A sensational day of racing on Saturday in Melbourne, but this year it'll be run in the wide open spaces of Sandown rather than the MRC's other track, Caulfield, which is undergoing major works. Sandown is a great track (technically two courses, Hillside and Lakeside, and this programme will mix across the two) but it's a long way out in the suburbs, making it less popular with the powers that be in Victorian racing.
There's been debate for many years about the value of the land and whether it'd be better to sell it off to developers, creating a huge funds to spend on other venues, namely Caulfield. But Melbourne is a huge sprawling city these days, having all the race meetings in inner suburbs doesn't work for everyone, plus Sandown is the winter workhorse, staging midweek meetings just about every week in a regular season and still races fairly. Since it was opened in 1965, it has barely had any investment in facilities (apart from a recent splash of the cash to prepare for this stint replacing Caulfield), but you'll struggle to find any participant who criticises the racing surface.
So it's great to see one of the best cards of the racing season conducted at Sandown - let's hope it's not the last big day it ever sees.
The Blue Diamond is Victoria's big juvenile race, always run on the last Saturday of the summer. It's worth plenty on its own, but is also a lead-up to the ultimate Aussie 2yo race, the Golden Slipper, in Sydney about six weeks later. There have been many sponsors over the years, this time it switches from Entain betting brand, Neds, to another in the stable, Ladbrokes.Photo credit - Racenet
LADBROKES BLUE DIAMOND
Group 1, 1200m, 2yo
Saturday Feb 25, 1620 local, 0520 GMT
Godolphin, Jamie Kah and winner of three from three in both Melbourne and Sydney. You'll find it pretty hard to beat that in this race. He came from the tail when drawn wide in the Golden Gift in November and sat on the pace to claim the Blue Diamond Prelude here a fortnight ago. He'd been a little tardy from the gates in Sydney but the stable seem to have fixed that, he looked much sharper when resuming after three months off. He will improve again from that and looks the obvious top of the market. The James Cummings stable haven't won this race yet but Godolphin have with Lyre winning for Anthony Freedman in 2019.
2. Arkansaw Kid
won on a bog track on debut at Moonee Valley on Cox Plate day, then tried his luck in the Inglis Millennium where we can completely forget his run - drew wide, sat back next to the eventual winner, suffered severe interference when starting to make his run. The record says beaten 5.3L, reckon he could have halved that at least. Drawn well, could get the run of the race.
resumed with a nice win in the Chairman's Stakes here three weeks ago, making it two wins from three starts, having split his first two races in the spring. Got an easy lead from gate one and controlled the race in good time here, now the query is can he do that again from the outside? The stable maintain there is very little between him and Barber but there's a huge difference in price. Only loss came down the staight at Flemington when he wasn't able to lead. Might well be able to do it here but you'd need a fair price premium to dive in.
4. Little Brose
handy Victorian colt who has finished in the first two each time without really convincing. Doesn't have the premier stable hype behind him, starting 9.0, 10.0 and 7.5 in his three runs. Very honest, drawn well, obvious one for the placings in your exotics.
5. Brave Halo
WA colt who suffered his first defeat here in the Prelude behind Barber, without seeing daylight at any time in the straight. His SP (2.80) suggested they expected a big run from him and he shouldn't have have lost any support out of that race. Damien Oliver has stuck with the son of Brave Smash, a strong endorsement but the test will be what he can do from gate 16 (14 if emergencies come out). He has only shown average speed out of the barriers, so pinging the lids and crossing to lead isn't going to happen. The 1200m at Sandown takes in one long 180 degree bend - that's not a place to be stuck out on a limb but there should be plenty of pace to park behind for a trail, even if he's three or four wide.
6. The Instructor
Waterhouse & Bott-trained colt who is undefeated in all his runs (trial, jumpout and two races) against his own age, but curiously took in an open age trial earlier in the month, narrowly beaten by Annavisto who then won the G3 Frances Tressady last weekend. Obviously that's not a full scale race but average 2yos wouldn't have been anywhere near the winner. Impressive son of Russian Revolution, has led both starts, drawn six, shouldn't have any problem stepping up from the 1000. Gai Waterhouse hasn't won this race before, she rarely shifts focus from NSW - so is this a specific target to tick off her list or is this horse not quite good enough to win in Sydney? If you are into foaling dates, this is the youngest horse in field, born October 31 while the majority of the field were born in August or September.
Comfortably won on debut in a Flemington handicap before running second as favourite against Zulfiqar in the Chairman's Stakes three weeks ago. That defeat was on a Soft 6 and it's worth noting his sire, Capitalist, was a dry track specialist. Also, the jockey reported Veecee would benefit from the run earlier in the month. It's worth paying attention to race targets for the big stables - they won't be too bothered about winning a $200k race when there's a $2m Group 1 shortly afterwards. It's hard enough to peak champions several times a season, let alone a 2yo at the start of his career. Don't be surprised if there's a significant step forward from him.
