It had been widely touted prior to Saturday as the best Sydney raceday in many a year, and only the most hardened punter would disagree following today’s Golden Slipper day at Rosehill.
Today had a little dash of everything – dazzling sunshine, a fair track, stunning horseflesh. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how amazing the atmosphere must have been on course, especially when watching from a dingy dormitory room in a small town in Ireland in the middle of the night.
The best part is, the racing seemed to befit such an impressive day.
The feature, the Golden Slipper, was an intriguing race to watch as always. Gai Waterhouse won her fourth Slipper in eleven years with Pierro, who maintained his unbeaten record. He came through along the inside to beat the courageous Snitzerland, a different horse with blinkers on, and favourite Samaready, who was good under the circumstances.
In typical Gai fashion, she had made the comment after the second two year old race of the season – the Breeders’ Plate on October 1 – that we had just seen the Golden Slipper winner. It was the type of comment easily dismissed as fanciful. But six months and six days later, she has been proven right.
As always, stories emerge from everywhere when it comes to a Golden Slipper. Take Doubtfilly, the filly from Mackay in central Queensland. Not among the original entries, her owners parted with $150 000 to pursue the Slipper dream. She finished powerfully to grab fourth, earning $190 000 in prizemoney – a $40 000 profit. Even though she finished out of the placings, it was still a fairytale end to a genuine rags to riches story.
It was Gai day at Rosehill today. She also saw her star mare More Joyous return to her brilliant best in the Queen of the Turf while she may have unearthed a new Cups contender after Western Symbol won the last race, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Stakes over 2000m.
Gai Waterhouse seems to represent two important facets of the racing industry – first, that it operates in a cyclical nature, and second, it is vital to stay positive. It seems just yesterday, but it was at its height two years ago, when questions were being asked openly about Tulloch Lodge. Had Gai lost her will as a trainer? Were her methods no longer effective? Was she no longer able to attract the same calibre of horse to her stables?
If anything, one of Gai’s qualities is that she seems to use criticism to motivate her. And from that time on, she has gone from strength to strength. Today, in the Golden Slipper, she had five runners. She is producing plenty of winners, and looks to have plenty of firepower in her stable. But in addition to her traditional knack for producing a star two year old, she has looked to New Zealand and Europe in order to boost the staying stock in her stables. The Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup are likely to be high on the agenda this year.
And in racing’s first lady, the industry has no better figurehead. Her positive nature may occasionally annoy punters looking for a lead from the stable, but she is a recognisable figure outside of the racing industry. Most people have some idea who Gai Waterhouse is. She transcends the traditional border between the punter who follows racing daily and the once-a-year racegoer. That can only be a good thing.
It will be interesting to see if she can build on the momentum in the next few weeks. More Joyous will head on to the Doncaster Mile, where she may be joined by Niagara, who was disappointing as favourite in the George Ryder today. Rosehill Guineas winner Laser Hawk will be one of the leading fancies in the Australian Derby. Pierro may head on to the Sires Produce and the Champagne Stakes, while Once Were Wild and Older Than Time are Sydney Cup-bound. She definitely has the star power to produce over the rest of the carnival!
But while Gai Waterhouse was front and centre on Sydney’s great race meeting, it was a day of stories. The great part of the card at the western Sydney racetrack was that every race had an incredible story, a tale that can be woven from the weeks and months leading up to today.
Take the George Ryder Stakes. In terms of entertainment, it was one of the better races in recent times. Six or seven horses looked to be in with a chance inside the final fifty metres and even on the line, it was impossible to tell who had won and who had placed. It was eventually semaphored – the gallant Metal Bender had come through along the inside to beat Rekindled Interest and Secret Admirer, who both flew late. Both King Mufhasa and Rangirangdoo had looked like winning in the final stages after kicking away, while Sincero looked like swamping the horses on his inside. But they all missed the placings, with Rangirangdoo finishing sixth, barely beaten a half length.
