Bagot revival underlines its importance

30 December 2022 Written by Brad Bishop – Racing & Sports

It’s long odds that whoever wins Sunday’s Bagot Handicap at Flemington will be back as a leading contender in the Melbourne Cup 10 months later. 

After all, the 2800-metre Listed Bagot has been a feature of the Victoria Racing Club’s New Year’s Day meeting since 1884 and never has the winner claimed the Melbourne Cup in the same year.

You’d think the chances of any of the beaten brigade going on to be a spring force would be even more slim.

Most would have assumed that 12 months ago when Tigertiger defeated Skelm and Long Arm.

But behind them were a subsequent Melbourne Cup placegetter and a Flemington Group 1 winner.

Smokin’ Romans started favourite in the 2022 Bagot Handicap and beat home just one rival, outsider Fanciful Toff, but was immediately spelled and returned in spring to win the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes before starting favourite in the Caulfield Cup, in which he finished seventh.

Smokin’ Romans also finished seventh in the Melbourne Cup, four places behind his Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained stablemate High Emocean, who finished third after winning the Group 3 Bendigo Cup.

High Emocean could manage only fifth placing in the Bagot Handicap earlier in the year.

The previous year’s Bagot Handicap unearthed Tralee Rose, who later won a Geelong Cup and had her admirers in a Melbourne Cup, while the year before Etah James won the Group 1 Sydney Cup just three starts after finishing unplaced in the Bagot.

The Bagot Handicap is far from the biggest race run at Flemington each year, but recent results vindicate the VRC’s decision to provide a balanced year-round calendar.

“We’ve got these races every few months or so which are part of our commitment to the staying horse,” VRC executive general manager of racing Leigh Jordon said.

“We’ve got the Roy Higgins Quality, our new Melbourne Cup ballot-exempt race, in late March, the Andrew Ramsden Stakes in May, the Bart Cummings in October and the Bagot is obviously our summer one.

“We’re the home of staying horses and this is another key feature where hopefully horses from this race and go on and become key staying horses in either the autumn or the spring.”

While no horse has completed the Bagot Handicap/Melbourne Cup double in the same year, Cup winners have played a part in the Bagot history.

Sheet Anchor won the 1886 Bagot after claiming the Melbourne Cup the previous spring, while 1961 Melbourne Cup hero Lord Fury won the Bagot in 1963.

It has also proven a grounding for future Melbourne Cup winners.

Dunlop finished third in the 1887 Bagot before winning the Melbourne Cup later that year, while Tarcoola and Rimfire placed in the Bagot two years before their Melbourne Cup wins in 1893 and 1948.

Malua, the most versatile horse in the history of Australian racing, ran third in the Bagot five years after his Melbourne up success in 1884 and the horse he beat in that race, Commotion, holds a unique place in the Bagot Handicap history.

Just a couple of months after finishing second to Malua, Commotion won the Bagot in a walkover after being the only starter.

There will be no repeat of that in this year’s $200,000 edition, with a field of 12 gathered, including one-time Melbourne Cup fifth placegetter Persan, multiple Group 2 winner Sound and progressive former Kiwi stayer Regal Lion.

Jordon is proud of its history and the place it holds on the calendar.

“The Bagot Handicap is an important feature for the club and it’s a race we want to highlight,” Jordon said.

“It’s a race that has got a lot of traditional behind it and is one of our key features on New Year’s Day.”