And so, we’ve reached the end of this year’s edition of Spring Speckies. Normally you’d expect to be excited about reaching the pointy end of things and getting the opportunity to run the rule over ‘The Big 3’… but this year one can’t help but feel a little deflated.
Last year, buoyed by the strength of the local brigade we gazed into the crystal ball and hypothesized about the likes of Castelvecchio ‘taking off at the school’ in the Cox Plate, and the re-invention of the Aussie bred stayer with our best ‘Roughie’ Vow and Declare taking out the Melbourne Cup.
With the idea of visiting Victoria, both from local ports and overseas, looking increasingly unappealing, once again there seems little point in previewing the visitors, so we best stick to the locals, but it will be without the same enthusiasm we did last year.
That said, they might be the only ones we have to pick from, so let’s get into it.
W.S. Cox Plate
Arcadia Queen: Back in the hands of Grant Williams who already has a small but select team set up over the Victorian border in preparation for the Spring, the rising 5yo mare has officially had the reset button pressed on her career with this race as her firm target. It was always a radical plan to bypass the Melbourne Spring and chase the new (and at one time seemingly endless) riches of the Sydney carnival, and her three starts netted her a stakes win plus another half a mill in unplaced runner subsidies. A pass mark, but overall the Waller experiment was a failure by her lofty standards. Whilst this may have proved the Kiwi expat trainer is human after all, the fact she was able to win over 1300m, then get within five lengths of one of the best sprint fields we’ve seen in decades, surely speaks volumes of her raw ability. Already a Group 1 winner against the boys when she was just 3yo in The Kingston Town, you have to feel they are pulling the right rein here and like she was before The Everest plan was hatched, she’s entitled to be at the top of the Cox Plate markets. With the uncertainty around international travel, and a lack of genuine middle distance weight for age stars of our own, you could do a lot worse than snatch her up at double figure odds.
Verry Elleegant: She’s about as close to a WFA star as we’ve got. Certainly acquitted herself well at the back end of the Autumn where it took an international visitor to stand in her way of clean sweeping the three middle distance features. Whilst she was well beaten in this race last year, there can be no doubt she was a different beast come the Autumn and really fulfilled the promise we saw in her at 3yo. Proven on all going, Macdonald knows her like the back of his hand and has shown she has an adaptable racing pattern, making her a sound long range betting prospect as you don’t have to factor in wet tracks or bad draws into your risk/reward scenarios. Clear pick for ‘The Banker’.
Fierce Impact: Speaking of horses furnishing in the last twelve months, this bloke was just a stakes horse on his best day come the end of the Brisbane winter, but come the end of the Sydney autumn, he was a dual G1 Handicap winner, and twice placed at Group 1 WFA. A Group 3 Summer Cup winner out to 2000m, and his record the Melbourne way of going is exemplary. Probably the most improved galloper in the country over the past year, he has some appeal at juicy double figure odds.
Kolding: One you would have been sure to entertain at the end of last Spring after his back to back Epsom/Golden Eagle wins. Why he didn’t come up for the Autumn is anyone’s guess. Tried both ways of going, on all going, but was certainly below his best. All reports out of Rosehill is that he is working the joint down and not only back to near his peak, but is actually going better than ever. If he is able to recapture his Epsom form, which saw him hold off a fast finishing Te Akau Shark, then that should stack up pretty well against this lot. And at the current quote you don’t need to have a lot on.
A fair few in the market for this that would appear they’ll be going around in the Caulfield Cup the week prior or if they do back up, it will be as an afterthought after not firing in the mile and a half race. Of the rest, Funstar is well found in the market and for good reason. She was one of the stars of her classy 3yo brigade and she has the right racing pattern for a race like this. The winner of last season’s All-Star Mile, Regal Power looks likely to target this, however I’m yet to be convinced of the strength of form out of that novelty race on what I’ve seen so far. Not a lot else there.