8. Don Corleone
Snowden-trained colt who won well on debut in January, 'genuine Golden Slipper prospect' in the race comments, then was crunched at the start in the Pierro three weeks later, lost a few lengths and finished fourth as 1.60 fav. He had his chance to win there but tired late - perhaps the contact at the start took a lot out of him, it was only his second start after all. The Snowden stable revel in juvenile racing and have won this race three times - must respect.
First of the fillies, and the third of the Godolphin runners. Led and won hands & heels in the Prelude a fortnight ago (SP 15.0), after being caught wide on the pace in the Preview, beating off her fellow leaders but getting swamped late and finishing fourth, beaten just over a length. Drawn 13 and needing to lead is not a good combination, would need to have more up her sleeve to win.
10. De Sonic Boom
Beat Exploring in the aforementioned Blue Diamond Preview when everything went right for her (SP 13.0) but was then well beaten (5.5L) at a similar price in the Prelude two weeks later. Needs a pace collapse and Blake Shinn has jumped ship - will be big odds. Blinkers first time.
11. Party For Two
It's rare we see a runner who debuted at the Sunshine Coast in any race in Melbourne let alone a juvenile Group 1. After missing the start and being caught three wide on debut (finished third), she won two Qld races very easily before taking on Exploring in the Prelude. She jumped from gate 12 and did more work, sitting outside the leader. She was only beaten a length but she was all out while the winner wasn't challenged. Drawn the rail, needs to explode out of the gates or she'll be tucked away the whole trip.
12. Steel City
A rare specimen in that she is the pre-post favourite for the race, yet still a maiden after two starts. The boom on her started early, winning two trials strongly. The Maher/Eustace stable is a behemoth these days and throw in her breeding for good measure - by a Coolmore Stud Stakes and Royal Ascot winner (Merchant Navy) out of the dam of September Run, who also took out a Coolmore Stud Stakes. On debut, she sat outside the leader Red Resistance and couldn't peg him back. In the Widden Stakes, she started slowly and put up a brave fight against debutante Learning To Fly who went onto win the Inglis Millennium next time out and is now Golden Slipper favourite. This filly is yet to win, but she has run second to two of the top Slipper contenders, hence her price here. Ideal draw in five, they'll have to be very good to beat her. Blinkers first time signals this has been planned to get that extra bit from her on the big stage.
Adelaide filly who needed to drop down to a BM62 race to break her maiden status at start four. The owners will get to enjoy their day out on one of the best race days of the year...
14. Cigar Flick SCR
After the defection of Cigar Flick, she takes the outside barrier. She didn't have much luck in the BD Preview, playing up at the gates, drawing wide and then copping a check at the 300m. She ran on strongly late but she'll need all the cards to fall her way to win this.
16. Extreme Threat
The least experienced runner in the field, she landed three/four wide just off the pace in the Prelude (behind Exploring and Party For Two) and battled on well, beaten 1.75L into third at an SP of 41. Draws much closer to the fence here, can land a prime sit but might not be classy enough to finish it off. An unknown but unlikely.
17. Sensical EM1
Gets a run, finished fourth in the Prelude just behind Extreme Threat, and third behind De Sonic Boom on debut. Gets back, needs luck, runs home ok but not brilliantly.
18. Beauty Rising SCR
It's a 2yo race around a bend so they'll go hell-for-leather early. Unlike Caulfield where this race is usually held, and the Hillside track where the Preview and Preludes were run, this track has a long 180 degree bend - travelling three wide on the bend will cost a few lengths, four wide even more so. There's pace drawn inside and out, so it's likely there will be three and even four-wide lanes to take a trail, before they fan out in the straight.
I think Barber is the one capable of dealing with multiple scenarios - he can go forward or take a trail, and will improve off his last run. He's been impressive in Sydney which is invariably rated higher than Melbourne for juvenile form, and has won at Sandown (albeit Hillside rather than Lakeside) already. Jamie Kah aboard, from the stable with the most weapons at this level - big tick.
The filly Steel City might just be a class above but at the price, I'm prepared to take her on. She has made mistakes in the past, the blinkers on might counter that, but on the flip side they might rev her up. Again, the price...
Colts all round for me - others with a hope, Zulfiqar if he can get cover; Little Brose is so honest; Brave Halo was mighty unlucky on Vic debut and if you wanted to back any jockey in traffic, Damien Oliver would be the one; Veecee should improve lengths back on the dry.
Expecting a mad speed battle with a swarm of colts flying home to fight out the finish.
Barber WIN bet ~ 5.50
Betting confidently on Barber and working the exotics around him with plenty of value in the placings.