Strong first acceptances for Flemington Racing Spectacular
Australia's best horses remain on track for an appearance at the Flemington Racing Spectacular after first acceptances were taken today for the $1 million Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m), the $1.5 million Group 1 Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap (1200m) and the $1.5 million Group 1 TAB Australian Cup (2000m).
A total of 37 horses remain in contention for the Group 1 Australian Guineas, which headlines the first day of the Flemington Racing Spectacular on Saturday 5 March.
Pinstriped, Pascero and Captivant, who filled the trifecta in the Group 3 C S Hayes Stakes (1400m) on Black Caviar Lightning Race Day, are among first acceptances alongside Group 3 TAB Vanity (1400m) winner Barb Raider.
Group 1 Penfolds Victoria Derby (2500m) hero Hitotsu will aim to become the first horse in the four-decade history of the Australian Guineas to win the race first-up.
This weekend's racing could still throw up a contender or two with Argentia set to contest the Group 2 Angus Armanasco Stakes (1400m), Guineas entrants like Coastwatch, Lightsaber, Ranch Hand and Extreme Flight entered for the Group 1 Futurity Stakes (1400m) and Espiona, Fangirl, Hinged and Yearning to contest the Group 1 Surround Stakes (1400m).
A potential Black Caviar Lightning rematch between stablemates Home Affairs and Nature Strip remains a possibility after the pair featured among 37 first acceptors for the Group 1 Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap.
They may be joined down Flemington's famous straight six by Black Caviar Lightning fourth Swats That, along with other runners from Saturday's feature Masked Crusader, The Astrologist and The Inferno.
Zoutori could aim to become the sixth back-to-back winner of the Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap in its 149-year history while Indian Pacific, runner-up to Zoutori last year, could attempt to go one better in a bid to give Western Australia a first win in the world's richest sprint handicap since Scenic Blast in 2009.
New Zealand has never won the Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap, but Kiwi mares Levante and Roch ‘N’ Horse – who finished one-two in the Group 1 Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham last month – may bid for a first trans-Tasman success in the world’s most prolific handicap sprint.
Three-year-olds have a storied history in the Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap and there are 10 of the age group among first acceptors: Artorius, Generation, Extreme Warrior, Finance Tycoon, Home Affairs, Ingratiating, Marine One, Overpass, Paulele and Ranch Hand.
In the TAB Australian Cup, Lexus Melbourne Cup winner Verry Elleegant remains among five acceptors for champion trainer Chris Waller with 32 horses still in contention for the 160th running of the historic feature.
Joining Verry Elleegant for Team Waller are Group 1 winner Hungry Heart and Melbourne Cup Carnival victor Great House, as well as Shared Ambition and Yonkers.
Other Group 1 winners in the fray include Think It Over, who impressed on his return with victory in the Group 2 Apollo Stakes (1400m), while others include Angel Of Truth, Callsign Mav, Dark Dream, Duais and Inspirational Girl.
Early TAB favourite Spanish Mission is among first acceptors as is his Group 3 T S Carlyon Cup (1600m) conqueror Earlswood.
Three-year-olds add intrigue to the TAB Australian Cup but only three of the age group have managed to win the race since 1979: Dulcify, Saintly and Super Cool.
This year, five three-year-olds remain in the TAB Australian Cup picture: Penfolds Victoria Derby quinella Hitotsu and Alegron, dual Group 2 winner Forgot You and Flemington Listed winners El Patroness and Spirit Of Gaylard.
Victoria Racing Club Executive General Manager Racing Leigh Jordon said there was plenty to look forward to in March at Flemington.
"The Flemington Racing Spectacular is the highlight of the autumn and it is fantastic to see so many of Australia's leading thoroughbreds bound for headquarters in March," Mr Jordon said.
"Last Saturday's Black Caviar Lightning was an exceptional edition and what is so exciting is that it was just an entree for what is to come during the Flemington Racing Spectacular.
"The Australian Guineas shapes as a David versus Goliath battle as trainers Enver Jusufovic, Jerome Hunter and Julius Sandhu take on the country's leading trainers and biggest owners.
“The Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap could see a second clash of the titans between Home Affairs and Nature Strip but with a large and competitive field that typefies the race.
“The TAB Australian Cup will be run for the 160th time and is set to crown a new weight-for-age star."
Late entries for the Australian Guineas can be submitted until 12:00pm Monday 28 February, with final acceptances closing at 9:30am Wednesday 2 March.
Weights for the Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap will be released on Tuesday 1 March, with late entries still eligible to be processed before 12:00pm Monday 28 February.
Late entries for the TAB Australian Cup close on Monday 7 March, with final acceptances for both the Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap and the TAB Australian Cup closing at 9:30am on Wednesday 9 March.
A full list of first acceptances for the Australian Guineas can be found here.
A full list of first acceptances for the TAB Australian Cup and Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap can be found here.
Image caption: Hitotsu winning the Penfolds Victoria Derby (Credit: Getty Images)