Tag Archives: Australia

Preview: 2018 Melbourne Cup

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A cocky headline: “Here’s Your Winner!” – that was it for the Melbourne Cup preview exactly twelve months ago. Oh how good that felt, when half a night of sleep later Rekindling landed the big pot at 14/1!

Now, up until then it had been a solid decade of failed attempts to find the winner in the race that stops a nation. So I can hardly claim of having magic power if it comes to making a winning selection. But sometimes you have this feeling of certainty. You simply know it…. the 6th November of 2017 it was exactly that.

Do I know this time as well? No. Plain and simple.

This year is incredibly competitive. There are a good seven or eight horses on my shortlist. Three from the list I fancy significantly more than the others. And two of them I’m most confident will be in the money, granted they get a run for it.

It certainly isn’t my cup of tea punting the favourite. Less so in the Melbourne Cup. Guess what? Yucatan is my selection. As he’s on the drift throughout the day already, his price finally reached a point where I have to conclude: too big!

I get why there is increased negativity around the once-Derby-fancy. Suddenly the commentary of “it’s been only a single good run” become much louder, as all the experts get their opinions out there with the race approaching ever so slowly. The wide draw has done the rest. Oh, and the ground. Rain is coming. How much? How will it impact the going conditions? Hard to say. This bit of uncertainty doesn’t help.

What is certain: Yucatan never lived up to the 12-1 quotes he received for the Epsom Derby more than a year ago. He never had the chance to do so, missing the big one, but also endured issue after issue ever since. Aiden O’Brien alluded as much in recent days:

“Yucatan was a horse we couldn’t really get 100 per cent right through the whole year.”

In honesty, judging him by this 2018 European form he’s not a Melbourne Cup favourite. A Group 3 success over 1m 2f and a Group 3 third place finish over 1m 4f behind smart Eziyra can be considered decent form, yet it’s far from exciting.

Nonetheless, Yucatan always remained a talented individual, who only would need to get a clear run of form and the right conditions – that what connections always felt. For some horses this day never comes. For Yucatan it did. And boy, it id!

First start in Lloyd Williams colours Down Under at Caulfield in the Herbert Power Stakes  last month: it seemed Yucatan is a different horse to what he was only a few weeks earlier in Europe. Was it the sun? The ground? The change of scenery? Maybe a bit of everything.

The dramatic mid-race-move from the back of the field, while always travelling three wide, to take it up from 3f out, leaving the rest of the field standing still, jockey James McDonald pulling him up with half a furlong to go….  visually this was one of the most stunning performances you’ll ever see in Group company.

The question is, of course, what is it worth? I’d argue it’s worth more than some people want to make us believe.

True, those in second and third are no world beaters. But the third, Prince Of Arran, was a 111 rated individual in the UK, who ran a massive race when runner-up in the Northumberland Plate earlier this year, and who followed up on his third behind Yucatan with a fine victory in a Group 3 at Flemington earlier this week! Dismissing this rival so easily rates as pretty significant in my book.

Significant also the comments by Aiden O’Brien – usually not the type of character who’d give a lot away beyond the “he’s well” mantra. For him it’s rather bullish stating:

“The way it fell, it looked like he was going to really suit the Melbourne Cup but he was too low in the weights, so we he had to win to get in, and we saw what happened. … He looks on a very good mark.”

He looks indeed! A nice weight, not a nice draw, though. Statistics say it’s near impossible to win from gate 23. This year might be different. Pace is drawn close to him and might give him a nice lead to follow early in the race. Obviously you don’t wanna burn too much fuel early on either, given we aren’t sure whether he truly stays the new trip. On the other hand, drifting back into the pack will mean he’d need all the luck in the world – something you surely don’t want to rely on if you’re on the best horse in the field.

