Published by Trevor Marshallsea, 2nd November 2018 on foxsports.com.au
IT’S not the Melbourne Cup, but for racing zealots it’s like Christmas and your birthday combined — with a dash of Grand Final day for good measure.
Derby Day is here this Saturday, and a massive crowd of a hundred-thousand-odd will be at headquarters to kick off the four-day Flemington Cup carnival in its usual ballistic style, many of them staying sober right up until the second race.
Four Group 1s! And not a race of the nine that’s not Group Something. While it’s one less Group 1 than on Sydney’s showpiece Golden Slipper Day, Derby Day carries more weight for factors such as history, gravitas, and for pointers to other big dances, most notably of course next Tuesday’s Cup.
The highlight, as the day’s name suggests, is the $2 million Victoria Derby, the 2500m staying test for three-year-olds which actually counts as Australia’s oldest big race, its first edition being held in 1855 — only 67 years after the First Fleet, and six years before the First Cup.
The other Group 1s comprise the Coolmore Stud Stakes, a million-dollar, supercharged dash up the straight 1200 metres for three-year-olds, the Kennedy Mile, an open 1600m event also worth $1 million, and the Empire Rose Stakes, another mile race, for fillies and mares, worth half a million.
Two of the more keenly-watched contests are only Group 3 and 2: the Lexus Stakes, which is the last dance for horses hoping to go home with a ticket to the Melbourne Cup; and the Wakeful Stakes, the final lead-up for fillies going into Thursday’s VRC Oaks.
The festivities kick on into evening with one of the major highlights of the day – the announcement of the field for the Cup, and the barrier draw where many a chance is helped, or dashed.
As racing fans lick their chops for probably the biggest day of the year, only two things are certain: It’ll all be over far too quickly, and we’ll want to run home and watch the replays.
WHAT IS IT?
Derby Day – nine races of just about all varieties at headquarters. It starts Flemington’s four-day Melbourne Cup carnival, which also features Cup Day on Tuesday, Oaks Day on Thursday, and Mackinnon Stakes Day on the second Saturday.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
A whopping $5.8 million, topped by the $2 million of the Derby, boosted this year by half a million.
WHEN’S IT ON?
Saturday. First race 11.45am (AEDT), last race 5.20pm. Derby at 3.50.
WHERE CAN YOU WATCH IT?
Channel 7 will show it, but it’s also on Racing.com and Sky Channel. Or of course get to the course in Melbourne’s inner north-west.
Race 2: 12.20pm: MUMM WAKEFUL STAKES (2000m). Group 2. $300,000
Twelve fillies competing at set weights (55kg) and penalties, with many seeking to go on to Thursday’s Oaks.
VERRY ELLEEGANT. Can’t spell, can gallop. Joined the mighty Darren Weir stable from NZ two starts back, and easily won her latest at Caulfield over this trip to grab Oaks favouritism at verry short oooodds. The biggest, and possibly only, danger looks to be Oaks second-favourite ARISTIA, who’s got the winkers on to keep her mind on the job, while there’s also autumn Group 1 winner EL DORADO DREAMING, and a couple of intriguing smokeys such as third-starter MAUI GIRL and the Weir-trained Tysonic.
TIPS: 1 VERRY ELLEEGANT, 2 Aristia, 3 El Dorado Dreaming, 4 Tysonic.
RACE 4: 1.40pm: LEXUS STAKES (2500m). Group 3. $300,000
With the winner earning a spot in the Melbourne Cup, this traditional lead-up to the big one has been known by many names, chiefly the Hotham Handicap. That’s what it was called from 1869 till 1978, including its famous triple dead heat in 1956 between Fighting Force, Ark Royal and Pandie Sun.
Eight winners of the race have gone on to take out the Big Cup, including Shocking (2009), Brew (2000) and Think Big (1974). Last year, however, Cismontane let the side down. The quick back-up isn’t for everyone, but Cismontane had had a sizeable eight starts in that campaign by Cup day, so might have been knackered. Figuratively. Shocking had only had six.
