Racing on both sides of the Tasman Sea this week with a strong selection of group races in Australia and the first stakes of the season in New Zealand. In NZ, we see the return of superstar mare Avantage as she looks to continue her impressive count of Group Ones against her fellow kiwis. Australia action features several horses making their first starts for the prep in Group 2 and 3 company at Randwick, as well as at Moonee Valley in Victoria. The top names in the game down under resurface including star sprinter Nature Strip, top stayer and Doomben Cup winner Zaaki, and a slew of other runners aiming towards bids in the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup, and the WS Cox Plate.
Te Rapa – Friday
Race 8 – GII Valachi Downs Foxbridge Plate – 6 Furlongs, Open (11:33pm ET)
2 – Prise De Fer – Ran a very strong 2nd in the Awapuni Gold Cup to end the season and heads into the first start this prep with solid first up form. Ran one his best races last year off the layoff down at Ellerslie going 6 1/2 furlongs. Has performed well at Te Rapa in the past. Will not have the services of leading NZ jockey Opie Bosson due to COVID restrictions in his residential area(even though he would be riding stablemate Avantage if he could). Troy Harris gets aboard and should be ready to go after two barrier trials.
9 – Avantage – One of the super mares of New Zealand racing, Avantage ended the season back in April by winning another Group One at Te Rapa, this one coming over the mile distance. Very little to question about her ability as she continues to hold her form with age. Is just shy of 2/1 in the market now and faces a very similar group of foes to what she sees in other Group One events. Danielle Johnson is aboard as Opie Bosson is unavailable to ride, not saying thats a reason to play against per say but at the same time I think her stablemate could be ready to get her first up.
3 – Ocean Billy – A good play at a big price in the market. This son of Ocean Park triumphed in the Group One Auckland Cup down at Ellerslie two back and has a strong group stakes win over the course in 2020. Has been making a very steady drop in distance in recent times including taking out a Group One at 2 Miles earlier this year. Not sure how 6 furlongs will be received after being a very successful stayer, but I wouldn’t doubt his ability at all.
Friday – Randwick (Australia A)
Race 5 – GIII Concorde Stakes – 5 Furlongs, 3 & Up Set Weights & Penalties (12:00am ET)
3 – Wild Ruler – This horse has shown the ability to compete at the top level and this is a good spot for him to do it. Although it is only a Group 3 contest, the Concorde Stakes has continued to be a springboard for top sprinters including GI Lightning Stakes winner Gytrash and multiple Everest champion in Redzel. An undefeated 4 for 4 at Randwick in his career and absolutely loves this distance. The top of the weights in this field are ultra talented in the likes of Trekking and Nature Strip, but they are first up this prep and we’ve seen Nature Strip falter in this spot in the past. This is a great opportunity for him to get back in the win column.
1 – Nature Strip – He was defeated in this race last year but that does not take away how good this horse has been. A multiple Group One winning sprinter and as of right now the highest rated Australian horse in the world. He starts off the prep with his regular jockey James McDonald aboard and is a deserving favorite. If there is a time to take against him though, it’s today and it is Wild Ruler.
Race 6 – GII Furious Stakes – 6 Furlongs, 3 Year Old Fillies, Set Weights (12:35am ET)
10 – Enterprise Pomme – This filly makes the trip down from Queensland after two good efforts in lower company. Makes the step up to stakes grade after a strong barrier trial at Rosehill last week. Jay Ford gets the ride down in Sydney for this filly who should try and set the pace. Keep an eye on the ground condition as she has handled a bit of give in the ground. Has not been tested on firm going but I don’t think it’s going to be much of an issue.
5 – Mallory – The effort first up is one to overlook. Was away slowly going 6 furlongs and held up on the run, still able to run a solid 5th that day. Raced well against good company in the GII Sweet Embrace Stakes over course and distance back in February. Jason Collett stays aboard for this mount 2nd up this prep which should be a lot cleaner than the seasonal debut.
1 – Four Moves Ahead – Did not finish out her two year season as well as expected after an impressive effort in that GII Sweet Embrace Stakes over course and distance. Not saying she ran poorly when facing open company in two of the top 2 year old races in Sydney but not up to the hype going in. Was third on seasonal debut over course and distance in the GII Silver Shadow Stakes. Gets out of open company and that should play to her benefit, even making her a strong candidate for favoritism when it’s all said and done.
Race 7 – GII Tramway Stakes – 7 Furlongs, 3 & Up Set Weights & Penalties (1:10am ET)
1 – Zaaki – One of the most dominant runners in Australia at the moment, Zaaki has been a different horse in Australia under the care of Annabel Neasham. He has now won three straight including the GI Doomben Cup and the $1.2 Million Q22 at Eagle Farm. Both of those efforts were won in decisive fashion and have made him a major player looking towards the Caulfield Cup and WS Cox Plate. This will be first up for the season so this is not the main target, but I still expect him to be ready to go to defeat this field.
