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Flemington Black Caviar Lightning Stakes

February 17th, 2018

Redzel, the best horse I saw in the spring, looked a standout, lobbing around the yard with his head down. But too short at $1.20 for the place. Terravista looked impressive, a huge hindquarter, and munching on the bit, but kicking out the back; Hey Doc, twisting his neck into the strapper, grabbed by the clerk; Redkirk Warrior, the fittest horse in the yard, two strappers, salivating, and head up; Miss Rock, chewing and two strappers; Formality a clean sheet, but a stallion chain. I was briefly tempted by Miss Rock, but eventually decided it was too hard.

Dr Andrew Clarke, the CEO of Living Legends, the rest home for champion racehorses, had a string of ten horses at the track today! That’s nearly as many as Hayes and Weir, who were struggling to muster a dozen each! I missed them in the mounting yard, but caught them out the back. And there were a few good ones – Brew, Bullish Luck, Efficient, Good Ba Ba (who won $ 9million in Hong Kong!), Malucky Day, Might And Power, Paris Lane, Prince of Penzance, Rogan Josh, and  Silent Witness. Wow! What a parade!


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Caulfield Orr Stakes Day

February 10th, 2018

Not much to report although I did see a couple of unusual things. The two-year-old colt The Running Man was listed as wearing tendon boots which I can’t recall seeing on a flat horse before. And the three-year-old colt Weapon was showing stringhalt, that exaggerated flexion of a hindleg.

The cause of this unusual gait is largely unknown although there are said to be two varieties, one a neurological disorder, and the other a nutritional problem, named ‘Australian stringhalt’, and the result of grazing on poor pastures. Whatever. I like my horses to be normal!



Caulfield Race Day

February 3rd, 2018

I remember many years ago watching Michael Parkinson interview his boyhood hero, that great Australian cricketer, Keith Miller. But Miller was more than a cricketer. He was a World War 2 fighter pilot, an Aussie rules footballer with St Kilda, a carouser and womaniser, a journalist and a punter. In other words, a true blue Australian! Everybody loved Keith Miller! Parky asked him how he dealt with pressure on the cricket field. Replied Miller: “Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse!”

And so here’s the first two-year-old race of the day and I’m looking at Messerschmitt in the yard with Miller’s words ringing in my ears. Coat a gleaming dark red, as fit as a fighter, relaxed, head down. The only danger is the boom horse Kinky Boom, who also looks very striking, but has two of my pet negatives, a nose roll and a stallion chain. So it’s an easy decision. In the run Messerschmitt is the first horse to fold, as soon as the pressure is applied, and Kinky Boom runs over the top of them for an impressive win. I must say, that was very disappointing! When I got home I checked out the usual comments in the stewards report: “Rider James Winks could offer no explanation for the disappointing performance. A post race veterinary examination failed to reveal any abnormalities”. I think that the horse should be immediately renamed.

It took me a while to recover from such an inglorious start but I eventually managed to see a couple of nice relaxed horses with O’Lonera running on well for second in the seventh at $3.30 and Cliff’s Edge simply too good in the eighth at $2.25 fixed for the place. So in the end it was quite a good day, despite crashing and burning in the first!



Australia Day Weekend Races

January 27th, 2018

I don’t like all this upset about Australia Day. I love being a patriotic Australian. But calling it ‘Invasion Day’ is stretching the friendship a bit. Captain Arthur Phillip landed in Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 with a load of convicts and marines in order to establish a British penal colony. Maybe ‘Colonisation Day’ is a more accurate description. But I do agree it should be an inclusive day. Maybe ‘Dispossession Day’ is less confronting, although I do like ‘Dumping Day’, to celebrate the arrival of the criminal class. But my favourite is ‘Darryl’s Birthday’, if you can remember the story from Watching More. Over 60 years ago now all the kids in our street were tunnelling and burrowing under a heap of wattle branches in our backyard. Auntie Dix appeared with refreshments for the teeming throng: “Do any of you kids know what day it is today?” We all looked at each other without a clue until Darryl from over the road, who had a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock, piped up: “It’s me burfdee!” So Darryl’s Birthday it is. My own opinion is that his birthday can’t be an inclusive day until we cut the ties with Britain and become a republic. And only then can we have a dinky-di, true blue, Australia Day. Get to it, Malcolm!

