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Darwin Cup preview

One of the great days of Australian racing takes place in the northern capital, with the running of the Darwin Cup at Fannie Bay racecourse. It mightn't have the class of Flemington, Randwick or Royal Ascot, but racegoers flock in from far and wide for this event, which is a local public holiday. It'll be 33C without a cloud in the sky, virtually everything's undercover in the shade and there'll be a shitload of the sponsor's product consumed. In proper Territory fashion, the big race is last on the programme so everyone can kick on afterwards! It is one hell of a party...

Stepping up to preview the great race is the brave Darren Goodbody, @DarrenPGoodbody, in his first attempt at Australian form, with the occasional addition from me.

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Carlton Mid Darwin Cup
$200,000 Open Handicap
Oil-based sand track, 2000m
1735 local, 0905 BST


Form guide
Odds comparison

Held over eight days of racing the Darwin Cup Carnival culminates on the first Monday of August which has attracted large crowds to Fannie Bay Racecourse throughout the years and has been known as one of biggest tourist attractions in the Northern Territory.

Since the race was founded back in 1956 it has not been rare to see returning winners land the race again. The most prolific winner was between the years of 1959-1962 which saw when Wood obliged on four occasions, but there have been many since that have returned to gain more success in this race. The last thoroughbred to win this race on their return came in 2012 when Neil Dyer’s Hawks Bay landed the race who had also been subject of finishing runner up twice in 2009-10. 2013 saw a no race due the tragic fall of Simone Montgomery in an earlier race on the day.

Two that filled the top two spots from last year’s renewal are Pretty Blonde and Lightinthenite, albeit after the disqualification due to a positive swab for Saturday Sorcerer. The 8yo son of Galileo, Lightinthenite won well on his return to Darwin in the Chief Minister's Cup, a race he ran second in last year, this time sitting on the pace when asserting when straightening up and put the race to bed comfortably, back in third was Neil Dyer’s recent acquisition Bolton six lengths off the pace, even at the weights it is very unlikely the form will be reversed in this. Bolton was beaten a nose here in 2012 when trained by Stephen Brown but more recently has been running around at Mount Isa and Tennant Creek, there'd have to be some real magic for Dyer to be a chance in this.

Last year’s winner Pretty Blonde gets 6kg from Lightinthenite on weight allowance (vs 4kg last year for a nose) and I am expecting the places to be altered this time around. She did not sparkle here on her last run managing only ninth nearly ten lengths off the winner (note last year's result in the Minister's Cup wasn't much better but at least had the excuse of a wide draw). She looked a shadow of herself from last season (hasn't 'won' since this race last year) and has failed over the past three months to shine and have doubts she will hold the form from Lightinthenite from last year despite the allowance.

Winner of last season’s Naturalism Stakes at Caulfield, the French import Gris Caro is another that has suspect form; the six year old’s run when only finishing eleventh in the Group 3 R A Lee Stakes at Morphettville was too bad to be true, but had excuses. Was caught three-wide the trip and faded after a hot early pace. He is far better than that and this trip looks ideal for another bold showing in a considerable drop in class. This is a horse who was notably high in betting for the Caulfield Cup last year and amongst his owners are some big names in the world of Australian bookmaking who love a trip to Darwin. Shocking draw to deal with, but wears blinkers for the first time.

One of real interest is Neil Dyer’s Royal Request and my selection for the race. Has really stepped up his game since finishing fourth here at Darwin, bringing on two solid wins over 1600 and 1900m, the son of Group 1 winning sire Bel Esprit has a terrific record at Fannie Bay, winning five from ten starts, including the NT Derby. Drew poorly in the Cup last year and dropped right out, his only poor run here.

Cranbourne trainer Mark Webb saddles last year's original winner Saturday Sorcerer who was stripped of the prize after returning a positive swab to a muscle stimulant, for which trainer Stuart Gower is currently serving a two-year ban. If you can ignore the DQs, his record here is strong, but needs another scratching to get a start.

Whistle Stop, the early second favourite, will be scratched according to local press reports on Sunday.

Gai Waterhouse saddles one of only three runners not within half a kilo of the limit weight, the 7yo Travolta. He has raced in far higher class than this, and you can forgive his acclimatising run here a week ago in the Metric Mile when drawn the car park. Hard to know whether this is an excuse to get away from the cold southern weather or a serious plot on the jewel of the north. Has the services of gun local jockey Paul Shiers aboard, do not rule him out.

Selection

ROYAL REQUEST who has shown a massive improvement since stepping up in trip looks the one they all have to beat, Naturalism Stakes winner Gris Caro has been beaten an average of nine lengths in her runs this year which is not encouraging from a betting prospective. Saturday Sorcerer has been here before. Last year’s first 1-2 Pretty Blonde and Lightinthenite look like they will have their own score to settle from last year’s result somehow the placings can be altered.

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