What I love about spring carnival time in Australia are the full race cards packed with stakes action. Last week it was Moonee Valley with the G1 Cox Plate. Tonight beginning at 8:20 p.m. Eastern in the U.S. (Saturday in Australia), it’s Flemington that hosts nine group events including four G1s. Right now, the track is rated a “Dead 4” so let’s take a look at the main contenders with that in mind—and join the usual crowd later tonight on Twitter (@FilliesFirst):
G3 Carbine Stakes—Race 1
The topweight favorite is Darley’s regally-bred Galah (Redoute’s Choice) whose Distorted Humor dam Rinky Dink captured the G1 Australasian Oaks. He’s already a listed winner, and given his breeding stretching out to a mile for the first time should not be an issue. The third and fourth-place finishers from his last race return here as well, with Highly Recommended enjoying a better weight advantage, dropping two pounds. It may not be quite enough, but this Fastnet Rock colt comes from a family of winners, including half-sisters G1 Emirates victress Sky Cuddle and G3 Tattersalls Cup winner Sky Love, as well as G2 runner-up full-brother Undeniably. Sentimentally, I’ll be rooting for another Redoute’s Choice colt, Cross of Gold; his second dam is a daughter of Foolish Pleasure, plus he is also a half-brother to champion Hasna, 2003 winner of Australia’s 2-year-old Triple Crown. The only other serious contender is the field is Meethaq who actually won at this distance last out—he’s a half-brother to the multiple G1 winner Mnemosyne.
UPDATE: Long stretch run and 1-2 favorite Galah needed every inch of it, just nipping 16-1 Highly Recommended at the wire. 18-1 Saint Etienne was also up very close for third.
G3 Lexux Stakes—Race 2
Big field, with topweight Tullamore returning a mere week after his runner-up finish to defending Melbourne Cup winner Americain in the G2 Moonee Valley Cup [oops, he’s now scratched]. Green Moon finished just ahead of him in the G1 Caulfield Cup, so it should be an interesting rematch. I’m still on board with Anudjawun who finished fourth behind Americain and Tullamore last week—now he enjoys a drop in weight, from 121 to 118, which may not sound like much, but with Tullamore still toting 126, and Green Moon going up from 117 to 123, it may just make the difference. He’s also placed in the top three (though never won) all three times he’s raced on this track. The mare Midnight Martini drew a horrible barrier position (14), but the granddaughter of G1 New Zealand Oaks winner Sawatdee has won over this track, ran very sharp fourth ahead of Anudjawun in the G2 Herbert Power before running third most recently in the G3 David Jones Cup. A win here guarantees her a start in Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup.
UPDATE: After leading early, Green Moon totally fell apart, and 7-1 Niwot quickly took advantage, pulling away from the field. 11-1 Macedonian second, and 18-1 Anudjawun third. At 50-1, Raffaello fleshed out a massive superfecta.
G2 Wakeful Stakes—Race 3
Undefeated Atlantic Jewel won the G1 Thousand Guineas with incredible ease last out, and has already won carrying 128 lbs. like she does here; the only query is the 9-furlong distance, but being out a Zabeel mare hints it shouldn’t be a problem. Four fillies enter off the same listed race going this distance, with the best of them the winner Gliding. Her half-brother is 5-time G1 winner Eremain, and with master Bart Cummings, you can believe she’ll be primed for this race. Sure to be running late is New Zealand-bred Dowager Queen, recently G1-placed in the Flight Stakes; she must be an iron horse, having already run 15 times since last December 28 (but did enjoy a nearly 3-month break). For a longshot chance, I like Gioe in the top-four after her bad-luck efforts most recently; her G1 runner-up dam Magical Miss also won the G2 Memsie. Hands-down, the Cinderella story here would be a win or placing by yet-unplaced La Dolce Diva, daughter of 3-time Melbourne Cup victress Makybe Diva.
UPDATE: Wow, Atlantic Jewel is a serious filly! Easy win at 2-5, with 35-1 Rahveel second, 5-1 Dowager Queen third and 7-1 Gliding fourth.
G1 Coolmore Stud Stakes—Race 4
Unusual for American fans to witness, Flemington’s sprint races are run over a straight track—and that is something even Australian horses sometimes find hard to do well. Sepoy shouldn’t have a problem here, given that he’s already won twice over this track—not to mention captured nine of his 10 lifetime starts thus far. It’s hard to look beyond him, but any rain affecting the track favors Hot Snitzel and good performances earlier in the card by Galah and/or Highly Recommended would only lead further credence to the abilities of Masthead. For longer shots, consider Unique Quality who ran a very game third to Sepoy over this track last out, and the lightly-raced Zamorar who really moves up in class for this one (he’s related to Foolish Pleasure through his damsire Scenic).
UPDATE: Sepoy just lasted over Foxwedge, with 70-1 Satin Shoes just ahead of 45-1 Zamorar.
