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Your guide to Australian Guineas Race Day

4 March 2022 Written by Andrew Hawkins

Opening day of the Flemington Racing Spectacular on Saturday is headlined by the $1 million Australian Guineas (1600m). However, right across the card, it looks a strong day of racing with plenty of top horses and a number of races to watch with an eye on the future.

Get the lowdown on all of the facts and stories you need to know ahead of a splendid opening day of the Flemington Racing Spectacular.

Race 1 – Listed The Australian Childhood Foundation Plate (1000m)

History

Registered as the Flemington Festival Of Racing Stakes, it was first run in 1982. It has had a number of name changes and will be run as The Australian Childhood Foundation Plate for the first time in 2022. Run as a handicap until 2008, it became a set weights and penalties event in 2009.

Notable winners

While the honour roll contains a number of classy winners like Caulfield Guineas placegetter Ready For Victory, Golden Slipper third Bring Me The Maid and Black Caviar Lightning third Golden Archer, it is almost as notable for horses that have been beaten in the race like Group 1 winners Mr Murphy and Starspangledbanner. No winner has gone on to Group 1 success since 1995 victress Miss Margaret. The race has proved significant from a breeding perspective, though, with 2003 winner Fragmentation going on to produce Newmarket Handicap hero Wanted.                         

Where do horses head after this?

Often, winners will either go for a spell or head to the world’s richest juvenile race, the Golden Slipper, while fillies also have the option of next week’s Group 3 TBV Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes. The last three winners of this race to contest the Golden Slipper finished fourth, third and fifth. 

Early favourite – WEE NESSY

Trained by Mick Price and Michael Kent Jnr, Wee Nessy has her first start here. A $400,000 Magic Millions yearling, she is by four-time champion sire Snitzel out of More Than Ready mare Lator Gator, who herself was precocious enough to qualify for a Golden Slipper. A recent Cranbourne jumpout was very good and she looks like she has plenty of talent.

One to watch – SKETCHED

While his stablemate Wee Nessy is all the rage, don’t be surprised to see a far better performance from Sketched at start two now that he’s been gelded and he has the blinkers on for the first time. He was very green at Bendigo at his first start and it is best overlooked. He jumped out in quicker time than Wee Nessy on the same day and was under a hold too. Expect a big performance.

Race 2 – Listed Roy Higgins Quality (2600m)

History

While a staying handicap has long been a part of the Flemington Racing Spectacular, it was renamed the Roy Higgins Quality in 1998 to recognise the rider known as “The Professor”. Higgins, whose 30-year career spanned from 1953 to 1983, is one of only four Australian jockeys to have ridden 100 Group 1 winners, with his Flemington haul including two Melbourne Cups, the Victoria Derby four times and the VRC Oaks on five occasions. He once rode 12 winners over the three days that now represent the Flemington Racing Spectacular, while he rode five winners in a day at two consecutive Flemington meetings in 1972. His last ride also came at Headquarters in 1983. The race, traditionally run over 2500m, was extended to 2600m in 2010 ahead of it receiving Listed status in 2011.

Notable winners

Among those who have taken the Roy Higgins Quality are Group 1-winning mare Demerger, Group 1 placegetters Drunken Sailor, Kutchinsky and Aloft, Group 2 winners Big Memory and King Of Leogrance. It was also notably the first Flemington staying race contested by future Melbourne Cup winner Prince Of Penzance, with the gelding finishing second to Cooldini in 2014.                         

Where do horses head after this?

This race generally serves as a stepping stone to the Group 2 Adelaide Cup (3200m), run nine days later. Of the last 10 winners, five progressed to the Adelaide Cup for one winner and a further two three four finishers. Also, four of the last five Adelaide Cup winners came through the Roy Higgins Quality. This year, every Roy Higgins Quality runner bar Crystal Pegasus is entered for Morphettville next week. Other potential options are the Mornington Cup and the Sydney Cup.