JAAMEH: From the famed Hayes-Hayes-Dabernig camp. Quality ex-English stayer who won three of his first five here, which is a super acclimatisation, including two at this course and distance. Unlucky not to get a run in Caulfield Cup, when second emergency. Stablemate Ventura Storm won the Moonee Valley Cup on Saturday, and David Hayes reckons Jaameh is going better. NORTHWEST PASSAGE: Quality stayer from the Waterhouse-Bott team that saddled Cismontane last year. Returned to form after long 73-week injury layoff with second in Geelong Cup last week at fifth run back. Stablemate RUNAWAY won that race, and is a big chance again, as are visiting English stayer A PRINCE OF ARRAN, Chris Waller’s new import FINCHE, and a few others among 13 starters in all.
TIPS: 1 JAAMEH, 2 Northwest Passage, 3 Runaway, 4 A Prince Of Arran.
RACE 5: 2.25pm. COOLMORE STUD STAKES (1200m). Group 1. $1,000,000
A sprint for the three-year-olds who back in the autumn contested two-year-old features like the Golden Slipper and Blue Diamond. It’s also an old one, having started life as the Ascot Vale stakes in 1863, only two years after the first Melbourne Cup, and is great win for your horse’s stud career – like Merchant Navy, who won thrillingly last season, then won at Royal Ascot (the G1 Black Caviar won in 2012), and is now happily mating away like crazy.
Famous winners: Merchant Navy (2017), Weekend Hussler (2007), Campaign King (1985), Rancher (1982), Manikato (1978), Surround (1976), Vain (1969).
There looks to be three main ones in a surprisingly small 10-horse field. There’s the nation’s hottest male three-year-old sprinter, WRITTEN BY, who won the Blue Diamond, came fourth in the Golden Slipper, and has won both his spring starts. Slightly worrying, as going straight can throw some horses, the Graeme Begg-trained colt hasn’t been up the Flemington 1200m yet. Godolphin’s ENCRYPTION has, however, running second over 1000m as a two-year-old, and finishing powerfully to win over 1200m two starts ago. The James Cummings-trained colt then ran well again with a second to WRITTEN BY last start at Caulfield. SUNLIGHT, Tony McEvoy’s super filly who’s won seven of 11, was spanked by older horses when seventh in the Manikato Stakes last time out. She’ll appreciate it back to 3yo company, but ‘tis said you need a 1400m horse to win a 1200m race up this straight, and she might not be it. Other chances include Sydney types Zousain and Lean Mean Machine, from the Chris Waller yard, and Team Hawkes’ Diplomatico.
TIPS: 1 ENCRYPTION, 2 Written By, 3 Sunlight, 4 Long Leaf.
RACE 6: 3.05pm. EMPIRE ROSE STAKES (1600m). Group 1. $500,000
A relatively new race for fillies and mares, having started in 1988. Formerly known as the Myer Classic, this year’s it’s been changed to honour that great, great big mare, Empire Rose, who won the Melbourne Cup in 1988. It’s weight-for-age; the younger you are the less weight you carry, which pretty much works the same way for humans. Has been a bit of a bolter’s race, with five of the past 10 winners starting at $16 or longer, but Shoals won as favourite last year, benefiting from the 3yo’s light 50kg … which 3yo and favourite Amphitrite carries this year, in a tough 17-horse field
Famous winners: Shoals (2017), Typhoon Tracy (2009), Forensics (2007), Divine Madonna (2007).
AMPHITRITE. Darren Weir’s exciting filly scored a stirring win last start over this trip at Caulfield in the G1 Thousand Guineas. That was four wins on end, from five starts. I AM A STAR showed exactly that again with her third-straight win this campaign last start, also over the Caulfield 1600m, having won here to start that hat-trick. OOHOOD was the best maiden in country, with a million bucks to her name, before finally winning at start No.10 at Randwick two runs back, and followed with a strong third against the boys in the Caulfield Guineas. SHUMOOKH, from Waterhouse-Bott, has won two of her past three, over 1400m at G2 level, but hasn’t won at this longer trip. Then there’s several others, like SEABROOK, ALOISIA, and, representing those smokeys, KENEDNA – with blinkers back on after a strong second to I Am A Star last start – and perhaps BRING ME ROSES.
TIPS: 1. AMPHITRITE, 2 Oohood, 3 I Am A Star, 4 Kenedna.
