Penfolds Victoria Derby Day - Racing Preview

27 October 2022 Written by Racing & Sports

We take a look at the three Group 1 races featured on Penfolds Victoria Derby Day.

Penfolds Victoria Derby, 2500m

The Victoria Derby took shape in an hour of top racing at Moonee Valley and Randwick last Saturday afternoon.  

Berkeley Square came off the Caulfield Guineas to post a strong win in the Vase, his time comparing favourably with the Cox Plate later in the day before Sharp ‘n’ Smart landed the Spring Champion Stakes at Randwick – again posting an up-to-scratch rating in the process and stamping himself as a top Derby Candidate.  

That pair, along with other key trial winners Mr Maestro and Grand Pierro, give the Derby a strong look by modern standards – the average Timeform rating of the field the strongest in four years and only bettered three times in the last ten. 

The Derby has certainly changed its make up in modern times.

In the last 10 years the top-rated horse going into the Derby has been rated 116 on average.

The 10 years prior it was 121 and it was as high as 123 in the 10 years prior to that. These numbers run in parallel to the number of Group One winners and the number of runs per horse in the race.  

What was once a Grand Final for established stars is now a launching pad for the future.

After a few lean years last year’s Derby, won by a star in Hitotsu, produced five subsequent Group winners and in 2022 hopes will be high that it can again produce its share of future stars. 

The Vase has thrown up 10 winners of the Derby this century and Berkeley Square looks a great chance of adding to that record, joining Helenus, Plastered and Efficient in doing the double. 

Only four times in the past 20 years has the Vase been won in a time so close to matching the Cox Plate and three of those other four produced the Derby winner. 

A Timeform rating of 112 from the Guineas and the Vase looks the perfect launching pad for the Derby but it is not the highest in the field, that honour belonging to the Spring Champion winner Sharp ‘n’ Smart who ran to 116 at Randwick.  

The Spring Champion has produced five winners this century but a change of date makes comparisons less relevant.

Two of those five came straight off the Spring Champion, Ace High, and Monaco Consul, and were the two to complete the double, but they did so with a month between runs.

Sharp ‘n’ Smart must go back-to-back weeks and a postponed Gloaming meant that he was only 10 days into the Spring Champion.

It could be a lot in a hurry but if his win last Saturday is any guide, he is not just coping but thriving. 

The other major trial winner is Mr Maestro who mopped up the Derby Trial and Super Impose at Flemington before taking the Caulfield Classic by finer margins last time, left with plenty to do but on top at the end in a thin race.

A Timeform rating of just 107 there says he has plenty of work to do to come up and match Berkeley Square and Sharp ‘n’ Smart and a wide draw does him few favours. The 2500m start is quickly into a turn and a study of results show a disadvantage to those drawn wide. 

Coolmore Stud Stakes, 1200m

A field of 17 accepted for the 2022 Coolmore Stud Stakes; the second biggest line up in race’s history.

Going back to 1980 when back then the race was known as the Ascot Vale Stakes, the Coolmore averages a field of 11, though that has slipped up to 14 in the last 10 years. 20 ran in the 2017 edition won by Merchant Navy and 16 lined up behind Home Affairs last year.

The Coolmore’s standing continues to grow in line with its field size and this year’s three-year-old crop’s stocks are also on the rise.

Wins over their elders in the Moir and Everest show a crop, held back by a wet autumn that saw them go to the races in record low numbers, quickly making up for lost time.

It is with that in mind that this year’s Coolmore can be expected to require an up-to-scratch performance to win and those best placed to post those sorts of numbers are those that already have.

This year’s Coolmore boasts four on the cusp of what is typically required to win a Coolmore. A Big Four if you like, starting with The Golden Rose 1-2; Jacquinot and In Secret.

The Golden Rose has thrown up six winners in the Coolmore in the past 20 years, though only Zoustar was completing that double with five other Golden Rose winners turned over at Flemington.

