Sydney's big day of racing is no longer Golden Slipper day, it's the opening day of The Championships, featuring the Derby, the Sires Produce, the TJ Smith and the Doncaster for a combined $8.5 million, which was supposed to draw quality thoroughbreds from across the globe. But how many have they managed to bring to Sydney this year I hear you say? Sweet FA. Actually, one came from Japan and will go home without having a run. So basically they're spending $4m more than required to get exactly the same horses. Still, it all looks great on your ego-trip press releases doesn't it Mr V'Landys?
The Doncaster Handicap is one of those great races which traditionally pits the WFA stars against the rising handicappers who might just get their chance with a decent spread of the weights. But will any of them get a chance today against the freak that is Winx? A rare return to previewing from me, a great race in store so I had to give it a crack...
Star Doncaster Mile
Group 1, 1600m
1710 local, 0710 BST
Kermadec - star of last autumn who perhaps didn't live up to the hype in the spring. Two runs back this time in have been strong, being beaten only a length and a half by Winx in the George Ryder suggests he is near his top, although he did have the softer run. Meets the star mare 1.5kg better for that run, and won this race last year, carrying 51kg and drawn 16. Right in this and Waller has been making a habit of sweeping the placings in Sydney features of late.
Turn Me Loose - largely written off on the basis of his George Ryder failure. It didn't look great but his Victorian wins in the Seymour Cup, Crystal Mile, Emirates Stakes and Futurity weren't flukes - he is right up to this class. One theory for the Ryder flop was the pace he set. Normally he likes to bowl along in front, but in the small, elite field, Opie Bosson elected to take hold and 'save' energy for a sprint at the top of the straight which he didn't have. If you've ever listened to Vince Accardi or Ralph Horowitz discussing race shape, the 'sit-sprint' tactic is mostly a myth for leaders, most of them like to bowl along and keep on going. Holding them back just sets it up for the opposition. Bigger field, better tempo, a better chance to get all the horses in behind off the bit and struggling on the turn. Chance at big odds.
Winx - superstar mare with eight pickets in the fence, and beating the boys in most of them. She just wins so effortlessly it reminds me of Treve at her peak. Such a high cruising speed. Incredible that she touched even money last start at set weights. Can you find any negative for her? She will be the shortest-priced Doncaster favourite in a long, long time and this is a race which doesn't mind the odd bolter. Waller has set her to back up next week in the Queen Elizabeth, something she hasn't done before. I'd rather have taken even money last week than here, but she looks incredibly hard to beat.
Stratum Star - decent handicap/G2 horse from Melbourne, ideally suited at 1400-1600m. Drawn for the perfect run (providing the rail isn't off) but needs more than 1.5kg from Winx to get close here.
Bow Creek - money muncher. Will buy more BMWs for bookmakers than for punters. Always slowly away, then tries to weave through traffic and always looks unlucky. Can't have him.
First Seal - right up there with the next best of the mares. Did a bit of work last time in the Ryder but was entitled to finish closer. Had beaten Winx four times in a row before that. Meets her 3.5kg better for that and should get a cosy run from the inside gate. Blinkers first time and won't be disappointed if the track stays soft.
Volkstok'n'barrell - star Kiwi 4yo who has apparently put on plenty of muscle since the spring. Victorious in his last two starts at WFA and now drops 6.5kg at a distance at which he has a 75% win rate. Corey Brown has flown in from Singapore for the ride, don't rule him out.
Good Project - won the weakest G1 mile race in Australia in the spring (the Railway Stakes) off the minimum weight with a ridiculously easy run in the front. Is 2kg above the limit here, and while that's a drop of 5.5kg from last run when stumbled at the start and pulled up lame, it's still a huge ask to be competitive here. Minor placings at best.
Ecuador - ran second to Winx in the Epsom, but hasn't run a place in four runs since. Drawn wide but likes to go forward. Big chance of being stuck wide without cover. No hope.
Happy Clapper - won the Villiers here in December in a field of 20. Two runs since have been in G1s preparing for this. Meets Winx 8kg better for being beaten five lengths, about as far behind as he was at the 600. But Winx had plenty up her sleeve and this gelded son of Teofilo was flat out. Brendan Avdulla obviously rates him highly, shedding 5kg to ride this light. Weight relief from last run obviously helps but class is the concern.
Azkadellia - star Victorian mare who just doesn't know how to run a bad race. Just beaten by Peeping in the Coolmore Classic, will be better suited to the wide open spaces of Randwick. Gets the services of 'Group 1' Glen Boss down on the limit. Right in this.
He Or She - won the Blamey at Flemington with a perfectly set-up race (suicidal pace). Query as to whether he's up to G1, but has a 50% strike rate, is weighted on the limit and did get within 2.5l of Turn Me Loose in the Emirates Stakes (meets him 3kg better here). Not for me but will have supporters.
Rudy - fourth in last year's Doncaster, winner of the Villiers Handicap here in 2014 and has the gun Queensland jockey Tegan Harrison aboard for her first ride at Randwick. Needs it very wet to be any chance.
Aomen - typical Anthony Cummings horse placed miles out of his depth.
Vergara - slightly better chance than her stablemate listed just above, as recognised by the market - 150/1 rather than 250/1!
The mighty mare just wins doesn't she? I've heard some say this is the best Doncaster they've seen - I don't see how it can earn that mantle. You've got one superstar and a bare handful of others who should genuinely run at WFA. The mare is bulletproof, I struggle to see a scenario where she doesn't win, although that doesn't equate to the price being something to unload on, particularly on a drying track. I'd need to see it playing fair before I'd be taking evens, if it was on offer.
Expect a big improvement from Turn Me Loose when he's allowed to roll along in front.
Turn Me Loose
Turn Me Loose 1x5 (five times more on the place)