I thought I’d have a try at the Australia Day weekend double header. I’m not a fan of night racing but maybe I’ll go along to Money Valley for the main race and lay Brave Smash for the place at $1.20. And then maybe I’ll get up early on Saturday for the Blue Diamond Preludes with the two-year-olds at Caulfield, but only if it’s not too hot. So I was all set to catch the tram to the Valley when rumbling thunder and lightning bolts indicated it would be more prudent to stay at home. A quick check of the weather radar confirmed that maybe night racing is not such a good idea, and staying at home and watching is a better option. So I watched Brave Smash get smashed on the TV! Then up early for Caulfield which had been brought forward because of the weather forecast of impending heat. In the two-year-old fillies I crossed them all out, except for a pony. I thought they must have brought the stable pony from the stall by mistake and left the real racehorse behind, but it simply turned out that Lady Horseowner was just a small, but perfectly formed and perfectly well-behaved horse. I had crossed all the others out so I went for the pony. She showed a lot of courage to burst through for a strong win at $2.60 the place. My only bet for the whole weekend. Does that qualify me as an Australian? And I must say I do fancy the Eureka flag. Such a shame it was hijacked by the Builders Labourers Federation.


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Flemington January Raceday

January 20th, 2018

I’ve just about worked out a routine at Flemington. A lap or two of the horse stalls, a charge up the lawn to the mounting yard, and then watch the race from the lawn, or if the gate past the mounting yard is open, a canter over to Saintly Place. This is the part of the Hill Stand I always thought was called the Undercroft, a pretty dismal area under the public stand. But it has been tarted up and is now called Saintly Place, in honour of the legendary trainer, Bart Cummings. And there is a terrific display here of Bart’s trophy collection. Four cabinets full of priceless memorabilia. Bart had nearly 7000 winners including 83 Group 1s, 12 Melbourne Cups, 7 Caulfield Cups, 5 Cox Plates and 4 Golden Slippers. Poor Mrs Bart. Imagine all that dusting.

A quiet day, but a good start with the Hayes import Al Haram, sweating profusely, but as I tell anyone who will listen, which is obviously not many people, that it is a positive on a hot and humid day when the temperature is over 23ºC. The horse lasted for third at $2.20. I gave most of it back on a disappointing River Goddess, which seemed to ring a faint bell in my brain that I’ve been sucked in by this horse before. And then I redeemed myself with a cool Sohool at a generous $2.50 for the place. In the eighth I narrowed it down to three: Amber Sky, Thermal Current and Husson Eagle. The clerk took Amber Sky out onto the track early, which is a negative, although the prominent lolling tongue looks a negative but is pretty much neutral. So I was all set to back Thermal Current when the horse violently resisted the jockey as it went out onto the track. So I just watched them go around and packed my bags for home. But two out of three for the day is not bad. In fact, that’s my long term average. Thank goodness I’m back on track.



Flemington Manifold Stakes Day

January 13th, 2018

I arrive nice and early for the first race, the two-year-olds. Only seven runners and I find that I have crossed six out. So I go for Train The Brave. The horse showed no courage and finished a disappointing fifth of the seven. In the second there are six horses, half of them from DK Weir, so I leave the race alone. In the third Jacquinot Bay is a standout, totally relaxed. But $1.50 the place for a ten-year-old? You must be kidding! Of course, the geriatric brains them! And now, look, the pages of my race book are starting to crinkle from the light rain. In the fourth they are an even lot of three-year-old fillies, and I can’t really sort them. But my straw hat is starting to sag and it too is complaining about the rain. I check the Melbourne radar and it is clearly not going to improve. I decide discretion is the better part of valour and head off home. A pretty miserable start to the year. The streak is definitely over!


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Money Valley

December 23rd, 2017

I’m a member of the Bart Cummings school of racing thought. I like my horses to be relaxed. A sure sign that a horse is unsettled and not relaxed is if it is “on the toe”. The problem is that there are two ways a horse can be “on the toe”. The most common is if a horse is changing its gait from a jog or trot back to a walk. If the horse has its head up as well then it is clearly not settled. I cross these horses out straight away. The other way a horse can be “on the toe” is if it is prancing. These horses keep their head under control and usually have a pronounced arched neck. Gait problems get a good discussion in the first book and prancing horses only get a one line comment in Watching More where I suggest it is well worth while getting down on hands and knees and crawling across broken glass in order to back them! And so I followed my own advice and backed Ormito in the stayers race. The horse ran on well for second at $2.60.

