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The last time we sent runners to Murtoa was October 7th 2017. It’s a long time ago: hard to believe, I know, but England weren’t cricket World Champions then, Winx’s Turnbull romp on that very afternoon was merely her 21st consecutive win, and the much-missed Survived was still with us, as that was the day he took out the Murtoa Cup. Thanos was our other runner at that meeting, and he was also successful, so for all we’ve been ungrateful guests and not visited since, let’s hope it remains a charmed track for us as we make a belated return this Monday.
MISS HELLBENDER (Race 2, Declan Bates) does retain the ability to win a maiden even if her level is more or less set by now, it just a case of everything coming together. That hasn’t quite happened in three starts since returning, including when tried blinkered at Bendigo last time. Today’s race doesn’t have the depth that one did, whilst blinkers are replaced with winkers, and if she and Declan can manage a trouble-free journey around she really ought to be in the thick of things come the end. Moe runner-up Stinging Remark is the very obvious danger.
It took HALCYON DAME (Race 5, Lucinda Doodt) some time to break her duck, but for most of the way at Echuca on her recent handicap debut she looked all set to make it back-to-back wins only for her to get gubbed late by Tantivy. Everything about that run suggests she enters handicaps on a mark she can exploit, indeed she would very likely have held on at Echuca had we looked to conserve her effort slightly longer. Lucinda Doodt comes in for the ride today, taking 1.5kg from her impost, and employed with a bit more restraint similar tactics ought to serve Halcyon Dame well, particularly given the relatively short straight at Murtoa.
CHAIRMAN’S CHOICE (Race 8, Declan Bates) comes up against the aforementioned Tantivy over a mile in the penultimate race on the card. Chairman’s Choice is down in grade, and hopefully that will enable him to display a bit more of what he’s about, having come up short on both starts since joining the yard. You might not know it from his Geelong run last time, but he is proven on heavy ground, whilst this kind of trip should suit him well too. We’ve not rushed him, and expect him to come to hand sooner rather than later, today hopefully being the day he shows more like his form from earlier in the season, as if he does his falling handicap mark will ensure he's competitive at the very least,
Thankyfully enough we’re back on the Flat and back in Victoria on Sunday with two runners (after scratching Star Jan) on a competitive looking card at Bendigo.
Run over 2200m, there are no newcomers to worry about in the second maiden on the card, rather there are a host of horses with fair enough form to their name, but nothing close to resembling a standout. Indeed, eight or nine of the runners are separated by two or three lengths on the pick of their efforts to date, making for a condensed and cluttered maiden. TIGRE ROYALE (Race 2, Declan Bates) is one of those, with his runs at Donald and Geelong in May representing his best so far. Strangely he wasn’t so good at Swan Hill last time despite seeming to be suited by the step up to this sort of trip. He needs something of a boost, and hopefully that can come with the application of blinkers this afternoon, as even a modest improvement in form terms could be enough to take this given the limitations that litter the rest of the field.
Our best chance of the day comes with WRITE YOUR NAME (Race 9, Jamie Mott). Whenever he runs our best chance of the day seems to be Write Your Name! For all it’s true that he hasn’t always done the business, it’s nigh-on impossible not to keep the faith this afternoon so well placed does he look. From what he’s achieved to the way he shapes, everything about Write Your Name would tell you he’s a well handicapped horse, and today’s 1400m ought to be what he needs to prove as much after he shaped well over the 1300m here on his comeback from a break last month. The excellent Jamie Mott comes in for the ride, and the pair find themselves handily drawn in six. If there is one who could cause some anxieties then it’s next door in seven, the improving Trigger Point.
A rarity of a Saturday with no runners on the level or in Victoria to report. Instead our sole point of focus is Andrea Mantegna over the sticks at Gawler, his focus being pointed by the addition of winkers. Souped up and ready to roll, he certainly looks to warrant his status as short-priced favourite.
Over hurdles ANDREA MANTEGNA (Race 2, Richard Cully) has earned a rating of 118, and that squeezes him into the bottom of the handicap today, meaning he’s giving nothing away to his rivals, with just the minimum of 64kg to carry around. Last-time winners Tangara and Comics, meanwhile, are obliged to race from out of the weights. Further, Andrea Mantegna’s form over hurdles is going the right way with experience, quite how he missed out in the Grand National hurdle at Morphettville last time remains something of a mystery. Either way, he looks ideally positioned this afternoon to gain compensation for that narrowest of misses, with winkers now in place to add that final little piece to the jigsaw.
Testing conditions are in store at Geelong today, and there have been a spate of withdrawals in line with that, including Star Jan who was due to line up for the opening maiden. As such, we now rely on Lope de Field in the concluding BM64.
There was enough to like about the return to action of LOPE DE FIELD (Race 8, Declan Bates) at Donald a couple of weeks ago, particularly given the race placed insufficient emphasis on stamina for a mare who did her improving between a mile and 2000m. Dropped out in a BM64 over 1354m, Lope de Vega unsurprisingly struggled to make headway as the race was developing, but she was noted doing pleasing work approaching the finish, running into mid-pack seemingly with more to give. She’s up to 1512m today, so still short of her optimum in all likelihood, but it remains to be seen how the testing conditions suit her. Her wins have all come on a good surface, and she’s unraced on heavy, but given the ground will place stamina at a premium maybe it will prove to be in her favour. The negatives when assessing her chance are an awkward draw and the fact it’s a pretty competitive race she finds herself in, the two three-year-olds – May Be Fate and So You Swing – and the in-form Outboard Motors all easy to make a cogent case for.
There’s quite a lot to be interested in at Sandown this afternoon, with McCullum having the look of a notably promising juvenile in the opener, Fudged seemingly hugely overpriced in the mares handicap, and Tavisan an intriguing class-dropper in the finale. Alongside these as one to play close attention to is Chelkar as he returns to Victoria on the back of an eye-catching run at Morphettville last time.
First and foremost it was hugely encouraging to see CHELKAR (Race 4, Fred Kersley) build on the veiled promise of his Australian debut with a more complete performance behind the reopposing Bea Tempted in a 2050m BM86 at Morphettville, pointing to a more productive campaign now then when going the wrong way for his reappearance in Europe last year. Taking a closer look at that run, and the strong suspicion is that it’s one upon which he can come on for again, as it really didn’t look to get to the bottom of him. He made good ground into the heart of the race having been positioned a bit further back than ideal, and then wasn’t unduly knocked about in the finish. The extra distance of today’s race provides further grounds for optimism, and given the improved weight terms we’d certainly be hopeful of turning form around with Bea Tempted. Elsewhere, Mirimar is more than likely to be a key player, whilst OTI Racing also fields Swan Hill winner Inverloch.
We have an interest at each of the three meetings taking place in Victoria and South Australia this Saturday afternoon. In short, Spanner Head heads to Flemington for Finals Day, Buena Veloz travels to SA, and at Echuca Tom’s Knight has an unbeaten record to defend and, having taken eleven bites of the (presumably massive) cherry to get off the mark, Halcyon Dame turns out in a very winnable 0-58.
It’s Finals Day at Flemington, and SPANNER HEAD (Race 8, Declan Bates) takes her place in the Winter Championship Final, a listed class handicap over a mile on ground that is currently rated as a Soft 5. This is a tough assignment for Spanner Head – but then again she never gets any simple ones – for all that the framing of the weight suits us as her rating of 94 sees her creep into the handicap proper with a weight of 54kg. She threw in a rare sub-par display at Sandown most recently in the race dominated by the reopposing Mr Marathon Man and Waging War. She clearly has it to do to reverse form with that pair, though then again given what we know about Spanner it’s most unlikely that she’ll run as quietly as she did there again, especially as she’s back at her beloved Flemington.
BUENA VELOZ (Race 2, Fred Kersley) heads over to Morphettville for a BM75, also over the mile trip. As was mentioned last time there’s not much for him on Synthetic tracks with his handicap mark as it is, and he’s now at the stage where he needs to prove that he can be just as effective on turf as he was in winning twice on the AW at Ballarat in May. Whilst not entirely discredited back on grass at Bendigo most recently, it wasn’t really an effort in keeping with what had gone before. Today’s handicap is less competitive than that one was, raising hope he can play more of a prominent role today.
Echuca is the scene that will greet a couple of last-time winners starting out in handicaps. TOM’S KNIGHT (Race 8, Neil Farley) made a successful racecourse debut at Kilmore back in early November. He’s been given time since that promising start and, whilst the form of that race is nothing out of the ordinary (fourth-placed Bezos has at least gone on to do a bit better), his wordly possessions amount to a big, mysterious bag marked only with the word “potential”. Quite what is in that bag remains to be seen, and we should know a lot more after today. What is for certain is that he will need to take a significant step forward given he’s being asked to concede weight to the well-treated pair Illuminaire and Regina Margherita.
Whilst Tom’s Knight may have needed just one shot to hit the target, it took HALCYON DAME (Race 9, Neil Farley) eleven tries to get off the mark, something she belatedly did in good style at Wodonga last month. She gets to begin her handicap career in notably calmer waters than Tom’s Knight and, as such, she represents our best chance today. The top-weighted Me Cabo is the one who should look most threatening on past performances, but he’s just gone off the boil of late and has a bit to prove all of a sudden. There’s a lot of chaff amongst the remainder.
It was a most unfortunate year out of the sport for Tom Stockdale, but since returning to the saddle in April the young man has more than picked up where he left off; indeed, he’s arguably the form rider in Victoria right now, and his 1.5kg claim can help both Kansas City and Supreme Harmony in their respective tugs of war with the handicapper.
Kansas City and Supreme Harmony have enjoyed more than their fair share of success in recent times, with a brace of wins apiece since April, but the result – obviously enough – is that their ratings have likewise been in the ascendant. KANSAS CITY (Race 5, Thomas Stockdale) has interspersed her wins with a couple of lesser efforts, albeit in a higher grade at Sandown most recently. Those wins came under Andrew Mallyon, who rides her so well, but with the fine margins involved it felt necessary to claim off her this time. Having tried the 2400m trip just once before she remains unexposed faced with such a stamina test, and given that staying is pretty much what she’s about, there is at least some hope that she could eke out a bit more improvement so long as she’s on one of her going days. She has to concede weight all round, with Arohata, Da Deputy, and Wild Sea those that it could prove most tricky to do so successfully.
SUPREME HARMONY’s (Race 9, Thomas Stockdale) run of form has been more constant, progressive even, than Kansas City’s peaks and troughs, his two wins supplemented by placed efforts the last twice. Okay, it is possibly the case that his latest third to Outboard Motors at Geelong didn’t quite match up with what had gone before, but underfoot conditions that day were extremely testing and it’s not too difficult to give him a pass there. The withdrawal of Sunday Night Tea works in our favour this afternoonas he looked one of the key dangers at the weights, and in his absence it’s the mare Hunboshi – who has drawn the inside gate – who rates the biggest threat. Conversely, Supreme Harmony has a wide draw to contend with in 12, so we’ll be looking to get some cover before working into things without giving away too much track position.
There’s not a great deal in it, but of the two Supreme Harmony looks a likelier winner than Kansas City as things stand, though it's worth remembering each of them has a battle on not just with the horses lined up next to them, but an equally pertinent one with the assessor who dictates their handicap ratings!
Tatura this afternoon, and it’s back onto the turf with Now’s Her Time after her first-up run on the all-weather.
It’s probably fair to say NOW'S HER TIME (Race 5, Neil Farley) didn’t quite come up to expectations at Ballarat on her first start since February, below the form she’d shown to finish placed twice in February. The different surface provides a ready-made excuse, of course, but equally it may be the case that she just wasn’t quite at concert pitch for that comeback run, and the fact she was doing her best work when the race was over points to her being more tuned up for today’s task. Judging her on her best effort to date – the close second at Stawell – Now’s Her Time looks to rank third best amongst those with experience behind Fairy Song and Abundance, in that order, though there isn’t a great deal to choose between them and it could be that her inside barrier will allow her to close the gap on that pair. She will encounter a soft surface for the first time, and there’s a chance it could suit if it places the emphasis more on stamina, this 1100m trip sure to prove at the bottom end of her range in the fullness of time.
That it’s a relatively quiet time of the year is reflected by the fact that when Raffine turns out for the Class 1 Handicap on Ballarat’s Synthetic track this afternoon, she will be our first runner for a whole week. And it could well be a case of being back with a bang, as her chance looks a particularly strong one.
RAFFINE (Race 5, Declan Bates) duly stepped up on the form of her maiden success when a length and a half third of 11 to Radical Candor, also over the 1200m of today’s synthetic track on her handicap debut. That form looks good in the context of this afternoon’s contest, particularly as those last two runs have fully confirmed her effectiveness on the surface. The strength of her finish last time pointed firmly to 1400m suiting all the more. As is typical for a race of this nature there are several other lightly-raced handicappers in opposition, each of who has some scope for progress, though the same applies to Raffine herself and, as things stand, she looks to hold a clear edge over the rest of the field in terms of form in the book. Geelong maiden winner Annarbor is the most obvious danger amongst the rest, though it's worth pointing out she has yet to try an artificial surface.
All three of our runners at Bendigo today can be accorded a fair likelihood of winning at worst, and duly each of them currently figure at single-figure prices. Let’s try and pick out the bones and give an even clearer guide to their respective chances.
MISS HELLBENDER (Race 2, Andrew Mallyon) has been okay since returning to racing, though in form terms her fifth over the 1300m at Bendigo was actually better than her Ballarat second last time, with the synthetic surface perhaps not suiting her on that occasion. She has given the impression she could benefit from the application of blinkers on both of those runs, and gets the opportunity to prove the point this afternoon, when the move up to a mile also looks as if it could turn out to be a beneficial one. Miss Hellbender has better form going back, and if she can return to that sort of level she’ll take plenty of beating, whilst if she merely replicates the kind of effort she’s put up the last twice she’s likely to prove vulnerable to No New Tricks. That one does remain a maiden after thirteen starts, but even so he looked to raise his game a chunk at Sandown earlier this month, and a repeat of that performance will make him the one to beat.
BUENA VELOZ (Race 8, Declan Bates) has taken to the synthetic track at Ballarat like a d to w, winning twice there within five days for Declan Bates last month. As a consequence his rating has risen to a point that more or less counts him out of further races on the all-weather surface, so he now has to prove that he can show just as high a level of performance back on the turf. Even if he can, he is obliged to concede weight to a clutch of interesting candidates lower down the handicap, Rapido Chaparro, Mr Tipla and, most obviously, Elite Drake all looking likely types. Buena Veloz's current form does count for plenty despite the different set of circumstances, but even so it’s probably asking just a bit too much for him to bring up the hat-trick.
Our best chance on the day would appear to come in the nightcapper, WRITE YOUR NAME (Race 10, Jordan Childs) returning to action off a three-month break from a handicap mark that continues to look very appealing for a horse whose record of two wins from six starts doesn’t do him justice. He’s been gelded since last seen, and the hope is that the procedure can make him that bit more straightforward, help take misfortune out of his races. Having contested warm and valuable three-year-old handicaps at Flemington the last twice, Write Your Name is now down into a more everyday BM70, and he looks to have a potential class edge over largely more exposed and older rivals. Rocket Empire is two from three so far and remains with the scope for progress, but that one aside it’s difficult not to think Write Your Name has the field covered on all known form. He’s drawn barrier five of 13, and we’ll be looking for an uncomplicated run through for once!
Five runners across three meetings this Saturday, so no fluff or silliness this morning, there being time only to get straight to the point about each of them. In SA, Andrea Mantegna ratchets up his hurdling career at Morphettville; at Donald, Sleepless rates a fascinating newcomer for OTI; and Connery looks to have leading claims at Ian Fleming-ton.
Starting off at Morphettville, ANDREA MANTEGNA (Race 2, Richard Cully) has his fourth start over obstacles in the Grand National Hurdle – a race which is perhaps named a shade more grandly than warranted – where he is due to renew rivalry with the pair that narrowly finished ahead of him at the track three weeks ago, namely Beyond Thankful and Tangara (fifth placed Exalted Lightning also reopposes). Given there was only half a length in it, Andrea Mantegna is notably better off at the weights with that pair this time and really should be able to turn the form around. With two wins from his first three over hurdles Euroman has made a promising start in this sphere and clearly rates as a more dangerous opponent. That said, Euroman’s one defeat in that time came at the hands of Double Bluff, and on that basis it could well be Aaron Purcell’s hurdler who proves the biggest obstacle to success.
Later on the card, and back on the level, CHELKAR (Race 7, Todd Pannell) has his second outing since coming to Australia and with a tongue strap in place can hopefully build some on the veiled encouragement of the first, even though today’s trip will remain on the short side for him. His run at Flemington went a long way to underlining the point about him being a proper stayer, so it’s still unlikely to be until he gets the chance to tackle 2400m+ that we see him in his best light, his journey to that point more about being one of bit-by-bit progress. And given how his European campaign quickly took a turn for the worse last season, seeming him come on from that first Australian outing will be important as a gauge of his longer-term prospects. The bang-in-form All Too Huiying and Brown Ben – a very good fifth in the Swan Hill Cup most recently – head the weights and look the pair most likely to fight it out.
CONNERY (Race 6, Craig Williams) finished just behind Brown Ben when sent off favourite for the Cup at Swan Hill, doing nothing wrong, perhaps just overbet in a race which did after all represent a considerably tougher challenge after consecutive wins at a lower level. Tan Tat Trusting (first), Curragh (third), and Sacred Theme (a possibly flattered fourth) all finished ahead of Connery at Swan Hill and meet again this afternoon, but there’s good reason to think he can come out on top this time around. It’s important to bear in mind that Connery was fully 6kg ‘wrong’ at the weights for that Cup race – something which, in hindsight, underlines the fact he was something of a false favourite – whereas today he is just 1kg out of the handicap. We’re 6kg better off with Tan Tat Trusting (or 3kg after Chelsea MacFarlane’s claim) and 2.5kg better off with Curragh – more than enough, theoretically, to account for both of them. Craig Williams got on well with Connery when winning at Sandown and comes back in for the ride, and the pair have drawn the inside stall. Like Connery, Five Kingdom looks still to be going very much in the right direction, and it’s not too difficult to envisage today’s race boiling down to a scrap between the two. With a bit of luck our inside gate can count for plenty.