In saying that, whether he’ll appreciate the extra furlongs is the main question mark for me. I never looked like he’s crying out for, to be honest. But he’s by Galileo. So there is always a fair chance he does get the distance. So, if his chances aren’t ruined after the start hen I’m fairly confident we will see Yucatan go extremely close in the 2018 Melbourne Cup.
I mentioned at the beginning of this preview that there are two horses I feel extremely positive about. Yucatan is one. Cross Counter is the other one. A lightly raced three-year-old finding his way into the race with the benefit of a featherweight. Where have we heard this story before? Yep, right – Rekindling!

It’d argue this lad is at least as good as last years winner. For a start, he’s achieved the second highest time speed rating of all in this field. Only Cliffs Of Moher bettered this – last year in the Derby. I’m not sure if I trust that particular figure, nor whether COM is able to reproduce anything like it ever again; however, Cross Counter has run to 106 and 107 subsequently in his last two starts. Surely this guy is on the up and still improving, if not already top class.

His Gordon Stakes success at Goodwood over the summer was scintillating; overturned as a short-priced favourite the next time in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, he was staying on strongly to be only beaten by a head eventually. Not a bad race either, given the third, Kew Gardens, followed up with an impressive success in the Doncaster St. Leger!

No doubt, Cross Counter was still learning his craft. He often looked a little bit raw; but he’s approaching his eight lifetime start now – he should have learned plenty.

Trip and draw are the main question marks. He’s also wider drawn than ideal. Hopefully, like with Yucatan, he can get a nice lead by the pace around him to tow him toward the front of the field. Trip wise, of course, you never find out until you run them – in saying that, the way he ran on in the closing stages at York are a positive indicator that the trip might be within his range.

Given his official rating of 114, he isn’t far off the best European raiders already, however his featherweight off eight stone should be a tremendous advantage.

 

So, there we have it: two selections for the race that stops a nation. I’m not as confident as last year. Simply because of the draw situation and because there are few others in the field you have to take quite serious: last years co-favourite Marmelo and Chester Cup hero Magic Circle are dangerous. The main threat, though, should be impressive Ebor winner Muntahaa. He’s top class and will run big if his temperament holds up.

Selection:
10pts win – Yucatan @ 6.2/1 MB
10pts win – Cross Counter @ 8.4/1 MB

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2017 Melbourne Cup – When You Get It Right!

And so it happened: “…screams of joy when Rekindling strolls over the line as the winner of the 2017 Melbourne Cup!”

This warm feeling deep inside when you get it right. For once. Finally. Pure joy. Well, in the grand scheme of things it’s just another race. Money in, money out of the bank. But then it isn’t. Cause it’s the Melbourne Cup!

The race that stops a nation.

It really does. Take a look at this incredible graph. Money simply stops flowing during the time the horses thunder down Flemington Racecourse.

The buildup to the race was massive. It always is. it soaks me right in. Goosebumps. They do it so well over there. It feels special. Feels like you witness a World Cup Final.

That’s the thing: the Melbourne Cup is not the best race in the world. Far from it. It’s a glorified Handicap after all. But know what? It FEELS like it’s the one and only race that really matters on the planet!

The perfect ride…

Corey Brown you star! Here you saw why it pays off to have a local jockey booked. True, Rekindling had the perfect draw and got all the breaks when needed. Others didn’t. But that’s also credit to the man on board. He’s got to make the crucial decisions.

He could have hurried Rekindling up right after the start. He didn’t. He let him settle, wasted as little energy as possible. Knowing he was in a good spot, right on the rail. Saving valuable meters while safely covered by the field. He let the colt go with the flow.

Rekindling didn’t seem to know he was in a race until approaching the home turn, when Brown steered him through an opening gap, following the incredibly well travelling Johannes Vermeer.

Once in the clear, asked for full effort, Rekindling was never going to stop. He stays the two miles, chasing down Johannes Vermeer who went into unknown territory. He stayed too, mind you. But was maybe a tick too early in front. And of course the weight. He carried 3kg more. At the end of a premier staying contest this can and did make all the difference.

