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Ad Pride Of Jenni and Declan Bates claim their second Group 1 win for the Melbourne Cup Carnival in the Kennedy Champions Mile. (Morgan Hancock/Racing Photos)

2023 at HQ

29 December 2023 Written by Celia Purdey

In 2023, racing at Flemington was once again a tapestry of thrilling races and remarkable achievements, creating enduring memories for fans and participants alike. Join us as we revisit the defining moments that made this year at Flemington a truly special chapter in Australian horse racing.

The VRC commenced the calendar year with its traditional New Year’s Day race meeting, highlighted by the Listed Bagot Handicap (2800m). It was won by the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained San Huberto, ridden by Ethan Brown.

On VRC Summer Fun Race Day, the Group 3 Standish Handicap (1200m) featured a win by the speedy Snapper, trained by Mike Moroney and ridden by Jye McNeil.

The Resimax Group Rapid Racing twilight meeting was the VRC’s third January race meeting, taking place on a Friday afternoon with seven races scheduled, each 30 minutes apart. It offered a fun afternoon of competitive racing along the famous Flemington straight. On-course patrons were able to guess the top speed for horses to take part in a fun competition.

Coolangatta wins a star-studded Black Caviar Lightning. (Scott Barbour/Racing Photos)

BLACK CAVIAR LIGHTNING RACE DAY

The renowned Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning (1000m) in February gathered top-tier sprinters, including some of the world’s best such as Nature Strip, Coolangatta, I Wish I Win, and Bella Nipotina.

Three-year-old filly Coolangatta, steered by champion jockey Jamie Kah, handed Victoria’s leading trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace another Group 1 victory at Flemington.

The day also featured the Group 3 Tony Bourke Memorial (1400m) which was named after the esteemed racing writer who had passed away earlier in the year, with Annavisto also claiming victory for Jamie Kah.

Legarto after winning the Australian Guineas. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

FLEMINGTON RACING SPECTACULAR

The Flemington Racing Spectacular took on a new format in 2023, with the addition of a standalone TAB Australian Cup Day on Saturday March 25. The Group 1 action in March started with Australian Guineas Day on Saturday 4 March where New Zealand-trained filly Legarto took the prize in the Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m). Trained by Bev and Ken Kelso, Legarto became just the sixth filly to win the Australian Guineas since it was first run in 1986.

On Super Saturday, more than 15,000 racegoers watched as 16 sprinters lined up over the famous Flemington straight course for the 150th running of the Group 1 Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap (1200m). The illustrious field included 2022 winner Roch ‘N’ Horse, Coolmore Stud Stakes victor In Secret and Sydney sprinter Private Eye. Jockey Dean Holland replaced an injured Jamie Kah on In Secret, achieving a career highlight by securing victory in the Godolphin blue.

In Secret and Dean Holland return to the mounting yard after winning the Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap. (Reg Ryan/Racing Photos)

For the first time, the Group 1 TAB Australian Cup (2000m) was rescheduled to follow the All-Star Mile. James Cummings claimed victory with the popular chestnut galloper Cascadian, mirroring the successes of his grandfather Bart, who won the race 13 times, and his brother Edward who triumphed in 2022 with Duais. Ben Melham rode the eight-year-old gelding to what was also Ben’s first win in the TAB Australian Cup.

The day also featured a new golden ticket race for the 2023 Lexus Melbourne Cup with the running of the Lexus Roy Higgins Quality (2600m). The race was won by Goldman, trained by Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott.

Lunar Flare made light work of her rivals in the Lexus Andrew Ramsden. (George Sal/Racing Photos)

2023 WINTER RACING

In May, Lunar Flare triumphed in the Listed Lexus Andrew Ramsden (2800m) by five lengths, earning her golden ticket into the 2023 Lexus Melbourne Cup. However, after an incredible career, Lunar Flare was retired in October 2023.

On VRC Members Race Day, Horsham trainer Paul Preusker unveiled a top-line galloper in Steparty, who went on to win again on VRC Country Race Day. The Winter Racing season culminated with Flemington Finals Race Day, where stars like Nature Strip, Santa Ana Lane, Eduardo, I’m Thunderstruck, Gytrash, and Miami Bound have emerged in the past.