Darcey Bussell was busy presenting the trophy for the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot on Wednesday, now in what is proving a hectic week for the veteran ballet dancer she’s responsible for SLEEPLESS (Race 3, Neil Farley), the sole newcomer in the 1354m maiden that comes third up at Donald. Or her equine namesake is, anyway. Sleepless is a two-year-old gelding by Rip Van Winkle (of course), whilst Darcey Bussell is a half-sister to the dam of multiple Group 1 winner Silent Achiever. Sleepless himself is a half-brother to a number of winners, the best of those to have been seen in Australia probably being the Tony McEvoy-trained Prince of Pagoda. Like Silent Achiever, he has needed more of a stamina test to come into his own, so it may be the case that Sleepless will also require further in due course. That said, there looks to be a fair amount of chaff amongst today’s maiden, with the once-raced Peainthepod setting a clear standard for the remainder to aim at.
LOPE DE FIELD (Race 9, Declan Bates) had just the one run for us after making the switch from Darren Weir earlier in the year before being given the break from which he returns in today’s finale at Donald. She ended her time at Forest Lodge on a high, winning three of her last four, so we’ll hope to have her back in that sort of form mindful of a lesser effort when last seen at the Valley. This will be the first time she’s raced over a trip so short in a long time, and given she did her improving over a mile and beyond, as well as in blinkers, there’s a chance she could find her wheels spinning at a key stage on this reappearance with the headgear left off. The likely softer ground shouldn’t prove an issue, and could even provide some assistance in making things into a bit more of a test.
Two wins and a second from three starts since switching to the yard show off Haileybury Miss in a positive light, though she'll need to stick rigidly to that progressive path given the greater depth of competition she inevitably comes up against going into the City at Sandown today.
Wins in a maiden and a BM58 are certainly nothing to sniff at, particularly as they underscore how HAILEYBURY MISS (Race 5, Declan Bates) has so quickly been able to transform her career, though it needs stressing that she has a good deal more on her plate moving into a BM64 and up against the likes of Legale, Tuff Bickie, Exasperate, Ma Jones, all of who are very well proven at this level. After just three starts for us, however, the case can be made that Haileybury Miss is almost entirely unexposed and, therefore, open to a significant bit more improvement than those around her here, all the more so over this kind of trip in the mud, having gone a long way at Casterton last time to show that such conditions could well be the kind to suit her ideally. In sum, then, it's not easy to know how hopeful to be mindful of the noteworthy hike in grade but, at the same time, it would be plain wrong to say Haileybury Miss doesn't have a clutch of pertinent factors in her favour this afternoon.
Already a legend in her own lifetime, Spanner Head will be attempting to gild her lily even further at Lakeside this afternoon. Over at Wodonga, meanwhile, Halcyon Dame is back on the turf and hopefully that can see her bounce back from a lesser display last time.
SPANNER HEAD (Race 8, Michael Poy) is up to a career-high rating of 95, underlining that in winning at Flemington most recently she was performing to a smart level of form. Michael Poy got a fine tune out of her on that occasion and he gets the opportunity to maintain the association this afternoon, his 2kg claim again coming in handy. Obviously the rise in the weights demands further progress, but Spanner Head’s proven current form sure counts for plenty, whilst her all-round reliability and willingness will surely see her giving it another bold go.
We don’t have many longstanding maidens in the yard, but HALCYON DAME (Race 3, Neil Farley) is gradually becoming one such! She’s clearly got the ability to win a race, and we thought we’d found the right race for her to do just that at Ballarat last time. She was a bit underwhelming there, but it was her first try on a synthetic surface and it’s perhaps best to put a line through the run. After ten starts she’s perhaps not one for maximum confidence any more, but even so she does appear to have a favourite’s chance once more this afternoon.
Testing conditions are in store at Geelong, something which can prove a blessing for both our runners at the rain-battered track.
CHAIRMAN’S CHOICE (Race 6, Jordan Childs) made a promising enough start on his stable debut at Bendigo in what looked a more competitive handicap than today’s. He can be expected to come on for that first start in four months, with the move up towards a mile and, perhaps more so, the rain-softened conditions liable to prove in his favour. It’s worth underlining his sole previous success came in similarly heavy ground, and also here at Geelong, so he really ought to have everything to suit this afternoon.
SUPREME HARMONY (Race 7, Neil Farley) was a late withdrawal at Swan Hill at the weekend, but all remains tip-top with him and he looks to hold even stronger claims in today’s engagement than had he taken his chance at the carnival. Scratchings have reduced what already had the feel of a thinnish BM64 further, leaving Supreme Harmony the one obviously in-form candidate lining up. Soft ground has clearly been to his liking of late whilst, going back, he’s performed well on heavy to boot. He looks a very straightforward and strong contender today. Should win.
The prices will tell you there is a 28.57% chance that one of the two we start at Ballarat returns a winner. For the optimists amongst us, the chance both Now Her’s Time and Raffine come home in front is 2.86%. The pessimists can work out the remaining percentage themselves.
NOW’S HER TIME (Race 2, Jordan Childs) has been given her time, specifically a 4-month pause since the second of two promising placed efforts to start her career. In form terms those two runs do need to be built upon, especially when put up against the achievements of certain favourite Maktabba, but with time on her back and an encouraging trial in the locker, one which should have put her at home on the synthetic surface, we’d be looking for just that kind of progress.
RAFFINE (Race 8, Jordan Childs) was one who benefited no end from the same kind of break Now’s Her Time comes in for, a recent return to action seeing her up her game to win a maiden over the same course and distance she returns to for today’s handicap debut. She’s a likely improver now out of maiden company, with just four starts behind her, and the fact she’s proven on the surface must be taken as a positive. It needs reiterating almost every time a horse makes that transition from maidens to handicaps, but it is one that does demand improvement, largely a function of the greater level of competition. With some horses it’s an insurmountable one (or it is until the handicapper relents), but there are no such fears with the upwardly-mobile Raffine.
Craig Williams was on board to help Wild Breeze break her duck at Cranbourne last month, so we can be hopeful that it’s firmly to her benefit that he maintains the association with her as she embarks on her handicap career at Sale this afternoon.
WILD BREEZE (Race 3, Craig Williams) had to work hard to justify favouritism at Cranbourne, though there are of course positives to take from that fact in doing so she displayed a willing, generous attitude, and was evidently more than at home over the longer trip of a mile. A switch to handicap company almost always asks a good bit more of a horse, and that’s no different for Wild Breeze today, as she meets some fillies who have achieved that bit more in winning their respective maidens. That said, her scope for progress remains firmly intact, as she professionalises by the day, so she’ll head to Sale with a fair enough chance in what seems an open enough race of its type.
The final day of the carnival at Swan Hill means it’s Cup day. It also means another day in the limelight for Connery. Now I know I’ve promised not to keep these dreadful gags up, mainly because I’m desperately running out of them, but Never Say Never Again, right. Ocean Essence goes in the following race, the concluding event after three days on The Hill.
The Swan Hill Cup represents something of a jump into the unknown for CONNERY (Race 9, Jye McNeil), from a BM84 into an open handicap which sees him up against it at the weights strictly speaking, an official mark of 76 leaving him some 6kg ‘wrong’ with those in the handicap proper – though there are only four of those. One being a previous stable-companion in the shape of the magnificently in-form Spunlago. Connery is obviously at less of a disadvantage in relation to the rest of the field, and his current well-being and rate of progress should count for plenty: he’s in a real sweet spot right now, and has ground/trip conditions bang in his favour this afternoon.
OCEAN ESSENCE (Race 10, Damien Thornton) makes it into the finale as a reserve on what marks a return to action for him following a 10-week break in which time he’s undergone the cruelest cut of them all. There was plenty to like about his first start for the yard when third to Seberate at Bendigo, making his subsequent run on Lakeside a disappointing one. The break, the gelding operation, and softer ground offer an array of fresh conditions for him now, and we’d like to think he’ll be up to showing a lot more. He has the look of a fairly handicapped three-year-old if everything can be put together.
Four runners on Saturday, two apiece split between Swan Hill and Flemington, and whilst the winners may be more likely to come at the former venue, there’s plenty to be interested in the pair who line up at the latter.
Starting at Swan Hill, TIGRE ROYALE (Race 3, Declan Bates) seeks to continue his race-by-race progression in a 2100m maiden that doesn’t look very long on depth – to all intents and purposes today’s race makes for a drop in grade. He can be expected to be suited by the extra distance of the contest and, with winkers fitted for the first time, he essentially looks to have the mares Sweetgeorgia Brown and Stormy Elect as his main rivals. Any finish outside of the first three would have to be viewed as being disappointing.
The bang-in-form SUPREME HARMONY (Race 8, Neil Farley) will bid to maintain his fine partnership with Neil Farley. The pair failed by only the narrowest of margins to bring up the hat-trick at Ballarat a couple of weeks ago, but in being able to compete from the same handicap mark as then it’s not difficult to see why he has obvious claims granted similar conditions this afternoon. He’s maybe drawn a bit wider than ideal in 12, but if he can tuck in well enough and get a clean run through he looks sure to give a very good account of himself once again.
CHELKAR (Race 7, Jordan Childs) is an intriguing import for OTI Racing. An Aga Khan homebred, he started life in France with Jean-Claude Rouget, winning three of his first five, on the last of those having another OTI acquisition, Le Juge, back in fourth. That was in 2016, however, and things have not gone smoothly since, missing the following year before moving to Willie Mullins in Ireland. He was made favourite for the Ascot Stakes at the Royal Meeting on his belated return and duly acquitted himself with great credit in finishing fourth then, but thereafter his form tailed off in three subsequent outings. Stamina is clearly a strong point for Chelkar (the Ascot Stakes is run over 4000m), so there must be a good chance he’ll find today’s Australian debut too much of a speed test. Even so, he’s a lightly-raced six-year-old with smart form going back, so if he’s back on the straight and narrow he’s one to be excited about looking forward.
It’s hardly the most shocking revelation of all time, but SACCHARO (Race 9, Ben Allen) has been proving frustrating this season, all the more so given the intermittent promise he’s shown along the way. His last three goes – all at Caulfield – haven’t been as good as they should have been, and it would be nice to see him getting back to the form he showed when just failing in the Bendigo Guineas prior to that. There’s a change of rider, with Ben Allen coming in for the mount this time, whilst the winkers are off as we cross fingers and toes that everything clicks this afternoon.
Mazy Motion has a form edge on all her rivals in the 2027m maiden that comes fourth up at Seymour today, enough for us to be very confident about her chances of breaking through at the fifth time of asking.
MAZY MOTION (Race 4, Jordan Childs) has finished in the frame on all three outings since her debut, with her narrow second to Head Noises at this track last month the pick of those, all the more so now that the pair who chased her home that day – Dixie Built and First Water – have both gone on to win their maidens. If her third to Agente Fiscale arguably wasn’t quite as good, it still represents a standard those she comes up against today will likely struggle to match. Mazy Motion has a longer trip to contend with now, but she shapes as if it should suit, whilst we’re fitting her with blinkers in the hope they can give her that extra bit of sharpness to see her over the line in front.
Kansas City is the biggest city in Missouri, not Kansas. Kansas City, Kansas, is only the third biggest city in the State that bears its name. They're pretty messed up out there in the Mid-West. Fortunately for us the equine equivalent of a couple of hillbilly cities is a lot more straightforward, and progressive, as two wins from three tries this prep attest, and a soaring handicap mark needn't preclude more success for she and Andrew Mallyon at Sandown today.
KANSAS CITY (Race 8, Andrew Mallyon) has done really well since joining our team, an improved mare no question, and she seems to find more the more her stamina is drawn out. So whilst today's task - a BM78 for fillies and mares - is clearly her toughest yet, there are grounds to be hopeful that she will find the requisite further progress. Her defeat of Obscura and Buffalo Bill at Cranbourne reads well, whilst her older form shows that the softer conditions she will encounter this afternoon are no impediment at all - indeed soft ground may even help her some. Topping the weights and topping the list of dangers is last-time Hillside winner Bea Tempted, and it's not difficult to see why she will prove popular for all she still has to prove her stamina over today's trip.
The jumpers take the bulk of the spotlight at Casterton this afternoon, with five of the nine races taking place over the sticks, and we will need to wait until the meeting’s finale to get a look in when Haileybury Miss seeks to go one better than on last month’s handicap debut.
HAILEYBURY MISS (Race 9, Declan Bates) was a convincing winner of her maiden and she duly stepped up on the bare bones of that form when going down by the narrowest margin to Fratello in a BM58 at Hamilton. She was strong through the line there, as if she ought to be suited by the move from a mile to 1800m, whilst the Soft 6 surface then should pretty closely resemble what she will encounter today. She’s plainly a major contender whichever way you look at it, with Florida Dream the one we have to be most wary of. He’s operated at a higher level, and a reading of some of his form makes him look potentially very well handicapped, though he does have a lesser run at Mornington to put behind him.
It’s to Miss Hellbender’s credit that she’s made it back to the racetrack given the setbacks she’s endured along the way, and now it’s a case of finessing her into belatedly breaking her duck.
It was entirely understandable that MISS HELLBENDER (Race 3, Jordan Childs) wasn’t quite at her best on last month’s return to action, and the more positive aspect of that Bendigo run is that she came out of it in good shape and ready to go again. One would expect that she’ll step up with that outing under her belt – assuming she takes to the synthetic surface – and the level of her form taken as a whole suggests she will firmly be the one to beat as she moves back up to 1400m this afternoon. The second favourite as things stand is the once-raced Soldierofthebrave, but he was third of four in a heavy ground Bairnsdale maiden, and it’s not easy to view that effort in an especially positive light.
Whilst it’s Derby Day back in Britain, inevitably meaning more Classic success for Aidan O’Brien, things are fortunately not quite so predictable here in Australia, and with that in mind we have a trio of runners competing under varying conditions at three different tracks around twelve hours before they head to post at Epsom.
First up, ANDREA MANTEGNA (Race 1, Richard Cully) continues his embryonic hurdling career with a step up in grade at Morphettville having won his maiden at the second time of asking at Hamilton a couple of weeks ago. That was our first winner over obstacles, but given the ability Andrea Mantegna brings with him from the Flat it’s reasonable to imagine he’ll be capable of adding to it. The conditions of today’s race look to favour him, as he receives weight from a couple of rivals in Mr One Eleven and Exalted Lightning to who he was superior on the level. The first-named has managed to win three times in this sphere but was flying too high in the Australian Hurdle at Sandown, and that came just five days ago. Exalted Lightning scored at Gawler last week and may provide a bigger threat. It’s hard to envisage the remaining three runners proving good enough.
SILVER STRATUM (Race 6, Neil Farley) has been struggling to find his mojo recently, but he’s dipped below his last winning mark as a consequence, leaving him well handicapped for when he does refind his form. Whilst it may require something of a leap of faith to support him with any confidence as things stand, he is suited by the cut in the ground he looks set to encounter this afternoon. We’ll be hoping to see a step in the right direction.
Our highest profile runner of the day comes at Caulfield in the shape of PETRELLE (Race 8, Craig Williams). The strong suspicion remains that she’s yet to fulfil all of her considerable potential, but after six starts in total it still remains relatively early days. Her fifth in a Morphettville Group 3 last time was reasonable if not quite as strong a performance as we believed she was – and is – capable. Today’s BM90 is confined to mares and looks a nice set-up for her, as with 54kg she is just half a kilo ‘wrong’ at the weights, whilst she’s also comfortably the least exposed of the thirteen-strong field, and the one still open to sizeable progress. We’re fitting her with visors this afternoon, the view being that they can help her put everything together and elevate her into the really smart mare she’s threatening to be.
Two newcomers face off against each other in the opener at Pakenham today, a pair of two-year-old fillies who are all latent potential, promise and excitement at present, and the hope is that remains the case post race!
JEALICE (Race 1, John Allen) is a Hinchinbrook half-sister to Macattack, who has won three for us, and the signs are that she may be up to proving more precocious than her relation. We certainly envisage her being clued up and professional enough to get deep into the mix on this first try. Indeed it will be disappointing if she doesn’t show what we believe she’s capable of.
OCEAN TREATY (Race 1, Andrew Mallyon) is out of a Group 1 runner-up in New Zealand in the shape of Van Nistelrooy mare Striker, as well as being a half-sister to a Group 3 winner. Her pedigree offers plenty for the future and we’ll be looking for a positive first step, though it may be the case that she wants a bit more time and distance than her stable-companion.
Raffine has been given the pause that refreshes and today returns from a four-month break on the synthetic surface here at Ballarat.
There’s no hiding the fact RAFFINE (Race 4, Declan Bates) failed to match expectations on both outings after such an overtly promising racecourse debut at Geelong back in November. As a result it was the right time to give her time, allow her to regroup and refocus, to strengthen mentally and physically, and hopefully that will prompt her to show much more like that debut ability on this return to action. The dogs seem to have been barking about newcomer Teebird amongst the opposition. Representing the Hawkes team, it’s certainly not difficult to see why judged on the dam side of his pedigree, and the money would strongly imply he’s going to be above average. Of those with form Gossip is the one who has achieved most, away from Raffine anyway, as her debut effort represents a better level than that one has yet produced in nine tries to date.
Halcyon Dame for the win. That has to be the strong hope bordering on expectation in light of the fact she is in good form and appears in a particularly winnable race at Ballarat this afternoon.
HALCYON DAME (Race 3, Declan Bates) has improved in three runs since joining the yard, and whilst she was no match at all for Shamal Lass at Donald most recently, she doesn't figure to meet anything with that one's potential today. Indeed, her form is the best on offer, no question, and with little else looking to offer that much in the way of potential it would indeed be disappointing if she were unable to get off the mark at the tenth time of asking. She does have one mild question to answer over the surface, never having tried a synthetic track previously, but if she takes to it as the vast majority do she will take the power of beating.
Come and join us on Sunday when we are hosting a morning at the stables with Bennett Racing. All are welcome and it is a great opportunity to make a day out of it as we are racing at Ballarat in the afternoon.
We send out a trio of maidens today – a couple facing off in the same race at Geelong early on before Wild Breeze hits Cranbourne later – in the hope that at least one will return having broken their duck.
MAZY MOTION (Race 2, Declan Bates) looks to have sound claims of doing just that judging by the way she took her form onto a new level when a narrow second to Head Noises at Seymour a fortnight ago. That was a breakthrough in itself, now we’re looking for the one which sees her graduate from maiden company.
