Upsets were the flavour of the day in on Saturday, headlined by some relatively unexpected results in Group 1 racing in Melbourne and Sydney.
The much anticipated clash of the “big three” sprinters in the Newmarket Handicap ended as somewhat of a fizzer, with plucky colt Brazen Beau taking advantage of the handicap advantage to slay his more seasoned opponents down the Flemington straight.
Most disappointing was the world’s highest ranked sprinter Lankan Rupee, who failed to fire a shot and looked unable to overcome the weight challenge handed to him by handicappers. He finished a distant sixth to the winner after being installed as $3 favourite by punters on race day.
Champion jockey Joao Moreira rode the perfect race on Brazen Beau, placing the colt comfortably on the pace, before finding the rail at the 400 metre mark and then letting his charge loose to destroy the high quality field by nearly three lengths. Chautauqua and Terravista ran on to make up the placings, but the judges had long put down their glasses and had no cause to retrieve them.
Trainer Chris Waller paid tribute to horse and jockey after the race, clearly excited about the options for the colt’s future.
“He’s a wonderful jockey. I sit home every Sunday and marvel at the extraordinary number of winners he boots home,” said Waller. “He has a great and a rare talent that can never be doubted. I didn’t give him any instructions. Horses run for this rider, so I’d probably only confuse things.
“As far as the horse goes, we’re going to have to sit down and map out his future. Whether it’s for the T.J. Smith in Sydney, or England in the middle of the year. He’s been sold for a lot of money, we’ve got a lot of talking to do. But it’s extremely satisfying that he’s achieved the goals we wanted with him.”
And the Waller camp wasn’t finished for the day, with favourite Winx winning the Group 2 Phar Lap Stakes at Rosehill.
The next race on the card, the $1 million Australian Cup, provided little respite for punters with $13 chance Spillway edging out Extra Zero to deliver the quinella for David Hayes and Tom Dabernig.
Crowd favourite The Cleaner took up the running early in typically robust style as the rest of the field looked to feel each other out. Spillway went widest around the final turn, and then exploded at the 300 metre mark and stormed down the centre of the track.
But Extra Zero was not to be outdone. After starting at $101 and sitting last for much of the race, the eight year old caught sight of his rapidly disappearing stablemate in the straight, and turned back the clock with a withering burst of speed to push his younger counterpart all the way to the line – the photo eventually revealing him to have fallen short of a stunning boilover by the narrowest of margins.
The result was the first Group 1 victory in four years for Hayes, with the quinella putting the cherry on the result for him and Dabernig.
“It was the most comfortable photo I think I’ve ever been involved in,” said Hayes. “Old Extra Zero nearly upset the apple cart, and he was bought to win the Darwin Cup.
“It was a terrific ride by Michael [Walker]… if he went a stride earlier, he wouldn’t have won.”
It capped a solid day for Hayes and Dabernig, with their filly Wawail defeating favourite Sabatini in the Group 2 Tab Kewney Stakes.
But the biggest upset of the day took place in the Coolmore Classic at Rosehill, with near unbackable favourite First Seal run down by Peter Moody’s colt Plucky Belle in a grandstand finish to the $600,000 race.
Blake Shinn sat wide on First Seal, and the highly rated filly looked to have the race won at the 200 metre mark as she went up a gear down the centre of the straight – only to be swamped by a wall of horses led by Plucky Belle over the final strides.
“I think all of us to a man probably thought that First Seal was unbeatable. It just goes to show that’s why it’s a handicap… we had an older seasoned mare on the limit,” Moody told RSN radio.
“We went in hopeful of getting a fair chunk of prize money, but pleasantly surprised to be able to be able to beat First Seal on the day.”
The Group 1 win was a welcome boon for the leading trainer, who is feeling the impact of the ongoing Racing Victoria investigation into cobalt use.
“It hasn’t cost me business, horses haven’t walked out of my yard, but not one horse has walked in in the last three months,” he said. “The only horses that have entered my stables in the last two to three months are horses I’ve actually purchased myself at the yearling sales.
“Unfortunately we’re probably a bit akin to an AFL team. (If) you have one bad year at the draft, you don’t have one bad season, you have two, three, four or five because you’re stuck with the cattle you’ve got for that period of time. To have this issue hanging over our head at this time of year is a big concern.”
“The other thing is in my situation is we’re massive investors in this industry ourselves. We probably race as many as any other person in Victoria, ourselves personally. So do we invest personally in the industry this year ourselves, or not?”
Moody also had success earlier with Pasadena Girl in the Group 3 Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes, and picked up a further winner at Rosehill, with favourite Mahican taking out the EGroup Security Handicap over 1350 metres.
by Mark Haywood