Traditionally, the first day of the Victoria Racing Club’s spring carnival in Melbourne, otherwise known as Derby Day, has been unchallenged as the premier racing fixture in the Australian racing calendar. Not only are there four G1s, including a Classic, the rest of the nine-race card is made up of G2s and G3s. It is a day for the true aficionado.
But this year, Sydney has introduced the Golden Eagle, a new ‘special conditions’ race for 4-year-olds, over 1500m (7½ furlongs), to be run at Rosehill Gardens tomorrow (Saturday) … and, you guessed it, on the same afternoon, as a direct clash with Flemington, 30 minutes after the Victoria Derby. The ‘squabbling sisters’ are at it again.
Normally, such gatecrashing would merely be dismissed as crass, in the extreme. But, in this case, the Australian Turf Club has put up a prize of A$7.5m for the Golden Eagle, which has lured certain key horses, who would normally have been heading south from New South Wales to Victoria this weekend. Bad manners can be excused at a price, it seems.
The Golden Eagle, like The Everest (which was run as a counter attraction to the traditional G1 Caulfield Cup two weeks ago), is the brainchild of Peter V’Landys, the abrasive, combative racing official, who is largely credited with lifting Sydney racing out of a financial mire through skilful negotiating with the New South Wales state government.
If V’Landys had been a cricketer, he would have made an ideal ‘change’ bowler. You never quite know what he is going to throw at you next.
His latest ‘suggestion’, floated this week through one of his acolytes in the media, is that the date of the Melbourne Cup should be put back three weeks, to the last Tuesday in November. As the Cup is already arguably the world’s most successful racing carnival financially, generating A$475m annually for the local economy, the idea is unlikely to be taken up.
Kerrin McEvoy, currently world #24 in the TRC jockey standings, will ride in Sydney this weekend, and he has a great chance of snatching the A$4m first prize in the Golden Eagle on Classique Legend. But great rival and world #6 Hugh Bowman heads to Melbourne, where he looks set to land the G1 Coolmore Stud Stakes — a race billed as a stallion-maker — aboard Godolphin’s Bivouac, who bypassed the Everest (a puzzling decision) in favour of the G1 Manikato and then finished a luckless sixth in that Moonee Valley sprint after getting caught in traffic on the home turn.
The six-furlong Coolmore is a fantastic contest in prospect, with Exceedance, a brilliant Exceed And Excel colt trained by Team Hawkes, and the Anthony Cummings-trained Libertini, who is unbeaten over 1200m (6f), offering strong opposition to Bivouac.
Holding prime spot on this mega-card is the Victoria Derby, which was first run in 1855, six years before the inaugural Melbourne Cup. The annual debate on whether the distance should be reduced to 2000m (mile and a quarter) has been knocked out of the park this year by the simple fact that it is one of the strongest runnings of the Classic in recent times.
Thought Of That, an exciting son of So You Think, winner of his last two starts and trained in Melbourne by the Ciaron Maher/David Eustace combination (world-ranked 36), will be a worthy rival to much-touted Sydney contender Shadow Hero, winner of three of his six starts. The Victoria Derby is open to all 3-year-olds — it is interesting that Thought Of That is a colt and Shadow Hero a (Pierro) gelding.
Two other Derby runners worth noting are gelding Warning (by Declaration Of War) and colt Soul Patch (Shamus Award), both of whom won ‘trials’ displaying a good turn-of-foot at the end of a trip.
It is almost back to the old days when 12 of the 13 runners in the G3 Hotham Stakes, over 2500m, hold entries in Tuesday’s G1 Melbourne Cup. Being a last-chance saloon race — win and you are guaranteed a run in the Cup — connections of several outside the top 24 qualifiers will be hoping to leapfrog their way into the field, including Sir Charles Road and Haky. Prince Of Arran gained Cup entry this way last year, then finished third in the big two-miler.