Judged on previous evidence Mazy Motion holds stronger claims than TIGRE ROYALE (Race 2, Clayton Douglas), but it may be that is too simplistic a way of looking at things. Much too green on debut, Tigre Royale showed the benefit of time and training when returning with a much more taking fifth at Donald earlier this month, his strength through the line there pointing to there being plenty more to come. As such there may not be as much between the pair as current prices would indicate.
Agente Fiscale is probably the one the pair have to beat even if he is a bit more exposed than a few of the others in the line-up.
WILD BREEZE (Race 4, Craig Williams) finished a couple of spots behind Agente Fiscale on Ballarat’s synthetic track last time in a run in which she perhaps didn’t quite meet full expectations. She’s probably better judged on her close-up third on the turf of Bendigo the time before, and returned to the surface this evening, a reproduction of that effort should see her bang there in a race which doesn’t look to contain much in the way of depth. She ought to be suited by the mile trip, and looks to have recent Cranbourne second Jungle Jane as her primary danger.
Ballarat is back on the turf today, a soft turf at that, and whilst Fancy Liquor is fun, Supreme Harmony is preferable as a rule. A Silver Stratum probably comes buried somewhere in between the two.
FANCY LIQUOR (Race 3, Jye McNeil) made a promising enough start when third at Seymour earlier in the month, doing enough there to suggest she can break her maiden sooner rather than later, with today’s longer trip and the application of a tongue strap help enough to allow her to express herself more freely. Further boosting her chance is that she only really has Spilia as a threat from a form perspective in a race lacking any newcomers.
The first thing to say about SILVER STRATUM (Race 6, Declan Bates) is that he needs to raise his game. He’s been off his mettle since racking up a hat-trick this time last year but, as a consequence, is now back down to his last winning handicap mark. That raises hope, as does the fact he now returns to ground with significant ease in it, something that was so important during that winning spree. Reunited with blinkers and trying a tongue tie, it will be disappointing to say the least if he doesn’t offer a good bit more.
SUPREME HARMONY (Race 7, Neil Farley), meanwhile, has been making hay, and bids to emulate Silver Stratum’s hat-trick of twelve months’ prior in the BM64 that follows. He’s proven a revelation of late and isn’t one to underestimate for all he’s in deeper now and that those last two successes have come via narrow margins. He’s on the upgrade and, being lightly-raced for a five-year-old, can progress further. Win, lose, or draw he’s proving a credit and is a very likeable type.
Fifty winners for the campaign notched up. For the mathematically challenged that's halfway to a hundred. That particular landmark will have to wait until next season but, rest assured, we're gunning for it! Bendigo today offers the chance to add further success, as with three runners there will be one winner for sure.
That one is MISS HELLBENDENDER (Race 2, Jordan Childs). She has so much ability it's hard to fathom how she's still a maiden, though she has been highly tried along the way. It will be most disappointing if she can't win a race of today's nature, as we continue to believe she can step up to bigger and better things. A rest since seen last in August leaves her refreshed and reinvigorate. She just wins.
MISS CARBONI (Race 7, Jordan Childs) had no luck at all trying a handicap for the first time over today's course and distance, and isn't one to overlook trying again. The form of her maiden win continues to look well enough in context, and as a three-year-old filly she gets all the weight allowances going. That said, she comes up against another one such in the shape of impressive Crabourne winner The Commoner.
CHAIRMAN'S CHOICE (Race 8, Jordan Childs) is a stable debutant having transitioned from the Busuttins since her last start in January. He won his maiden over today's trip of 1300m three starts ago - albeit on a heavy 9 - and failed to make much impression in a couple of BM64s thereafter. He remains young and relatively unexposed, but it's perhaps the case he'll require a bit more of a stamina test in due course. Today ought to tell us plenty more.
In the words of Elton John, 'Saturday, Saturday (ad nauseam), Saturday's alright for fighting'. Another Saturday, this time with a trio of fillies with more than fighting chances.
CLEARLY (Race 2, Damien Oliver) is clearly smart, up there with the better ones we've had through our hands, and she looks well placed this afternoon on the basis of the third in the Queen of the South. She doesn't have to give weight away to lesser rated rivals, and we'd be hopeful she'll be up to improving by a factor of 100 a win record that does no justice to here ability. Remeber The Name arrives here on a high and is clearly the one to beat.
SO FAR SOKOOL (Race 2, Nikita Beriman) hasn't been the easiest to catch right in recent times. She's had some moderate luck along the way and remains talented when things go her way. She's in the correct grade today and against those of her own sex, so with a fair wind she ought to be competitive at the very least.
The race could have been framed for SPANNER HEAD (Race 8, Michael Poy) so well does she look positioned in relation to those she's up against, particularly given she comes into this on the back of a hugely encouraging return at Caulfield. She loves the track, the ground will be fine, Michael Poy takes off 2kg to leave her with a featherweight, and she always go well against higher rated rivals. It's not too much of a stretch to say that she should be winning today.
When you take a liking to a place, go there and knock yourself out. Buena Veloz @ Ballarat Synthetic today. Later on, Kansas City has a bit more on her plate, but isn't one to disregard all the same.
BUENA VELOZ (Race 6, Declan Bates) was so impressive on meeting Ballarat's synthetic surface for the first time that it made the decision easy to pair the two up again so quickly. He's in a higher grade, of course, but it's not that strong a race for the level and his recent form should count for plenty. He should be winning.
KANSAS CITY (race 7, Andrew Mallyon) hasn't been let in so lightly. She has more work to do. She was a mite disappointing with her sights raised at Sandown last time, but gets blinkers now in an attampt to refind her focus.
The mixed card at Hamilton today sees us with three runners - and two obvious chances - including Andrea Mantegna over hurdles.
There was plenty to like about ANDREA MANTEGNA’s (Race 1, Tom Ryan) hurdling debut, as we’ve always known he possesses more than sufficient ability to prove a force in this sphere, and it was encouraging to see him take to it as well as he did. On the basis of that it’s difficult to imagine him not picking up a race over hurdles much sooner rather than later, and today could – and perhaps should – be the day.
It was at least encouraging to see DANESAI (Race 6, Declan Bates) offering up rather more than in his initial two tries when sixth of ten at Geelong last time. There’s still some way to go, but his handicap rating continues to drop all the while and he’s back down into BM58 company now. He has trialled over hurdles since that last run, but sticks to the level in the hope that the ease in grade can prompt more from him.
It’s little exaggeration to say that HAILEYBURY MISS (Race 8, Jordan Childs) proved herself a revelation in breaking through at Ballarat on her first start for us last month. It wasn’t so much the win itself, but the manner of it which proved something of a surprise. She was clearly full value for her near four-length success, and on that basis she should have more to offer now handicapping. She starts off in what looks an eminently winnable race and, notwithstanding Alessandro Mantegna’s big chance in the first, she is surely our likeliest winner of the day.
No more Bond references. Connery was so good in winning at Warrnambool the last time that he has demanded of himself a sizeable step up in grade. Let’s hope it’s not A Bridge Too Far.
Once Jordan managed to extricate him, CONNERY (Race 4, Craig Williams) found a thrilling turn of foot just as time looked to be running out and ended up winning with a good bit in hand at the ‘Bool, just the kind of victory that is suggestive of a horse who is really putting it all together now, more the finished article than has been the case before. The move up into BM84 company demands more from him, of course, especially as, strictly speaking, he is 1.5kg ‘wrong’ at the weights. However, his current form and rate of progress should count for more than that and, with conditions to suit ideally, it will go down as disappointing if he’s unable to serve it up to higher-rated rivals in the shape of Royal Ace and Intueri.
A bright new dawn, today breaks new ground - literally - at Ballarat, as the all-new synthetic surface comes into use for the first time. It's even ahead of schedule! Exciting times indeed, and a development which promises to prove a major boon for racing in and around Ballarat, so naturally we're thrilled to have a couple of runners at this inaugural meeting.
WILD BREEZE (Race 2, Jordan Childs) improved from first start to second back in October and, having been off six months prior to her comeback third at Bendigo last month, the hope will of course be that something similar happens with that having blown away any cobwebs. She's up to a trip that should draw more from her and, whilst we'll have to see how well she takes to the surface, she still looks to have plenty of upside as things stand. The one with the best form, Agente Fiscale, has a poor last-time effort to account for.
The old African proverb has it that 'if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.' Well BUENA VELOZ (Race 7, Declan Bates) is without his old pal Silver Stratum today, as we've scratched that one, meaning they won't be racing together for the third time in succession. Maybe that can prompt Buena Veloz into running faster! He's still not up to speed this prep for whatever reason, but he'll get there and the blinkers are back on today. He's proven on a synthetic surface, which is an obvious plus.
Whilst Royal news from the UK is usually dreary, not so this time. The naming of Harry and Meghan’s first child as Archie. Obviously delighted by the big shout out guys, and I guess we have to take it as a compliment that our fine results in recent months have been recognised in such a major and unexpected way by the Royal couple. Cheers! We’ll be doing our very best not to let the little one down with our runners today at Caulfield and Donald.
More testing conditions have been the norm in recent days, and that even looks set to prove the case at Caulfield this afternoon. SACCHARO (Race 3, Jordan Childs) has only one run to his name on a soft surface, and that came when runner-up in a maiden, so it’s not much to go on, but there’s not much to think a forecast Soft 5 will inconvenience him in the mile three-year-old handicap. A record of one win from ten starts understates his ability, of course, and he hasn’t been getting many of the breaks of late, but a return to the form he was showing in the Bendigo Guineas would make you think he’d have a major chance in this line-up. Hat-trick seeker Zoutori is the one to beat, and he has a little bit of ground to make up with Shandy, but all in all we’ll be looking for him to get back to showing just what he’s capable of.
Over at Donald underfoot conditions are set to be more extreme, a Heavy 9 the order of the day at the time of writing. HALCYON DAME (Race 1, Declan Bates) has shown her effectiveness on a soft surface, which gives some hope she’ll be okay trying heavy for the first time. The opening maiden has none too surprisingly cut up, and she faces five opponents, though three of them have produced form which looks at least a match for herself, albeit the ground is likely to provide for something of an unknown. She sports winkers for the first time.
In the following maiden over 1620m, TIGRE ROYAL (Race 2, Declan Bates) makes his second racecourse appearance more than six months on from the first last October. He was much too green to give a proper account of himself on that occasion and, under the circumstances, there were positives to glean from the run. He should know much more about what is required this time around, having done plenty of work in the interim to help boost his education, and so we’d be very hopeful of seeing a completely different proposition head out onto the track today.
Mazy Motion is our sole representative on this afternoon’s card at Benalla where she attempts to get off the mark at the third time of asking.
MAZY MOTION (Race 4, Andrew Mallyon) progressed from first start to second and, though she’ll need to come on further before she’s winning a race of this nature, we’d certainly be expecting her to do just that with time, experience, and a greater emphasis on stamina. The move up to a mile should help her get the last-named of those today, so we’ll be looking for her to produce something closer to the level required to win an everyday maiden. A couple of the more fancied runners in the line-up, Harlin Express and No Effort, have had a lot of goes, so shouldn’t really have the scope to progress.
The morning after the day before and we can reflect with great pride on Mirette, who gave it her all, justified the faith we’ve long since held in her and was just unable to stave off a very, very good filly. Bendigo today doesn’t feature at quite the same level, but all the same we head there in buoyant mood.
MISS CARBONI (Race 6, Neil Farley) made a great start to her career in two runs during her last prep, not needing to better her debut form to get off the mark in a Stawell maiden at the second attempt in December. The move into a BM64 today clearly demands a good deal more for her, particularly as today’s looks on paper as if it could be a warmish race of its type. Clearly there’s no reason to imagine there shouldn’t be a good chunk of improvement forthcoming such is her profile, indeed there could well be a lot more to come from her, and with the speed to prosper at this sort of trip, we’ll wait and see if it’s sufficient for her this afternoon.
As at Terang, SILVER STRATUM (Race 7, Jye McNeil) and BUENA VELOZ (Race 7, Neil Farley) again meet, this time in the mile BM70 which follows. On the face of it, Buena Veloz has fewer questions to answer at this stage as he was having his first start for 40 weeks when mid-pack at Terang on his return, having previously been seen winning from 2kg lower on the synthetic track at Geelong. That was an encouraging loosener, and you’d have to expect him to come on from that back up at a more suitable trip. Silver Stratum didn’t offer as much on what was his own reappearance/stable debut, unable to get competitive from off the pace. He ought to let us know plenty more with regards where we are with him today.
Another super Saturday to savour between Morhpettville and Horsham, represented by five fillies/mares in total, the former track notably the scene of three big runners in prestigious events.
PETRELLE (Race 3, Craig Williams) takes her chance in the Group 3 DC McKay Stakes as opposed to the option she held in a BM84 at Flemington. It may represent the tougher ask, or at least on paper is should, be we’ve long since believed she’s a Group performer in the making, and today represents an ideal opportunity with which to prove the point. She had to work harder than maybe we were anticipating to win a BM70 at Geelong last time, so clearly she’s going to have to step up a good deal on that performance if she’s to break through today, but with that first start for nearly six months under her belt, there’s good reason to imagine she can. She’s much more lightly raced than those she comes up against this afternoon, and offers something of the unknown which can hopefully see her improve beyond the likes of Haunted and Despatch. Officially, of course, she’s up against it at the weights, but as we know she has to progress a chunk, it seems well worth a chance worth taking.
CLEARLY (Race 5, Damien Oliver) made a positive start to life in Australia at Caulfield, and that’s a run she looks well capable of building on. Like Petrelle, it’s one she’ll surely need to given she takes in the Group 2 Queen of The South Stakes. Three of the four to finish ahead of her last time – Truly Discreet, Temple of Bel, and See Me Exceed – reoppose now, the middle of those having since given a boost to the form, but she’s slightly better off with each of them and might be considered the most likely to do better here with that initial experience of racing in Australia behind her. She was fully effective over a mile in Europe and looks a live player, something that seems to have caught the attention of several given the contraction in her price over recent days.
And gracing the highest level of all is MIRETTE (Race 6, Declan Bates) who takes in the Group 1 Schweppes Oaks. She’s started putting everything together most pleasingly of late, culminating in her Group 3 success over 1800m at this track three weeks ago. The move up to 2000m, and this race in particular, are both logical next steps, and she finds herself in a Group 1 contest that looks notably longer on quantity than quality. Princess Jenni is the other one who’s going forward at a rate of knots, and is liable to be the toughest nut to crack. We continue to hold undiminished confidence in Mirette, and today has the potential to be very special indeed.
Over at Horsham, CHERAX DESTRUCTOR (Race 1, Neil Farley) makes her second racecourse appearance in the opening maiden. She didn’t set the world alight when down the field at Warracknabeal on her debut, so we’ll be hoping she can prove more competitive from her inside barrier today. She didn’t really get home on that occasion, giving the impression she was lacking for peak fitness, so there really should be some progress on that score alone.
NORD AVENIR (Race 3, Neil Farley) appears to have a favourite’s chance as she attempts to get off the mark at the fifth attempt. This isn’t an especially strong maiden, and she has blinkers fitted in a bid to help her give that little extra required to break through. Her form, on balance, does look good in context with today’s opposition so it will obviously be disappointing if she doesn’t go very close indeed.
Warrnambool is a pretty cool place to be as it is, today we’re looking forward to it being Sokool.
The course and distance of Warrnambool’s 1400m worked a treat for Connery yesterday, and SO FAR SOKOOL (Race 8, Declan Bates) looks well positioned to supplement that success. We know how good she can be on her day, and the evidence of a comeback run at Terang would indicate she should be spot on for this return to the longer trip. She was understandably a bit fresh on that occasion, and that seemed to detract a little from what she had left for the finish. There should be no such issues this afternoon and she appears well enough treated relative to some higher-weighted rivals to think she would have to go very close.
The last time Connery ran I promised no more terrible jokes. I gave you my word, and my word is my…damnit! Straight face now, there’s a great deal to like about Connery’s chance at the Bool today. He looks overpriced as things stand.
CONNERY (Race 10, Jordan Childs) has the pace to counter a drop back to 1400m, so long as a widish draw doesn't scupper his chance from the outset. He simply looks the best handicapped runner in the race, notwithstanding Northern River who admittedly brings something a bit different to the table. The cut in the ground plays well enough to his strengths and we're nothing but confident.
Warrnambool + Andrea Mantegna + hurdles = exciting.
The opportunity to take a horse with serious Flat form over obstacles is an extremely luring one, and ANDREA MANTEGNA (Race 1, Richard Cully) fits the bill to a tee. As a smart performer on the level who jumps really well, there’s every reason to think he can make the transition. We’re counting on him not over-exerting himself in the early stages, as if he can switch off his ability from the Flat could and should prove deadly at the latter end of the race. Darabad and Double Bluff do also bring over good form, so it is probably an above average race of its type.
The inaugural Showdown is the highlight at Caulfield this afternoon and, in Sartorial Splendor, Jordan Childs gets to partner the horse John Sadler has described as being, “Ability-wise, as good as anything I’ve ever had.” Strong, strong words, but so good was he at Terang who’s to say the great man is wrong? We can’t promise Jordan anything of the like, but in Spanner Head he does also get to ride something of a legend in her own time. And speaking of legends, one Damien Oliver comes in for the ride on Saccharo. Big money, big names, big reputations, and lots to look forward to.
With just seven runners there’s a definite feeling the VOBIS Gold Distaff has come up light even allowing for the fact a strong chance can be given to five of that septet. SPANNER HEAD (Race 3, Jordan Childs) is certainly one of those even if she’s coming in fresh, this her first start for five months. She won’t be found wanting for fitness, however, how could she be when there’s such a valuable purse on the table? The pick of her form places her at a distinct advantage against today’s rivals given the way the weights of the race are framed. The obvious rejoinder to that is that in Twitchy Frank, River Jewel, and Think I’m Dreaming she comes up against race-fit in-form mares who may well be capable of taking their form onto another level. Either way, as things stand Spanner Head is the one they all have to beat, so we’re hoping she can come back and show them who’s boss.
