An absolute blockbuster at the "G" this Saturday afternoon between Collingwood and Hawthorn, but don't forget there are winners to be had, and money to be made at the track. Wizard is particularly keen on the Flemington meeting on Saturday if the weather gods are not disturbed before then. The Flemington track is rated a dead 4 at the moment, and the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts for today, Friday and Saturday are mostly sunny, possible shower and partly cloudy respectively, so one would assume the track will be no worse than a dead 4 come Saturday. However this is Melbourne, and anything could happen! If significant rain does arrive a comprehensive update to the form analysis will be posted.
Flemington, race 1
A tricky race to begin proceedings with only three horses appearing to have enough ability to win the race. They are Stralia (currently $2.70 with TAB Sportsbet), Escado ($3.50) and Dispatch ($4.40), but all three have question marks over their credentials.
However I think Dispatch represents value at the $4.40. His form last preparation on good and dead tracks was excellent, and after failing at his first two starts back from a spell on slow tracks, he managed to turn it all around on a bog track at Kilmore. I don't usually like horses coming off such tracks to a completely different surface at their next start, but now that he is back in form, proven on the much better surface, top class jockey Steven Arnold to ride, and the best price of the three horses above, I think Dispatch is a very good each way gamble.
FRIDAY UPDATE: There has been a big plunge on Hai Lil for this race, in from $8.50 to $5 on TAB Sportsbet. However on exposed form the $5 appears under the odds; I'm sticking with Dispatch with Stralia the most likely danger.
Flemington, race 3
Galileo Gold has been backed already from $3.50 into $3 with TAB Sportsbet, and even at the reduced price looks a good bet. This horse has gone "gangbusters" since the blinkers were applied two starts ago, firstly winning at Bendigo from subsequent winner Sussuro by 1.8 lengths in the time of 1.35.35 for 1600 metres, and followed this up with a great effort in the final of the Winter Championship going down by a half head.
Galileo Gold has never been successful at the 2000 metres of this race, but judging him on his last two performances at 1600 metres it should not be a problem. He also has better statistics on rain affected ground than good tracks, but the fast time he ran at Bendigo suggests he won't be bothered by a good track.
Gail is an inconsistent mare who could represent a danger if she is on song. My Bentley, Streaky Fella and Crafty Cruiser are all coming back in distance from the 2600 metres of the final of the Banjo Paterson series, which is no easy task. The big query in the race is the Irish horse Fictional Account who is having its first start in Australia for David Hayes, but Galileo Gold looks to be a very good gamble.
Flemington, race 4
The early betting on TAB Sportsbet would suggest that this is a two-horse race between African Pulse ($2.80) and Instalment ($3.10). However I think this race is much more open than the betting suggests so tread warily.
The key to this race is how African Pulse performs first-up; his previous first-up record is 3 starts for 3 wins which suggests he will perform very well. His best form is clearly the best in the race, but being first-up with an inexperienced apprentice jockey on board, $2.80 may not represent value. Instalment has been very heavily backed in early betting, and being from the Mark Kavanagh stable has to be respected. However the $3.10 now available represents poor value, despite the fact this horse has won 3 of his 6 race starts.
Others in this race which must also be considered are Baron Douro ($8.50), Shanghai Warrior ($9), Bombalatomba ($9) and Our Lucky Rain ($11). Baron Douro is literally flying since the blinkers have been applied, and although he is coming back in distance from 1200 metres to 11oo metres, has a real turn of foot which he could utilise to great effect if the breaks go his way. Shanghai Warrior is also coming back in distance but could be a big improver off his first-up run, drops 3.5kg in weight, and with the prospect of a good track and with Glen Boss to ride is in this race with a live chance. Bombalatomba is an underrated horse who showed genuine promise last preparation, and Our Lucky Rain is massively up in class but was impressive in its maiden victory.
FRIDAY UPDATE: African Pulse has been scratched from this race, which means the betting market has been been turned on its head. The scratching of African Pulse takes a lot of the speed out of the race which will help the new favourite Instalment, but his new price of $2.30 is very short. The race now appears even trickier than before.
Flemington, race 5
Another tricky race with the first four in the betting all under the odds, namely Gossip Girl ($3), Andromache ($3.80), Neriani ($5.50) and The Long Road ($6).
