There’s a Cox Plate to die for, a Caulfield Stakes looking almost as good, a Melbourne Cup promising a boost in European talent, a handful of fortunes and stud careers to be made or lost, and a hundred other plotlines.
As the Sydney Swans and a Parramatta would say, thank God the footy’s done and we can focus on racing and the spring carnival. For the first edition since Charles III took the throne, the sport of kings is king.
Some of the greatest names on turf will be pitched into the heat of battle, the likes of Anamoe, I’m Thunderstruck, Zaaki, Alligator Blood, and Royal Ascot conquerer Nature Strip – ranked the third-best horse in the world – who’ll be seeking a second win in Sydney’s big sprint, The Everest.
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Epsom finishes in dead heat | 01:21
There’s a hot new potential star with a crooked leg in I Wish I Win, a four-year-old trained by Peter Moody who’s sweeping all before him despite a foreleg his breeder says “looks like it was put on wrong”.
Other new stars will be crowned, particularly from the crop of three-year-olds who’ll be staking their claims to glory, in one of the most intriguing annual rites of racing.
And of course tens of millions will be up for grabs in prizemoney across Melbourne and Sydney, in a miniscule fraction of what we’ll all, though not each, invest very responsibly on the punt.
The action has in fact been bubbling along through a few weeks and several Group 1s already, but it swings into top gear this weekend in Melbourne, with Caulfield Guineas day.
While older contenders are warming up for bigger targets like the Cox Plate and the Cups, some of the nation’s finest three-year-olds line up for the most important assignment of their lives in the Guineas. It’s a cracking event over 1600m, or a mile in the old, which is worth $3 million prizemoney, but is in fact worth a lot more. That’s because it’s one of this country’s two major “stallion makers”. As with Sydney’s Golden Slipper for two-year-olds, the Guineas winner will have his value for a future stud career multiplied many times – provided he’s still a colt of course.
After this, the Saturdays line up like awe-inducing Oscar statues, only more mouth-watering. Here’s our guide to the best time of year!
CAULFIELD GUINEAS DAY
This Saturday, October 8, at Caulfield, Melbourne.
First run in 1881, the Caulfield Guineas has long been one of the most important events in Australian racing and the extremely lucrative world of breeding, which is where some crazy money can be made.
Winning the Guineas often means a stud farm will put a syndicate together to purchase the victorious colt, for something like $40m or $50m, then stand him at stud where he can really turn a profit. Take 2020 winner Ole Kirk. Last year, in his first season at stud, he successfully mated with 140 mares, which sounds like fun, at $55,000 a pop, which is nearly $8 million. Give him 10 seasons at stud and you’re well in front. But while that fee could drop if he proves more dud than stud, it can also rise sharply. Australia’s current champion sire I Am Invincible covered 193 mares last spring at $220,000 a go.
So, you get the picture: this is a very big minute-and-a-half in sport, where millions can be made or missed, sometimes by millimetres.
This year’s edition has been robbed of its long-time favourite Aft Cabin, a gun colt from Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin/Darley racing and breeding empire, who went amiss last week and had to be scratched. No matter – the Sheikh’s stable also has Golden Mile, a colt by the same sire from that empire, Astern (who ironically is their cheapest stallion at just $11,000 … set before his two sons started kicking goals this season, and likely to rise next year).
Golden Mile bolted in at Rosehill two starts back. He then managed only fourth in another 3YO highlight, the Golden Rose, at the same track on September 24 – whose exciting winner Jacquinot has steered away from the Guineas to be aimed instead at the Everest and its insane $15 million pot.
Despite rising 200m to 1600m this time, Golden Mile is a short favourite at around the $2.70 mark with Pointsbet. Part of that’s due to having the world’s best jockey on his back, James “J Mac” Mcdonald, who’d probably be a decent chance if he took Phar Lap out of his glass box to nearby Flemington.
Second-fave at around $5.50 is Berkeley Square, who’s won three of four up to 1400m, and could provide a win for the battlers against the might of Godolphin. He’s trained by Ballarat’s Dan O’Sullivan, who has 27 horses on his books, compared to the 256 of Godolphin has under its head Australian trainer James “Grandson of Bart” Cummings (and many times that around the world). He’s by another Godolphin/Darley stallion even less fashionable than Astern was – a Europe-to-Australia shuttler called Territories, who covered 23 mares here last season at $11,000 and hasn’t been asked back. If Berkely Square wins it’ll be cheered by the little guy, though perhaps not so much by the breeding industry, since he’s already a gelding and so won’t be going to stud anywhere.