Similar comments apply to SACCHARO (Race 4, Damien Oliver) in that he has achieved more to date than the rest of those he faces in the following race for three-year-olds. His black mark is that he has a poor run here from last time to put behind him, though he has an excuse for that, a Doctor’s note if you will, a throat issue that shouldn’t – fingers crossed – problem him again. Should he get back to the form he was showing when a strong-finishing third in the Bendigo Guineas (or fifth in the Caulfield Guineas) he ought to take the power of beating. The blinkers are removed and winkers back in place, as they seem to work. Tarwin is clearly the horse to fear, as after just three starts and given the trajectory at which his career is going, there’s a very real chance he could simply improve straight past Saccharo. Along with Ligulate, they are the ones to concentrate on as there appear to be plenty of others who – with the best will in the world – are simply making up the numbers.
Time for a few stats. Our previous ten winners have come from forty-five runners, for a strike rate at a tick over 22%, and they’ve already taken Alexander Racing comfortably past a total haul for the 2017/18 season, continuing the year-on-year progress we’re committed to maintaining. Fifty winners for the campaign is the next objective, and Flemington on Anzac Day would be the ideal occasion on which to inch closer to that landmark target.
CHAILLOT (Race 3, Craig Williams) might have been unconsidered in the betting when making an impressive winning start at Ballarat earlier in the month, but it was certainly no such great a surprise for any of us, as she’s a really nice juvenile. There are two distinct ways of looking at that win, namely that she was able to look as good as she did in that she came from well off the pace in a race that the next two home did likewise. But, set against that, the level of form achieved for an ordinary maiden was still some way above average, demanding that she has her sights lifted considerably for today’s Anzac Day Stakes. She faces two other unbeaten two-year-olds in the shape of Super Seth (who looks to possess more than a bit of star quality, but who we receive 5kg from) and another filly in Matt Cumani’s Deserved. The race between the three ought to be a really good one, and the winner’s connections will be able to start to dream big. We head there with very high hopes.
The St Leger looks a good option for CONVICT SAM (Race 6, Jordan Childs) as stamina increasingly looks his forte. He was far from discredited upped in trip in the Galilee Series Final at Caulfield, staying on all the way to the line to finish fourth to Secret Blaze, and there’s hope he can find more still as he progresses to a still longer trip. He’ll need to, as his form doesn’t stack up with the likes of Stars of Carrum and Transact as things stand, having to turn the tables with the latter (as well as American In Paris) from Caulfield. But he’s lightly raced and unexposed in relation to that pair and therefore has the scope to progress that they perhaps lack. We remain hopeful that he firmly belongs in this kind of grade and can round into a smart staying handicapper.
A couple of new names to conjure with amongst our three runners at Ballarat today, as well as – fingers crossed – a considerably more buoyant display from Swiss Hero.
HAILEYBURY MISS (Race 5, Jordan Childs) joins us from the care of Heath Conners, who has retired since her last outing just over a month ago. She’s a five-year-old daughter of Toorak Toff who has shown a modest level of form in five starts to date. We’re looking for the change of scenery to spark more from her, whilst there’s also some encouragement to take from the fact her best effort so far came off a break when third at Kyneton in February. Maybe, the short pause she’s come in for whilst transferring yards can assist in that regard.
Meanwhile AIR GORDON (Race 7, Declan Bates) has made the switch from Patrick Payne in the three months since running a poor race at Great Western last time. That’s no run to judge him on, however, as he has much better form to his name going back, including when winning over today’s 1100m trip at Stawell in December. We’re fitting the son of Haradasun with a tongue strap for today’s return to action, whilst it’s encouraging to note the race has cut up, meaning his wide draw won’t be as inconvenient.
SWISS HERO (Race 8, Neil Farley) was ultra disappointing at Seymour last month, necessitating a change in circumstances for today, with the move up to 2000m from 1600m and the fitting of blinkers. Meanwhile, Neil Farley, successful on him at Hamilton, returns to the saddle. There’s no question the longer trip could well prove the making of Swiss Hero, as he’s previously given the impression he could relish a stiffer stamina test, though first and foremost the main aim to day is to see a whole lot more spark from him than there was on show at Seymour.
Two last-time winners and one who has relentlessly been hitting the bar make up our select trio for Sandown on Monday.
KANSAS CITY (Race 4, Ethan Brown) made the ideal start for us when getting up on the line in a thriller at Echuca a couple of weeks ago. The mile trip of that day is probably a bare minimum for her, and a bit of extra ground today can play to her strengths. There’s no question this afternoon’s assignment represents a considerably more competitive one, but there’s good reason to imagine she will build on that initial run, relatively unexposed as she remains.
LAST VEIN (Race 5, Ethan Brown) was tongue tied for the first time when bouncing back to form in likeable fashion at Donald last month, and the hope is the aid can continue to work the oracle. Ethan Brown’s 1.5kg claim helps offset the rise in the weights, though like Kansas City she finds herself in deeper waters even so today and another chunk of improvement will have to be found. It’s still early days, however, and it’s far from inconceivable she could prove up to the task.
It would be totally unfair to say WEE GILLY (Race 7, Fred Kersley) is proving frustrating, her second-placed efforts on her last three starts often coming against the grain, including when better than the bare facts in defeat to Manning Road at Sandown most recently. She’s up in grade today, into a BM78, meaning she gets in off bottom weight even before taking Fred Kersley’s claim into account. She’ll run well again, for sure, and deserves the win that is surely just around the corner.
A busy Easter Sunday in store at Stawell with five runners, all with chances that can be rated as fair or better.
It was a positive enough start made by HALCYON DAME (Race 1, Declan Bates) on her stable debut at Bendigo earlier in the month, closest at the finish on that occasion to point to the fact that the extra 200m of today’s race can assist her. That was her first run for six months, to boot, so there should be a good chance she’ll be that much sharper this afternoon. Yulong Patrol and Living The Dream are sure to be popular, but there’s not a great deal between the three of them when Halcyon Dame’s fillies allowance is taken into account.
JACK ON THE ROCKS (Race 2, Jordan Childs) wasted little time in putting a disappointing display at Kyneton behind him by running much better at Terang last weekend. He’s arguably in an even lesser maiden today, and a repeat of that form will see him go close. His inside draw looks good, especially in comparison to the wide one lumped on likely chief rival Fine Rhythm.
Probably our biggest opportunity on the card comes courtesy of SERGEANT DOYLE (Race 3, Declan Bates). A model of consistency to date, it’s surely merely a matter of time before she gets her head in front, and the feeling is that today can be the day. The only unquantifiable concern amongst the remainder is if the Preusker newcomer Costero is some way above average, as Sergeant Doyle certainly looks to have the rest of the field covered. Blinkers replace the winkers this afternoon.
ASTROLOGICAL (Race 6, John Allen) has offered a bit on both starts for us without being at her best, but today’s race looks and feels a notch easier, and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t come on a bit now onto her third run of the prep. John Allen knows her well having twice been successful on her last year, and he comes in for the ride. All in all she looks to have strongish claims.
The Stawell Cup is the highlight of the day, and for WHEAL LEISURE (Race 7, Jordan Childs) it represents an opportunity to come back in from the wilderness. The 1400m of her comeback run at Bendigo was never going to be up her alley, and with that in mind it was somewhat heartening to see her finish as relatively close as she did. This represents a significant drop in grade from the assignments she was confronted with in the Spring, and could be just the type of race she needs in order to get back on track. There’s certainly no reason to think all the ability isn’t still there, it just requires finessing.
I'm not sure whether Easter is intended as a time of reflection - or is that Christmas? - but if it's okay to do so, we can look back on a current spell of good form which hopefully we can run with and build upon. Warracknabeal is the place to be doing that this Saturday.
Starting out, CHERAX DESTRUCTOR (Race 2, Neil Farley) is a three-year-old daughter of Moshe. There's a good bit of speed in her pedigree, as for all her dam was limited her win came at a sprinting trip and her superior granddam was similarly speedy. As such, she should be unfazed by starting out over 1200m, and we'd certainly be hopeful it won't prove an impediment for all she'll have to tack over from a wideish draw. It looks a winnable race, especially with likely favourite Mirusia having questions to answer on her return to action.
Off since early-August, SUPREME HARMONY (Race 6, Neil Farley) makes his own return to action in a 0-58 which looks strong for the grade. He's rather struggled to find his way since winning his maiden, though that does reflect itself in a reduced handicap mark, so if the break has done him good - and it should have - he ought to be competitive at the very least at this level, acknowledging he's coming up against some in-form horses. Trip and ground should be fine so he could well outrun his likely odds.
The betting would have our two Geelong runners today as being respectively a complete longshot no-hoper and a copper-bottomed certainty. As ever with racing things aren't quite that simple.
DANESAI (Race 6, Jordan Childs) hasn't beaten a rival in a couple of starts for us and, of course, he does have major questions to answer now, the way he dropped right out at Bendigo last time particularly concerning. It's too soon to be giving up on him wholesale, however, back in blinkers now and with that Bendigo bad as to be worth striking a line through. He's back up to 2400m, and it's the kind of trip her does require.
Clearly it's far easier to be taken by the chances of PETRELLE (Race 9, Jordan Childs). She's been off since failing to meet expectations in a Group 3 at Flemington in early November, but prior to that she'd raised all kinds of excitement with the promise she was exhibiting. We remain fully convinced in her potential both for the short and longer term, and that she remains a Group horse firmly in the making. It will be disappointing for sure if she's unable to take advantage of today's drop in grade en route to a return to the bigger leagues.
We have a couple of three-year-old fillies going head to head at Bendigo this afternoon, and as both can be given at least a fair chance of winning the 1300m maiden which comes third up, it's not all that easy to pick between them.
NORD AVENIR (Race 3, Jordan Childs) first of all. She was a bit disappointing on the face of it at Warrnambool last time, a run which does qualify as the worst of her three to date. There's little reason to imagine it was anything more than a blip, and in a race which isn't going to take a huge effort to win, a reproduction of her previous form will see her right there and thereabouts.
WILD BREEZE (Race 3, Andrew Mallyon) has had a run less than Nord Avenir, and is returning from a six-month break today. There's definitely a case for saying she has achieved that bit more than her stablemate, and she's got the inside draw. However, it may be that she's going to benefit from more of a stamina test in due course, so it remains to be seen whether she's quite sharp enough returning. If she is, she's the form pick.
With grenness so obviously at play first time, it will be disappointing in the extreme if Mazy Motion doesn't learn from and build upon her debut when turning out at Seymour today.
MAZY MOTION (Race 3, Jordan Childs) was clearly in need of the experience when eighth of 11 at Donald back in November, and the benefit of that run combined with the break ought to see her show a good deal more, in terms of professionalism and ability, now. Away from her, there's not a great deal to fear amongst the opposition, with Fort Knox and Thurmanator sharing the best form of the rest of the field, though they set no more than a fair level.
Yesterday was yesterday. As emotional as some of us may have been, it’s no more than another day. She’s gone, it’s over. Roll on to Terang today where we have no fewer than five proving that it’s not all about Winx.
JACK ON THE ROCKS (Race 2, Jordan Childs) took a step backwards from what was an encouraging yard debut at Hamilton. Now, it’s entirely possible the second run came just that bit too soon. He’s got blinkers today to help focus him, and if he gets back to showing how good he can be he’ll be in with a major chance this afternoon.
SO FAR SOKOOL (Race 5, Jordan Childs) needs little introduction by now. She’s handicapped the way she is, meaning she has to contest races of today’s BM78 nature. She ought to be competitive, however, with more upside to her than most of those she comes up against here. It will be disappointing if she cannot come back stronger than Indian Thunder and/or Holy Command.
ANDREA MANTEGNA (Race 7, Jordan Childs) needs to put a filthy Mornington run behind him, and quickly. All the signs are that was a one-off, an aberration, because a more gentle reading of his formlines would give him a big chance in today’s Terang Cup. He should be suited by conditions, so if things go awry again he’ll have more stern questions to answer.
Off since early July, BUENA VELOZ (Race 8, Declan Bates) is back into the fold today. We know he seems at his best over a little further than this, and whilst it would be wrong to misinterpret this as anything other than a full-hearted attempt, he ought to come on for it.
SILVER STRATUM (Race 8, Harry Coffey) contests the same race and comes back from a similar break himself. He’s had a switch of yard since last seen, just down the road, and isn’t all that different to Buena Veloz in that today’s trip is at the very bottom end of his stamina requirements. He is capable over today’s trip, but has shown a tendency to progress for a first run off a break.
What first got you into racing? Ask the question a hundred times and expect near enough a hundred different answers. Yet for a generation of new acolytes today could be the very specific day that they were won over by the sport. Racing has an image problem, yet in Winx it also has the single greatest PR weapon imaginable at its disposal, the fact it takes a horse to gloss over and undo the damage caused by humans saying plenty of the relative merits of equines and humans! As the great mare goes for her 25th and final Grade 1 at Randwick today it’s a pretty special honour for us to be in with a big shout of winning our first just 45 minutes on from her swansong. Throw some big runners in important races at Caulfield and Morphettville into the mix and check your pulse. If it’s not quickened immeasurably by what the sport has to offer today get yourself to a doctor pronto!
The hope is that the place will have quietened and calmed down sufficiently to run the race given what comes three-quarters of an hour prior. Assuming this, there’s probably a case for saying the latest renewal of the Sydney Cup isn’t quite as competitive as it usually tends to be. That’s not to say there’s any reduction in quality, more that there are current doubts hanging over a clutch of those quality horses that are running. The same cannot be said of GALLIC CHIEFTAIN (Race 8, Glen Boss) who backs up a week on from his exhilarating Group 2 win over 2600m here last weekend. That win came at the main expense of Shraaoh, and that rival can be expected to rate highly once again seven days on as it’s arguable that we’ve yet to see the best of him. However, without a penalty for that success, we’re now half a kilo better off at the weights and, from a handicapping perspective, it’s hard to find fault in Gallic Chieftain’s chance. The longer trip will suit down to the ground and so long as the exertions haven’t taken an edge off him it’s easy to understand why we’re so excited about him this afternoon. Glen Boss clearly remains right at the top of his game, and he’ll even have managed a decent meal or two in the days since having to do 49.5kg to win the Doncaster on Brutal. Godolphin's Dubhe has understandably captured plenty of attention in the build up, coming straight from Dubai, but it's hard not to feel there's been an overreaction to his profile and connections in terms of his odds, as they're certainly shorter than the worth of his form would allow. It’s all systems go for the Chief – and we’ll be more than happy even when Winx steals the limelight.
Over at Morphettville, MIRETTE (Race 7, Declan Bates) gets another chance at earning some deserved Black Type in a Group 3 for fillies over 1800m. She was better than the result when fourth in the Alexandra Stakes at The Valley most recently, caught wide there and never quite able to adopt a comfortable position. She certainly has the ability to win at this level, and today’s field is one she can deal with given her main rival would appear to be Alexandra third Arctic Shock, and given their respective runs it would be surprising frankly were she not able to find the half length required to turn the tables with that one. She goes beyond a mile for the first time, and whilst she’s certainly not short on speed, she simultaneously lends the impression that she is equally imbued with stamina.
Making her Australian debut at Caulfield is the ex-European CLEARLY (Race 3, Andrew Mallyon). A five-year-old daughter of Invincible Spirit, she won a maiden during her time in the UK with John Gosden before going on to be highly tried (whilst displaying a very useful level of ability) in Germany. She’s an intriguing import, and one who should find plenty of opportunities in this country. She’s proven at up to 2000m but is equally effective over shorter and so starts out in a lop-sided handicap over 1440m. It’s lop-sided thanks to the presence of La Bella Diosa, who sees to it that the other eight runners all carry 54kg. We’re excited to see how Clearly gets on, as a mare with the ability to have been tried at the top level previously, she could well have some big days in front of her.
From maiden to listed race might seem like a big jump for CONVICT SAM (Race 5, Jordan Childs), but in reality it’s a smaller step than it may otherwise appear. He did lots of progressing in maidens, coming on by the run and showcasing his stamina as he did so, the fact he gets to run over another longer trip now firmly in his favour. He remains long on potential and a horse we have a lot of belief in, so we’re expecting him to carry over the improvement and take the hike in class firmly in his stride. There will be many, many worse bets than Convict Sam today.
Last and by no means least, SACCHARO (Race 6, Jordan Childs) has in fact arguably our biggest chance of all this afternoon. All biases aside, there’s probably a strong case for saying he should have won the Bendigo Guineas, but even in just failing to do so he served further notice that he’s a three-year-old we’ve still to see the best of. He holds several of those he comes up against today on various pieces of form, with the twice-raced Tarwin looking to be the potential fly in the ointment. He’s drawn a bit wider than ideal, but Jordan should be able to get him some cover in mid-pack and the one thing we can certainly expect from Saccharo is a strong finish. Let’s just hope he gets there in the nick of time this afternoon!
Our couple of runners at Ballarat this afternoon have had two runs between them for one win and one eleventh of 12. Both those belong to Greyazz, what to expect from he and juvenile Chaillot we shall see.
CHAILLOT (Race 2, Jordan Childs) is a two-year-old daughter of Testa Rossa, and a half-sister to a dual winner over 1000m in NSW, something which raises hope that she can prove speedier than a few other parts of her pedigree might indicate. She faces a clutch of fellow newcoming fillies from good yards today in what could well be a nice race of its type, so today is all about seeing where we are at this stage before taking things from there.
In light of his successful debut in December it was surely fair to anticipate and whole lot more from GREYAZZ (Race 8, Jordan Childs) when he moved into handicap company over today’s course and distance more than three months later. He was almost too bad to be true, however, racing keenly and finding a bit of bother, but essentially running no sort of race. Clearly we have to take the view that that was simply no run to judge him on, and with a tongue strap in place now who’s to know what to expect? If back to the promise of that initial success his current odds will look very big indeed.
Kansas City's football team are the Chiefs, and in light of Gallic Chieftain's splendid victory at Randwick yesterday, she makes for a very apt runner for us at Echuca this afternoon.
Formerly with Darren Weir, KANSAS CITY (Race 6, Andrew Mallyon) is a four-year-old daughter of Americain who remains lightly raced and relatively unexposed, this set to be just her fourth outing in a handicap. Her maiden win came over 2050m, though she isn't short on speed, with enough to think she can be as effective over today's one mile trip. This will be her first start of any kind since September, and with the change of training establishment to take into consideration, too, it's always possible she'll benefit for the run to some extent. But, all in all, we're confident of a good showing.