G1 Mackinnon Stakes—Race 5
A number of likely Melbourne Cup runners in here, including recent G1 Caulfield Cup winning mare Southern Speed. The other mare Lights of Heaven has yet to live up to her huge promise this campaign, but a good barrier position and the jockey-trainer combination of Luke Nolen-Peter Moody could get it done here—top fours at the very least. Off his third-place finish behind Pinker Pinker in the G1 Cox Plate last week, Rekindled Interest is a big chance. 7-year-old Wall Street has been running well of late—could the old boy pop a big one here? Umm, not if the reports of mild colic this week are true, I’m afraid. Not beyond the realm of possibility. Irish-bred Glass Harmonium disappointed in the Cox Plate, but the track may have been his downfall—he finished a narrow second to December Draw in the G1 Turnbull recently at Flemington. Even though he’s a last-out G1 winner, The Verminator gets a HUGE weight jump, from 115 to 130 pounds—I can’t imagine him in the top four.
UPDATE: Glass Harmonium won, with 18-1 Mourayan second and post-time favorite Rekindled Interest third. Superfecta fleshed out with 5-1 mare Southern Speed.
G1 AAMI Victoria Derby—Race 6
All of the money is on Manawanui, and rightly so—however, I’m sticking with Collar as a possible upset threat. I hated the way he was taken to the lead early at Moonee Valley, but his regular jockey Nick Hall is back aboard, so I expect a more even performance out of him here. Niagara appears nicely-bred for this distance (by Encosta De Lago, out of a Fusaichi Pegasus mare), but his far-outside 18 barrier post sucks. Costly Commitment finished just behind Niagara last out, and has demonstrated improvement with each start; by Encosta De Lago out of an Octagonal mare, he should have no problem with the distance (good barrier post too!). Darley sends out listed Geelong Classic winner Induna whose full-sister Camarilla won the G1 Sires’ Produce Stakes; among her many nice performances, their dam Camarena swept both the G1 Queensland Derby (2400m) and G2 Queensland Guineas (1600m) in 1999. The softer the going, the better Induna’s chances. Last out G3 winner Sabrage breaks from a difficult post (16) and I’m concerned about his distance limitations, being by sprinter Charge Forward; his dam Galroof ran second in both the G1 Doomben Cup (2200m) and G1 Queensland Derby (2400m), so I suppose it’s possible, but his half-brother Pinnacles topped out at one mile, placing third in the G1 Doncaster (1600m). There’s definitely quality there, though.
UPDATE: Extremely roughly run race…Sangster narrowly wins over Induna, with Sabrage up for third. Longshot Zabeelionaire (35-1) fleshed out superfecta. Manawanui nowhere near the top finishers.
G1 Myer Classic—Race 7
Wow! Huge field of quality filly and mare milers here, beginning with 5-time G1 winner and top weight More Joyous; she won the G2 Tristarc last out, but niggling concern over recent comments by jock Nash Rawiller that she’s not the same powerhouse as she once was. She may be favored, but there are plenty of others here of interest, including 3-year-old G1-placed Mosheen who's getting a huge weight advantage over the older mares here, carrying only 108 pounds (17-18 lbs. less than every other entry). Personally, I'm thrilled (but surprised) to see the return of Banchee, a multiple G1 winner in New Zealand last year who last I heard was off to the breeding shed. Guess that didn’t happen, as she’s back here in a very tough spot (and bad barrier). At a price, Dysphonia could surprise, as she’s been progressing nicely this campaign, as has Response who also loves this track. I’m a huge fan of Sacred Choice, but not sure the 6-year-old isn’t a tad disappointing this spring.
UPDATE: Hurtle Myrtle wins, with Sacred Choice second, and Dysphonia a fast-closing third. More Joyous, Banchee both disappointing.
G2 Salinger Stakes—Race 8
Another straight track sprint, Stirling Grove could pull a shocker after his last out third-place performance behind Black Caviar and Karuta Queen; he’s 2 for 2 over this track, and this being his third start of the spring could be a revelation. Given her current form vs. Cox Plate winner Pinker Pinker, not to mention Sepoy and Curtana (who’s also in here), Mid Summer Music looks extremely good for a top two finish at least, as does Sister Madly. Rarefied also appears a strong top 4 chance. Loving the fillies and mares overall!
G3 Tab.Com.Au (Chatham) Stakes—Race 9
Turning back to 7-furlongs looks just the thing Toorak Toff needs, though he’s yet to place in two attempts over the Flemington straight track. Thankgodyou'rehere should likewise enjoy the cut back in distance (not to mention class). Doubtful Jack loves the track, but was so thoroughly thrashed by Black Caviar last week, it’s hard to visualize a miraculous return-to-form (it’s been awhile for this boy). On the other hand, Launay is undefeated in three starts at Flemington, and appears a real top four chance. Sentimentally, I’m on board Torio’s Quest, a damside descendent of Foolish Pleasure—a devastating G2 winner back in June, hopefully he’s back on track.