Turn off the Tigers, turn to the Cup

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FOOTBALL is out of the way and serious sportsfolk now get Spring in their step. BRIAN MELDRUM sheds some light on the Caulfield Cup prospects:

IT WILL PROBABLY take the Tiger faithful weeks, months, perhaps even years to come down from their Grand Final high – some might spend the rest of their lives up there – but the rest of us will now switch our attention to the next big sporting extravaganza, the Spring Carnival.

And it might be adviseable to do it in retrospect, given that there was a lot of racing over Grand Final weekend that provided a valuable pointer to the forthcoming big races, the first of them being the Caulfield Cup.

On Sunday at Caulfield the New Zealand mare Bonneval raced into favouritism for the Caulfield Cup by winning the Underwood Stakes over 1800 metres, and there is certainly a lot to like about her being able to emulate the win of another mare, Jameka, in last year’s Caulfield feature.

Hugh Bowman riding Bonneval winning the Underwood Stakes. Pic:Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

 

She will be asked to carry the same weight – 52.5kg – and there is a good argument to say she is the better staying mare, having won both the New Zealand and Australian Oaks, both over 2400 metres and the latter by nearly five lengths.

And it doesn’t end there. She has only had 10 starts and has won the past six of them, all of them at Group level and three of them Group 1’s. And she’s trained by the doyen of Kiwi trainers, Murray Baker, now in partnership with his former assistant, Andrew Forsman.

Just the year before last Baker won the 2015 Caulfield Cup with Mongolian Khan, another classic–winning three-year-old who captured both the New Zealand and Australian Derbies.

He ran fourth in the Underwood Stakes, and third in the Caulfield Stakes before winning the Cup, so don’t be surprised if Bonneval has her final hit-out in that race at Caulfield on Saturday week. If she wins it her Cup odds will be half of what they are now, around the $5.50 mark.

Filling the placings behind Bonneval in the Underwood were Hartnell and Gailo Chop. They both ran well but at the weights it is hard to see either of them turning the tables on the mare in the Caulfield Cup.

Hartnell had Bonneval’s back through the last 600 metres on Sunday, but never looked likely to get past her. He was giving her 3kg, but will have to give her an extra 2.5kg in the Cup. Gailo Chop had a three length break on the mare at the 400 metre mark in the Underwood, but was beaten more than a length, and meets her a half a kilo worse.

And finally ace jockey Hugh Bowman, who rode Bonneval in the Australian Oaks and the Underwood, commented after the latest win, “She’s a genuine Cups contender; I just wish I was light enough to ride her.”

Bonneval’s was by far the best Caulfield Cup trial at the weekend, but there were a couple of others worthy of note, one of them by the mare’s stablemate, Jon Snow, who in the autumn won the Australian Derby after finishing third in the NZ Derby.

He stepped out at Moonee Valley in the JRA Cup, a lead-up race won by the 2007 Caulfield Cup winner, Master O’Reilly, and produced a great staying performance to win.

Yes, it was a moderate field, but the four-year-old had to do it hard, first of all being caught five wide at the turn out of the straight, then sitting outside the leader before being forced to take up the running inside the 500 metres. But in the run to the line he quite simply outstayed his rivals, and with 54.5kg in the Cup, a drop of 4.5kg on what he carried at the Valley, he’s right there.

Up in Sydney, at Randwick, a handfull of Cup hopefuls went around in the time-honoured (love that term) Metropolitan Handicap. In recent times it’s not been much of a guide to the Caulfield Cup, but it’s worth remembering a decade or so ago, when the Metropolitan produced two successive Cup winners, Railings in 2005 and the European import,Tawqeet, in 2006.

The Metrop winner this year was Foundry, originally trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien, but bought by Lloyd Williams to arrive in Australia in late 2013. The following autumn he had two runs for a win, and a close second to Lidari in the Group Two Blamey Stakes, but couldn’t find that form early in the spring and was spelled.

He came back in the spring of 2015, and was third in the Kingston Town Stakes at Rosehill, but suffered an injury at his next start and was spelled again. He returned to the racecourse in September last year, and was placed in his first two starts, at Moonee Valley and Caulfield.

Yet again an injury forced him back to the spelling paddock, and it wasn’t until mid-August this year that he made his re-appearance. He ran two cracking races, leading and being run down in the shadows over 1600 metres at Caulfield, then coming from way off the pace to go down by less than a length when finishing fourth over 2040 metres at Moonee Valley.

Throughout the 2400 metres of the Metropolitan he was always in touch with the leaders  and  after reaching the lead three wide at the top of the straight kept going strongly down the running to hold Darren Weir’s good stayer, Big Duke, safely at bay.

Foundry was given the minimum 50kg in the Caulfield Cup, but Racing Victoria handicapper Greg Carpenter boosted his chances of getting into the field by penalising him a kilo for his win at Randwick.

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In the past two years the minimum weight carried in the Cup has been 51, although in 2014 the lowest weighted starter was 52kg. Foundry shapes as a better horse than his weight would suggest, which accounts for his current price of 20-1.

The weekend search for the possible Caulfield Cup winner wasn’t restricted to the racecourse. The first overseas arrival at the Werribee quarantine complex was the Japanese stayer Admire Deus, who appeared to take the long flight from Japan in his stride.

Bought by the very successful Australian Bloodstock operation – it won the 2014 Melbourne Cup with Protectionist – he will be in the care of Australia’s top trainer, Darren Weir, and has the Flemington showpiece as his main mission.

Initially it seemed likely he would go to the Melbourne Cup without having a run, but now the connections are talking about a prior start, and the Caulfield Cup is the logical choice.

And why wouldn’t it be, given the few Japanese horses to have run in it, in most cases have performed brilliantly. In 2015 Fame Game ran sixth after being last on the turn, and the previous year Admire Rakti stormed to a mighty win.

Tokai Trick did nothing in 2010, but in 2006 the first Japanese horses to contest the race, Delta Blues and Pop Rock, were both off the track for almost the entire journey, yet managed to finish third and seventh respectively. Just over two weeks later they ran the quinella in the Melbourne Cup.

Significantly all of those horses were racing first up, and even more significantly, at their previous starts three of them ran in the 3200 metre Tenno Sho, Japan’s biggest staying race, at Kyoto at the end of April. Fame Game ran second, Admire Rakti 10th, and Delta Blues, 10th.

In this year’s Tenno Sho Admire Deus was handy all the way and finished fourth, less than two lengths from the winner. He looks tough, he is tough, and at the moment he’s a 16-1 chance. With the Weir polish on he is to be feared if he steps out at Caulfield.

And finally, if you’re looking for a long shot to back in the Melbourne Cup then perhaps a tenner each-way a horse called Lord Fandango might not go astray.

He’s a former English horse owned by Terry Henderson’s powerful OTI operation, who won two races over 2400 metres in England, and in five starts for up-and-coming Ballarat trainer Archie Alexander has had two wins and a second.

Lord Fandango has the minimum 50kg in the Melbourne Cup and will need a rabbit’s foot, a four-leaf clover and a lucky horse shoe to get a run. Which is probably why he’s a 300-1 chance.

Last Friday he won the Benalla Cup. Good for him, you might say, but what’s that got to do with the Melbourne Cup. Well, in 1984 it had a lot to do with it. The winner that year was a horse called Black Knight, trained by George Hanlon. A month or so later he scored a runaway win in….the Melbourne Cup.

Just for fun, eh.

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Author: Brian Meldrum

Brian Meldrum has been a racing journalist for more than 47 years, and is a former Managing Editor – Racing, at the Herald Sun.

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