For a three year old to win the Cup – particularly for a pony that Rekindling is, compared to some other much more imposing rivals in the field – it was a special achievement. Not a surprise to me. Cause I told ya!

Can he do it again?

Enough the self-praise. It’s fair to say Rekindling got the run of his life. Everything worked. Everything! Pinch perfect. Can he do it again? Honestly I doubt it.

If he attempts to defend his crown – and why wouldn’t he – he’ll have to do it with an awful lot more weight on his back.

As mentioned before, Rekindling is rather smallish in stature. There is not a massive frame to fill any further. No WFA for him next year. The handicapper will put him up. Probably not as perfect a draw as this year? Gaps may not open when he needs it? It’ll be a difficult task.

The unlucky ones…

Arguably two individuals I feel were incredibly unlucky not to finish closer were Max Dynamite and  Nakeeta. Willie Mullins’ raider had a lot going for himself in terms of draw and position throughout the race.

The runner-up of the 2015 Cup, however, was asked for a big effort turning for home, in an attempt to get first run on the chasing pack. That move seemed smart, yet came to an abrupt end approaching the home straight. For a couple of strides Max Dynamite had nowhere to go, lost valuable momentum and ground.

Would he have won with a clear passage? Maybe not. But he sure would have gone closer than he already did. Finishing in third.

Obviously the case of Nakeeta is an easy one. A rather poor draw, far back in the field, still way closer to trailing the entire field than winning with 500 meters to go – he really had to work his way through the field and maneuvering around tiring horses. An impossible task.

The fact he finished 5th speaks volumes of how far this years Ebor winner has come. Honorary mention also to the 6th finishing Thomas Hobson. He was another one who had an awful lot to do – too much.

Have a look here: This birds-eye-view tells the story of the race in the most compelling way. It shows impressively how and why the first the first four home were all drawn between stall two and five. It shows how difficult if not impossible it was to make up ground from the back of the field and how a wide draw compromised chances to a minimum.

It shows why Rekindling enjoyed the run of his life. A first Melbourne Cup success for Joseph O’Brien. Something his father never achieved and was denied once more – this time only by his own son.

Photo Credit: RTE.ie

Melbourne Cup Preview – Here’s Your Winner!

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The race that stops a nation…. or the race that disrupts my sleep. Yep, it’s back – the one and only Melbourne Cup!

Thankfully only once a year. Getting up at 3.30am on a regular basis is probably not recommended. Nonetheless, Tuesday morning I will. All in the name of my favourite race on this beautiful planet!

Not because I’ve ever been particularly successful finding the winner. I have not. But because the build-up. The atmosphere. The enormity of the whole event. It’s special.

One day I gonna be there. To see it with my own eyes. Wide awake and alert. Unlike tomorrow morning. When I watch on with red eyes.

As close as I ever came to the mecca that Flemington is: I drove passed it with a rental car earlier this year on a trip to Australia.

Let’s talk about the actual race: off at 4am Irish time. Here’s hoping my neighbours are prepared for the screams of joy when Rekindling strolls over the line as the winner of the 2017 Melbourne Cup!

You see I get right into it. No dwelling. A full take on every single horse can be found in this excellent guide. I’ve already made up my mind and tell you why.

I’m all in on Rekindling. In past years I always backed multiple horses in the race. Didn’t do me any good. Only the bookies were smiling. This year I pin all my hopes on the Joseph O’Brien trained three year old colt.

But let’s move all the negative factors out of the way first: no doubt there are a handful of good reasons why this lad won’t get anywhere near the money tomorrow morning. Some smarter people than I am are probably right if they say Rekindling had a long season, the Cup is a mere afterthought on the back of an excellent Ledger performance and therefore he’ll find this really tough.

Rekindling is not a particularly imposing individual in terms of physical presence either. He didn’t have a prep run Down Under. And he’s a galloping sort who might not enjoy the start-stop nature of the race.

All fair points. However at 14/1 I am prepared to take a chance on Rekindling, fully aware I will likely go back to sleep at roughly 4.30am after yet another Cup disappointment.