The Listed VRC-CRV Winter Championship (1600m) was claimed by Matt Laurie’s Riddle Me That. Mark and Levi Kavanagh’s First Immortal delivered an impressive victory in the Mahogany Challenge Final (2500m), while Albury trainer Mitch Beer celebrated another career highlight with Mnementh winning the Listed Santa Ana Lane Sprint Series Final (1200m).

Harris Walker gives Starlight Scope a well-earned pat after securing his first winner as a trainer. (Photo by George Sal/Racing Photos)

VRC SEASON PREMIERE RACE DAY

In a spectacular kick-off to their collaboration, emerging trainer Harris Walker notched his first triumph in partnership with Pat Carey winning with Starlight Scope.

Danny O’Brien’s It’sourtime secured victory in the prestigious Group 3 Aurie’s Star Handicap. This win marked an impressive record of three victories and five placings for It’sourtime out of 11 starts at Flemington.

 

SPRING CLASSICS PREVIEW DAY

Spring Classics Preview Day unveiled promising prospects and intense competition as Sunsets, narrowly missing victory in the Derby Trial, resiliently pushed forward to secure a commendable third position against Riff Rocket and Apulia.

Meanwhile, first, third, fourth and fifth placegetters in the Oaks Trial went on to compete in the main race, but were no match for Zardozi on the day.

 

SOFITEL GIRLS’ DAY OUT

Amidst the excitement of Sofitel Girls’ Day Out, Mr Brightside emerged victorious, clinching the coveted Group 1 PFD Food Services Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m).

The race’s namesake and champion herself graced the track, contributing to the celebration of the 20-year anniversary since the first of the mare’s three Melbourne Cup triumphs.

2022 Melbourne Cup winner Gold Trip returns to Flemington and wins the TAB Turnbull Stakes for trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace and strapper Mitch Conners.. (Reg Ryan/Racing Photos)

TAB TURNBULL STAKES DAY

Racegoers on TAB Turnbull Stakes Day witnessed 2022 Lexus Melbourne Cup champion Gold Trip storm to victory in the Group 1 TAB Turnbull Stakes (2000m).

Meanwhile, Future History secured a golden ticket into the 2023 Lexus Melbourne Cup by claiming victory in the Group 3 Lexus Bart Cummings (2520m).

The day would go on to predict the winners of both the 2023 Kennedy Oaks (Zardozi) and Penfolds Victoria Derby (Riff Rocket) when they won the Group 2 TAB Edward Manifold Stakes (1600m) and Listed ABC Bullion Super Impose Stakes (1800m), respectively.

Riff Rocket grabs Apulia on the line in an epic Penfolds Victoria Derby. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

PENFOLDS VICTORIA DERBY DAY

Under blue skies and amidst a sea of roses, favourite Riff Rocket narrowly nosed out Apulia to claim the Group 1 Penfolds Victoria Derby (2500m) for Chris Waller and jockey James McDonald.

It was one of many highlights from a spectacular day of racing in which Damien Oliver landed a double, taking the Group 3 Lexus Archer Stakes (1100m) and the Group 3 Furphy Sprint (1100m). Oliver was joined by Tim Clark and Jamie Kah in riding doubles, while Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott claimed training honours with a double of their own.

The Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) was won by the Bjorn Baker-prepared Ozzmosis under a terrific Rachel King ride, while daring tactics on the lead from Declan Bates aboard Pride Of Jenni paid off when the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained mare held off all challengers to take the Group 1 TAB Empire Rose Stakes (1600m).

Without A Fight hands jockey Mark Zahra his second successive Lexus Melbourne Cup. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

LEXUS MELBOURNE CUP DAY

A new name was etched onto the 163-year honour roll of Australia’s greatest race, the Lexus Melbourne Cup, when Mark Zahra raced to victory aboard the Anthony and Sam Freedman-trained Without A Fight. A bumper crowd of 84,492 racegoers witnessed Without A Fight become the 12th winner of Australia’s most prestigious double, joining the likes of Poseidon, Gurner’s Lane, Let’s Elope, Doriemus and Might And Power as a winner of both the Caulfield Cup and Lexus Melbourne Cup.

