The first sign that the Spring Racing Carnival is just around the corner is group racing at Caulfield this Saturday in the form of the Group 3 Bletchingly Stakes over 1200 metres. Despite the fact there are two Group 1 winners engaged in the race, namely Heart of Dreams and Eagle Falls, this year's version is quite an average affair. It is a difficult race to assess as well, as is the entire card from start to finish, with many chances in each race so tread very warily. Still creating great interest is the titanic battle between Luke Nolen and Craig Newitt for the Melbourne Jockeys Premiership; Nolen holds a two-win advantage with only Saturday's meeting at Caulfield and Sunday's meeting at Sandown remaining in the racing season.
The Caulfield track is rated a dead 5 as of Thursday afternoon, with the Bureau of Meteorology predicting showers between now and Saturday, which only adds to the uncertainty surrounding this meeting.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Persistent showers have seen the Caulfield track downgraded from a dead 5 to a slow 7; with a maximum temperature of 15 and scattered showers forecast for tomorrow there is very little chance of an upgrade.
Caulfield, race 1
Although there are only eight starters in the opening race, there are five horses right in the betting, namely Yulalona, Cosmic Causeway, Stoneblack, Volando and Mannopoly. Of these Cosmic Causeway, Volando and Mannopoly have never been tested over the 1800 metres of this race, so obviously they have not failed yet either. Stoneblack is the favourite, proven at the distance and back in form with a 5.5 length victory at Sandown at its last start, but he has yet to taste success in 12 previous starts at the track.
I am selecting Yulalona for this race by default, but it has its own obstacles to overcome, foremost being the 60 kg it is being asked to shoulder. This Peter Snowden trained gelding is proven at the distance, has Glen Boss to ride, can handle all track conditions, and should be "cherry ripe" for this event after two good runs over shorter distances since returning from a spell.
Caulfield, race 4
This race is tricky for the simple fact that only the roughie Miss Matty has previously traversed the 2400 metres. Therefore we need to be able to predict who will best run out the distance in this moderate staying affair.
There are many reasons not to back Min River in this race; she started $31 in her last victory and will be much shorter on Saturday, she is coming off a "peak" performance after an inexplicably horrible performance the week before at Flemington, she rises a hefty 4.5 kg in weight, and is not proven at the distance.
I am going to have a small bet on her, nonetheless! If we forgive her that horrible performance at Flemington, her other form is excellent, including the previous 7th at Caulfield in which she had no luck. She has won on good, dead and heavy-rated tracks so the prevailing track conditions should not bother her. She is a well-bred Flying Spur filly out of a Zabeel mare, from the Mick Price stables, who was very strong to the line in her last victory over hot favourite Genuine Spin. The big improver in the race could be Moscow Pearl, with Glen Boss taking over from an inexperienced apprentice. I am banking on the "real" Min River showing up again on Saturday, in which case I think she is worthy of a small wager.
Caulfield, race 5
A very difficult race with almost every horse having some credentials to win. I am having a very small each-way bet on Al's Racing, currently around $10 with fixed odds operators. This horse should be able to race much closer to the speed this time from barrier 2, with Loot 'N' Run and Daybreak from barriers 1 and 3 right on the pace. He won his first race start on a good track, and was very strong to the line at his last start on a heavy track at Caulfield over the same 1400 metre distance, so he shouldn't have too many troubles coping with the condition of the track. There are too many other chances in this race to mention, but if the breaks go his way in the straight, Al's Racing represents good value at double-figure odds.
Caulfield, race 6
As I indicated earlier the main race of the day is lacking in class, and the winner of this race may not be a true WFA (weight for age) horse. Heart of Dreams is the best performed horse in the race but has not run for 315 days, and may need the run. The next-best performed runner is Eagle Falls, who is also first-up. If the real one shows up he would be well suited to this race; after winning brilliantly first-up last preparation, he failed miserably at his next four starts! If there is "money" for either of these two horses a small wager should at least be considered.
No less than six of the runners from the Sir John Monash Stakes are going around again in this race, with the runner-up Royal Bender, the highest placed runner from that race. The "unlucky" horse from that race was undoubtedly the rising 9 year-old Green Birdie, who with more luck in the straight might very well have won instead of coming 7th. This horse has been heavily backed in early markets into around the $4 mark, which is short enough for a horse who had his last win in 2010.
For value runners in this race I'm looking outside the Sir John Monash Stakes in the form of Dusty Star and Ready to Rip. There is potentially good speed here with Dusty Star, Hot Spin, Zamorar and Tariana all capable of leading, with Royal Bender and Ready to Rip not far away. Dusty Star is best when able to dictate terms in front, and with Glen Boss to ride, expect this horse to be ridden aggressively in the early stages. He loves the "sting" out of the ground, and at the $13 currently available appears somewhat over the odds. Ready to Rip won unimpressively first-up for Peter Moody in a weaker race to keep his unbeaten first-up record intact; although his second-up record is not quite as impressive, horses rarely go backwards from this stable, and are invariably ear-marked for races they can win.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Heart of Dreams, Diplomatic Force and Tariana are all early scratchings from the main event. The scratching of Heart of Dreams is significant as there is now one less genuine winning chance in the race. The scratching of Tariana is also potentially significant as there is now one less horse in the race for the front. Dusty Star and Ready to Rip remain my two value selections for this race.
Caulfield, race 7
They don't get any easier!! This race is particularly difficult as there are several fillies in excellent form, many of them coming from different form lines, which is the most difficult type of race to deconstruct.
I am having another small each-way bet on the top-weight Manhattan Maid, the only multiple city winner in the race. She was poorly ridden at her last start in an apprentices-only 1600 metre race at Caulfield, but with Damien Oliver taking over on Saturday I'm not expecting the same mistakes again! Her biggest problem this time is that she is being asked to carry the "grandstand"; her 60kg being 4kg more than any other horse in the race.
However, she is rated 16 points higher than the next-highest rated horse so she is actually well-weighted! She has carried 59kg to victory before in a tough win at Flemington back in May, is well-drawn, suited back to 1400 metres, adept in all types of going, with "Ollie" to ride, Manhattan Maid represents some value at the $8.50 currently available. As I indicated earlier though, this race is bordering on impossible!
Caulfield, race 8
No surprises here; another difficult race to wrap up the meeting! The four horses I have identified as key chances are Justify That ($12), Prince Obama ($8), Club Command ($4) and Giresun ($7 ino $5.50).
These are not the only chances in this race either, but trying to come up with the best value selection from my top four above, I have plumped for Prince Obama. After two deplorable efforts after a long spell, the horse was given 45 days off to freshen-up, after which he has performed admirably with two close-up efforts down the Flemington straight. The performance of Ready to Rip earlier in the day could be most illuminating, as "The Prince" was beaten only 0.4 lengths by him at his last start. The second horse from that race, Gossip Girl, was a major flop last week which is a concern, but the $8 for this race still looks tempting.
Last August Prince Obama ran Whobegotyou to 0.8 lengths, with Lights of Heaven in second place, at WFA over the same course and distance. If Prince Obama can recapture that form the $8 will look very tempting; he deserves an each-way ticket for Saturday's race.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Secret Flyer, Alpha Proxima and Stanzior are early scratchings for the last race. The scratching of Alpha Proxima is significant as there will now be less pressure in the race. This will help Club Command come across from his wide barrier with ease and control the race outside the likely leader Justify That, making him very difficult to beat. Luckyi'mbarefoot has excellent heavy track statistics so must be considered also. Prince Obama is still value at around $8 but Club Command will be very hard to run down.