It’s a Guineas which may lack some of the form of past editions – especially last year’s won by the now mighty Anamoe. But as always there’ll be some future stars competing, perhaps the well-bred Meridius (by young boom sire Extreme Choice), Sir Bailey, the first foal of outstanding Caulfield Cup winner Jameka, Bank Maur, by the super Japanese sire Maurice, or third-favourite Tijuana, a colt who could not only boost his own stud prospects but those of his sire American Pharoah, who won the US Triple Crown but is waiting for his first exceptional horse as a sire out here.
It’s a mighty, historic, race meeting all told. Two other races carry the apex status of Group 1 (Group 2, Group 3, and Listed races make up the four tiers of “Stakes” racing, or “Black Type”, so called because of the bold print that will appear in catalogues at yearling sales, describing the achievements, and so the worth, of a yearling’s ancestors).
Another G1 is the Caulfield Stakes, which had a name change last year to the Might And Power Stakes, a $1m race over 2000m. First run in 1886 and won by many greats of the turf, it’s a key lead-up to the Cox Plate, over roughly the same distance and under the same weight-for-age (WFA) conditions given most premium races – where horses carry weights according to age, not ability like in handicaps, meaning the best rise to the top.
And it’s a beauty. There’s a gang of exceptional WFA middle distance performers around at present, and before they meet again in the Cox Plate, they’ll do it again here. Four-year-old stallion Anamoe is currently favourite at around $2.30, shooting for his third straight win this campaign. In competition are an eight-year-old gelding seeking to hang on to his crown, Zaaki ($4.80), five-year-old gelding I’m Thunderstruck ($6), Alligator Blood ($6) – who defied this lot last time they went around over 1800m two weeks ago, the horse he beat into second that day Mo’unga ($12) and Mr Brightside ($15), who’d won three on end before a fifth that day.
The third G1 is a handicap, but an esteemed one first run in 1886 – the Toorak Handicap, over 1600m.
And this year it’s dominated by one of the more exciting horses to have burst onto the scene lately in I Wish I Win. Prepared by Black Caviar’s trainer Peter Moody, and ridden by her regular jockey Luke Nolan, the four-year-old has won his two starts in blistering style since crossing from New Zealand. He was born with his left front leg jutting out on an angle of about 20 degrees. This meant he couldn’t be offered at a sale, which has turned out a blessing for breeder Mark Chittick, from the renowned Waikato Stud. “The leg hasn’t straightened up that much, but it has strengthened,” he said last week. It takes all types. The gelding is drawn a slightly tricky wide barrier in 13, but is a dominant $2.70 favourite, with the next-shortest Tuvalu at $8.
There are several other Black Type races on the card include the Herbert Power Stakes (2400m), a lead-up to the Caulfield Cup over the same trip.
At Sydney’s Randwick, meanwhile, it will be Silver Eagle day, in keeping with the plethora of races that have sprung up in the Wet City in recent years, mostly with weird names.
It’s a race for four-year-olds over 1300m worth $1 million, held as a lead-up to the Golden Eagle later on. It’s drawn a 14-horse field headed by emerging Team Hawkes trained stallion Mr Mozart at around $4, with the mare Startantes ($7.50) seeking to strike a blow for the females as second favourite.
Jockey elbows fellow rider, cops ban! | 00:18
2. CAULFIELD CUP / EVEREST DAY
Caulfield / Randwick, Saturday October 15
After the G1 Thousand Guineas for fillies at Caulfield on the Wednesday, here’s one of the top racedays in the nation.
The Caulfield Cup, is one of Australia’s oldest and most esteemed events, a $5m handicap over 2400m, or a mile-and-a-half, first held in 1879, and which is of course one of the two “Big Cups”, being the major lead-up to the big big one, the Melbourne Cup.
Supported by several lesser stakes races, the Caulfield Cup shapes as an intriguing tussle, with Smokin’ Romans current favourite at $4, ahead of Godolphin’s Alegron ($11) and European import Gold Trip ($11). Smokin’ Romans had looked a decent horse in winning three races last winter – the “off-season” – but has gone bang this spring, taking a G3 before the G1 Turnbull Stakes last start. Alegron looks a tough stayer in the making for Godolphin, having had not much luck in the major 3YO races but coming into his own at four. And Gold Trip is one of the classiest types to come out from Europe, having run in some major races there, and is showing signs of at last living up to that in Australia.
Northwards there’s The Everest, a 1200m sprint first run in 2017, and which is worth $15m, making it Australia’s richest race and the richest on turf in the world (there’s a couple bigger on dirt, foremost the Saudi Cup, worth the equivalent of $27 million). Nature Strip is the current red hot $2 favourite and looks likely to win. Victory would push his prizemoney to a cool $25.26 million, pretty close to the record $26.45m of Winx.