Doncaster Day meet Grand National Day. There's a huge amount to fill the heart as a racing fan on this day of days, and we're thrilled to be represented with a live chance at Randwick, if not Aintree, as it all unfolds.
Whilst Wheal Leisure was down the field in the same race last year, when Sir Charles Road held off Ventura Storm, GALLIC CHIEFTAIN (Race 6, Damian Lane) heads into this year's renewal with seemingly stronger claims as this is the kind of test for which he looks made. His first start for us was excellent given it came over a wholly inadequate mile trip, and whilst he maybe didn't quite come up to expectations in the Yarra Valley Cup, that too didn't play enough on his stamina. Today's 2600m distance should be ideal and the forecast softer surface is to his liking. It's a Group 2 handicap, and therefore competitive, deeply so, and that prevents us from being unduly confident, yet it would still come as something of a surprise if he wasn't right in the mix come the finish.
Two maidens bidding to become maidens-no-more at Cranbourne.
ABSOLUT ARTIE (Race 1, Declan Bates) has one stand-out piece of form to his name from four starts to date, his close-up Warrnambool fourth to Gypsy Biker in a blanket finish in February. The fear is that he's flattered to some degree by that effort, seemingly regressing from it when sixth at Benalla three weeks later. The onus is now on him to prove that he's worth it. Today's opening three-year-old maiden doesn't look in any way strong for a race of its type at the track, which helps, but we'll still be dependent on a 'Bool-type showing and not a Benalla one.
You worry about finishing third when you start finishing fourth, and for the time being SERGEANT DOYLE (Race 4, Jordan Childs) has been doing enough in occupying that position to show that she's up to winning a race before too much longer. Her recent third at Donald was sound enough and was her first outing for eleven weeks, so if she can step forward from that outing, with winkers in place to help her do so, she ought to be bang thereabouts back up at a mile this afternoon. She had no trouble with the longer trip when previously trying it and, like Absolut Artie, is contesting a race that doesn't look overly loaded.
The invigorating effect of first-time blinkers should never be underestimated. Zabelarina has big place claims without them at Geelong today, but with them we can hope for that much more.
Since winning her maiden at Sandown in January ZABELARINA (Race 6, Jordan Childs) has run well enough in a trio of handicaps without excelling sufficiently to break through. Purely on what she has achieved to date she warrants respect this afternoon as she goes up to 1750m in a race which doesn’t look especially competitive. However, we’ll be looking for the application of a more severe form of headgear, blinkers, to help focus and elevate her onto a new level. The betting, as it stands, underlines that the McEvoy-trained thrice-raced Divanation is the one to beat, and that’s no great shock as she was significantly better than the bare bones of the result when third at The Valley recently.
We’re represented by two horses having their second outing for Team Alexander at Sandown on Wednesday, and a similar theme applies to both, that of looking to build on reasonable first starts with the benefit of those debuts under their belts.
ASTROLOGICAL (Race 4, Jordan Childs) was four lengths behind Asgard Massif at Kyneton on what was her first start for the best part of six months, and she is now refitted with the blinkers she sported for all three of last winter’s successes. She was slow to stride in that race, and could never land a blow from well off the pace, but there was promise to take from the end of the run and, with great sharpness anticipated, if she carries that momentum over to today she can fare better. The once-raced, once successful three-year-old filly Lassiter lurks at the foot of the weights and is clearly one to take seriously.
Like Astrological, OCEAN ESSENCE (Race 8, Jordan Childs) went with some promise on his first roll out for us, albeit in a contrasting manner, and he seeks to step up on that in the closing three-year-old handicap over 1400m. In finishing third of eight to Seberate at Bendigo he was up with the pace from the outset and digging in respectably. There’s hope to take from the fact he stepped up on his debut effort to win his maiden three weeks later in his previous prep, and with that in mind he looks somewhat overpriced today at around the $26 mark. Then again, it’s a competitive affair with a number of others containing a good degree of potential.
Hot on the heels of the Guineas meeting there, it’s back off we go to Bendigo for Tuesday’s action, with three more runners set to go to post at the track this afternoon.
Six runs in her time with Darren Weir saw HALCYON DAME (Race 2, Declan Bates) finishing in the frame 50% of the time and more often than not running to a level good enough to think she can win a workaday fillies/mares maiden. A three-year-old daughter of Magnus, she did all of her racing between July and October of last year since when she’s been given a lengthy break as well as, of course, the switch of yard. She shaped a couple of times previously as if she may benefit from more of a test of stamina in due course having only raced from 1000m to 1200m so far, so that may be something for the future. But we’re kicking off today at 1100m and with the signs she’s elicited in her time with us having been positive, we’d like to think she should be firmly in the mix, acknowledging the unraced fillies represent something of an unknown.
The relative proximity of third-placed Perfontein might indicate ROMAIYA (Race 5, Ethan Brown) didn’t achieve all that much in getting off the mark at the second time of asking at Camperdown in January. Our analysis actually suggests this view would be incorrect. Perfontein was flattered in going from the front that day and Romaiya should be viewed as having run to a considerably more advanced level than might typically be required to win a maiden at that track. As a consequence we’re excited to see the son of Pierro now transition into handicaps in the BM64 over 1400m. Given the level of improvement that came from first start to second you’d have to think there could be an above-average degree of further progress on offer from him today, enough to see him go on past more experienced, exposed rivals. Uptown Lilly has been knocking on the door of late and sets a good marker as to what is likely to be required.
DANESAI (Race 8, Michael Dee) predictably found everything happening much too quickly first up over a mile, though even so and with the best will in the world it was still hardly a return brimming with promise. He’s straight back up to 2200m now, which will help plenty, and we’ll hope to see a good deal more spark from him as a consequence so as to see whether it’s ultimately going to be marathon trips and/or obstacles that he’s going to require. Today should reveal plenty more in that respect.
A big-money programme at Bendigo this afternoon, and therefore a potentially lucrative one for each of our three runners on what is a fantastic day of racing at the track.
First of all, it's the warm and welcome return to the fray of WHEAL LEISURE (Race 5, Linda Meech) in the Golden Bracelet. On another day, and under different circumstances, the conditions of today's race would be reasonably advantageous for Wheal Leisure, but the bottom line is she's coming back at 1400m and without the blinkers, so she'ssure to find things happening all too quickly for her. She'll progress as her stamina is drawn out during the course of her prep. She's been highly tried, in line with her ability, and that's resulted in some lesser displays in recent times, so our main aim this time is to mind her and ensure she regains the spark we know is still some there within her.
Fresh from winning the Stayers' Series Final at The Valley, MOSH MUSIC (Race 6, Jordan Childs) looks to go from strength to strength, and he looks well placed to continue his skyrocketing progression in bringing up the four-timer in the BM84 which follows. He's straightforward and should get a nice tow into the race, so whilst this will require some further improvement (precisely how much isn't easy to see), the manner in which he's going at present suggests there's a fair bit more to come over the sort of trip which clearly suits down to the ground. Given he's been doing all his winning at The Valley of late, we'll just have to have our fingers slightly crossed that he takes just as well to this different track. The dangers are likely to include Our Peaky Blinders inspite of his flop in the Canberra Cup, Chris Waller's Victorian debutant Desert Path, and the fellow four-timer seeker Rockarral.
Last year's renewal of the Bendigo Guineas was certainly one to remember for us with So Far Sokool's dominant display in the race, and this time around we're looking to repeat the feat with SACCHARO (Race 8, Jordan Childs). On the face of things it was disappointing he was unable to make his mark in handicap company at Ballarat last time, but in fairness that was 1200m on what was his first start for 18 weeks, so maybe it was all just happening against him more than we predicted it would at the time. He fared best of the three who reoppose from the Caulfield Guineas, and was comfortably in advance of today's likely favourite Outrageous on that occasion. One who catches the eye and is one to be mindful of is once-raced Kyneton winner Smart Horse. This is a completely different proposition, of course, but he was extremely impressive that day and fits into the 'could be anything' bracket. Either way, we're all round very hopeful of a big display from Saccharo this afternoon, to the extent we could well be looking at back-to-back Bendigo Guineas!
Whilst we can't be quite as bullish as yesterday, Nord Avenir is going at Warrnambool and appears to have a favourite's chance of breaking her duck at the third attempt.
In running to an approcimal level in both starts to date, NORD AVENIR (Race 3, Fred Kersley) looks to have already achieved that bit more than the vast bulk of her rivals in the 1200m maiden for fillies and mares at Warrnambool. For all she was favourite at the track last time, she wasn't discredited by any means in finishing fourth to Waltonia that day. That horse has given a great boost to the form of the race since as, for that matter, did fifth-placed Angola Miss yesterday. She should be spot on after a seven-week hiatus, and today's event doesn't look to have quite the same depth to it, with Mornington runner-up Indian Rani and Declan Bates the pair we'll be looking to get the better of.
Disappointment and frustration were the less-than-ideal outcomes of Wednesday, with the respective Swiss Hero flop and Wee Gilly's again finding one just too strong the source of them. Convict Sam can lift any of that gloom today, as he's an absolute banker at Donald. Just wins.
There's little question CONVICT SAM (Race 5, Jordan Childs) was going to come into his own when upped to the 2000m trip, and today he gets to prove the point in style. Put simply, it will be a massive anti-climax, and a concern, if he fails to get off the mark today. He boasts the best form going into the race as it is, and that's without quantifying the improvement he has in him as his stamina is drawn out. We've fitted blinkers to help him professionalise, and he's drawn hard against the rail. As I said, he just wins.
Positive belief is in ample supply ahead of racing on Wednesday, as we very firmly like the look of our two runners, one each at Seymour and Sandown.
SWISS HERO (Race 5, Jordan Childs) is a lightly-raced three-year-old on the up, one who acquitted himself with a great deal of credit when having his sights raised significantly in a BM70 at Sandown last time. He's since come in for the pause that refreshes, let up for eight weeks during which time we're optimistic enough to think he's found further progress. He'll stay further than today's mile trip in due course, but he doesn't need it just yet, and that last-time fourth to Rossa's Reward looks good in the context of today's race. Ideally Jordan will be looking to adopt a handy position from the outset.
Later in the afternoon, over at Sandown, WEE GILLY (Race 6, Fred Kersley) looks similarly well placed for a big showing. Runner-up the last twice, including when just denied on Hillside most recently, she certainly arrives in form and also in a race which looks rather deeper on numbers than strength. That last Sandown is clearly the key peice of form to take into the race, with each of the first three from there, plus Chouxting The Mob, reopposing. We're weighted to beat Bianco Nuovo and Nothin' Leica High on that evidence, so let's hope it plays out that way. Fred Kersley once again takes the ride, claiming 2kg.
Greyazz is our go-to guy at Ballarat this afternoon. A once-raced winner with the world at his feet: what's not to like?
So this represents a big step up for GREYAZZ (Race 8, Jamie Mott), hiked into a competitive BM64 straight from a debut Mornington maiden win back in December. On the plus side, the very plus side, there was a lot to like about the nature of that success, strong through the line in the manner of one who's only going to progress. He's up from 1200m to 1400m today, and that should help no end, so whilst he'll obviously need to improve no end on the nuts and bolts of that form, there's little reason to imagine he shouldn't. He's the clear improver in the line-up, and a win here puts him on a firm upward path, with exciting things surely around the corner.
Our sole representative on Saturday comes in the sixth race at Mornington as Andrea Mantegna bids to take advantage of the fact he’s now dipped below his last winning mark.
ANDREA MANTEGNA (Race 6, Jordan Childs) has been kept busy with a couple of hurdling trials either side of his third in the Edenhope Cup a fortnight ago, and that’s an avenue we could look to go down at some point. In the meantime, however, the son of Giant’s Causeway has plenty of upside left in him on the level, particularly now the handicapper has relented somewhat, 0.5kg below the mark from which he was last successful at Ararat in November. That said, he’ll need to up his game if he’s to make the most of it, that Edenhope run no better than average all things considered, and in Steel Prince and Thunder Cloud today’s BM90 contains a couple of very much in-form contenders.
With confidence duly restored Mirette bounces back into the big league again at The Valley this evening, attempting to underscore just why we have the faith we do in this smasher of a filly.
Handicaps would have been an easy way to go with MIRETTE (Race 6, Jordan Childs), the style and scope of her win from a mark of 68 at Echuca last time going a long way towards showing that she has it in her to mop up races in progressing upwards. However, she’s a quality individual and getting valuable black-type is what it’s all about, and today’s Group 3 Alexandra Stakes is an equally valid next port of call. She’s been lumbered with an outside barrier which isn’t ideal, but by now she’s developed the racing nous to be able to overcome it, and whilst she clearly has the speed for shorter the mile trip is also well within her compass. A breakthrough Group success would open a lot of doors for her, and we firmly believe she belongs on the big stage. There’s no doubt the highly talented Victory Kingdom is the one to beat this evening, as even in defeat she has really impressed the last twice.
Our two fillies competing at Donald today are both on the comeback trail of one form or another, Sergeant Doyle back at the races after a near three-month break, Last Vein bidding to put a lacklustre display last time behind her.
SERGEANT DOYLE (Race 3, Jordan Childs) has been all consistency to date, third on all three starts towards the end of last year. Of those, her most recent effort behind Necessitas and Arfurized at Seymour was just about the pick, and she’s certainly done enough to imagine she shouldn’t be a maiden for too much longer. That said, she also performed well on debut, so we’d be confident that she’ll be able to perform to her best coming back from a short absence now. She certainly looks to be the pick of those to have raced today, with the much-trialled Patrick Payne-trained Analytica the newcomer the one who appears to warrant most respect elsewhere.
Clearly LAST VEIN’s (Race 6, Jordan Childs) run at Terang three weeks ago was too bad to be true, and for all nobody ever wants it you’re almost grateful in such circumstances when a physical issue comes to light. She struggled with her breathing on that occasion, explaining her run, and so we’re fitting her with a tongue strap this afternoon in an attempt to remedy that problem. One bad run can always be disregarded, and the evidence of her two previous efforts when, like Sergeant Doyle, she found a knack for finishing third, would imply that she’s not far off from being able to defy this sort of handicap rating. She’s back to 1200m again and is in a race short in depth, so if the tongue tie does the trick she should be right back to being much more competitive this afternoon.
A couple of runners whose chances can both probably be best described as ‘fair-to-middling’ on the mid-week programme at Kyneton today.
In finishing third at Hamilton a fortnight ago JACK ON THE ROCKS (Race 3, Declan Bates) took an encouraging step in the right direction on what was his first outing for us and first for 25 weeks since a down-the-field debut. It’s important to note that that race was a modest contest in and of itself, the winner Sandhill Galaxy a pretty well exposed performer by now after all, but we’d certainly want to think that Jack On The Rocks can come on for that comeback run, tighter in himself now and more aware of precisely what’s required. He looks well equipped for the same 1200m trip as things stand, especially if he can replicate the same alertness from the gate, whilst this afternoon’s race is also one containing only a limited amount in the way of proven quality. The Moroney-trained Bill The Bee has achieved most up to this point, though he’s having his first run since October and looked to be more comfortable over further than this during his last prep. A lot may end up boiling down to how good the newcomer Smart Horse can show himself, and if nothing out of the ordinary we’ll certainly anticipate hitting the first two.
ASTROLOGICAL (Race 8, Declan Bates) has made the same move as Jack On The Rocks having previously been trained by Darren Weir. Having taken no fewer than 14 tries to get off the mark, the four-year-old daughter of Wanted suddenly found the art of winning in no uncertain manner last winter, hitting a purple patch and bringing up a quick-fire hat-track in the process. All three of those victories came over today’s 1200m and during a pretty concerted spell of racing last year. She’s since been off since September and returns without her usual blinkers. Given the overall trajectory of her career, the most recent third of it at least, has been an upward one, we’ll be hoping she can continue along a progressive path this prep. She’s largely versatile where it comes to underfoot conditions. We’ll be happy if she can produce a positive comeback run upon which she can build today, perhaps when the headgear is back in place. The well-related Asgard Massif perhaps hasn’t quite come up to expectations to date, but after just five starts he remains unexposed and returns for an interesting new yard. As such, he is one to be wary of lower down the weights.
Today represents an exciting new start for Ocean Essence, though we have to wait until the end of Bendigo’s eight-race card to see him make it. When circumstances saw him switch to Alexander Racing, we were delighted to have the opportunity to have a lightly-raced three-year-old with so much residual potential coming into our care.
OCEAN ESSENCE (Race 8, Jordan Childs) is a nicely-bred three-year-old son of leading New Zealand sire Ocean Park. He got off the mark at the second time of asking at Mildura in September and since then has given the impression he’s yet to achieve anything like all of which he’s capable in a trio of handicaps, rather too headstrong for his own good on the last two occasions, matters perhaps compounded by having to make his own running at Morphettville when last seen in early-November. A current handicap rating of 61 surely understates his ability if he is able to use himself rather more efficiently, and that’s something we’ll certainly be looking for him to do at Bendigo today. HIs future remains a bright one.
There are dangers amongst the remainder of the runners. Last seen in the Victoria Derby, this clearly represents a huge drop in grade for Seberate, though whether he’s able to show his touch of class over today’s 1300m remains to be seen. It could be that the fillies Crown Dancer and Pretty Bella offer a more potent threat.
Today’s highlight comes at Yarra Valley, where it’s Cup day, and we are very much looking forward to see how Gallic Chieftain fares in his bid to concede weight all round in the big race. Meanwhile, a few hours prior to that Absolut Artie is engaged in what appears a winnable maiden in the opener at Benalla.
Whilst ABSOLUT ARTIE (Race 1, Jarrod Fry) might have been just fourth of six at Warrnambool last month, he only just missed out in a blanket finish and it clearly represented his best run to date, showing no ill-effects from his Kyneton run the time before. It’s a performance which looks to give him a leading chance in today’s opener at Benalla, mindful of the fact the opposition have themselves achieved just a modest standard of ability themselves. He’s good from the gate, so we’ll be looking for Jarrod Fry to be positive on him and then prove too strong for the opposition when it matters.