The story of Metal Bender is quite extraordinary. His ability has never been questioned – it takes a special horse to win both the Randwick and Rosehill Guineas. But he has had so many injury problems that it looked unlikely we’d ever see him at his best again. He bled in the 2010 Mackinnon Stakes behind So You Think, injured himself after one run in the Apollo Stakes last year and then looked unlikely to ever make it back to the track. But after a year on the sidelines, he has returned with two brilliant runs, his third in the Canterbury Stakes providing a small taste of what to expect from him today.
If the George Ryder is any indication of how strong the Doncaster Mile is likely to be, we could be looking at one of the more competitive renewals of the time-honoured handicap.
The BMW caused consternation among punters when the favourite, Melbourne Cup winner Americain, was trapped three wide for the entirety before jockey Gerald Mosse tried to go for a run that wasn’t there at the top of the straight. In the end, his effort to finish second, beaten just over a length, was terrific.
It was a trifecta for the imports, with Manighar defeating Americain and Drunken Sailor. Once again, Niwot was a poster boy (or perhaps, a poster horse) for the Australian breeding industry – as in the Melbourne Cup, he was the first Australian-bred home, finishing fourth.
Manighar, notorious for being dour and almost weak under Luca Cumani, has been a different horse since he’s shifted to Peter Moody’s Caulfield stables. He’s shown a turn of foot which hadn’t been seen before. And although he didn’t need it today, he’d shown in the Australian Cup and the Ranvet Stakes that he is one tenacious beast. Incredibly, he is the first horse to win the Australian Cup-Ranvet Stakes-BMW treble.
And what about Peter Moody? He not only has Australia’s best horse and the world’s top sprinter in Black Caviar, but he now has Australia’s in form weight for age stayer under his care. The way he’s going, he could almost walk on water. While he didn’t rule out the Caulfield Cup for Manighar, he said it was quite possible he could head to the Cox Plate in the spring – also a likely target for Americain.
Another horse likely to head that way in six months time is Mosheen. The winner of the Vinery Stud Stakes has taken almost all before her this autumn. It is amazing to think all that prevents the filly from having a perfect record this autumn is Shopaholic, who’s a good filly but not in the class of Mosheen. Today, Danny Nikolic rode a brilliant race. He had it won a long way out, but made the error of easing up with a half furlong left to travel. It allowed Streama to get within a half length, which was a flattering margin. As expected, the rest of the field finished a long way behind.
Mosheen is owned by Phil Sly, whose story of his cancer battle is both humbling and inspiring, and Katsumi Yoshida, the Japanese breeder-owner who plundered the Melbourne Cup with Delta Blues in 2006. She is not expected to go to Japan until she is retired, when she will be mated with champion stayer Deep Impact. However, if she were to win the Cox Plate, a tilt at the Japan Cup could be a possibility.
Before then, a decision is forthcoming on whether she will contest the Australian Derby, the Australian Oaks, or neither. Nikolic wants her to run in the Derby. She could add another element to what is already shaping up as a brilliant contest.
A decision on whether to contest the Australian Derby is also expected from the connections of Polish Knight, who flashed down the outside to win the Tulloch Stakes. He was coming off a ninth at Caulfield, where he had genuine excuses, but the turn of foot he showed was exciting. The Derby also awaits placegetters Rekindled Alliance and Isopach.
The speedy Zaratone and the smart Flying Snitzel were the other two winners on what was, overall, an incredibly strong card.
Now, all eyes turn to next week’s Australian Derby meeting at the construction site that is Randwick Racecourse. It promises to be another top meeting. The feature is set to be one of the better Australian Derbies of recent years, with Laser Hawk, Silent Achiever and Ocean Park among the fancies. Mosheen may be there too, along with Polish Knight and Rekindled Alliance.
However, the T J Smith Stakes could eclipse the Derby, even without the presence this year of Black Caviar. For it is likely that unbeaten superstar filly Atlantic Jewel, who toyed with horses like Mosheen, will run in the T J Smith or the Sapphire Stakes. If she takes the likely option of the T J Smith, she would meet the likes of Sydney speedster Rain Affair and perhaps fellow star three year old Foxwedge.
With other races to include the Chairman’s Handicap for the stayers, the Doncaster Mile Prelude and the Adrian Knox Stakes, the stage is set for another mouth-watering day of action.
Still, it would have to be something special to top today.