Without a Fight completed the rare Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double on Tuesday as star jockey Mark Zahra went back-to-back in the big one after…
Racing NSW has done some great things over the last decade, and the introduction of The Championships is certainly one of them. All roads lead to eight Group 1 races, held at Royal Randwick over the first two Saturday’s in April.
Day 1 is upon us, and we couldn’t have asked for any more with the fields that have been assembled.
A full 20 horse field will greet the judge in the Doncaster this year and stare down the Randwick mile.
Alligator Blood and last year’s winner Mr Brightside are at the top of the weights, as the proven quality in the field.
Mr Brightside is coming off a deserved All Star Mile win, and knows nothing but how to race in great heart. He goes up 5kg’s from last year’s Doncaster win, but is certainly a better horse. With eight wins at the mile, you couldn’t put it past him to go back-to-back.
Alligator Blood got beaten a length and change behind Mr Brightside in the All Star Mile, but beat that horse in the Cantala Mile back in the spring. Don’t forget his 1600m starts also including winning an Australian Guineas and being beaten a lip in the Makybe Diva Stakes. He’s got 57.5 for a reason.
A few other horses representing the Victorian form are heading up the highway.
Gentleman Roy gets 3.5kg’s off his stablemate from the All Star, but is he better at 1400m or 1500m at this grade?
Nugget is an interesting case – he’s meeting Mr Brightside and Alligator Blood 4-6kg’s better; finishing a few lengths behind them at his last two starts, but has a horror barrier to contend with. My Oberon is well out of form.
Fangirl has been one of the favourites for this race ever since pre-post betting opened. She hasn’t won as a four-year-old, but has run four placings behind Anamoe and finished second in the Golden Eagle this season, so isn’t too badly treated with 53.5. Barrier 19 has seen her price ease, but she is a genuine gun and would be a worthy winner.
Others that have taken on Anamoe on the weight for age path to the Doncaster are Kirwan’s Lane, Converge, Lion’s Roar, and three-year-old’s Golden Mile and Communist.
Kirwan’s Lane and Lion’s Roar don’t have the class to beat them all. Converge won the Randwick Guineas at this track and distance, but didn’t come up in the spring. Dry tracks are the key to him, and he appeared to regain confidence in the George Ryder last start with this third behind Anamoe and Fangirl. He meets the latter 3.5kg’s better for finishing right alongside her.
Communist hasn’t had a lot of respect this campaign, having started double figures all prep. He ran third to Aft Cabin first-up, beat subsequent winner Lindermann in the Randwick Guineas, and was only a length behind Anamoe and company in the George Ryder when on the slower inside lanes. Only 49kg’s on his back…
Golden Mile was hopeless in the George Ryder and can only be taken on trust now. Lindermann is here too, dropping back in distance from his Rosehill Guineas win. Osipenko is a threat if he gets a run as first emergency.
Zougotcha is the only filly in the field. She’s won four of her last five starts, all of them at Group 1 or Group 2 level, with the only loss coming in the Surround by a bare margin. This is the first time she’s tackling the older horses, and we’ll see how good she really is.
We have two horses running on Australian soil for the first time, albeit having been handed over to local yards. Chris Waller’s name is next to Going Global, a mare that has often run rings around her American rivals over eight or nine furlongs. Maher & Eustace have taken over the handling of Duke De Sessa, a European whose winning credentials are over further distances.
Protagonist is another raider, under the astute eye of William Haggis, a man that rarely misses when he brings them over from Europe. Last time out, this horse beat Zeyrek, who has won races either side of that defeat and is in flying form himself. Can he beat our horses dropping back to the mile from 2000m?
Then there are a handful of old-fashioned handicappers, in with 50-51kg’s.
Bandersnatch is a handy conveyance that has often mixed his performances, but is racing very well and hits this on the back up and in winning form. Cephus beat a nice field at decent odds in the Ajax three weeks back, but this feels a bridge too far.
Mustang Valley could be a sneaky hope at big odds if the rain really pours, given her La Crique form in New Zealand and wet ground credentials. Hope in Your Heart is a dead-set ripper of a mare that you know will be somewhere in the prizemoney. If she can reproduce her Golden Eagle run from the spring, she can win this.
There’s no doubt the speed will be genuine with Gentleman Roy in the race. Alligator Blood will be somewhere around, and the three-year-olds Lindermann and Communist will use their light weights and push over from wide barriers to settle on the pace too.
Selections: 1.Converge 2.Fangirl 3.Communist 4.Mr Brightside
While Day 1 of The Championships is “Doncaster Day”, there will be plenty of racing fans that think the TJ Smith is the highlight of the program.
Australia’s best sprinters meet in a fascinating clash of the old guard (Nature Strip, Lost and Running, Private Eye) and the new (I Wish I Win and three-year-olds Giga Kick, Lofty Strike, In Secret).
Punters have settled on Giga Kick as favourite after an early three-way battle to be market-elect between him, Nature Strip and In Secret.
Giga Kick launched himself into the stratosphere by winning The Everest at only his fifth start. He proved it was no fluke with an unlucky but brilliant run in the VRC Classic during Cup week to go down by less than a length, and he was arguably the losing run of the day in the Challenge Stakes four weeks ago when resuming.
Nature Strip is 1-1 against the rising star, having had his colours lowered after a poor James McDonald ride in The Everest, but then beating him home in that VRC Classic. Either way, there wasn’t much between them, but Nature Strip has since been underwhelming in the Lighting Stakes when first-up.
