Only lady to steal the show in Canterbury Stakes. Mares have won four of the past five editions of the Canterbury Stakes and First Seal, the only mare in this year’s small field of seven runners, is favourite to increase that number to five from six. And punters should be confident given their record in this race over the years. Since Shogun Lodge caused an upset in 2001 when saluting at 20/1, eight favourites have won, including four of the last five, with the highest paying winner over the past fifteen years being Paratroopers (2006) and Appearance (2014) who each had a starting price of 9/2. Looking beyond the Canterbury Stakes and to the Doncaster Handicap, which many of these runners having firmly on their agenda, only Gai Waterhouse’s pair of More Joyous (2012) and Sprint By (1996) have completed the Canterbury Stakes/Doncaster double in the past twenty years.
1. CRITERION – K McEvoy (5)
Great competitor returning for what will be his last race campaign before heading off to stud, and connections will be desperate to add another Group 1 to his CV. Only the one win from five starts fresh but did run a good third in this race last year to Cosmic Endeavour (beaten 1.3 lengths), when closing strongly late. Hasn’t won below 2000m since he was a 2yo and whilst you can expect to see him finishing well again, likely to find the trip too short to be winning.
2. KERMADEC – H Bowman (1)
Lines up for the first time since finishing well down the track behind Winx – as most of them did, in last year’s Cox Plate.
The 4yo stallion has had two trials through February, the latest of them a strong second to Dothraki – who finished a credible seventh (2.2 lengths) in last weekend’s Oakleigh Plate. Started favourite in the Warwick Stakes (1400m) first up last prep and finished strongly to run fifth (2 lengths) behind Royal Descent. Might get a sneaky run from the inside gate and can’t be dismissed lightly.
3. OUR BOY MALACHI – T Berry (6)
Despite a massive blow in betting ($1.90 out to $3.30) the popular 7yo gelding repaid those who stuck with handsomely, winning the Expressway Stakes first up off a nine month spell, six weeks ago. He defeated Solicit – who in her two runs since has run second to Winx and won last weekend’s Guy Walter Stakes, by three lengths. Kept fresh since with a soft trial under his belt for good measure last week. Will lead, get to set a favourable pace and prove hard to run down.
4. ECUADOR – T Clark (4)
Had his chance first up last prep when second to Hooked in the G3 Cameron Handicap (1400m) at Newcastle, taking his fresh record to 5:1-4-0, and resumes off a eighteen week spell here. Given two barrier trials in readiness for his return by trainer Gai Waterhouse, the most recent over 1250m which he won. Another who’ll take up a forward positions and whilst his overall form looks a bit above him, reckon he’ll be wound up for a first up tilt at this race and might be able to produce run here.
5. HAPPY CLAPPER – B Avdulla (2)
Made it four straight wins with a strong win in December’s Villiers Stakes, where he carried 53kgs. Smart, lightly raced, improving type, who wouldn’t surprise if he did measure up to this class however, first up at WFA, with the Doncaster Handicap in a month’s time his my aim, would be happy to see how he performs here, especially when he’ll settle back and on the fence.
6. FIRST SEAL – B Shinn (3)
Returned to racing after a lengthy spell in the most impressive manner, rounding up her five rivals in last fortnight’s G2 Millie Fox (1300m) to win by 3/4 of a length. Will derive great benefit from that hit-out, only missed a place once in five starts this start and from barrier three, would imagine she’s the one that ends up in the box-seat.
7. HOLLER – J McDonald (7)
Returned from a spell with a professional win against the older horses in the G2 Australian Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley, defeating Churchill Dancer by a length, before heading to Caulfield and his own age group, for the Autumn Stakes. As he did at Moonee Valley, he sat on the speed but turning, was struggling to keep with the leader and eventual winner, Mahuta, weakening to run fifth (2.9 lengths). His racing pattern will see him in the right spot but he’s back up against the older horse – and some very smart ones at that.
RACE OVERVIEW –
Holler and Our Boy Malachi cross from the widest and second to widest gate respectively and set the pace, with First Seal and Ecuador settling in behind them. She returned in fine order and no reason to think she would’ve gone backwards since that run, and sticking with First Seal who maps perfectly. Our Boy Malachi also impressed in his return victory – form line out that win has been first rate, and will give First Seal something to run down, but would think First Seal stronger the final 100m. Criterion and Kermadec running on strongly to fill the places.