There’s a good bit of nonsense spoken and written here in Sydney around this time of year. One of the city’s columnists this week posed the question: “What’s Bigger The Everest Or The Melbourne Cup?” The absent punctuation was less galling than the suggestion the 1200m special conditions, five-years-old Everest may indeed have fulfilled what the hypemeisters are trying to convince us of – that it had become bigger than the Cup, not just Australia’s greatest race but its grandest, most enduring cultural institution, first run in 1861. It’s just not, and never will be. But it is a terrific, compelling sprint race, unarguably one of the top few in the land in the weight-for-age 1200m space. This much is certain: it has the most prizemoney, and the most hype, of any race we have. Can we turn all the noise and bluster down and be happy with that?
3. COX PLATE DAY
Moonee Valley, Melbourne, Saturday October 22
After the G1 sprint, the Manikato Stakes the night before, here’s what they call the best two minutes in sport, and with good reason. It’s the WFA championship of Australasia. While the Melbourne Cup attracts the most interest from the nation’s population, this event is for the racing purist.
Worth $5m and run over 2040m, it’s been won by a mouth-watering list of champions, including Phar Lap, Rising Fast, Tulloch, Kingston Town, Makybe Diva and Winx, to leave out quite a few.
This year’s looks like a classic. The aforementioned Gang of Six are entered and are in the market – in order Anamoe, Zaaki, Alligator Blood, I’m Thunderstruck, Mr Brightside and Mo’unga. But there’s also an intriguing European visitor in El Bodegon, currently at $11, while I Wish I Win is also nominated, at $13.
Cox Plate Day also features a Melbourne Cup lead-up, in the Moonee Valley Cup.
Meanwhile, Randwick will host the G1 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) for three-year-olds,. Golden Mile ($6.50) is favourite for that too. And there’s another pop-up race, this one called The Invitation, a $2 million 1400m event for fillies and mares which, as it’s name suggests, will each be invited to compete by a panel of people (hence, again, it can’t qualify to have Black Type status).
4. VICTORIA DERBY / GOLDEN EAGLE DAY
Flemington, Melbourne / Rosehill, Saturday October 29
The biggest day on the Australian turf takes place at Flemington, with the Derby and three other G1s. The $2m Derby (2500m) is the time-honoured test for staying three-year-olds and, being first run in 1855, is in fact six years older than the Melbourne Cup. It’s always a highlight of the year, having been won by such champions as Phar Lap, Tulloch, Tobin Bronze and Red Anchor.
But the day also features another key stallion-maker, the $2m Coolmore Stud Stakes, up the 1200m Flemington straight, plus other G1s in the $2m Kennedy Cantala, a 1600m handicap, and the $1m Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) for fillies and mares. There’s also the G3 Hotham Handicap (2500m), the famed last-chance to qualify for the Melbourne Cup.
Meanwhile, Sydney’s Rosehill holds the Golden Eagle, a set-weights event for four-year-olds over 1500m which first popped up in 2019, again with no group status, but has still had a prizemoney boost this year – from $7.5m to $10m. I Wish I Win is entered for this one as well, and is current favourite at $6, ahead of the mare Hinged ($7.50).
There’s also a 1300m sprint named after the previous year’s Everest winner, so this year it’s the Nature Strip Stakes, worth $1m, which first happened in 2019.
Nature Strip returns to Royal Randwick | 00:50
5. MELBOURNE CUP DAY
Flemington, Tuesday, November 2
The jewel in the crown, the race that needs no hyping-up. The great handicap, over two miles, or 3200m, at headquarters. Won by the likes of Phar Lap, Carbine and Makybe Diva, and in the past few decades turned into one of the great international races of the world. Europeans Deauville Legend ($8) and Loft ($9) head the market at present. Last year the Europeans largely stayed away, owing to strict new rules on vet checks demanded by authorities here before they came. This year it’s hoped a stronger batch will come, with connections more familiar with what they now have to go through. Crack staying mare Duais ($15) is the leading Australian contender.
Randwick will host another new race, this one called The Big Dance, which is a 1600m handicap worth $2m, open to the first two home in a series of qualifying races.
6. VRC OAKS DAY
Flemington, Thursday, November 3
The big 2500m G1 staying test for three-year-old fillies on Ladies’ Day at headquarters. Markets to largely be decided after the Wakeful Stakes on Derby Day.
7. MACKINNON STAKES DAY
Flemington, Saturday, November 5
The last day of Flemington’s four-day carnival, highlighted by the G1 WFA Mackinnon Stakes (2000m), first held in 1869. Some Cox Plate runners are likely to back up for this $2m event. There’s a second G1 in the $3m Darley Sprint Classic, up the straight 1200m, for which Nature Strip is currently the $2 favourite.