Nature Strip has now lost three races in a row, for only the second time in his career, the last of which was in the spring of 2020. Does he have one last punch to throw, in order to land his fourth TJ?
You won’t find too many more impressive double acts that what In Secret has produced down the Flemington straight this season, in completing the Coolmore and Newmarket double. Her record is phenomenal anywhere, but does she lose a length around a turn compared to her absolute peak?
Despite being a three-year-old and having taken on older horses, she is yet to race Giga Kick or Nature Strip, which is what adds such a dimension to this contest.
There’s no doubt that I Wish I Win is a star, with a finishing burst that can’t be matched by any horse in Australia. He’s come from last in both the Lightning and the Newmarket this prep, against elite sprinters, and just failed to get there. His only Sydney run saw him take out the Golden Eagle, and now he gets to Randwick, which should suit him even more. Chautauqua, anyone?
Can anyone upset these four?
Private Eye is proving to be a powerful sprinter – second in The Everest behind Giga Kick and fourth in the Newmarket behind In Secret screams that. He meets In Secret 2.5kg’s and I Wish I Win 1.5kg’s better, which brings him somewhere into the conversation.
Mazu was also in the Newmarket, and meets key rivals better at the weights too. He does just seem to have been 1-2 lengths behind the winner all season, so it’s hard to see him now beating all of them in one field.
Lost and Running looked to be peaking beautifully for The Everest last year, but went awry and had to be scratched. He’s hitting this first-up, and is a question mark for now, especially from the widest gate. He wouldn’t surprise though.
Lofty Strike is yet to win at Group 1 level, but has no fear of tackling the best. In Secret had his measure in the Coolmore, where he finished fourth. Since then, he’s been beaten a length finishing alongside Nature Strip and Giga Kick in the VRC Classic, won the Rubiton against good older horses, and finished second in both the Oakleigh Plate and Newmarket. He can’t be slept on.
Mariamia and Passive Aggressive are two in-form mares at the opposite end of the spectrum, both coming off Group wins that tie them right into the conversation.
Mariamia has been around a while, but has simply jumped out of the ground for Joe Pride and took out the Galaxy last start. Passive Aggressive has only had six career starts, won five of them, and beat the likes of Eduardo and Giga Kick in the Challenge Stakes.
Nature Strip will either lead or be near enough to it, with Passive Aggressive and Shades of Rose for company. It will be just a matter of how far off him are the fast-finishing big guns, Giga Kick, In Secret, I Wish I Win and Private Eye.
Selections: 1.Giga Kick 2.I Wish I Win 3.In Secret 4.Lofty Strike
It’s great to see the ATC Derby attract an 18 horse field, thanks in part to the Kiwi’s attacking this race in their droves. They must smell blood in the water from across the Tasman, sensing our three-year-old staying ranks are weak this season.
The first four home in the NZ Derby are all here, Sharp N Smart, Andalus, Full of Sincerity and Mark Twain.
Sharp and Smart is well known to Australia after he won the Gloaming and Spring Champion, and finished second in the VRC Derby in the spring. He’s now won three Group 1s and finished second in two others, across a range of distances and conditions. Is he necessarily the best stayer, or is he just brilliant enough to beat his own age at an extended trip?
Andalus and Full of Sincerity had their chance to beat Sharp N Smart in NZ, but the latter now draws the car park with the other two inside him. Andalus has a cosy barrier, and will get every favour.
Mark Twain is the most lightly raced of the Kiwi’s, and seems to have the upside coming into this. He was too far back last start, and appears the most likely to beat the favourite.
Of the local hopes, Pericles is short enough at $4 given he gets beaten a lot and often looks like winning but doesn’t. Elliptical is hard to get a read on, but could pop up.
Manzoice won the VRC Derby, just wearing down Sharp N Smart over the concluding stages. He’s third-up now, steps up to 2400m, and has the Chris Waller timing. No surprise at all if he produced another peak.
Japanese Emperor, conditioned by Mike Moroney, could be a good roughie if he can handle a staying trip. Virtuous Circle is another in that camp, backing up from the Australian Cup. He’s still learning and has had the worst of luck in this last two starts.
Selections: 1.Mark Twain 2.Sharp N Smart 3.Manzoice 4.Japanese Emperor
It often doesn’t take a genius to find the winner of The Sires. Just look at any Golden Slipper runners in the race, pick the one that finished first, and double or triple your money. And that’s exactly what to do here.
Cylinder is proving an outstanding three-year-old, and put in an excellent run when jumping favourite in the Slipper. Shinzo had to jump out of the ground to beat him, and he’s just better than his rivals here.
Don Corleone and Empire of Japan were good in the Slipper too, in fourth and fifth respectively, but have to find a few lengths to topple Cylinder.
A few Victorians have popped up in recent times to add some interest to this event.
Veight won the VRC Sires at Flemington like a really good juvenile, and has untold upside given that was only his second start. Brave Mead hasn’t beaten much in his wins at Moonee Valley and Pakenham, but couldn’t have looked better doing it. Marharba has already franked the Melbourne form when running second to Shinzo in the Pago Pago, and he looks the best roughie in the field.
Given The Sires is the first Group 1 being run on the day, it’s tempting to load up on Cylinder and use house money to play in the other three.
Selections: 1.Cylinder 2.Veight 3.Brave Mead 4.Maharba