The $125,000 Yarra Valley Cup is the centerpiece of the afternoon’s programme there, and with so much to like about his first outing for us at Flemington recently, GALLIC CHIEFTAIN (Race 7, Jordan Childs) is the class act in a field of redoubtably Cup gallopers. That Flemington fifth to Fifty Stars in the Grade 2 Blamey Stakes exceeded all expectations, most notably given it came over a 1600m trip which felt as if it would prove some way short of his optimum. The 1950m distance of today’s race will play more to his strengths. He has to give weight away all round by dint of being the best horse in the line-up, though it’s worth noting that he has a good record under big imposts, whilst his presence also dictates that a number are having to compete from out of the handicap, including his OTI Racing ‘ownermate’ Azuro, though that one does still rate a significant danger. We’re crossing our fingers the Blamey run goes to show that he has the requisite class to be able to defy the weight and wider draw than ideal in barrier 11.
Getting a break, enjoying the rub of the green, racing luck. Whatever it is, Write Your Name hasn’t been getting a great deal of it. Hopefully that can all change at Flemington this afternoon.
Today’s is a warm handicap, no question, but then again so it should for the prizemoney on offer, but all the same WRITE YOUR NAME (Race 2, Jordan Childs) continues to give the firm impression he’s capable of breaking through at this sort of level before hitting greater heights. It was in a similar type of race in which he finished fourth of 11 to Mr Quickie over course and distance last month, though that doesn’t tell the full story. From an outside draw he was unable to find cover and got caught on a limb throughout, still wide through the turn, and that he stuck to his task as well as he did was encouraging, certainly sufficient to indicate he’s handicapped to win granted more of the aforementioned in-race fortune. Jumbo Ozaki is unbeaten in two and looks potentially very smart. This, however, is another significant step up for him, so whether he’s flattered by his current price remains to be seen.
Warrnambool and later on Pakenham are the two venues for Thursday’s racing, and we’re represented on both programmes.
ABRADED (Race 4, Declan Bates) has done enough to think he can win a race of this nature, even allowing for the fact he failed to match expectations at Terang most recently. For all he came out of that race perfectly fit and well there was just a chance something may have been impeding him during the course of it, not really finishing off. Blinkers are now applied in an attempt to get everything to come together and help push him over the line for a breakthrough success in what is a winnable race of its type. The proximity of 10-race non-winner Wild Vitality rather underlines that latter point, and the bigger threat is liable to come from potential improver Rather Fantastic.
AMBLEVE (Race 7) was good in scoring at Bendigo last month, and now she makes the move into handicap company from an opening mark of 61. Clearly this will require further improvement, but it’s certainly too soon to suggest she doesn’t have that within her, in fact she looks a likely sort to progress, especially as her stamina is gradually drawn out, up to 1400m now. There are several other three-year-olds in the line-up worthy of attention, though none more so than No Drama Darci who did well to finish as close as he did at Sandown last time after a far from ideal run. He should take all the beating in first-time blinkers.
In Pakenham’s finale ZABELARINA (Race 8, Jordan Childs) isn’t in quite as deep as she was at The Valley last time. The form of her previous third to La Tigeresa looks good in the context of today’s race, enough to imagine she should line up with a very good chance. She gets winkers fitted for the first time and has a favourable inside draw. She should be able to adopt a prominent pitch, and then it will be a case of simply seeing whether she can prove strong enough in the straight. The course form recently achieved by Goosey Fair and Think I’m Dreaming should be respected, whilst another course winner Taberna now makes her handicap bow and could step up, but none of these has clearly better claims than Zabelarina.
If the stormy weather doesn’t impose a postponement, this is the kind of sight we can expect from the remarkable Altior at Cheltenham today. Whilst we’ll be hoping that neither of our Sandown-bound runners emulate the chaser too literally, there are hopes that Convict Sam and Wee Gilly can take off now their stamina comes more into play.
For a valuable maiden the opener on Hillside has come up very light, non-runners meaning just five are set to take part at the time of writing. CONVICT SAM (Race 1, Jordan Childs) has hidden depths to him, having hidden his light under a bushel in two starts to this point, and in hindsight dropping back to 1400m didn’t help him at Terang last time, the relative test of speed all against him. Expect him to show a lot more of what he’s about back at a mile today, and the scale of progress could well be sufficient enough to see him getting off the mark. One to watch out for, he’s a young horse with a future.
Whilst WEE GILLY (Race 6, Fred Kersley) was pulled out of last week’s intended engagement, all is well with her and she’ll now take her chance in a BM64 on this afternoon’s card. She’s got a big weight with the drop in class, and as such Fred Kersley’s 2kg claim helps. This will be her first try at 2400m, something we’ve long since thought as a good option for her, the way she kept battling at Bendigo most recently an example of the stamina she seems to have up her sleeve. This represents a drop in class, even if she meets an in-form rival in the shape of Nothin’ Leica High, whilst, as mentioned before, that Bendigo run went a long way towards dispelling any remaining doubts that she needs a softer surface to be seen at her most effective. She should go really well.
In the immortal words of Mr Loaf, two out of three ain’t bad, and that would certainly be the case at Ballarat today where we look to have a couple of excellent chances amongst our trio of runners.
First up we have GAMAY (Race 1, Jordan Childs), a two-year-old filly who sports some illustrious colours and makes her racecourse debut in the opening 1200m maiden. She’s a beautiful daughter of Pierro out of a dam, Amish, who was a winner herself over 1200m and all of whose seven previous foals to race have managed to win. These include Group 2 winner Banish and listed scorer Meidung. All of this adds up to Gamay having very promising credentials indeed. It remains to be seen whether she’s wound up enough at the first time of asking, and we’ll certainly be looking for her to step up appreciably on whatever she achieves this afternoon.
In finishing placed on all four starts, including runner-up no the last three, LAMINGTON DRIVE (Race 3, Luke Nolen) has rather plateaued in his form, not really progressing so much as sustaining his level. Now that level is more than good enough to win an ordinary maiden, which today’s could well be, in fact it’s simply a matter of time until he breaks through. He drops back to a mile now and has blinkers in place for the first time, so let’s hope everything comes together to allow him to get the monkey off his back. Planet Warrior is the one we’ll need to be most wary of amongst the opposition, though he does have a wide draw to overcome.
SACCHARO (Race 6, Jordan Childs) bids to follow Mirette’s suit in making a successful return to handicap company having been in deeper waters when last seen. Fifth in the Caulfield Guineas and then a good third in Group 3 company at Flemington, a handicap mark of 66 should prove well within his wheelhouse. He’s been gelded in the more than four months since last seen, and now returns to the shorter 1200m trip. Whether or not it proves to be his optimum distance today should go a long way towards showing, but what does stand out is that he simply looks far and away the best handicapped horse in this line-up, even if he does have to give weight away all round. He’s drawn widest, but withdrawals have lessened the effect of barrier 11 and, as with Mirette yesterday, it will be quite the let-down were he not able to account for the opposition here.
A brace of runners at Echuca today, but even with the best will in the world only one of them can be seriously fancied, the other likely to find his wheels spinning on this return to action.
DANESAI (Race 4, Jordan Childs) was last seen in a maiden hurdle in June, when still in the charge of Darren Weir, and that should give some idea to what he’s about. Stamina, and plenty more of it than will be tested over a mile here this afternoon. As such, this is all about getting up to speed for the five-year-old son of High Chaparral, a getting-to-know-you ice-breaker, and we’ll certainly be looking for him to build on whatever he does today when he’s back around 2400m, the kind of trip he was running over for both career successes to date.
Ahead of the Echuca Cup just four rivals take on MIRETTE (Race 6, Jordan Childs) in the BM70 over 1400m. It may have been something of a last-ditch win at Warrnambool last month on the face of it, but we got the impression she had a fair bit more up her sleeve on that occasion, and given it was her first run this prep we’re anticipating a sizeable step forward this afternoon. Make no mistake, she remains a filly with a highly promising future, one who can progress through the ranks from what is still a relatively lowly handicap mark for one of her ability (and one who has Group 1 form to her name). The Mick Price-trained Dancing Tycoon looks the biggest danger, but even so we’ll all be disappointed if Mirette doesn’t make it back-to-back wins en route to bigger and better things.
Whilst the Black Caviar Lightning is surely the key formline with a view to today’s Newmarket Handicap (and on the evidence of it Graff is the one to be with), then the Colac Cup may well be similarly important to Edenhope’s own big race this afternoon.
Just the six runners for the Edenhope Cup, and half of those are disadvantaged by the weights, leaving the trio at the head of the handicap as the ones to concentrate on. ANDREA MANTEGNA (Race 7, Declan Bates) finished very marginally ahead of OTI Racing’s Scherzoso in the Colac Cup a month ago on what was his first start since joining the stable. The pair of them were seventh and eighth of the 12 runners there, though neither enjoyed the ideal race by any means, Andrea Mantegna too free for much of the way, whilst Scherzoso also met some interference. More pertinently today’s race is notably less strong than was that one, and there is unlikely to be a great deal between either of them once again, only this time they should be much closer to the business end. Andrea Mantegna has had a trial over hurdles since that last run, and hopefully will have got the freshness out of himself by now. We do also have South Australian interloper Chivadahlii to contend with, his close fourth in a recent BM90 at Morphettville reading well in context. It really should be between the three of them.
A couple of days after Caramel Popcorn made her debut at Seymour, Jack On The Rocks starts out for us at Hamilton. You'll be pleased to hear an Alexander Racing healthy living cookbook is firmly in the pipeline.
JACK ON THE ROCKS (Race 5, Declan Bates) made his racecourse debut at Echuca nearly six months ago, though he didn’t achieve a great deal in a run-of-the-mill maiden, finishing down the pack, albeit in a race in which they ended up finishing pretty well clumped together. The son of Moshe (out of a daughter of Snippetson) was in the care of Darren Weir at that stage, and has since been one of those to make the transition down the road. Greenness was evidently at play on that first racecourse appearance, and he will surely know more this time around and build on that level of form. In our favour is the lack of strength to today’s race, and whilst Samatar has achieved most to date and will set off a worthy favourite, there’s very little of substance amongst the remainder, raising hope we could well be good for a place at least.
Just the one runner at Bendigo today as Wee Gilly attempts to build on an encouraging return to form over this course and distance last time.
There was plenty to like about the effort of WEE GILLY (Race 5, Luke Currie) in the Marong Cup here last time. That was a BM78, and even if not the most competitive of races for the level, she’s back down into a BM70 now, and in getting into a good rhythm and then showing willing in finishing three-quarters of a length second of seven to Anemoi, she did plenty to suggest she can be a leading player in today’s line-up. What that run also went a long way to doing is dispelling any doubts that she’s fully effective away from more testing underfoot conditions, something that will hold her in equally good stead this time. Both the very lightly-raced five-year-old Latin Beat and Warrnambool scorer Ryan’s Fender arrive here on the up and with more seemingly very likely to come, so Wee Gilly is going to have to build on that last run, but if she does she should be right in the mix come the end.
Newcomers everywhere right now. The equine one is the deliciously-named two-year-old Caramel Popcorn who begins in a cut-up maiden at Seymour today.
By top sire Hinchinbrook, CARAMEL POPCORN (Race 2, Linda Meech) is out of a 1500m-winning daughter of Anabaa. She may well benefit from a bit of extra ground in the fullness of time, but she clearly has ability and today’s race feels like a nice starting-off point. Her draw looked an impediment initially, but withdrawals have lessened the effect, so there shouldn’t be too many excuses on that score. Here's hoping for a positive start, one that can be built upon.
A couple of runners – and an early start – on an excellent day of racing at Flemington today, one with a realistic chance, the other a high-class galloper on the comeback trail.
WRITE YOUR NAME (Race 5, Michael Dee) might fairly be considered unfortunate not to be unbeaten in his four starts to date, having had clear excuses for both reversals, most recently when enduring a tough run in finishing a close second to Fudged in a BM70 at Sandown back in December. He returns in a smart three-year-old handicap, though from a mark of 68 which looks as if understates his ability, and as such he can be given a big chance in today’s line-up, especially as we know he goes perfectly well fresh and a break since that last run has seen him develop physically. The similarly lightly-raced Brilliant Choice was impressive in winning at The Valley last time and is to be feared, whilst Age of Chivalry brings good Group form to the table and is another to add firmly into the mix.
The admirable GALLIC CHIEFTAIN (Race 7, Jordan Childs) has been a fine standard-bearer for OTI Racing over the last couple of seasons. He’s made the transition from Forest Lodge since last competing in the Queen Elizabeth Cup at this track back in November. The 2600m of that race shows what he’s about, however, much more a stayer than the mile of today’s Group 2 Blamey will allow him to show, unraced over a trip this short since October 2016. As such, this is little more than a first step back to action for the son of Tamayuz, one that can hopefully put him on an even keel for the stiffer stamina tests that lie ahead.
An exciting evening in store at The Valley where we have two cracking and very much upwardly-mobile mares representing us.
ZABELARINA (Race 2, Jordan Childs) made the best start possible for us when winning her maiden at Sandown on what was her first start for the best part of a year. She then took her form onto another level in finishing just under two and a half lengths third of eight to La Tigeresa in a BM70 on Hillside there which promises to make for strong form. She remains with the scope to do better still, especially now stretching out to a mile, and for all this evening’s BM64 is a competitive looking heat, she certainly has as much upside to her as anything else in the field.
If Zabelarina is progressing nicely, then MOSH MUSIC (Race 6, Jordan Childs) is fairly sky-rocketing through the grades, having won three of her last four, and in the process given the impression she’s a stayer with a big future. The future starts tonight, as she takes her chance in the Stayers Final, where she tries out 2500m for the first time. She’s certainly pacy enough for a stayer, but at the same time there’s been nothing in her performances thus far to suggest the longer trip will prove beyond her. Adding further lustre to her already strong claims is the clear liking she’s shown for Moonee Valley the last twice. She’s one we can rightly get excited about.
Beach Club is swimming in calmer waters at Kyneton today, and the marked drop in grade is sure to see her plenty more competitive.
After a fine start at the first time of asking, when third to Lankan Star at The Valley, we asked plenty of BEACH CLUB (Race 2, Jordan Childs) when pitching her into Group company at Caulfield earlier this month. That was a step too far, but it will not have hindered her overall development, and the experience should help her now back in maiden company. There are newcomers to be wary of today, notably so Godolphin's Involved, and as such it's not a race we can be hard and fast about, but Beach Club should be in the mix judging her on that very encouraging debut effort.
Having had a brief yet beguiling look through Terang’s storied history, I'd be failing myself to blithely look over Ronnie Warmouth or Jordie McKenzie, yet it would still appear the trotter Gammalite is the most famous son of the town*. And with figures like his, why not? 179 races for 94 wins, 53 seconds and well over $1 million in earnings. I’d like to see 80s Rock Musician Tim Williams offering up similar stats! All jokes aside, Terang on Wednesday gives us four good opportunities of creeping up the Wikipedia ladder of their famous achievers.
*Nobel Prize-winning immunologist Frank Burnet clearly supercedes everyone else, even Gammalite, or so I’ve been told.
ABRADED (Race 3, Declan Bates) was in a shade too deep when racing at Sandown behind Bullock a fortnight ago, giving it his best but ending up just coming a shade short. He’s certainly good enough to win a workaday maiden, especially now he’s back from the city, with a reproduction of that last effort sure to see him go extremely close.
The mildly unfortunate thing is that we have the other likely winner in the same race, too. CONVICT SAM (Race 3, Neil Farley) ran a race full of undisguised promise to finish mid-pack behind Nessuna Fiducia at Ballarat back in October. That came over a mile, and ultimately today’s 1400m isn’t going to be his ideal bag, but there’s loads of improvement to come from that first start either way. Whether he’ll be sharp enough to cope with Abraded remains to be seen, particularly given his draw is less favourable.
WISHFUL REALIZER (Race 4, Declan Bates) really ought to win the race that follows. His form is some way in advance of that the well exposed Clever George and Blame Rodney bring to the table, even his somewhat disappointing fifth (a close fifth) to The Sidekick at Bendigo last time reads well in the context of today’s race. The once-raced Dejakkal is a likely improver and probably the one to keep an eye on.
It’s a drop in class for LAST VEIN (Race 7, Neil Farley), but maybe not quite the one we’d have wished for: she’s in a strong-looking BM58; with Esthetic, Telemarketer, and American Summer in there it’s going to take a bit more winning than ideal. On the plus side, she’s back up to a trip which looks like being just about her ideal, and with headgear on to boot, on the back of a couple of strong efforts which suggest her time needn’t be too far off. Given the strength of the race, she’ll probably need a couple of others to underfire if she’s to win, however.
It looks to be something close resembling a match between two former stablemates third up at Bendigo this afternoon.
Albeit just unable to hold on, it was a very encouraging start AMBLEVE (Race 3, Jordan Childs) made for us at Colac earlier in the month when having her first run since September, and also her first since switching from Lindsay Park. She was just unable to stave off a debutant in Almighty Gold on that occasion, though there was plenty to like about the rhythm she got into at the head of affairs despite getting little peace there, and she certainly wasn't stopping come the line. The fourth that day, Stage Front, went on to beat Now's Her Time by a similarly tight margin at Stawell last week, enough to suggest the form should prove solid enough. There is a field of twelve today, but far and away the one who rates as Ambleve's chief rival is Hayes/Hayes/Dabernig's Medieval Miss. She caught the eye with the late gains she made over today's track on what was also her first outing since September three weeks ago, with that visual impression, allied to the fact she's by Camelot, strongly implying she'll be much more at home over today's longer trip. There's seemingly precious little to choose between the two, so let's cross our fingers that we get the rub of the green this time!
Twenty-race maidens don't generally strike much fear into you when scanning those runners you're up against. That's not the case at Yarra Valley today, where the class-dropping Go Ferrando looks to be up against a wolf in sheep's clothing.
GO FERRANDO (Race 5, Neil Farley) hasn't been able to land a blow in a couple of BM64s since winning his maiden at Werribee, when the beneficiary of a good front-running ride from Neil, and so a drop in his handicap mark and a slip down into BM58 company at Yarra Valley today should help him get back to being a whole lot more competitive. He's nicely drawn in 2 to enable Neil to try and grab the race by the scruff of the neck once again, and he should have more left for the final stages against these lesser rivals. However, in amongst those their lurks a stand-out opponent. Peppino has yet to break his duck in twenty starts, but the form he's been achieving in defeat bears no relation whatsoever to his handicap mark and he looks absolutely thrown in trying a handicap for the first time and in receipt of 6kg from Go Ferrando. All's not quite lost, however, as Peppino does have to prove himself trying this longer trip for the first time, but if he stays it okay he will surely prove near impossible to beat.
