Caulfield Cup takes centre stage
Free of The Everest distraction, the Australian racing spotlight falls squarely on the Melbourne Racing Club and its most important race on Saturday.
Sitting alongside the Melbourne Cup and the Cox Plate as one of the three jewels in the Victorian spring carnival crown, the Caulfield Cup is regarded as a genuine staying test with its $3 million purse making it the world’s richest 2400m handicap on turf.
It is also the first leg of Australia’s prized Cups double as the spring’s best stayers try to make a statement ahead of the $6.2 million Melbourne Cup over 3200m at Flemington 17 days later.
There have been 11 horses complete the Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double in the same year, the New Zealand-trained mare Ethereal in 2001 the most recent.
The Caulfield Cup gained international recognition in 1998 when Taufan’s Melody won for English trainer Lady Herries and jockey Ray Cochrane.
Taufan’s Melody was a controversial inclusion at the expense of a well-performed local stayer and Cochrane paid a heavy price for his desperation to win with a two-month suspension for causing interference.
International horses to follow in Taufan’s Melody’s hoofsteps as Caulfield Cup winners include All The Good (2008) for Godolphin, Dunaden (2012) for owner Sheikh Fahad al Thani and French trainer Mikel Dezangles as well as the Japanese stayer Admire Rakti (2014).
Such is its status, the Cup is the stand-alone Group One race on the third and final day of the MRC’s Caulfield Cup carnival.
Stakes racing continues in Sydney at Randwick, highlighted by the Nivison, a Group Three race for fillies and mares over 1200m, and the Sir Brian Crowley Stakes, a Listed race for three-year-olds over the same distance.
Johannes Vermeer enters the picture
In the space of less than a week, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Johannes Vermeer has gone from a Caulfield Cup query to the horse to beat.
Despite having O’Brien and the highly successful Australian owner Lloyd Williams in his corner, Johannes Vermeer (Galileo) had been largely ignored in early Caulfield Cup discussions.
That all changed after the French Group One winner turned heads when he closed off brilliantly over 2000m under weight-for-age conditions in the Caulfield Stakes last week.
Unwanted as a 30-1 chance, Johannes Vermeer made a sustained run from the back, sweeping past high-profile Cup chances, including last-start Group One Underwood Stakes winner Bonneval (Makfi), on his way to finishing second to Gailo Chop (Deportivo).
There was a further groundswell for Johannes Vermeer when it became clear he would be returning to Caulfield on Saturday, dropping from 59kg to 54.5kg with Ben Melham taking the ride. Should the five year-old salute, it would see O’Brien notch up 25 Group 1 wins for the season, equalling a record set by American handler Bobby Frankel.
And by the time news broke about Darren Weir’s Japanese import Admire Deus (Admire Don) going amiss during a track gallop on Tuesday, Johannes Vermeer had been promoted to the top of Caulfield Cup betting ahead of the barrier draw.
Weir, who is enjoying another fantastic season, has the top-weight, Humidor (Teofilo), as well as emerging talent, Amelie’s Star by the Vinery Stud stallion Testa Rossa. As a sire he is better known for his sprinters – Ortensia, Rostova and Unencumbered among them – but his six year-old daughter showed no signs of stopping when landing the Group 3 Bart Cummings over 2500 metres at Flemington last time out and may rate as the best local chance.
Johannes Vermeer brings a different profile to most European runners in Australia’s major handicaps, having claimed the Criterium International, a French Group One race for two-year-olds at Saint-Cloud in 2015.
That win capped a busy juvenile season by northern hemisphere standards.
A setback kept Johannes Vermeer’s three-year-old term to a single start before returning in May and racing every month since with the exception of September, when he was being prepared for his trip Down Under.
Johannes Vermeer will have the English-trained Marmelo (Duke Of Marmalade) and Irish compatriot Wicklow Brave (Beat Hollow) for international company in the field of 17.
Wicklow Brave is making his second trip to Australia for Willie Mullins after finishing down the course in last year’s Melbourne Cup.
Despite the internationalisation of the Melbourne spring carnival, historically the stayer with the correct profile to win a Caulfield Cup is usually sourced from the previous season’s Classics in Australian and New Zealand.
Recent winners Jameka (2016, Myboycharlie) and Mongolian Khan (2015, Holy Roman Emperor) have confirmed that template, suggesting this year’s four-year-olds Bonneval, Jon Snow (Iffraaj) and Inference will run well on Saturday.
Derby, Oaks hopes on the line
At $350,000, the Ladbrokes Classic, a Group Three 2000m race for three-year-olds, will be the richest support race to the Caulfield Cup.
It promises to be a fork-in-the-road race for sophomore horses trying to get to next month’s Victoria Derby and VRC Oaks during the Melbourne Cup carnival.
Main Stage (Reliable Man) will continue his path to the $1.5 million Derby over 2500m at Flemington on November 4 having come from last to win at the track over 1800m earlier this month.
Tangled will make his first Melbourne appearance as a legitimate chance after narrowly missing out on a Group One win in the Spring Champion Stakes over 2000m at Randwick.
Pure speed on display in Caulfield Sprint
The Caulfield Sprint is a Group Two race that offers $200,000 in stakes over 1000m - a dash for out-and-out short-course horses.
And there may be none faster than Sydney-trained mare Super Too (Hinchinbrook) who is chasing a hat-trick of wins after scoring over 1000m at Randwick and 955m at Moonee Valley.
In winning at Randwick, Super Too ran 55.72 seconds to set a track record.
The four-year-old, a younger half sister to former Singapore star Super One (I Am Invincible), has the 53kg limit under the Caulfield Sprint conditions.
Quinton mares renew rivalry in Nivison
Stablemates Dixie Blossoms (Street Sense) and Daysee Doom (Domesday) are expected to clash in the Nivison at Randwick as they try to continue their domination of recent Sydney stakes races for mares.
Daysee Doom beat Dixie Blossoms in the Group Two Golden Pendant over 1400m at Rosehill last month only for the result to be reversed over 1600m in the Group Three Angst Stakes at Randwick.
On Saturday, trainer Ron Quinton is bringing his stars back 400m in distance to fine-tune their bids for the $500,000 Group Myer Stakes over 1600m at Flemington on November 4.
Group One start at stake
A start in the Group One Coolmore Stud Stakes, the preeminent sprint for three year-olds in spring, could be the reward for the Brian Crowley Stakes winner.
It’s a progression that served Gai Waterhouse’s exceptional sprinter Northern Meteor well in 2009 when he completed the double.
The Gary Portelli-trained Single Bullet (Not A Single Doubt) will be strongly fancied to break through for his first win of the season at Randwick after being runner-up to the unbeaten Viridine (Poet’s Voice) in the Heritage Stakes and Roman Consul Stakes.