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Ad Nature Strip ridden by Damian Lane winning the 2018 Listed A.R. Creswick Series Final. (Pat Scala/Racing Photos)

Fifteen years of Finals

4 July 2024 Written by VRC

Winter has long proven a reliable stepping-stone to success in some of Australia’s biggest racing contests. This year sees the 15th Flemington Finals Race Day – the culmination of several winter series for all ages and at a range of distances. Finals Day – in fact, every series – is filled with competitive racing, emerging talents and impressive depth.

The winter is often seen as Australian racing’s off-season, a time when the best horses are spelling or in the early stages of their preparations for the spring. However, it is the winter that perhaps serves as important a function as any season in the country’s year-round racing program, providing an opportunity for horses to work through the grades in a fashion that allows them to thrive once they meet the biggest and the best come the spring.

Established by the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) in 2009 to bring together races like the Winter Championship Final, which had been run since 1980, with a number of new finals for horses young and established and both sprinters and stayers, Finals Day has seen the VRC continue its commitment to upholding the rich tradition of winter entertainment.

To qualify for Flemington Finals Race Day on July 6, offering over $1.53 million in prizemoney, there is the opportunity to earn ballot exemptions in several lead-up heats for each series at racecourses right across Victoria. Those that finish first and second in the heats gain an automatic spot in the final.

Across all series, there is total prizemoney of over $8 million on offer through 60 heats. With links to some of the greats of the turf, both equine and human, each of the nine series kicks off in early May with the first heats.

 

CRESWICK SPRINT SERIES

This new series is aimed at three-year-old sprinters, with heats over distances between 1000m-1200m, conducted at Flemington and Caulfield. It is named in honour of Sir Alexander (Alec) Reid Creswick (1912–83), who was a member of the VRC Committee for 24 years, from 1959 until his death in 1983, serving as Chairman 1969–77.

His great-great-grandfather Henry Creswick had been a foundation committee member of the Victoria Racing Club in 1864. Sir Alec was a fine horseman himself—Master of the Melbourne Hunt Club, a leading polo player, head of the Equestrian Federation of Australia and a practical supporter of successful Australian participation in successive Olympic Games.

He bred and raced many fine racehorses, including champion filly True Course. The final, the $175,000 Listed Creswick Sprint Series Final (1200m), is run on Flemington Finals Race Day over 1200 metres, with a star-studded honour roll including Nature Strip, Gytrash, Passive Aggressive and Renosu.

Sir Alec Creswick

SANTA ANA LANE

For the sprinters there is the Santa Ana Lane Sprint Series. Formerly the All-Victorian Sprinters Series, the series was renamed in honour of five-time Group 1 winning sprinter, Santa Ana Lane, trained by Anthony Freedman.

Santa Ana Lane amassed more than $8 million in prizemoney, winning Group 1 races in NSW, SA, QLD and the Group 1 VRC Sprint Classic (1200m) here at Flemington. He retired a happy and healthy horse as an eight-year-old and now resides at Living Legends.

This six-heat series attracts the fastest winter sprinters and features two heats up the famous Flemington straight with heats also conducted at Caulfield, Sandown and Swan Hill, before culminating in the $175,000 Listed Santa Ana Lane Sprint Series Final (1200m).

Former winners of the series include Malibu Style, Lord Von Costa, The Astrologist, Sirius Suspect and Mnementh who fulfilled Mitch Beer’s childhood dream of training a winner at Flemington having grown up in Essendon.

Malibu Style winning the 2019 All Victorian Sprint Series Final, the series now named in honour of five-time Group 1 winner, Santa Ana Lane. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

TAJ ROSSI SERIES

This series targets later-developing two-year- olds who are suited to the longer distance of 1600m of the Listed Taj Rossi Series Final and is named after Taj Rossi, the outstanding performer trained by the legendary Bart Cummings.

When the son of Matrice was bought by Cummings in 1972 at the Adelaide Yearling Sales for $18,000 (top price) and then sold to prominent owner Victor Peters, neither could envisage the heights to which Taj Rossi would rise in his short but spectacular career.

Beginning his racing as a two-year-old in Adelaide, his first two wins came in moderate company in the winter of 1973 at Flemington. In the spring he ran second at Moonee Valley.

Then followed a dazzling sequence in which he won six of his next seven starts including the Ascot Vale Stakes, Moonee Valley Stakes, W.S. Cox Plate, Victoria Derby, George Adams Handicap and b Guineas.

Said Bart Cummings: “All along I have said that he is one of the best, if not the best, three-year- old that Australia has known in the last 50 years”.

This magnificent group of victories secured for Taj Rossi the award of Racehorse of the Year for the 1973-74 season.

Cummings had great respect for Taj Rossi, who was retired to stud as a four-year-old, siring among others, Taj Eclipse, the winner of the 1983 VRC Oaks and yes, owned by Mr and Mrs Victor Peters.

The series heats are spread across Victoria. Two Flemington heats at 1400m, with heats also run at Mornington, Swan Hill (VOBIS Gold Elvstroem Classic) and Bendigo. There is also a heat for fillies run at Sandown over 1300m.

Former winners include Cherry Tortoni, Royalzel, Quang Tri and Dolphin Skin.

 

VRC-CRV WINTER CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

The headline act is the $201,000 Listed VRC-CRV Winter Championship Final (1600m), with the VRC-CRV Winter Championship Series featuring five heats at Flemington.

This series for open milers takes in heats at Sandown, Swan Hill, Caulfield and Flemington, attracting the most in-form gallopers over distances from 1400m-1600m and bringing them together for the $200,000 Listed VRC-CRV Winter Championship Series Final on Flemington Finals Race Day.

