Valley against a good field of pure sprinters is a different recipe to what she’s come up against thus far.
King of Sparta will have admirers after his Queensland form was backed up with a flashing light run in the Oakleigh Plate. The form from that race has been proven in both the Newmarket and the Galaxy over the last fortnight. It may well be his time if he gets around the Valley.
Jigsaw is the fresh, hot sprinter on the scene. He put together four wins through the summer, three of them at black type level, including the Australia Stakes. This is a different level of competition though, and he could be under the odds.
In the Congo mixes his form, and is yet to win as an older horse. It’s hard to know what to make of him, and the last time he saw the Valley he didn’t lead and flopped accordingly.
Front Page won’t surprise at longer odds after finishing midfield in the Newmarket, only beaten less than three lengths.
Bella Nipotina was some six and a half lengths behind Front Page there, but was third in the Lightning before that, and her career best win came in the Manikato over this track and distance. She’s well over the odds if you live by the old adage of forgiving a good horse a bad run, but does she need it wet?
Roch ‘N’ Horse and Chain of Lightning were also disappointing in the Newmarket. The latter should be targeted at 1400m races rather than 1200m against the elite, while the former hasn’t been racing like the mare we saw last year.
Masked Crusader doesn’t seem interested anymore. Paulele is very up and down. September Run won this last year, but is increasingly hard to catch. We probably need to see import A Case of You and the second-string Kiwi Babylon Berlin, before launching in.
And what about Benedetta, the three-year-old filly? She was still a maiden this time three months ago, having just debuted at Moe, yet here she is at $7.50 in a Group 1 weight for age event against some of Australasia’s best sprinters.
Benedetta looked a world beater with a three length demolition job at Flemington earlier this month, but the horses she beat into the placings there, Paris Dior and Insurrection, both flopped in different races last week.
There isn’t a great deal of natural speed in this race, which should give Imperatriz the whip hand from a good draw. She can push forward and sit just outside or handy to the lead, while many of her key rivals will drift back from wide draws.