Like Arcadia Queen to bounce back here. I’m confident she would have run top four in last years race had she headed that way, and with the top three not being there this year, that looks good enough for me. There can be no doubt Verry Elleegant is an improved version of what went around in this race last year whilst Fierce Impact is now a proven genuine WFA performer. If Arcadia Queen doesn’t aim up, they’re her main two dangers. Most of the gun four year olds will do their racing in Sydney, whilst I think a horse like Overlord or King’s Legacy could be the fly in the ointment 3yo down on the minimum.
The markets are headed here by a string of the soon to be 4yo crop. We covered off on their chances in Part II of this article. Let’s have a look at what’s left of the local hopes.
Master of Wine: European bred emerging star for Team Hawkes. He kicked off his most recent campaign in restricted company before progressing to a top 4 finish at Group 1 WFA. He’s only going to be further improved by that light preparation and will certainly have a few more kilometres under his legs by the time this Spring is over. Still relatively lightly weighted given we now know he’s capable of mixing it with the big boys. He’s sharp enough to pick up any number of lead up runs from a mile and beyond which will not only secure his start in the big races but also trim his price up. So whilst his current quotes might seem skinny, he could very well be a solid single digit favourite come race day.
Surprise Baby: This is exactly what these big time staying handicaps are all about and it would be some kind of story if the Preusker team from Horsham could jag either, or both, of the features. Son of a Melbourne Cup winner himself, at just his tenth start he was defeated less than a length in the race last year conceding the winner a kilo and half in weight. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t tip anything in the race that has tried and failed before as history will show very few have had luck with it in the modern era. But, given the muddling tempo and the blanket finish of last year’s edition and the obvious upside this lightly raced gelding has, I’m getting around this bloke in a cups double like the Horsham locals get around a pint of Carlton Draught at The Exchange Hotel on a Friday afternoon.
Mount Popa: Stablemate to our ‘Star’ pick here and by the same sire. Same age, and although we’ve seen far less of him in this country than his much fancied barn mate, there’s nothing to say he’s any less seasoned for a tough staying preparation having done all of his racing at 10 furlongs and beyond back in Europe before just the two starts down under. Impressive debut when the team opted to give him a look, funnily enough at Flemington, over the 1400m first up. Then brought to Sydney for a comprehensive win in low tier winter 2000m race in town. Very hard to get an expanded comment out of the stable after that win which as we all know, is highly unusual. I’m taking the lead off that and saying he may well be just as highly thought of as the current favourite. Even if that’s only half right, he’s worth something on at the big quote in both races, although suggest the two miles looks right up his alley plus it gives him a couple of extra options for gaining entry to the race.
Vow and Declare: It has to be last year’s winner after what we witnessed on Anzac Day where he got comprehensively rolled at a short quote in a nondescript open handicap. Seemed to be without excuse that day, but hopefully connections found and ironed out any issue once they got him back home. Never a fan of blanket finishes and it’s highly unusual to find a 2L margin separating the first nine horses in any two mile race, especially the Melbourne Cup and the ride was an absolute gem from Williams on the day it’s easy to say he was flattered by it. Even though we tipped him last year, there’s too many queries this time around to follow him in again.
A couple scattered here and there that you could make a case for but I think the fact that when you look down the list and see a horse like Finche, whose now had two cracks at the race and hasn’t been able to break into a placing, at around the thirty dollar mark, it’s telling you that there isn’t exactly a queue knocking on the door.
Obviously the 4yo’s will play a big hand here. Russian Camelot and Colette have dominated betting in these two races early doors, and for good reason. They were both very impressive winning their respective 3yo features. Kinane to a lesser extent has also been a part of these conversations. Whilst it’s been a while between drinks for an Oaks or Derby winner, Vow and Declare proved you can come through the classics anywhere in the country and compete at four at the highest level. These few look to be equal to his ability if not better.
Of the rest, our best hopes might be the stablemates with Master of Wine and Mount Poppa in the Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup respectively. M of W might be a little too brilliant for the two mile but the 2400m of the Caulfield Cup looks ideal, whilst the timing of his stablemate suggests he might be the more dour of the two and worth keeping safe for the first Tuesday in November. It’s a race steeped in history that always throws up a good story, and the Paul Preusker trained galloper Surprise Baby could well be that and will certainly keep you an interested observer throughout the Spring for not much outlay in a cups double.