10 – All Saints’ Eve – Didn’t show much in her two trials this preparation but getting back to 7 furlongs will be a major plus. Has never been out of the money going 7 furlongs including three wins, as well as having a victory over the course. Will need to improve but with a weight allowance should still be a candidate for an improved effort at 20-1 currently.
2 – Dreamforce – Made the pace in the Winx Stakes and ran his race early. Has the pace to win at this distance but will need to be able to set it his own way. Horses like Shout The Bar and possibly Man of Peace won’t help with that but hopefully with Nash Rawiller taking over this start will be able to just settle off if a duel ensues.
Race 8 – GII Chelmsford Stakes – 1 Mile, 3 & Up Weight For Age (1:50am ET)
14 – Montefelia – Ran decently well to close out the season back in April. Wasn’t winning but all efforts came in competitive Group One company against the top three year old stayers. This filly now cuts back to the mile where she took out the GI Darley Flight Stakes back in October. First start this prep after a couple of trials at Rosehill, she should be ready to put together a big effort against open company.
2 – Cascadian – The Godolphin runner started off the prep in the GI Winx Stakes and had some trouble in the running. Hugh Bowman has taken over reins on this horse with Jamie Kah out on suspension. Moves up in distance to the mile which will be beneficial going forward. Took out one of Australia’s most prestigious mile races in the GI Doncaster Mile at Randwick back in April.
5 – Dashing Willoughby – At a price this runner is extremely interesting to me. Has trialed twice now and looked good in both after a very lackluster staying season in Melbourne last year. Finished well back in the Melbourne Cup and the Caulfield Cup after shipping over from the UK. Has now settled in down under and could be a bit of a wild card to see how he handles running at the mile. Not sure if first up this horse is a major contender, but the way these Europeans have come over and done well I wouldn’t be surprised if the talent shown in the staying ranks in Europe translates today.
Moonee Valley (Melbourne Racing Club) – Friday
Race 5 – GII Ian McEwen Stakes – 5 Furlongs, 3 & Up Weight For Age (12:50am ET)
8 – September Run – It has not been the same September Run we are used to seeing following a lackluster end of the season. Since a massive run in the GI Black Caviar Lightning Stakes missing only a half a length to Nature Strip, she has disappointed in several major sprint races and looks to rebound kicking off the prep here. The time off will make a big difference for this runner and being first up for the prep may just end up being the right time to take her.
3 – Portland Sky – The Valley is a very tricky place for horses who are not used to it. With the track formation and a very short stretch run it takes certain horses to take a liking to it at times. With that being said, Portland Sky has obviously shown that affinity for this track. A winner going 6 furlongs in the GIII Red Anchor Stakes back in October and ran a very strong 2nd in the GI William Reid Stakes. She has the ability to shorten up after a thrilling dead heat in the GI Oakleigh Plate earlier this year as well. Tough to doubt that even first up this prep she won’t be primed being back at The Valley.
1 – The Inferno – Ran a decent race first up in Australia after dominating his rivals in Singapore. A multiple stakes winner in Singapore defeating eventual Steward’s Cup winner Mr Malek in the process. He is 8 for 10 lifetime, however he is 0 for 1 when racing in Australia. Still uncertain of how that Singapore form is going to move over but the first effort he did showed signs of ability. At a shorter price I would steer clear but if he ever drifted into double digits he is worth a play.
Race 8 – GII John F. Feehan Stakes – 1 Mile, Weight For Age (2:50am ET)
13 – Realm Of Flowers – Already has his automatic bid confirmed to the Melbourne Cup after an impressive triumph in the Andrew Ramsden Stakes back in May. Although there have been questions about the validity of that automatic bid and whether the Ramsden is a good prep for The Cup, I thought Realm Of Flowers put together a massive effort against a quality field at Flemington. This will be first up for the prep like many others. Definitely don’t think we’ve seen the last of the big performances from this galloper.
11 – Elephant – The New Zealand trainee showed up in a big way when taking on his Australian counterparts for the first time in a Benchmark 84. Did have the run of the race that day and there is a bit of a question about weight for age conditions. However the buzz around this horse heading into the spring carnival has been high and if he can do it again in stakes company, expect him to drop down even more in the overseas markets.
9 – Dawn Patrol – First start in the southern hemisphere for the former Joseph O’Brien trainee, now under the care of Rob Hickmott. A very strong effort first up this prep behind Jessica Harrington’s Cadillac in the GIII International Stakes at The Curragh in Ireland. Expect a horse like this or Port Guillaume to be improving towards longer races later in the prep. Going a mile today will be a good starting point in Australia and should give him a run around the The Valley as well, something that always benefits a horse later on for the Cox Plate in a few months time.