Former winners include Sircconi, Mongolian Marshal, Riddle Me That and Tuvalu.

The Lindsey Smith- trained Tuvalu, who won in 2022, would subsequently return in the spring of that year to claim the Group 1 Toorak Handicap (1600m) at Caulfield, handing jockey Jarrod Fry his first Group 1 success. Tuvalu also placed in the Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m) and Group 1 Champions Mile (1600m).

Tuvalu ridden by Jarrod Fry wins the Penfolds VRC-CRV Winter Championship Series Final at Flemington Racecourse on July 02, 2022 in Flemington, Australia. (George Sal/Racing Photos)

THE BANJO PATERSON SERIES

The Banjo Paterson series is for open stayers and is named in honour of revered author and poet Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson, who had a lifelong love affair with horses.

Polo matches, picnic races and riding his own pony were all part of his early life in country NSW. After moving to Sydney and qualifying as a solicitor, he began submitting poetry to The Bulletin under the pseudonym “The Banjo”, the name of a racehorse his father had owned.

His various careers included jockey, horse trainer in the Middle East during WWI and racing journal editor, but it’s his wonderful bush ballads and poems – such as The Man From Snowy River – that truly reflect his equine passion.

In 1886 he published A Dream of the Melbourne Cup; the first of many racing ballads, including Old Pardon, The Son of Reprieve, The Open Steeplechase, Rio Grande’s Last Race and The Wargilah Handicap. Former winners include Lord Belvedere, Grand Promenade, Monbaher and Mimi’s Award.

The series of seven qualifying heats at Flemington, Sandown and Caulfield over 1800m, 2000m and 2500m lead to the Banjo Paterson Series Final over 2600m and has become a proven pathway to ‘the race that stops a nation™’, the Lexus Melbourne Cup.

 

THE MAHOGANY CHALLENGE

Introduced in 2019, the Mahogany Challenge was created to showcase developing stayers in Victoria. The series is for three-year-olds and takes in heats at Flemington and Sandown, before culminating in the final on Flemington Finals Race Day.

The series is named after the mighty Mahogany, who was raced jointly by Hall of Fame owner Lloyd Williams and businessman Kerry Packer and trained by Lee Freedman.

He won eight Group 1 races, including both the Victoria Derby and Australian Derby as a three-year-old, and was named the Australian Racehorse of the Year for the 1993-94 season.

Known as one of the most versatile gallopers in Australian racing history, Mahogany won four of his eight Group 1s at Flemington, including the Lightning Stakes in 1995 and 1997.

Former winners include Persan, Token Spirit, Calmsir and First Immortal.

 

LEILANI SERIES

The fillies and mares can emerge in the Leilani Series, named in honour of Leilani, another Bart Cummings-trained champion who left an indelible print on Australian racing.

She won the 1974 AJC Oaks before transforming into a dominant four-year-old race mare, winning the Turnbull Stakes, Toorak Handicap, Caulfield Cup and Mackinnon Stakes in the spring of 1974, before running a gallant second to stablemate Think Big in the Melbourne Cup.

In the ensuing autumn, Leilani won the C.F Orr Stakes, St George Stakes and Australian Cup, among other races. Winning 14 of her 28 starts, Leilani was a horse that Cummings was very fond of; so much so that he named his Sydney stables Leilani Lodge in her honour.

Although Cummings was not one to talk much about his horses – especially those in the past as he preferred to look forward – it is well- known that he had huge respect for Leilani, known as a great horse with great fight.

Leilani was raced by prominent Melburnians, The Hon Andrew and Mrs Susan Peacock as well as Mr Ian and Mrs Liz Rice.

*The Leilani Series, and the former three-year-old fillies series, the Rivette Series, have been combined with heats for fillies and mares to be conducted at Flemington, Sandown and Caulfield.

Former Winners Include Cordilla, Music Bay, Foxy Frida, Lindhout, Megamea, My Yankee Girl and Seonee. Megamea provided her former trainer Udyta Clarke with a huge thrill winning the Leilani Series Final in 2022.

My Yankee Girl won the final of the Rivette Series in 2022 and in December famously dead-heated with Invincible Caviar at Flemington, only to lose the race on protest.

Leilani ridden by Peter Cook. (News Ltd / Newspix)

NEXT GENERATION SPRINTER SERIES

Sprinting juveniles can contest the Next Generation Sprinter Series for two-year- olds, with the 1200m final the culmination of heats at 1000m, 1100m and 1200m split between Flemington, Sandown, Caulfield and Mornington.

Introduced to showcase young up-and-coming sprinters and provide an opportunity to gain valuable experience up the unique Flemington straight, the intention is to contribute to the development of the next generation of Australia’s world-class sprinting talents.

The series takes in heats at Flemington, Caulfield, Sandown and Mornington, and the $150,000 final is held over the famous Flemington Straight Six course.

 

SILVER BOWL SERIES

The three-year-old sprinter-milers can contest the Silver Bowl Series, with seven heats between 1300m to 1600m across Flemington, Sandown and Caulfield. The final is a $150,000 quality handicap for three-year- olds over 1600m on Flemington Finals Race Day.

Former winners include Walking Flying, Seiners Express, Arran Bay and Golden Path. Arran Bay was impressive in the final last season for trainer Phillip Stokes, holding off the favourite, Cardinal Gem

Golden Path (NZ) ridden by Beau Mertens winning the 2023 Silver Bowl Series Final. (Reg Ryan/Racing Photos)