I also like horses to be accepting of the bit. In the seventh Teleplay was lobbing around with its head down munching noisily on the bit. I regard grinding on the bit as a negative although my stats don’t totally support this view. But chewing on the bit is a strong positive. The horse was blocked for a run when it looked all over a winner but still managed a strong third at $2.40.

So that’s two out of two. Long may the streak continue! All the best to all horsewatchers for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.



Caulfield Christmas Race Day

December 16th, 2017

I’m feeling a bit rusty with no racing for three weeks so I plan to get there nice and early for the two-year-olds at 1 pm. I’ll need plenty of time to look at the babies. But at Flinders Street station I’m confronted by scenes of chaos. There is a fault at Caulfield station and all trains to Caulfield are cancelled! A harassed official explains that my only options are the number 3 tram, if I could get on one, or a train to Darling, and then the dreaded replacement bus. A tram to Caulfield? I reckon it would take a week to get there, so I opt for the train. Darling? Who has ever heard of Darling? It turns out to be on the Glen Waverley line and the train stops all stations to Darling where a thousand stressed punters hop off to cram into a single bus to Caulfield! Ah, the bane of my life, the replacement bus! I arrive just as the babies jump at 1 pm.

It always takes a while to recover from a slow and difficult start and I don’t open my wallet until the sixth when I was quite taken with a relaxed Bint El Bedu. I was quite happy that the mare was sweating up since it was over 23 degrees and I was sweating up too. The horse rocketed home from the back to grab third. It was $2.50 with 30 seconds to go but was crunched into $2.10. Don’t you hate that?

In the seventh I took a set against Urban Ruler. I don’t like bar plates so I laid the horse at $2.20, despite some bookies offering $1.85 for the place. Phar Lap wore bar plates in that race in Mexico (see Watching More page 70) so they can’t be all bad, but then again Phar Lap was a freak and in a different class to Urban Ruler. Home early on the train. Thank goodness they fixed that fault. Two out of two. I think I’m on a streak.



Sandown Zipping Classic

November 18th, 2017

I arrived in time for the two-year-olds despite the bane of my life, the replacement bus. There was a lot of coltish behaviour going on, especially by Irukandji and Mumbles. But Long Leaf, Sanglier and Oohood all looked good and duly took out the trifecta while I watched on. In the three-year-old fillies I was quite taken by Yulong Xingsheng with its head in towards the strapper. The horse romped in at $2.30 for the place. In the Zipping Classic the old boy looked great at the age of 16 and I am reliably informed that his prominent white sock on the near hind had some of the old Bold Personality treatment! The Taj Mahal looked fine, especially if you are sympathetic towards cross-over nosebands, and won well.

In the Guineas I spotted a standout and a possible future champion. Villermont looked stunning in the yard. The horse had a chequered run but still brained them. It’s hard to see that I will ever get $2.70 the place about this horse again! Two out of two for a top day and over two hours to contemplate my success on the wretched replacement bus going home.



Oaks and Stakes

November 11th, 2017

In the Oaks Pinot was a standout in the parade ring doing plenty of laps. Nice pricked ears, showing some rib, and a typical fit Waterhouse horse from the rear. Head down when saddled up. But I was disappointed to find odds of $1.70 for the place so I just watched it go around. On the news it said that it was an upset win? An upset, at $1.70?

I arrived early on Stakes Day for the two-year-olds where Tony McEvoy had two live chances, the colt Run Naan and the filly Belzella. The colt was rearing and roaring in the mounting yard and coyly described on the PA as being “coltish”. The filly was relaxed and head down and fortunately for me fell in for third at $2.70. In the mares race another standout Waterhouse horse Savapinski streeted them at $2.00 the place. Gai’s stable is on fire! And Redzel in the Darley Classic was probably the best horse I saw all week and I was very happy with the $1.80 for the place.

But no bet in the Stakes. I couldn’t fault Gingernuts who looked great in his stall with a positive strapper, but looked ordinary in the yard, and the three-year-old Cliff’s Edge, who looked like a good head down horse. I’d pretty much decided to back the three-year-old when the warning siren sounded. Gingernuts was out! And that put me out too, totally spooked! Cliff’s Edge place odds plummeted from $2.70 to $2.20. I put my cue in the rack. Happy to go home with three out of three!