But hold on, let’s hear for all the good reasons why Rekindling will win the 2017 Melbourne Cup:

Weight, Class and Ratings. He’s a classy 116 rated individual, a multiple pattern class winner and was only 2 lengths beaten – and in my view unlucky not to get closer – when 4th in the English St. Leger.

He gets into the Cup with a featherweight thanks to WFO, however on Aussie terms is actually a four year old. He’s got as little as 8st 2lb to carry. He’s third highest ranked in terms of time speed and Racing Post Ratings. Granted, the merit of these ratings is questionable for obvious reasons – it still is another little piece in the puzzle.

The draw. It could hardly be any better. Stall 4 gives every opportunity. Not allot of energy needs to be wasted early on, as long Rekindling breaks alright. Which he should.

Form. An  impressive winner of the Curragh Cup, and an equally as impressive 4th in the English St. Leger. A performance I rate particularly highly. That is because he came from a long way back that day, trailing for most parts, and when travelling strongly on the bridle over three furlongs out, he did not get a clear run and lost valuable momentum and ground as a consequence.

Yet he produced the joint fastest sectionals for the last four furlongs and finished in fourth, only 2 lengths behind Capri. That form in its own right is strong, but has already been franked multiple times.

I also don’t subscribe to the fact Rekindling would not be suited to the start-stop nature of the Melbourne Cup. In fact this lad is not a mere galloping sore who travels strongly and grinds things out. No, he has pace and a turn of foot. He showed it quite clearly when producing a superb effort over 10 furlongs in the lowly ran Ballysax Stakes earlier this year.

Now, I do really love the chance of this horse. I understand why people compare him to Bondi Beach in last years Cup. However I feel Rekindling is a different animal altogether.

I strongly believe he’s more for than against him – with one only concern: he’s usually held up. Here’s hoping Rekindling will be utilized to full effect from his positive draw and does not settle farther off the pace than midfield.

I readily admit that it is a huge ask, nonetheless. And the field is incredibly competitive. I do not quite buy into the hype of Marmelo and find it hard to see Almandin doing it all again – however Red Cardinal would be my absolute prime chance in this race – if not for the wide draw.

Now this must not be a problem necessarily given he’ll settle off the pace anyways, regardless of the draw. Still, he’ll be too far back I fear. Max Dynamite, if fully fit – and he looked good during his comeback run – is another one to like a lot. The runner-up of 2015 has even less weight to carry this time round.

Tiberian, despite a wide draw, might be able to cross over as there seems not too much early pace here. If so, he’s a dangerous horse. Hugo Palmer’s Wall Of Fire had the perfect preparation – he’s a major player.

Nonetheless, it’s Rekindling or nothing for me. And what a story it would be. Joseph O’Brien in his first season as a trainer winning the Melbourne Cup – a feast his record breaking father never achieved? Go son, go!

Selection:
20171107flm040022 10pts win – Rekindling @ 14/1 William Hill

Racecourse Review: Canterbury Park

What a day here in Sydney – it’s my first day in the big city on the East Coast of Australia; a day literally drowned in rain! So instead of a walking tour and ferry trip along the world renowned Harbour Bridge It’s plan B:  the opportunity to visit local race track Canterbury Park!

Parking on-site, no problem. A gentlemen pulls up beside me. “This the public car park?”…. “Seems so”. We walk together – he tells me he’s English, loves Cheltenham, but lives “Down Under” for a while and comes racing today, on this desperate day, to support a friend, who owns a horse that runs today. Oh, and he went with Martin Pipe to school – same class, he says!

I It’s still raining. In fact it’ll never stop. At least it’s free to get in. The ground upgraded to a Heavy 10  – whatever that means. Heavy is heavy? Anyway, I fight against the weather. Whenever there is only a slight chance of not getting totally soaked in seconds, I jump out, the camera in my hands, and shot, cleaned the lens, shot and back to seek cover.