Zahra became the first jockey since Harry White in 1978 (Arwon) and 1979 (Hyperno) to win the Cup in consecutive years on different horses. As for the Freedmans, the father and son training partnership added a sixth victory for the family, joining the five wins secured by Anthony’s brother Lee with Tawrrific (1989), Subzero (1992), Doriemus (1995) and Makybe Diva (2004, 2005).

It was the highlight on a spectacular day of racing that saw Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young capture training honours with a double to Forgot You in the Listed Furphy Plate (1800m) and Pascero in the Paramount+ Trophy (1400m), while Damien Oliver secured his 25th and final win on Lexus Melbourne Cup Day aboard the Travis Doudle-prepared Wiggum in The Schweppervescence Plate (1000m). Tony and Calvin McEvoy recorded a quinella in the Group 3 Darley Maribyrnong Plate (1000m) with Dublin Down and Blue Stratum, before New Zealand Group 1 winner Skew Wiff produced a strong victory in the Group 3 The Hong Kong Jockey Club Stakes (1400m).

James McDonald delighted after Zardozi won the Kennedy Oaks. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

KENNEDY OAKS DAY

Zardozi took out the 2023 edition of the Group 1 Kennedy Oaks (2500m), with the James Cummings-trained filly continuing a royal run for the Cummings family in the race in recent years, adding to the one won by patriarch Jim and a record-equalling nine secured by the legendary Bart. It was McDonald’s first Kennedy Oaks, with the win handing him the “Classic Double” after landing the Penfolds Victoria Derby on Riff Rocket. He was the first to win both races in the same year since Damien Oliver in 2019.

Blake Shinn landed a double aboard Annabel Neasham’s Little Mix in the Good Friday Appeal Trophy (2000m) and Picaroon, for trainer Tom Dabernig, in the $500,000 Melbourne Cup Carnival Country Final (1600m). Najem Suhail, who began his career in South Africa, scored a memorable victory in the Listed G.H. Mumm Century Stakes (1000m) for jockey Damian Lane and trainers Robbie Griffiths and Mathew de Kock, while fillies Karavas and Mumbai Muse added valuable black type victories in the Group 3 Darley Ottawa Stakes (1000m) and the Group 3 The Bachelors Red Roses Stakes (1100m) respectively.

Imperatriz and Opie Bosson claim the Darley Champions Sprint. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

TAB CHAMPIONS STAKES DAY

The final day of the carnival, TAB Champions Stakes Day, saw 58,021 people in attendance to witness champions of the turf celebrated and crowned across three heavyweight contests, taking the total crowd across the four days to over 262,000. Australasia’s sprint queen Imperatriz conquered her rivals and the famous Flemington straight in the $3 million Group 1 Darley Champions Sprint (1200m) with a dominant success under Opie Bosson. A Group 1 winner on both sides of the Tasman, the win made the Mark Walker-trained Imperatriz the most successful top flight winner in the world in 2023 with six at the highest level; no other horse worldwide has won more than four.

Pride Of Jenni backed up her incredible victory in the TAB Empire Rose Stakes with another runaway win in the $3 million Group 1 Kennedy Champions Mile (1600m) for trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace and jockey Declan Bates. The $3 million Group 1 TAB Champions Stakes (2000m) was taken out by Chris Waller-trained Atishu, giving superstar jockey James McDonald his third Group 1 race win of the week. Deny Knowledge took out the Group 2 TAB Matriarch Stakes (2000m).

 

RESIMAX GROUP RAPID RACING RACE DAY

Run for the second time in 2023 in a new time slot, the fast-paced action of Resimax Group Rapid Racing Race Day was added to the pre-Christmas calendar and conducted on a Wednesday afternoon. Seven races down the famous Flemington straight and 30-minutes between races, headlined by the addition of the Listed Kensington Stakes (1000m), which was taken out by the Grahame Begg-trained gelding Katsu, who added his fifth win from ten starts in his short career and his first stakes win. Regular rider Jordan Childs was on board, continuing his great association with the Begg stable.