If that was to mean anything (it probably doesn’t) the temptation would be to side with In Secret turning the tables. Such a view is strengthened by her connections, James Cummings and James McDonald, who are the most potent force in Australian racing at this moment, and the fact that In Secret did start a warm 5/4 favourite in that Golden Rose.

But Jacquinot was running right over her at the finish at Rosehill, his win coming with more authority than the final margin, and he has since backed that up in The Everest where he was at least as good against the older horses in a high-pressure contest.

That provided the platform for last year’s dominant Coolmore winner Home Affairs who came to Flemington rated 118 by Timeform and left rated 125.

Jacquinot arrives rated 120.

In Secret may have been accounted for by Jacquinot in the Golden Rose but she does return to 1200m where she had done something similar to Best Of Bordeaux the start prior.

Best Of Bordeaux has since given that Run To The Rose form a strong look, winning the Roman Consul and running gamely on a hot pace in last weekend in the Manikato Stakes.

Three have run in the Coolmore off the Manikato since it was switched to the Cox Plate carnival a week prior; Sunlight winning after running seventh at the Valley, Bivouac running second from sixth and Ingratiating eighth from third.

Coolangatta was all set to run there before the storm on Friday and opted to miss the Saturday in testing conditions, allowing her stablemate Bella Nipotina to highlight her talents by proxy. 

Coolangatta, a place behind Best Of Bordeaux when second in last season’s Golden Slipper, posted a career-best effort when beating Bella Nipotina in the Moir.

Admittedly the runner up looked a touch unlucky given the pattern of the night, which Coolangatta took full advantage of, but it was a smart display any way you look at it and it has held up well since.

An unexposed lot means that several have the right profile to return new peaks but the wave that follows our Big Four does so from a way back.

Each of Sejardan, Buenos Noches, Grand Impact, Economics and Queen Of The Ball have won key trials for this over the spring but all are rated at or around 110 and assuming that one of the four rated ahead of them produces their best, or better, then the task becomes a tough one.

Looking at the past dozen winners none were rated as low as 110 before the Coolmore and that dozen went to Flemington rated 118 on average.

The Coolmore has established itself, and continues to do so, as a destination race.

It is a race for the well-established, the topliners, and 2022 boasts a strong top line.

TAB Empire Rose Stakes, 1600m

One mare looks dominant here and she hails from across the Tasman.

La Crique does not quite hold the lofty rating of Melody Belle but she is well-positioned to emulate the 14-time Group 1 winner and claim Saturday's Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) at Flemington.

Repeating her peak rating would be enough to win the $1 million Group 1 unless a rival enters previously unchartered territory.

La Crique pulled a figure of 116+ – the plus indicating a figure that suggests scope to rate even higher – for her last-start win in the Group 1 Arrowfield Stud Plate (1600m), which is just short of the 118 rating Melody Belle brought to Australia, which she also ran to win the 2019 Empire Rose.

The two winners since, Shout The Bar and Collette, rated 111 and 115 respectively, while no winner other than Melody Belle has rated higher than 116 in the past decade.

La Crique's Racing and Sports rating is slightly superior to the winning average of the Empire Rose and at the top of the ratings going into this year.

"She is part of a top notch set of mares in New Zealand at the moment – the top five rated horses in New Zealand in 2022 are all mares – and we should be comfortable taking them on face value with three of that five having already confirmed their talents in Australia.

La Crique's compatriot She’s Licketysplit faces a much greater ratings challenge with the daughter of Turn Me Loose needing to go to a new level to join I Am A Star and Shoals on the honour roll.

I Am A Star went into the Empire Rose rated 112 and ran that same figure to win, while Shoals ran 115 off a previous best of 112.

Back-to-back winners in 2016 and 2017 will have many preaching about the hot record of fillies but the 13 fillies who have run in the race this century have gone into the Empire Rose with an average rating of 113.

She's Licketysplit is rated 107, so below the average and would appear, given that, to have her work cut out.