I have to say it was impressive that the meeting was not abandonment. Ground staff must have be doing some magic with all the rain. Lest we forget the ongoing thunderstorms.

On a day like this, mid-week, atrocious weather conditions, naturally there’ll be only some die-hard racing fans or gamblers making there way to a track. That says there was zero atmosphere, though I’ve been told Friday nights under the floodlights can be pretty special.

Photo Gallery – Canterbury Park, AUS – 7th June 2017; © Florian Christoph:

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Saturday Night’s Racing Talk

The Nakayama Grand Jump is quite something! Starting stalls, quirky fences and an idiosyncratic course layout that sees the horses constantly confronted with twists and turns – a bit like what we are used to see in the Cross-Country Chase. It certainly is a tremendous spectacle.

Today the 18th running of what is one of the richest prizes in jump racing (worth about €1 Million) took place at Nakayama Racecourse.

The race went to the red hot favourite Oju Chosan, who is currently Japan’s leading jumps horse and who defended his crown with this rather comfortable victory, winning back to back the Grand Jump.

Take a look at the race below:

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Racing on a bridge? I thought I’ve seen and heard a lot of different and interesting ideas if it comes to reinvigorating horse racing to make it attractive to a wider and younger audience. But racing on a bridge? Well, that’s new!

But yes, that’s right, the Aussies wanna race next year on the world famous Sydney Harbour Bridge! This spectacle shall coincide with the world’s richest turf race, the $10 million Everest, which will be held at Randwick in October 2018.

And it won’t stop there according to Olly Neil from the English company GAG 403 who have invented a portable racetrack system that can be quickly laid and removed:

“We will create a global circuit of horse racing events with high-quality local horses thundering down iconic city streets ridden by the world’s top jockeys.”

Now, that sounds ambitious. Let’s first get this Sydney thing under way? At this stage I find it hard to believe, though the idea makes sense and sounds exciting. To say it with a famous commentators call during a game of Australia’s national sport, Aussie Rules Football: I see it, but I don’t believe it!

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5.05 Southwell: Class 6 Handicap, 1m 4f

Keith Dalgleish’s Dirty Randy is an interesting handicap debutante. He didn’t show a lot in three maidens last season which all came in quick succession, hinting connections were keen to get the runs into him to qualify for a hopefully lenient opening mark.

The Handicapper – that is fair to say – has not taken any chances and allotted Dirty Randy a rating of 60, which, for what he has done so far, is harsh. Shouldn’t the handicapper allocate marks for what horses have actually achieved without taking into account whether improvement may come in the future over different trips and surfaces?

Well, anyway, let’s focus on the race. Given Dirty Randy was never going to be a miler but more with a future over middle distance trips he might still have a fairly good chance to outrun his opening mark.

A drastic step up in trip to 12f should see him certainly in better light than in those maiden races. He hails from a successful family that generally tends to do better with age and the further they go, so it’s fair to assume Dirty Randy could develop into a decent horse.

He was never to enjoy the fast All-Weather surface at Newcastle, however his sire has shown his offspring can outrun the odds at the slower and more demanding Southwell fibresand.

So things fall right here for Dirty Randy in that sense, with trip and track likely to suit. He likely to be sharp enough on his seasonal reappearance, with cheek-pieces fitted for the first time. A fine 5lb claimer makes life a bit easier.

The Dalglish yard goes pretty well at the moment and it looks significant that Dirty Randy has two more entries for next week, which may suggest they hope for a strong run here to turn him out quickly again.

Selection:
10pts win – Dirty Randy @ 5/1 PP

Photo Gallery – Coolmore Stud Ireland

I had the chance to visit Coolmore Stud this weekend. Usually not open to the general public, but the Curragh Racecourse thankfully organized a wonderful trip for its members.I have to say it was a once in a lifetime experience to get close to some of the best racehorses & stallions on the planet. Find my photos from this trip below – click photos to enlarge.