Gossip Girl has the best overall form, with a fighting second to Ready To Rip in open company at her last start proving how well she is going. Although this horse is a "duck" in rain affected ground, her form is quite solid on good/dead tracks, but from barrier 10 with a 3kg apprentice on board, she is short enough in the betting although clearly the one to beat. Andromache and Neriani ran 11th and 14th respectively in the Gai Waterhouse Classic at Ipswich at their last appearances on dead ground, so I'm in no rush to back either of these at their current prices. The Long Road looks suited in this race with the prospect of good speed, but she does not win out of turn, so $6 is probably around her right price.
Looking outside these four runners, I am going to have a "throw at the stumps" with Cold Steel Rein, currently quoted at $13. She has had two reasonable runs from a spell, both on slow ground over 1100 and 1200 metres respectively. Last preparation she was very effective up to 2000 metres, so will relish the rise in distance to 1400 metres here. Of course it could still be too short for her in distance, but with the expected good speed in this race, on a much firmer surface, with the in-form apprentice Damian Lane on board, I think a small each-way bet on Cold Steel Rein is a reasonable gamble.
Flemington, race 7
This race is a 1000 metre scamper up the famous Flemington straight with most runners having speed to burn. Golden Archer is the best performed horse in the race, with a second to Sepoy last preparation. However his last start was 301 days ago, so you would need to know that he has returned in great shape to be contemplating taking the early odds of $2.70.
The other big query in the race is the former West Australian filly Night War, a half-sister to this year's Blue Diamond Stakes winner Samaready, and now also trained by Mick Price. WA has produced many a top-class horse over the years, and Night War (currently $6) will not need to have improved much at all to be very competitive in this race. Another former WA horse now trained in Victoria by Damien Williams worthy of respect is Morant ($11) who has excellent distance and first-up stats to back him up.
Having said that, I'm going to have a small each-way bet on Freereturn, currently $15 with TAB Sportsbet. After winning brilliantly first-up at Moonee Valley back in March, this horse has been very disappointing in all four subsequent starts. However he is unbeaten in four starts on good tracks (obviously he needs the weather gods to stay on side for a few more days), and has had four weeks off to freshen up for this dash up the straight. He is drawn alongside Golden Archer in barrier 11, which should give him clear running and every opportunity to come into the race if he returns to his best form, so I think he is worthy of a small bet.
The betting fluctuations before this race starts, especially in relation to the chances of Golden Archer and Night War, could be most illuminating! So if serious money arrives for either of these two horses, this is one occasion in which it may pay to "follow the money".
Flemington, race 8
I really like two horses in the final race of the day at Flemington, namely Imoto ($3.70) and Dayita ($5).
Imoto has simply exploded since stepping up to 1600 metres two starts ago, winning its maiden at Echuca by 7 lengths on a dead 4, followed up by a 3.5 length thrashing of the in-form fillies Aliberani and Dayita on a slow 7 track at Flemington. She rises 1kg in weight, takes on the colts and geldings in this race, and should be racing on a much firmer surface on Saturday. Despite all this, I think she is a very promising filly at the peak of her powers, trained from the powerful Mick Price stables at Caulfield, and to be ridden by the great Damien Oliver, and worthy of a significant bet.
If Imoto is to get beaten I think it will be by Dayita, who finished 4.5 lengths astern of Imoto at their last starts. However Dayita had no luck in that run, and did very well to sneak up along the fence with limited space carrying 60kg to grab third spot. She meets Imoto 3.5kg better (dropping 2.5kg herself), should have a clear run this time from barrier 12, and has a very significant jockey change with Luke Nolen taking over the reins. The fact she is also trained by the all-conquering Peter Moody doesn't hurt either.
Others in the race with a chance are Infinite Energy ($3.90), Harmonic ($9.50), Rollerball ($5.50) and the "roughie" French Tang at $21. However Infinite Energy and Rollerball are both under the odds in current markets.
My suggested bet is to back Imoto to win, with a smaller win bet on Dayita. Maybe take the quinella on these two horses only, and hope for the best!
FRIDAY UPDATE: There has been another massive "go" in this race in the form of the Robert Smerdon trained galloper Rollerball, having been backed from $8.50 into $4.80 on TAB Sportsbet. Any well backed runner from this stable has to be respected, but on its exposed form Rollerball is not value at this price. I'm sticking with Imoto and Dayita.