Saturday preview: Six things to keep an eye on

11 min read
There is a definite whiff of spring in the air - well maybe not with the weather - but definitely with the racing as a number of classy performers set to resume this weekend. Flemington and Randwick play host to Group sprints whilst there is also black-type interest in New Zealand and Artorius attempts to add a second Group 1 to his record in France.

Cover image courtesy of Sportpix

The Aurie's Star - a Group 3 dash down the Flemington straight

This race owes its black-type promotion, having has been run at Group 3 level since 2010 and as a Listed race for the five years before that, to one person - the legendary trainer Bart Cummings who so famously used this dash down the Flemington straight to kick off the spring campaigns of so many of his top performers.

It may be that this year's running proves to be the starting point of successful spring preparations with three of the seven runners resuming and those three horses have all shown definite signs of class, such as Just Folk (Magnus), who relished the Heavy conditions to win the G2 Ajax S. last spring, having previously landed the G3 Crystal Mile on Cox Plate Day.

Then there is the classy Western Australian raider Stageman (Written Tycoon) who kicks off his Melbourne career for the Danny O'Brien stable having been formerly trained by Adam Durrant. He has not won for a while but he is a Listed winner who has been nine times stakes-placed including a fast-finishing G1 Winterbottom S. second last spring.

King Of Sparta, the current favourite in the G3 Aurie's Star H. at Flemington | Image courtesy of Bronwen Healy

Romancer (NZ) (Redwood {GB}) will also be having his first start of his preparation when he tackles the Group 3. Sparingly raced in recent times, he is a dual Listed winner and is trained by the very capable hands of Grahame Begg.

It is horses with runs under their belts dominating the betting however. The first three in the market all boasting good lead-up form, with the favourite King Of Sparta (I Am Invincible) impressing with a determined second-up victory in the G3 Bletchingly S. at Caulfield a couple of weeks ago.

Also strongly fancied is Sirius Suspect (Wanted), who was close up in this race first up last year. A horse who really loves the Flemington straight (winning four races over the 1200 metres there), he was always in control when winning the Listed Straight Six at the Melbourne track in early July.

Queensland visitor Shooting For Gold (Shooting To Win) is also fresh and he is a horse who doesn’t know how to run a bad race.

Missile S. - an early taste of Sydney's spring

He doesn't saddle up any of the main fancies but Kris Lees certainly makes his mark on this year's running of Sydney's first Group race of the season – sending out four of the 12 runners.

Already winning the G2 Missile S. on two occasions with Invincible Gem (I Am Invincible) in 2017 and Captain Bax (Snippets) in 2008, Lees will be cheering on Gem Song (Your Song), who ran a great race in the Listed Ramornie H. first-up, while he will also saddle Special Reward (Demerit), who resumes having been in great form last summer.

Consistent stakes-level performer, Wandabaa (Wandjina), will also represent Lees in the Group 2 and his quartet of runners are completed by Enchanted Heart (Shamus Award), who is up in class off an unlucky second (promoted on protest) at Rosehill.

Kris Lees will be hoping for a win in the G2 Missile S. on Saturday when he saddles up four of the 12 runners at Randwick | Image courtesy of Ashlea Brennan

Tommy Berry won last year’s edition of the Group 2 on Phobetor (Dream Ahead {USA}) and he will be looking for back-to-back success when he jumps on board Nimalee (So You Think {NZ}). A surprise winner the G1 Queen of the Turf S. at her most recent outing in April, she likes it longer but her first-up record is consistent.

However, it is Forbidden Love (All Too Hard) who has opened favourite - and what great form she was in last time in; stringing together a couple of Group 1 wins in the G1 Canterbury S. and the G1 George Ryder S. She can really pull out a run fresh, as can some of her rivals, including Count De Rupee (Real Impact {Jpn}) and Hilal (Fastnet Rock), who loves Randwick.

Meanwhile, Belluci Babe (NZ) (Per Incanto {USA}) also runs well fresh and she comes into Saturday’s race having been in the thick of things in good company throughout her autumn campaign.

Premier's Cup Prelude - stakes class without the black type

This 1800-metre contest at Randwick may not carry black type but its winner is going to need to be a classy animal as the 14-strong field is one of considerable depth with many of the contestants proven stakes performers.

The field includes last-start Listed Grafton Cup winner Arapaho (Fr) (Lope De Vega {Ire}) and he is one of the seven stakes winners lining up here. While he is back in distance, he lacks nothing for fitness and is racing well.

Another imported last-start stakes winner is Skyman (GB) (Mukhadram {GB}) and he comes into the race off the back of a tenacious victory in the Listed W.J McKell Cup in June. The other stakes winners are all roughies but are horses worth keeping an eye on for the future such as Realm Of Flowers (So You Think {NZ}) and Carif (So You Think {NZ}) who have both displayed good staying potential in the past.

Lord Ardmore (NZ) (Reliable Man {GB}) is also a horse with promise. He is up in class but he was dominant leading throughout at Rosehill at only his second run in. Francesco Gardi (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) , who is also set to line up in Saturday’s race, fought on well for second in that race and the pair pulled well clear of the second-placed horse.

However, Alcyone (Teofilo {Ire}) may be the one to beat. He won't know himself with the massive weight drop and he is a horse who has always shown above average middle distance talent.