RACE 7: 3:50pm. AAMI VICTORIA DERBY (2500m). Group 1. $2,000,000
Not just one of the oldest races in Australia but the world. It’s for three-year-olds at set weights, and, not unusually, it’s a boys-only affair again this year, like last year. Though derbies the world over are usually 2400m, or a mile-and-a-half, Flemington’s is 100m further, because 2400m would mean starting pretty much at the winning post, too close to the first bend.
As it is, those who’ve drawn wide barriers – and it’s a capacity 16-horse field this year – can struggle to get across and avoid racing wide, or will have to settle a long way back in the field to get closer to the rail. At least the field should thin out in the long home straight as these young horses tire over their longest trip to date. Still, those near the rear could have their work cut out in the straight.
First winner: Rose Of May (1855). Last winner: Ace High (2017).
Famous winners: Efficient (2006), Elvstroem (2003), Mahogany (1993), Stylish Century (1989), Red Anchor (1984), Dulcify (1978), Tobin Bronze (1965), Tulloch (1957), Hydrogen (1951), Comic Court (1948), Phar Lap (1929).
THINKIN’ BIG. The short favourite trained by Waterhouse-Bott who’s won four of six including a three-length romp over 2000m last start at Caulfield. Drawn OK in gate nine, so should lead and set the rest a hard target to chase. Should also go well at this track, having won the 1974 and 1975 Melbourne Cups. Unless that was Think Big. ARAMAYO is a classy Godolphin/James Cummings type who trialled nicely for this when coming on for second over 2040m at Moonee Valley last Saturday. STARS OF CARRUM won that race and has drawn well in seven. He beat early Derby favourite SAVOIE, who is way out in gate 17, as is WEIR’s other hope, third-favourite EXTRA BRUT, in gate 15. That’s tough, even if they move in two places each when the emergencies come out.
While Thinkin’ Big looks the goods, favourites have a patchy record in this race. Ace High and Tarzino won as favourites in 2017 and 2015, but the years since the previous winning fave – Efficient in 2006 – also featured Rebel Raider winning at 100-1 in 2008, and Fiveandahalfstar at 40-1 in 2012. There’s a smattering of chances at longer odds this year like FAROOQ, SIKORSKY, SAVVY OAK and CHAPADA.
TIPS: 1 THINKIN’ BIG, 2 Savvy Oak, 3 Aramayo, 4 Extra Brut.
RACE 8: 4:35pm. KENNEDY MILE (1600m). Group 1. $1,000,000
A historic quality handicap for all comers known by many names since its inception in 1881, and which used to give Flemington’s second Saturday it’s name of “Stakes Day”, but was brought forward to this day in a recent re-jig.
First winner: Courtenay (1881). Last winner: Shillelagh (2017).
Famous winners: Divine Madonna (2006), Testa Rossa (2000), Shaftesbury Avenue (1990), Better Loosen Up (1989), Maybe Mahal (1976), Taj Rossi (1973), Gunsynd (1971), Vain (1969), Wenona Girl (1963), Gay Lover (1936), Amounis (1926, 1929).
This should be one of the best races of the carnival. There’s loads of chances in the capacity 16-horse field.
HARTNELL has trodden a different path this spring to the past three, when he was a Melbourne Cup hope. He’s been kept to no longer than 1600m, and trainer Cummings has preferred him in handicaps like this, rather than weight-for-age, yielding a tough win in the G1 Epsom over the Randwick mile two starts back. LAND OF PLENTY beat Hartnell at Caulfield in the G1 Toorak Handicap over this trip at their last start. His Weir-trained stablemate CLIFF’S EDGE won in typical, tough style at Moonee Valley last Saturday and is a chance again, as is G1 veteran LE ROMAIN, and the likes of SIRRCONI, DREAMFORCE, LIFE LESS ORDINARY and SIEGE OF QUEBEC. There’ll be money again for TOM MELBOURNE, because there always is for some reason, though this professional placegetter has even stopped running places these days. And there’s still strong chances among the emergencies if they get a run, especially Cumming’s BEST OF DAYS, toughened by a 2000m dead-heat “win” last start, and Weir’s ICONOCLASM, who’s won three from three at this track.
TIPS: 1 HARTNELL, 2 Land Of Plenty, 3 Le Romain, 4 Cliff’s Edge.