A twin-pronged attack at Warrnambool this afternoon, including the very welcome return of a filly who remains with unfinished business and unscaled peaks yet to climb.
ABSOLUT ARTIE (Race 2, Declan Bates) is going to need to up his game based on what he’s achieved in two starts to date, that much is for sure. The rider to that is that they have come six months apart, and at Kyneton earlier this month he made a noise during a race in which he received little cover. He now has a tongue strap in place to try and remedy any issue that is at play there and prompt a much-improved display from the son of Artie Schiller. If it does there doesn’t look to be too much to be unduly worried about amongst the opposition in a maiden which is both short on numbers and a great deal of proven form.
Meanwhile MIRETTE (Race 8, Jordan Childs) returns from a break with a weight of expectation behind her, borne from what she has achieved and yet still promises to do so and, relevant today, the drop in class she takes for this reappearance. It was the manner of her Benalla maiden win back in September, style over substance maybe, that prompted her being fast-tracked straight to Caulfield for the Thousand Guineas. She duly proved herself very much at home in such vaunted company, finishing just over two-lengths sixth to Amphitrite. Her next run, in a listed event on Melbourne Cup Day, was clearly a disappointment but in light of ground conditions that were all over the place on that day it’s a run we’re happy enough to put a line through. She comes back this afternoon in BM64 company, and clearly her Group 1 form looks very good in context, so we will be looking for her to win with some authority to cement the view that she remains one to look forward to with future and bigger targets in mind.
Having made a promising start to her career at Warrnambool recently, now's the time for Now's Her time as she would appear to have a good chance of getting off the mark at the second time of asking at Stawell today.
Seven runners are set to go to post for the opening maiden at Stawell this afternoon, and NOW'S HER TIME (Race 1, Dean Yendall) holds strong form claims based purely on the evidence of that debut run, even before considering the improvement that may be fortcoming for that initial experience of the racecourse. The daughter of Kaphero moves up from 1100m to 1300m and, with her future looking a bright one at this stage, she seems to have Stage Front to beat.
I'm out of James Bond puns (well, I'm probably not, but I don't want inflict them upon you), so let's keep it simple by stating we've got a couple of runners, including Connery, with excellent claims at Jane Seymour today. Sorry.
LAMINGTON DRIVE (Race 3, Jordan Childs) has been going very close with regularity, placed on all three starts to date and sure to win one of these before long, and very possibly today. There's little to choose between his level of form and that of Don't Look Now for the Busuttin/Young team, though we're more lightly raced and with winkers now in place, he can hopefully find that little extra to get off the mark. They can at least go some way towards curbing the slight wayward tendencies he displayed at Ararat last time.
There's also a gear change in the closing BM70 for CONNERY (Race 8, Jordan Childs) who is refitted with blinkers. It was a pleasing enough return from a lengthy absence at Sandown last time, one he should better with the benefit of the outing. There remain hidden depths to him, to the extent that a handicap mark of 65 feels like one he can exploit sooner rather than later. His record strongly suggests that a mile is his optimum trip, something which seemed to be backed up by the way he shaped on his return over 1400m. Grand Crown is the obvious danger amongst the opposition.
It’s certainly been a winding, if not overly long road Last Vein has taken to get to Kyneton today. Not a long one as she remains young and with a whole load of residual potential, some of which she can hopefully now tap into and expand upon, after all she’s more than likely the most choicely-bred runner on display this afternoon!
A striking chestnut, LAST VEIN (Race 5, Jordan Childs) is by the ill-fated Unencumbered out of a top-class racemare in Victory Vein, one who was sadly lost not long after producing Last Vein. Racing for Tony McEvoy, she got off the mark with next to no fuss at the fourth time of asking on the synthetic surface at Geelong last August. A step up from 1300m to a mile, and a more notable one in grade, found her out at Bendigo the following month, though on viewing she looked to be beaten by more than simply the trip or the class, simply not herself. A break of four and a half months saw her back at Geelong, this time on turf and with Darren Weir, and putting in a performance which went a long way to show that she’s on a handicap mark she can exploit, just found out by the marked drop back to 1100m in finishing third to Good Offa – who went on to run well in a much higher class next time. Facts and formlines don’t really do justice to Last Vein, though, more the strong suspicion that there’s a good deal more left in her substantial tank and from her enviable pedigree to think she remains capable of operating at a considerably higher level than she’s being asked to today.
'As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.'
Donald Rumsfeld could, and perhaps would, apply his famous analysis of WMDs in Iraq to the flurry of stable debutants we have running at present. At Colac's Cup meeting this afternoon we have another two out of three runners in total. It's all a learning process and stretching to find more of those known knowns!
Whilst we have a number of incumbents from another superpower source at present, AMBLEVE (Race 1, Jordan Childs) has arrived from Lindsay Park and has been with us rather longer, having made the switch to our premises in the five months since the third of three starts for Hayes et al. She’s a three-year-old daughter of Hinchinbrook out of a useful and speedy mare, and she has displayed more than enough ability so far to think she can be found a maiden before too much longer. Indeed, with the sex allowance she receives this afternoon she just emerges top of our in-house ratings ahead of Stage Front and Defies Logic, so if she’s ready to give it her best shot returning to action – and there’s little reason to imagine she won’t be over a 1200m trip that could well end up proving something like her optimum – she looks set to take the beating first up at Colac today.
For ANDREA MANTEGNA (Race 7, Jordan Childs), the route to the Colac Cup has been rather less straightforward, circumstances dictating a change of stable of late. He’s a smart performer, one proven in Cup races of this level, successful for Darren Weir in the Ararat Cup in November before running mid-field in the Ballarat version a fortnight later. He’s been off seven weeks since running some way below form at Flemington, disappointing there even before perhaps finding the distance of 2500m just stretching his stamina in rain-softened ground. That stamina point isn’t set in stone as of yet, though today’s intermediate trip of 2000m does suit him well, as does a soft surface more generally, so hopefully a short break and a change of scenery won’t have interrupted him but instead will see him back on his game, as a reproduction of his best sort of form makes him a massive player here.
In the following race we’ll be looking to see a better display from GO FERRANDO (Race 8, Jordan Childs) than on his handicap debut at Cranbourne last month. He looked to be struggling from a relatively early stage on that occasion, clearly well below the form he achieved in winning that Werribee maiden on Christmas Eve. That maiden success remains a stand-out performance, and whilst there’s no suggestion it was a fluke, we need him to get back to the level of that display at the very least here today. With rain forecast, the possibility of softer ground could yet represent something of an unknown (unknown), especially as the going was rated a Soft 5 at Cranbourne.
We’ve two very interesting runners this afternoon, interesting for diverging reasons, one being all about the chance suddenly being thrust upon him, the other the context of the race to her early development.
The opening contest at Morphettville offers AZURITE (Race 1, Zac Spain) a much more winnable opportunity than he has generally been facing in Victoria. To say the BM82 he’s engaged in is lop-sided would be something of an understatement, with only Olympic Academy and Azurite himself within the actual handicap, the remaining five all limited performers firmly up against it at the weights. The race really ought to be a match, then, between the top two, and a match-up of the competing formlines from Victoria and South Australia. It’s difficult to have any firm conviction on which will emerge the stronger, so let’s hope the receipt of 5.5kg from Olympic Academy will be enough to swing it our way.
Whichever way you slice it, it was a highly positive start for BEACH CLUB (Race 6, Jordan Childs) to finish just under two lengths third of seven to Lankan Star in a Moonee Valley maiden at the first time of asking. Still, it’s a long way from there to the Group 2 Blue Diamond Prelude which awaits her at Caulfield this afternoon, but then again the race fits neatly into her early schedule and having done enough at The Valley to suggest she needn’t be overfaced, it’s an ask that can work well to aid her overall progression. Of course, she’s an outsider, and so she should be mindful of the host of highly promising fillies she lines up against, but she’s not a no-hoper of an outsider with so much upward momentum to come two weeks on from that debut.
Four runners across Friday's two programmes, with two of the three we have in at The Valley this evening making their stable debuts.
WISHFUL REALIZER (Race 4, Andrew Mallyon) is Bendigo bound for his start. There was a bit of improvement from first start to second, and if that rate of progress can be maintained now he looks to hold just about the leading form claims, albeit in a maiden in which a number can be said to have sound claims. Reasons for being hopeful that there may, in fact, be an even more substantial jolt of improvement this time are the move up to 1400m and the fitting of winkers for the first time. On the book, Scotch O’Clock rates as the biggest danger, although it’s possible a couple of others may be open to a slightly greater degree of development.
Two of our three runners down at The Valley this evening are having their first start for us having made the transition from Forest Lodge. Clearly, the developments are last-minute and, as such, how well they’ll have taken that change of scenery is something that will only really be able to be assessed on the track tonight. BRINGIT (Race 6, Ben Allen) is a useful five-year-old who is most effective at around 2500m, as he highlighted by winning a course-and-distance BM64 just before Christmas in great style. He was in much deeper in the Bagot Handicap at Flemington on New Year’s Day and that duly proved a step-up too far at this stage. Today’s BM78 can hopefully prove a happy medium. Creedence looks set to appreciate the step up in distance, and is understandably warm as favourite.
WEE GILLY (Race 7, Jordan Childs) wasn’t at all discredited when mid-field in a bunched finish at Sandown last time. She takes a drop in class now, back against mares and back down to BM70 level. Her winning form has all come on ground with cut, and the prospect of getting a ground description with the word ‘soft’ in it certainly ought to be a positive as regards her chance. It may not be that she doesn’t handle good going, more that more testing conditions simply favour her more than they do others. This looks a really good opening for her, in terms of position in her prep and of quality of opposition, and she can certain be expected to be a big player this evening.
As touched upon above, it’s a case of getting to know you with LOPE DE FIELD (Race 7, Ben Allen) who arrives here on a hat-trick having won her last two for Darren Weir, and three of her last four. Those successes came in BM58 and BM64 company at Stawell and Warrnambool respectively, so this clearly marks another step up on the ladder altogether. She’s been a narrow winner on both occasions, so we will see whether she has the scope to progress up to this level stepping into Town for the first time, though if she can maintain the rate of progress she’s managed to summon up over the last couple of months she could well end up getting into the mix.
Two for the price of one at Warrnambool later today. Whilst we don’t intentionally face off our own horses against each other, if the race fits then needs must. So it is with the three-year-old fillies maiden that comes up fifth up on the programme.
Alphabetically she’s just first, and for that reason alone let’s start with NORD AVENIR (Race 5, Jordan Childs). Her debut came all the way back in August, when she was a highly encouraging fourth in a strong maiden at Swan Hill. The winner, Yulong January, has gone on to prove himself useful, borderline smart, and the runner-up, Irish Butterfly, had little trouble in breaking through at Sale recently. The third, Stripping Royalty, has also won her maiden since. It makes for hot form all round. Nord Avenir has progressed for that initial experience and ought to be very competitive in what looks a weaker contest this afternoon.
NOW’S HER TIME (Race 5, Linda Meech) is a newcomer with an attractive pedigree. By Kaphero, she’s out of Granniah, making her the year-younger half-sister to the so-far unlucky Raffine. We’re highly hopeful that she doesn’t meet any of the misfortune that has prevented her sibling from gaining a much-deserved debut success. She’s very promising indeed, and is by no means a second string to Nord Avenir. Both are there very much on their own merits.
A man is driving along pulling a float when he’s pulled over by the cops.
Policeman asks the driver, “Excuse me, sir, could you please tell me what you’re up to today?”
“Of course, mate,” comes the reply, “I’m just taking the horses to the races at Caulfield.”
Policeman takes a look at the situation before returning to the man with a quizzical look on his face. “Okay then sir, would you mind telling me why there are no horses in the float?”
“I know,” comes the reply, “I’m taking the non-runners first!”
Scratched runners play quite a heavy theme at both Caulfield and Kyneton today, where we have a runner apiece, though that should at least ease the path a little for them both.
ABSOLUT ARTIE (Race 1, Neil Farley) hasn’t been seen since finishing six lengths fourth of seven in a three-year-old maiden at Warracknabeal in August. He’ll need to come on from that, especially as he’s been drawn widest of all (though the withdrawals have lessened that disadvantage), but there’s no reason to imagine he won’t do precisely that, giving us plenty of hope with the way he’s been doing at home. He showed a decent amount of speed on that first try, and may well be suited by less testing underfoot conditions today.
The 11-runner BM84 FASTNET LATINA (Race 6, Jordan Childs) is down to a 7-runner event at the time of writing, though it remains a tricky affair for the reasons that Antah looks seriously progressive and Fastnet Latina himself hasn’t been at the top of his game on two of his last three starts, notably so at Flemington last time. The blinkers are the removed now, and there’s encouragement to take that he was much better over this course and distance on his penultimate outing.We know the ability is still there when everything comes together.
A big evening - and perhaps a celebratory night – awaits at The Valley today. With two runners holding standout claims in a couple of the staying events we’re looking at coming away with owners both happy and pocket-filled!
SAN REMO (Race 3, Jordan Childs) will be happier this evening back up at 3000m, the extra distance important to him for all he was a very good fourth over the shorter 2500m here last week. He’s holding his form admirably well, a stayer with consistency, and that’s a virtue not all of this evening’s rivals can boast. He’s back down to BM70 level for the first time since winning at Cranbourne in December, and probably has a last-time winner from there in Benall as the one to beat. If it comes down to a finish between the two we’ll be hoping Jordan’s strength will count for plenty!
Later on the programme MOSH MUSIC (Race 7, Jordan Childs) takes in Heat 2 of the Stayers Series the first leg of which San Remo finished fourth in last time. This sees a marked step up in distance for her, from a mile to 2050m, and given the way she finished from off the pace at Sandown last time it promises to unlock a good deal more of her raw potential. It’s well worth noting that the front was firmly the place to be at Sandown that day, and Mosh Music was running against the grain in getting as close as she did to finish third to Pure Scot there, albeit in a small field. She strongly looks the one to beat today – in fact it will be something of a surprise if she’s not up to gaining compensation and, at the same time, opening up a host of new possibilities.
A late meeting at The Valley but early work compressed into two races for us, three runners in the first two events, including the first tracks of a potentially smart two-year-old. All of which means a plausibly early evening depending on whether or not we opt to stay for the return of the mighty Redkirk Warrior.
Start off where you mean to carry on, that’s the view we’ve taken with BEACH CLUB (Race 1, Jordan Childs). If you want to race at Moonee Valley start off doing so. She’s a beautiful daughter of Zoffany, who himself excelled over a mile, out of an unraced Dylan Thomas half-sister to champion juvenile Overreach. It’s a pedigree to be excited about, and we wouldn’t be starting out at the Valley if we didn’t think she was precocious and speedy enough to do herself justice. She’s sharp. Withdrawals have limited the opposition to an extent, though Lankan Star, from an Aga Khan-bred family, has already shown ability and Hulk is bred to be very good. We will see!
It had to happen in the end. Both PRINZ HLODOWIG (Race 2, Jordan Childs) and SAN REMO (Race 2, Damien Thornton) have been in each other’s sights for a while. We’ve managed to keep them apart until now, but today’s 2500m BM78 feels like the ideal calling card for both. They’ve both improved with racing, progressing as their stamina has been drawn out and they’ve gradually got the hang of Australian racing. It’s a really difficult pick between the two. If San Remo were to get back to his fluent self as seen at Cranbourne he’d surely be hard to beat today, acknowledging the shorter trip plays against his strengths to a degree. Prinz Hlodowig is coming off a Caulfield high, however, and given he’s the marginally more progressive of the pair he’s the one to plump for if a gun was pointed at one’s head. There’s precious little in it, though, and we’ll just hope that one of the two prevails for OTI Racing.
Plenty of points of interest amongst today’s twilight meeting on Sandown’s Lakeside track, including four runners each with a more than reasonable chance of flying the flag successfully for Alexander Racing.
The opening maiden is run over 1300m, and whilst there is a fair amount of proven form on the table, it’s not that high a standard given the value of the race. Our representative is ZABELARINA (Race 1, Jordan Childs) who starts out for us having endured a stuttering start to her career so far. She’s a Bel Esprit four-year-old out of an unraced close relation to none other than two-time Horse of The Year Might And Power. Her debut came back in August 2017 for Robert Smerdon, though circumstances would demand a switch to Matt Cumani by the time she made her second start eight months later. This marked a step in the right direction, finishing a good fourth of 12 behind Longmu at Ballarat, though it’s another ten months from then to now, and another change of scenery to boot, so quite what she’s capable of and whether she can start making up for lost time remains to be seen. Her form is good enough to think she can go close, whilst her potential remains almost entirely untapped.
CONNERY (Race 3, Ethan Brown) makes his much-anticipated comeback in a BM64 over 1400m. Ethan Brown takes the ride and so reduces his 61kg impost by 1.5kg, and he looks to be very viably handicapped judged on the progress he made in the early part of last year. Both his wins came over 1600m, and it is possible that the extra distance could be important to him, whilst we’ve also left the visor off for this return to action. He’s gone well fresh before, at least, so should be tight enough to go at the first time asking. The race around Connery is competitive without looking unduly strong, last week’s course-and-distance runner-up Burgonet probably chief amongst the dangers.
It’s probably fair to say MAN ALIVE (Race 5, Jordan Childs) has been slightly underwhelming since transitioning into handicaps, though it bears reiterating that any lack of stamina has not been behind his last two runs over 2500m and 2400m. And it remains early days in his overall progression. He has to turn the tables with So Belafonte and Apocalypto from Hillside earlier in the month, though he didn’t enjoy the cleanest of runs that time, caught wide after a sluggish start, plugging on without ever quite being able to get on terms come the finish. He’s got blinkers in place now, and hopefully they will provide the impetus required for him to start achieving more at this level.
Jamie Kah celebrated her move from SA with a big-race win aboard Belwazi at the weekend, and she is drafted in to take the ride on WEE GILLY (Race 8, Jamie Kah) who sneaks into the BM78 right at the bottom of the handicap. There’s quite a lot to like about her chance, more so than her current $11 odds would imply. She was successful in BM78 company (fillies and mares race) at around this sort of trip at Cranbourne on her penultimate start in August, and clearly found the drop back to a mile all against her when coming back at Pakenham last month. She was doing all her best work at the end there, when behind the very progressive Laure Me In, and will clearly benefit from the return to a longer distance. Her best form has come when encountering a testing surface hitherto, but there was probably enough in that most recent run to suggest she’s not entirely ground dependent.