Riccarton's Winter Cup - familiar colours

A set of familiar colours will be in action in the G3 Winter Cup, a historic race which was first run in 1892. For the first six years it was contested over 2000 metres and ever since then over the mile and this year it sees Verry Flash (NZ) (Zed {NZ}) attempting to add his name to the honour.

And he is of course the one-year older brother to star mare Verry Elleegant (NZ), who is herself getting ready to make her debut in France in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, racing in the same red and blue colours, Verry Flash looks a top chance to add a second stakes race to his resume having won the Listed Rangitikei Gold Cup in May.

Lord Darci (NZ) (Darci Brahma {NZ}) is a threat on the back of consistent form. The lightly raced 5-year-old is a three-time winner and three times placed from just twelve starts with his latest Oamaru Cup second a rather unlucky one.

Verry Flash (NZ) (pictured), brother to eleven-time Group 1 winner Verry Elleegant (NZ), looks to add the G3 Winter Cup to his name | Image courtesy of NZ Racing Desk

Another horse who doesn't know how to run a bad race is Kick On (NZ) (Per Incanto {USA}). A five-time winner from 16 starts, he has trialled nicely since his latest good run and he has Verry Flash form having run on well behind him in the Rangitikei Gold Cup.

Kusuda (NZ) (Tavistock {NZ}) knows how to find the line too. Successful at two of her last three starts she seeks valuable black type with the pedigree to back it up, her Listed-winning dam also producing the G1 Thoroughbred Breeders' S. winner Nicoletta (NZ) (Savabeel).

Jockeys Celebration Day Sprint - which of the in-form sprinters?

The last race on the Flemington card is an interesting one with three talented, up-and-coming sprinters taking each other on, with Fire (Fastnet Rock), Squid Game (Shooting To Win) and Chain Of Lightning (Fighting Sun) all set to clash.

A $360,000 graduate of the 2020 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale, Fire (bred on that so successful Fastnet Rock/Storm Cat {USA} cross) has won three of his six starts including both of his runs in 2022 - a Sandown BM64 event in February and a BM70 at that same track a couple of weeks ago.

The two races were contested on differing surfaces (Good and Heavy) and he was impressive on pace on both occasions.

A NZ$150,000 Karaka purchase, Squid Game atoned for an unlucky late June Caulfield second with a soft victory at Flemington last time out. The margin was not a big one but the lightly raced 4-year-old looked to have plenty left in the tank.

The Ramsey Pastoral homebred Chain Of Lightning is another exciting type, creating a big impression winning her first two (at Inverell and Armidale) for the Stirling Osland stable before being transferred to Peter Moody.

Despite the rise in class, she was favourite at his Melbourne debut at Caulfield late last month and she sent was straight to the front - really looking the goods racing away to a smart 2l victory.

It is an intriguing contest between the three, especially as they all have good pace - tactics will be interesting.

Prix Maurice de Gheest - Artorius to shine in France?

One of the other highlights of the weekend will be Artorius (Flying Artie) as he attempts to sign off his European summer adventure with a victory in Sunday’s G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville.

The Newgate and Partners-racing 4-year-old has produced two fine efforts since his arrival in the Northern Hemisphere, first when he finished third in the G1 Platinum Jubilee S. at Royal Ascot in June, while he occupied that same placing on his next start in the G1 July Cup a few weeks later.

Artorius’ racing style to be held up at the back should suit Deauville and the extra 100 metres should do the horse no harm either. Sam Freedman is back this side of the world to watch the entire attempt to add a second elite-level win to his record and he has made no secret to the fact the horse will appreciate the month break between runs, having landed the G1 Blue Diamond S. as a 2-year-old off a similarly spaced lay-off.

Artorius looks to sign off his European adventure with a win in the G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville | Image courtesy of Bronwen Healy

However, while the conditions will suit Artorius down to the ground, he will once again clash with old foe Naval Crown (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}). The Charlie Appleby-trained 4-year-old has got the better of Artorius in both their meetings, first when winning the G1 Platinum Jubilee S., before finishing second, 0.5l in front of Artorius and 1.5l behind the winner Alcohol Free (Ire) (No Nay Never {USA}), in the G1 July Cup.

The son of Dubawi (Ire) is clearly very talented, but failed to fire on his previous visit to the French track when he finished a well-beaten eighth in the G1 Prix Jean Prat over 1400 metres.

The Richard Fahey-trained Perfect Power (Ire) (Ardad {Ire}) will also line up in the Group 1 on Sunday. Last seen finishing seventh in the G1 July Cup, Perfect Power added a third Group 1 to his CV when beating a high-class field in the G1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot in June.

However, importantly, the 3-year-old has course and distance form, having taken out the G1 Prix Morny a little under 12 months ago and, if he can produce that sort of form again, could be very dangerous.

Another with course and distance form is the Clive Cox-trained Harry Three (GB) (Adaay {Ire}). The 3-year-old colt has won his three most recent starts, which culminated in a victory in a facile 3.5l triumph in the Listed Prix Kistena on July 10.

In typical Cox fashion, the colt has not been rushed, steadily making his way through the grades and the trainer, who has carved out a reputation as a master at training sprinters, will not doubt having peaking at just the right time for Sunday's Group 1.

The Six
Saturday preview
Six things to keep an eye on