Winter racing a springboard to success
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.
Past years have seen Group 1 winners like Nature Strip and Johnny Get Angry emerge from Flemington Finals Day, with Nature Strip going on to be named Australian Horse of the Year.
Established by the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) in 2009 to bring together races like the Winter Championship Final (1600m), which had been run since 1979, 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 Day on July 2, which offers an enticing $1.47 million in prizemoney, there is the opportunity to earn ballot exemptions in a number of 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 $8.76 million on offer through 62 heats.
The heats also have a record of producing quality horses for the future. Last year, the winners and placegetters included subsequent Group 1 winner I'm Thunderstruck, Group 2 victors Lunar Flare and Yonkers and classy types Argentia and Foxy Frida.
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.
The headline act is the $200,000 Listed Winter Championship Final, with the Winter Championship Series featuring five heats at Flemington at 1400m and 1600m, one at Caulfield over 1400m and the Swan Hill Cup at 1600m.
The All-Victorian Sprint Series has this year been renamed after Flemington icon Santa Ana Lane, a Group 1 winner in four different states and an earner of more than $8 million, to represent the fact that the series is open to emerging sprinters from all over the country.
Four of the heats will be contested at Flemington, including the Listed Straight Six (1200m) for all-comers and the Listed Creswick Stakes (1200m) for three-year-olds, with two heats at Caulfield and one at Sandown, all over 1000m and 1100m. The Golden Topaz (1200m) at Swan Hill also provides a pathway for country sprinters, with the Listed Santa Ana Lane Sprint Series Final (1200m) one of the highlights of Finals Day.
The Banjo Paterson Series, named for Australia’s greatest poet and wordsmith, has become a proven pathway to ‘the race that stops a nation’™, the Lexus Melbourne Cup. A series of seven qualifying heats at Flemington and Caulfield over 2000m and 2500m lead to the Banjo Paterson Series Final over 2600m.
Similarly, the Mahogany Challenge – named for three-year-old champion stayer turned older top sprinter Mahogany – offers a path to the biggest staying events for three-year-olds. Seven heats split between Caulfield and Flemington between a mile and 2000m, as well as an eighth heat - a 2400m handicap at Sandown – are followed by the Mahogany Challenge Final over 2500m.
The three-year-old milers can contest the Silver Bowl Series, with the final over 1600m coming after nine heats at Flemington, Sandown and Caulfield over 1300m, 1400m and 1600m, while the Rivette Series for three-year-old fillies has a 1400m final after six heats at Flemington, Caulfield, Sandown and Bendigo from 1100m to 1400m.
The mares can emerge in the Leilani Series, named for the great staying mare trained by Bart Cummings and owned by Andrew Peacock. Five heats at Flemington, Caulfield and Cranbourne from 1100m to 1400m lead in to a 1400m final.
Late-maturing two-year-olds get their chance to shine in the Taj Rossi Series, recognising the Bart Cummings-trained champion who progressed from the Flemington winter as a two-year-old to take both the Cox Plate and the Victoria Derby that spring, as well as the races that are now the Cantala Stakes and the Coolmore Stud Stakes.
Two Flemington heats at 1400m are joined by a Sandown 1400m handicap, a Swan Hill 1300m set weights race and a 1600m open handicap at Bendigo, while the fillies can qualify through a 1300m fillies handicap at Sandown.
Their sprinting counterparts 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.
Make sure to be at Flemington on July 2, with Finals Day set to unveil the rising stars of the Australian turf.