Flemington hosts one of its 25 meetings a year and Camperdown its one and only this fine Saturday, and they are the venues of interest for us, with the decision being made to direct Fastnet Latina to the former instead of an alternative option he held at Morphettville.
AZURITE (Race 2, Jye McNeil) failed to live up to expectations at Moonee Valley most recently, unable to match the level he’d performed to in a couple of previous outings, being pushed wide only a partial excuse. He’ll need to get back on his game now, in an open handicap which effectively equates to a BM95. That sees him up against it in relation to some of those towards the head of the weights, the ever-threatening Lycurgus specifically. There’s not much strength in depth to the race, however, rather typical of these sorts of races over these longer trips. Conditions will be fine, and he ran well in a similar race at Flemington two starts back.
FASTNET LATINA (Race 8, Jordan Childs) looked to face a simpler task at Morphettville, but the money on offer for that BM90 was poor compared to that on the table for this BM84. The counterbalance being that it’s considerably more competitive. He goes up beyond a mile for the first time having served notice at Caulfield a fortnight ago that he’s ready for such a move now, the strength of his finish catching the eye when fourth to the reopposing Black Sail on that occasion. He’s 2.5kg better off with that rival for just over a length and a half, so strictly speaking there really should be precious little between them. Our hope is that the added distance can now draw that little bit more from Fastnet Latina at this stage of his career. The problem is that the dangers certainly don’t begin and end with Black Sail, Five Kingdom and Laure Me In both upwardly-mobile handicappers who are likely to prove a major part of the conversation.
Having finished just over five and a half lengths eighth of thirteen to Off Peak at Seymour on debut, ROMAIYA (Race 3, Neil Farley) heads to Camperdown for his second start needing to progress for that initial experience. He was unable to take advantage of an inside draw on that occasion, though now has been done no favours the other way, widest of all in 14. As we stated prior to that debut outing, he can be expected to do best at around a mile in the medium term, and with that in mind he takes an incremental step up from 1300m to 1400m this afternoon. Unless he’s unable to find any cover from that barrier he should prove a good bit more competitive here.
Our likely winner today comes in the earlier meeting at Ararat, whilst Go Ferrando has more on his plate as he makes the transition into handicap company at Cranbourne later on.
It was a better race than today's in which LAMINGTON DRIVE (Race 3, Harry Coffey) finished third on debut at Seymour in the dying days of 2018. He have good chase in finishing two lengths third of fourteen to Happily To Be on that occasion, whilst simultaneously giving the impression he can improve a fair chunk further for the experience and, more so, today's distance move up to a mile. Runner-up that day, Tavsomefun, has himself gone on to win his own maiden in conclusive fashion at Cranbourne, giving the form of the race an extra boost. Lamington Drive doesn't face rivals of the same ability as that pair this afternoon, those to have achieved most, Pentian and Plum Pudding well exposed as modest (and in the case of the former well out of sorts when last seen). Ciaran Maher's once-raced Run By Night is out of a New Zealand Oaks winner, so for all he was well back in the field when starting out six months ago, he does at least retain a deal of potential returning for his second go and in a thin race is probably the one to be most wary of on balance.
The is, of course, a lot more depth to the BM64 in which GO FERRANDO (Race 5, Neil Farley) makes his handicap debut at Cranbourne. That said, the eye is immediately drawn to the one three-year-old in the line-up, the filly Rock Dove. Godolphin's daughter of Epaulette has run with merit in two handicaps whilst gradually having her stamina drawn out, and looks as if she could take off now getting beyond 2000m for the first time. Never be afraid of one horse, though, and Go Ferrando has of course already proven himself granted such a stamina test, as when stepping up to break his duck at Werribee three weeks ago. He won from the front under a cute stop-start ride from Neil Farley there, and whilst those tactics may prove difficult to replicate here, it could be that the likely stronger tempo will allow him to settle comfortably a bit further back. Werribee runner-up Enrico Pallazzo couldn't do much for the form next time unfortunately, but it's now Go Ferrando's job to strike on in open company, and after just six starts he is the most lightly-raced in today's line-up.
An extensive (or nerdy) look at the statistics shows that, over the course of the past two seasons, our debutants have improved on average by 1.77kg from first start to second. Had Wishful Realizer ran better by that much on debut at Werribee he’d near enough have dead-heated! So today the relevant question is: does he find himself in a stronger, weaker, or similar level of maiden at Pakenham this evening?
In being beaten just under a length and a half by Vogue Empress first time up, WISHFUL REALIZER (Race 3, Andrew Mallyon) certainly got off to a positive enough start, all the more so given he did more early work than those he ended up finishing behind. He's up to 1200m now in a move which his pedigree suggests ought to help. As for today’s opposition, it seemingly revolves around No Drama Darci given her most recent second to the useful filly Notation would set a clear standard. That came fifteen weeks ago, though, so he does have his well-being to prove. In the frame in both starts to date, Jennikay borderhops from SA and isn’t the most straightforward to assess as a result, whilst newcomer Destacado represents the Hawkes yard.
The answer to the question, then, would appear to be determinant on whether No Drama Darci can replicate her form from Geelong in early-October. If not, a 1.77kg step forward should see Wishful Realizer bang there in the shake up.
It’s the next rung up the ladder for the lightly-raced, fast-progressive Mosh Music today, stepping out into Metro company for the first time following on from her highly taking successful handicap debut at Geelong.
MOSH MUSIC (Race 5, Dean Holland) could hardly have developed more encouragingly since a backward debut, improving no end to break her maiden at the second time of asking at Geelong before proving a subsequent 34-week absence to be no issue back there in a BM64 on Boxing Day, the style and substance of that success pointing to bigger things ahead, starting today. Naturally enough she’s in deeper now, though set against that is the fact that the race has cut up, down to just five, Mosh Music the one with all the unexplored potential with the other four those with the more established form to their name.
Pure Scot’s early ability has tapered off somewhat, though she underlined that she remains a force from this sort of mark when runner-up in a BM78 at Bendigo on her penultimate go. She was a sound fourth of 14 at Flemington next time, and for all she has no residual potential to offer, the lesser depth to today’s race gives her reasonable enough claims here. Cash Affair is still on the up, even if her rate of improvement is less steep than Mosh Music’s, and consistent to go with it, putting up a series of three good runs at Flemington since winning at Bendigo in November. She finished off well over 1400m most recently, and now tries 1600m for the first time. She looks assured of putting up another good display, though the question is whether she can up her game to the same extent as Mosh Music.
Like our runner, Miss Adequate won a BM64 at Geelong most recently, though she hardly cut the same impression in doing so, and after 18 starts the strong feeling is that a 2kg rise for that success seems likely to do for her. Likewise, it’s not easy to be too positive regarding the chances of Ice Girl on the basis of her recent displays, seemingly just going through the motions most recently.
Werribee today, and at least one more winner in the offing with a little bit of luck. Here’s why…
The first thing to say about the maiden ROCKY ROAD (Race 3, Dean Holland) contests is that it’s winnable. That’s a euphemism for saying it’s a really weak race. Summing that up is the fact that the horse challenging Rocky Road for favouritism is Peppino, a seventeen-race maiden whose limitations are pretty well exposed by now. By contrast, after just three starts Rocky Road remains with a good bit of upside to him, especially as having raced solely over 1200m to date, the step up to 1400m now can draw more from him. He was coming back from an absence at Seymour last time and should be better for it, Swiss Hero having yesterday underlined the potential benefit of a comeback run. It would be disappointing if he didn’t fare best of those with experience today, and any threats are more likely to emerge from the debutants, no fewer than three coming from the Darren Weir yard, and a three-year-old filly in receipt of all the allowances going trained by Matt Cumani.
Later on the card MIA GEORGIA (Race 7, Jessica Eaton) has a bit more to prove right now, things not having gone all that smoothly for her since she broke through at Pakenham in August. She’s just half a kilo above the mark from which she won there now, meaning she has some potential from a handicapping viewpoint, but she’ll need to show more verve than when a well-held sixth at this track last time. She takes a drop back to 1400m now, a trip over which she ran well when a close (and somewhat unlucky) fourth at Tatura a few runs back, and if she can replicate that kind of form she’s certainly got a big chance this afternoon. In her favour is the fact that the race has cut up quite a bit, an original field of eleven now down to seven, she has a handy inside draw, and if the application of winkers can have a revivifying effect she could yet be a big player. We’ll see whether she’s on one of her ‘going’ days.
A couple of runners, seven hours apart, today, with hopes firmly behind Swiss Hero at Hamilton, concrete expectations in San Remo at Cranbourne.
It hasn’t been a straightforward path for SWISS HERO (Race 2, Neil Farley) to this point, niggles and setbacks setting him back, his development limited to two starts thus far, but there was clear encouragement to take from the second of those, ten months on from the first, improving as the race wore on to finish mid-pack at Werribee on Christmas Eve. Everything about that run suggests it’s one he’ll step up on, perhaps markedly so, this the first time he’s got to the track with a run behind him, and the move up to a mile sure to suit him down to the ground. A couple of the others in today’s line-up have clearly achieved more in their careers to date, Diamond Arrow perhaps chief amongst them, but he certainly doesn’t possess the same scope for progress as Swiss Hero, meaning that he’s by no means one to write off today, with a top three finish seemingly well within his grasp.
On the face of it, SAN REMO (Race 6, Damien Thornton) fluffed his lines at Warrnambool in light of his romp over today’s course and distance in mid-December, but the run of the race was against him, leading out a closer’s race, and back at the scene of that most fluent of victories he really ought to get back to winning ways this evening. He’s evidently very much at home at the track and over the marathon trip, the latter really the making of him in fact, and he finds himself in a BM78 best described as threadbare now, a race short on numbers and depth, with San Remo’s recent winning form making him a standout. Now, he did finish behind the reopposing Weave at Warrnambool, though that one wasn’t ridden quite as positively there, benefiting to an extent, and it would essentially be surprising were the form to be upheld here. Benall showed a bit more spark here last time, and on the balance of probabilities he is more likely to offer a somewhat sterner challenge.
The good news is that Untouched gets a run from fourth emergency in the opener at Geelong today. The less good news is that a couple of the other emergencies to have got in finished some way ahead of her at the same track on Boxing Day.
UNTOUCHED (Race 1, Jordan Childs) showed some speed from the gate on debut, encouraging in itself, though she's going to need to build on the mid-part of her race, unable to maintain that prominent early position before plugging home. She's sure to know a lot more with that initial experience under her belt, with the winkers now there to assist in that respect, though with Maozi and Frankie Pinot having finished several lengths ahead of her on that occasion, it's probably more realistic to envisage her progressing enough to get closer to them as opposed to turning the form around. As well as those with a run to their name, the race also features a clutch of newcomers from top yards.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” On the surface, it may seem overblown to apply the words of Maya Angelou to anything related to horse racing, and specifically today the Australian career of Prinz Hlodowig, but then again racing is but a microcosm of life, the lessons we learn in one directly relatable to the other. Churchill and Angelou wouldn’t have had much in common, but he said something similar of the virtue of perseverance: “If you’re going through Hell, keep going!”
It has been a lengthy road for PRINZ HLODOWIG (Race 5, Jordan Childs) to this point, plenty of water having flowed since his sole win as a two-year-old in France, but there’s nothing ungenuine about him and he served notice at Geelong in October that his time was near, going down by the narrowest margin there in a race that has worked out pretty well. A subsequent eight-week pause, combined with a drop back in trip, dulled him somewhat at Flemington just before Christmas, though that run should have brought him back to a peak, and at his peak a handicap mark of 69 is clearly a viable one. Today's twilight meeting at Caulfield offers him a chance to put everything together for the first time since that September day in Normandy back in 2016.
Amongst the opposition there are two horses that stand out as clear and present dangers, though how big a player The Gatting Ball is rests to a very large degree on whether you take the view he ran as well as he did at Moonee Valley last time in spite of working through the worst of the ground, or because he took the shortest route. I’d be inclined toward the latter position without being in any way confident. Franked appeals slightly more after just two starts in this country and with more to come, latterly better than the result when fifth behind Bringit, also at the Valley.
Mornington and Warrnambool host racing this afternoon, and it’s at the latter venue that we’re triply represented. Very high, medium, medium – in that order – is the degree of chance that can be assigned to those three runners.
Starting with our best chance: RAFFINE (Race 3, Jordan Childs). Now, it’s true that in strict numbers terms she went backwards from a very good debut at Geelong when only fourth of nine as odds-on favourite at Terang second time up. It’s also true that the bare facts of that latter run don’t tell anything like the full story. She got no run at all behind Uncle Larry, never getting an out, ending up having no more than a glorified gallop, and there’s little question it would have been a wholly different story with a different path through the race. We’ve found her what looks a great opening in which to gain compensation today, kept to 1400m and in a race restricted to fillies and mares. Of those fillies and mares Raffine comes up against, none have achieved anything remotely close to the form she achieved at Geelong, and a mere repeat of that effort should see her win readily. She’s well enough drawn and, barring any colossal lack of racing luck as at Terang, she really should be winning. Odds against look big.
FASHION STOCK (Race 4, Neil Farley) is a slower burn than Raffine, stamina more than speed her calling, and with that in mind she’s now up beyond 2000m, fitted with winkers too, and combined those factors can see her show more than in three runs to date. Whilst she didn’t continue her bit-by-bit progress at Geelong most recently, the testing conditions were likely no good to her there, and now returned to a sounder surface she should be back on the up. There’s nothing especially daunting about the to-date achievements of those she comes up against in what is a fairly modest maiden today, Westham probably just about setting the standard, albeit an exposed and far from insurmountable one, so there’s definitely scope for imagining Fashion Stock can take a good step forward and get amongst the principals.
What to make of BLANCO CARA’s (Race 6, Jordan Childs) debut run for the yard at Bendigo? Whilst there was enough there to build on, the most pertinent factor appeared to be that a mile is simply too short for her, lacking the requisite change of gear when push came to shove. She gets an additional 435m to play with now and that, combined with the extra sharpness that comeback sighter will have given her, suggests she can be a whole lot more competitive here today. With question marks of one sort or another hanging over all of her seven opponents in today’s BM64, we’re very much hopeful of seeing her make a much bigger impact for us at the second time of asking.
It might be a Dry January for many, but hopefully not Fastnet Latina. On a competitive, high-quality card at Caulfield he'll be attempting to regain the winning thread and quench his thirst having currently gone 637 days between drinks.
FASTNET LATINA (Race 6, Jordan Childs) has of course had his troubles since that last success, at Morphettville in April 2017, but he has showed on a couple of occasions since returning to action that all of his old ability remains intact, most obviously so when finding only OTI playmate Romancer too strong in the Donald Cup on his penultimate start. If he was coming here straight on the back of that effort he'd surely be vying for favouritism this afternoon, and given his subsequent Pakenham run is best ignored (came back mildly lame), there's certainly a case for saying he represents some value in today's line-up, back in peak condition as he is. There is due to be some rain about at Caulfield today, and if that were to hit and have an impact on the state of the ground, then some questions would be raised, Fastnet Latina never having raced on ground softer than good. That slight concern aside there's plenty to like about his chance over his optimum trip at a BM84 level which looks just right for him at present.
Black Sail has long since had a tall reputation, and it's one to a large extent he deserves, a smart performer after all. Though he's perhaps not quite as good as he's threatened to be on occasions, often failing to justify market support, so for all he's a big player once more this afternoon he's by no means home and hosed. The ex-Kiwi Mission Hill appears the most interesting of the remainder in what feels a winnable handicap of its type.
Of course, a new year – and arguably time itself – only really has any significance when viewed through the lens of being an artificial, conceptual man-made construct, and it would be ludicrous to take seriously any belief that in a world more than 4.5 billion years old January 1 is in any meaningful way distinct from December 31: there’s nothing new about it at all. A very happy 2019 from all at Alexander Racing, and may it firmly be a case of New Year, New Cheer! We're counting on Man Alive getting us off to a flier at Sandown today.
There's no getting away from the fact MAN ALIVE (Race 4, Jordan Childs) failed to come up to our expectations at Moonee Valley last time, though it wasn't the longer trip that was the issue - he remains a stayer above all - seemingly as much as the track's tight, cambered figuration which seemed to unsettle him, off balance and off an even keel. He's well worth the benefit of the doubt given the positives he had amassed prior to that, and another crack over this sort of distance at a track that should be more in keeping with his style still promises to provoke a significant chunk of improvement from one so lightly raced. Indeed, Man Alive is comfortably the least exposed runner in today's BM64 field, so hopefully he should be progressing whilst others have plateaued. There are in-form horses to be wary of, however, chief amongst them dual Mornington winner Negasi who narrowly failed to bring up the hat-trick when just touched off over today's course and distance last month. True Gent finished ahead of Man Alive at the Valley, though given the excuses we've advanced ifor that run it's perhaps best not to read too much into that particular strand of form.
2018 has certainly been an interesting year. A bit too interesting sometimes. Interesting in the way the Chinese intend as a curse. If nothing else it has made for a steep learning curve, lessons in experience money simply can't buy. We get to have the last say over the year, however, and enter 2019 on the right note as San Remo, confidence bucked and buoyed at Cranbourne, can make it back-to-back wins in the marathon event at Warrnambool's curtain-dropping meeting this afternoon. May 2019 be boring by comparison!
SAN REMO (Race 4, Jordan Childs) certainly wasn't winning out of turn when breaking his Australian duck at Cranbourne last time, and he showed there - as he had at Moonee Valley the time before - that he's ideally suited by these proper staying trips. The ease and style of that success suggests that having found both his niche and the winning groove he's not about to relinquish either all that readily, and there's certainly no way you could envisage the reopposing Stanaway pair that chased him home at a respectful distance - Ventura Highway and Crafty Cruiser turning the tables. The danger in what feels a two-horse race if ever there was one is clearly the in-form Duke of Oz.He's yet to try a trip of 3000m+ but served notice at The Valley last time he could well be suited by it, though he is a 1kg 'wrong' with San Remo and doesn't arrive with such a fluent, authoritative win behind him.
Hannah Grant on La Dalliance from Alexander Racing on Vimeo.