Star-studded lineup for Flemington season opener
There will be plenty of star quality on display as the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) kicks off the 2021-22 season with VRC Season Premiere Race Day this Saturday 7 August.
The highlight of the nine-race card is the Group 3 World Horse Racing Aurie’s Star Handicap (1200m) which includes last year’s Caulfield Guineas runner up Aysar (Ben and JD Hayes), who has been purchased by Leneva Park and will be kept to sprinting trips this preparation in anticipation of a future at stud. His new connections will be hoping that Jamie Kah can work her magic for a breakthrough Group victory to kick off his campaign. He will have to contend with current favourite The Astrologist (Leon and Troy Corstens), who has secured two wins up the Flemington straight this preparation, Order of Command (Danny O’Brien), who was second in the Group 1 The Galaxy earlier in the year, and Banquo (Danny O’Brien), who was second in the Group 2 Bobbie Lewis Stakes at Flemington last September.
The Aurie’s Star boasts an honour roll that includes Group 1-winning sprinters Voodoo Lad (2018) and Hey Doc (2017) but it will be used by trainer Denis Pagan to launch the Lexus Melbourne Cup campaign of Group 1 Victoria Derby winner Johnny Get Angry.
In total, six of the 174 nominations for this year's Lexus Melbourne Cup will be running at Flemington on Saturday, with Johnny Get Angry joined by The Good Fight (Mike Moroney), Schabau (Robert Hickmott), South Pacific (Ciaron Maher and David Eustace), Killourney (Paul Preusker), and Durston (Ciaron Maher and David Eustace) as the Road to the Cup gathers momentum.
Race 1 on the program is the 2021 Country Achiever John Ledger (2530m), named in recognition of valued country racing participant and trainer John Ledger. Favourite in this race is Lexus Melbourne Cup aspirant South Pacific (Ciaron Maher & David Eustace), who won a similar race over this course and distance two starts ago under Jamie Kah before having things not go his way last start over 2800m. A drop in the weights and return to 2530m should suit him. Other fancies in this race include stablemate Dr Drill, One More Try (Matt Cumani) and Schabau (Robert Hickmott).
Race 4, the VRC Member Julie Purnell Plate (1410m), is a Benchmark 84 handicap for mares and the short-priced favourite is Lindhout (Enver Jusufovic), who has an impressive record of 3:1-1-1 at this track and distance. She was ridden a long way back in the field last start at Flemington before flying home for third place in the Rising Stars Final for apprentices, and punters are already showing their faith that her reunion with jockey Craig Newitt, with whom she combined to win two starts ago, will see her return to the winner’s stall. Others at single figures include Aidensfield (Ben & JD Hayes) and Turaath (Maddie Raymond).
Race 5, the VRC Member Kate Crosby Sprint (1100m), will see the seasonal reappearance of blueblood Oxley Road for Peter Moody. The full brother to Coolmore Stud Stakes winner Exceedance, four-year-old entire Oxley Road won up the Flemington straight on debut back in February and has been touted as a Group 1 winner in the making. He is joint favourite in this race on Saturday with Deep Speed (Tony & Calvin McEvoy), who famously won his last start to provide Jamie Kah with her history-making 100th Victorian metro winner for the 2020-21 season.
In Race 6, the VRC Season Premiere Plate (1410m), the current favourite is the very well-bred Groundswell (Anthony & Sam Freedman). The full brother to Group 1 winner Shoals is making his seasonal reappearance, having won a Listed race last preparation. His key rivals in this race are King Magnus (Robbie Griffiths & Mathew de Kock) who has won his last two starts, ridden by 3kg claiming apprentice Alana Kelly who is again in the saddle for this race, and Red Can Man (David Brideoake), the ex-Western Australian galloper who recently won the Group 3 Sir John Monash Stakes, who will be best suited if the ground dries out.
In Race 7, the VRC Member Justin Hoy Trophy, the odds-on favourite is Hosier for Melbourne Cup-winning combination of Robert Hickmott and Team Williams. He has been faultless since his arrival in Australia, winning all three starts including his last start at Sandown by nearly four lengths. This will be a step up in grade but he looks ready for the challenge. Next best in the market is first emergency Perennial (Peter Moody) who has been consistent in mares grade this prep, including a last-start victory at Sandown, ahead of Tooradin (Ciaron Maher & David Eustace) and Orleans Rock (Paul Preusker).
The race day coincides with Jockey Celebration Day which recognises the contribution that both former and current jockeys have made to racing.