Racing continues through the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to the smart thinking and the discipline of the officials and participants.
The good news is that racing in New Zealand is set to return after the government eased its protocols. Horses have returned to training, and racing for all three codes is set to return on 1 July.
In Tasmania, the state government is considering a proposal to allow racing to return after locking it down four weeks ago.
This week the racing focus has turned to Adelaide, where the South Australian carnival continues at Morphettville racecourse with a big meeting featuring two Group 1 races – the $400,000 Schweppes (Australasian) Oaks (2000m, three-year-old fillies) and the $400,000 Robert Sangster Stakes (1200m, fillies and mares).
Both races have attracted strong fields and good betting on Sportsbet’s markets.
One of the highlights of the meeting is the clash between Sunlight and Away Game in the Robert Sangster Stakes – both are as tough as tungsten. Sunlight is the proven star performer and Away Game is trying to be the first two-year-old to win an open Group 1 race since Wiggle won the Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm in 1958.
The tracks at Morphettville and Sandown for Saturday will be affected by the recent heavy rain.
On Thursday, both courses were rated a heavy 9. Rain is easing in Adelaide, so there is a chance Morphettville will get into the soft range. Continuing downpours in Melbourne should ensure a heavy surface at Sandown.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) is predicting solid rain for Sydney on Thursday – with up to 15mm to fall – which will see the Randwick Kensington track move into the soft range, but no rain is expected to fall on Friday and Saturday. Bank on a good 4 track.
There was a bit of rain about in Brisbane on Thursday, so Doomben has been set as a soft 5. However, the BoM predicts it will be warm and sunny for Friday and Saturday, so expect it to get back to the good range.
Robert Sangster Stakes: Sunshine for Sunlight
The Group 1 Robert Sangster Stakes is the highlight of the Morphettville meeting in more ways than one.
It sees a clash between two of the toughest horses to race in recent years – the mare Sunlight and the sensational two-year-old filly Away Game.
At the time of writing, the pair dominate the Robert Sangster Stakes betting market, with Sunlight the favourite after firming from $3.30 in to $2.90. Away Game also has firmed from $6 into $4.60.
Sunlight, the winner of more than $6 million in prize money, deserves her place at the top of the betting. Importantly, she has a huge class edge on her rivals. Trainer Tony McEvoy told radio RSN on Thursday morning that the mare has ‘tightened up’ considerably since her first-up second behind Gytrash in the Irwin Stakes (1100m) at Morphettville on 18 April. Sunlight always takes a run or two to reach top form – her record second-up from a break reads three wins from four attempts, and she’s won seven of 11 tries at 1200m.
Away Game is trying to create some history as the first two-year-old to win the Robert Sangster Stakes. She has run in everything bar the Melbourne-to-Warrnambool bike race, but she has held her form. She has drawn barrier 4 and should get the right cover to be in the finish.
The other big chance is Group 1 The Galaxy winner I Am Excited, and she might be the value bet for punters.
Robert Sangster Stakes tips: Back the class in Sunlight, but have a save on I Am Excited.
Schweppes Oaks: Stick to Toffee Tongue
If you rate the Group 1 Australian Oaks form through the winner Colette, then you must rate Toffee Tongue’s chances to win the Group 1 Schweppes (Australasian) Oaks (2000m) at Morphettville.
Trained by Chris Waller, Toffee Tongue is a maiden, but in her past two starts she has chased home Colette in the Australian Oaks (2400m, Randwick) and in the Group 3 Adrian Knox Stakes (2000m, Randwick) seven days earlier.
Importantly, both those races were run on heavy tracks, which will be similar to the conditions she will face on Saturday. At the time of writing, the money has arrived, with the filly firming from $9 into $6.50 on the Schweppes Oaks betting market.
Jockey Damien Thornton, who rides Morphettville very well, should have Toffee Tongue perfectly positioned behind the speed from barrier 3.
It’s a strong race, though, with stablemates Nudge (fourth in the Australian Oaks), Betcha Flying (fourth in the Adrian Knox), Group 2 Edward Manifold winner Moonlight Maid and the promising Selica, Sierra Sue and Affair To Remember.
Schweppes Oaks tips: Happy to play Toffee Tongue each way, save on Nudge and a little tickle at the emergency Realm Of Flowers (if she gets into the field, obviously).
Morphettville: No pandemic pain for Zac Spain
Zac Spain is not a racing name that you’d expect to be prominent on a big Group 1 day, but even so, it has a nice ring to it.
You might just see this name in lights with a set of winners on Saturday at Morphettville, when the relatively unknown Melbourne jockey lines up for a fantastic book of rides – all thanks to the pandemic, with most of the big-name jockeys deciding to stay at home rather than put themselves into ‘quarantine’.
Spain has been isolating in Adelaide for the past two weeks to be available to ride at Morphettville, and he’s set to be a jockey to follow for punters wanting to bet at this meeting.
His rides in the first three races are on long shots, but he gets a terrific winning chance on Oceanex, the favourite in the Port Adelaide Cup (race 4). He follows that with a ride on the favourite Seabrook in the Queen Of The South Stakes, and the very smart Moonlight Maid could give him his first Group 1 win in the Schweppes Oaks.
Morphettville tips: Take a punt on Zac Spain, the unknown jockey, whose time it might be to shine.
The best of the rest: Horses and tips across Australia
Race 6, number 8 and 12: Xilong (trainer Tony and Calvin McEvoy) and I Am Eloquent (trainer Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young)
These two underrated fillies will fight out the Group 2 Euclase Stakes (1200m). Xilong gets the blinkers on and she has the strong form line through Probabeel and Funstar, which she came third behind in the Group 1 Surround Stakes (1400m) at Randwick in February.
I Am Eloquent looks to be over the odds here. She hasn’t raced since the spring, but she won the Listed Moloney Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield like a very good horse. She has trialled strongly leading in to this race and handles wet ground. Back them both.
Race 2, number 4: Rock Harbour (trainer David Jolly)
This looks a nice race for this gelding. He will appreciate the extra distance, the drop in class and the apprentice claim for Kayla Crowther. He has been specked at long odds.
Race 1, number 3: Rose Of Sebring (trainer David and Ben Hayes, and Tom Dabernig)
This filly sat on the pace and bolted in at Ballarat on heavy ground on 6 April. She gets wet ground again and, like most of the Sebring breed, she will giggle at the thought of ploughing through the Sandown mud.
Race 7, number 3: Final Man (trainer Nick Harnett)
In what is a very good off-season race for three-year-olds, there’s a lot to like about Final Man’s chances of upsetting the favourites Ancestry and Masked Crusader. The gelding is unbeaten on wet ground – three from three – and he’s proven around Sandown. Drawing barrier 17 is no disadvantage either.
Race 1, number 1: Wild Ruler (trainer Peter and Paul Snowden)
The exciting Wild Ruler returns from a spell with the aim of a Brisbane campaign. He won the Inglis Nursery with his only start back in December and he has trialled brilliantly leading into this race.
Race 8, number 14: The Sinner (trainer Natalie McCall)
Looks a very good each-way bet. Was sent out as the favourite and ran into trouble when ninth at the Sunshine Coast on 15 April. Impressive winning at Eagle Farm back in February and will be fit and ready for this. Drops 4kg.