Early favourite – CRYSTAL PEGASUS

Crystal Pegasus was a late entry for the Roy Higgins Quality but he does appear well placed, having won his last two over 2000m. He has never raced beyond that trip, so this represents a new challenge, but he gives every indication that he should handle this distance and even further.

One to watch – TIGERTIGER

Winner of the Listed Bagot Handicap (2800m) on New Year’s Day, Tigertiger is a stayer through and through. He was good first-up behind Crystal Pegasus and, importantly, meets him 3.5kg better at the weights. Expect a big effort from him ahead of the Adelaide Cup.

Race 3 – The Resimax Group Plate (1200m)

History

Only being run for the third time on this program, this Benchmark 90 handicap has been won by Chicago Cub and Subedar the last two years.

Early favourite – ROSE QUARTZ

The Grahame Begg-trained Rose Quartz faces her toughest task to date after winning three of her four starts this preparation. However, after winning over the Flemington 1200m by three and a quarter lengths last time out, the step up from Benchmark 84 company to a Benchmark 90 handicap looks unlikely to stop her, especially given she still has just 54kg.

One to watch – BONS ABROAD

Bons Abroad also gets in on the limit, having run a good third in the Group 3 Bow Mistress Trophy (1200m) in Hobart last time out. She was only beaten four lengths by Group 1-winning sprinters Kementari and Zoutori and the Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap-bound Kemalpasa in the Group 2 Gilgai Stakes at the course and distance in September, which surely reads well for this.

Race 4 – Group 3 Furphy Frances Tressady Stakes (1400m)

History

The Frances Tressady Stakes was established in 1975 to recognise terrific filly Frances Tressady, who in 1923 won the Victoria Derby and VRC Oaks and ran fifth to Bitalli in the Melbourne Cup, all in the space of five days. Since the pattern was established in 1979, it has been a Group 3 every year bar one, in 2010, while it has been run at 1400m since 1986.

Notable winners

Only one mare, New Smyrna, has managed to win the race twice in 1996 and 1997. The race’s most famous victor was top filly Typhoon Tracy, who won this race at her fourth start in 2009 before going on to score her first Group 1 win in the Coolmore Classic at her next outing. She would be named Australian Horse of the Year the following season. Two years later, Aloha would also complete the Frances Tressady-Coolmore Classic double. Other notable winners include Raspberries, Oregon’s Day and Chaillot.                           

Where do horses head after this?

It is likely that many of these mares may head to the Group 3 Matron Stakes over 1600m next week while, long term, it is likely that some will be hoping to make the Group 1 Tatts Tiara (1400m) in Brisbane in late June.

Early favourite – SIRILEO MISS

Beaten at her only run at Flemington over the Melbourne Cup Carnival, Sirileo Miss has put together a very good record of five wins and three placings from 10 starts. She became a Group 3 winner in the Ladies Day Vase in October and she is unbeaten first-up. She will hope to settle closer than she did in the Inglis Bracelet in November.

One to watch – MARACANA

Lightly raced three-year-old who won her first two starts before finishing third at her last two starts in stakes races. On both occasions, she got a long way back before flying home. The market may consider her an outsider but she looks a filly who is capable of winning big races and expect to see her flashing home late.

Race 5 – Inglis Sprint (1200m)

History

Run for the first time at Flemington, this race was previously held in Sydney. It was only run for the first time in 2015 but is set to be boosted to $1 million from its current $750,000 for the 2023 Flemington Racing Spectacular. The Inglis Sprint replaces another race, the Inglis Dash, which was contested over 1100m on this card last year and in January before that.

Notable winners

The Inglis Sprint includes Golden Slipper winner She Will Reign on its record, as well as classy fillies Fiesta and Rubisaki. The Inglis Dash was won by world champion sprinter Nature Strip as well as top first season sire Hellbent.                                

Where do horses head after this?

As it is the first running in this position, it remains to be seen where horses will head in the coming weeks. Overpass holds an entry in the Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap and is likely to back up if he runs well, while others are entered for races in Sydney next month.

Early favourite – OVERPASS

Under the set weights and penalties conditions, Overpass gets in so well at the weights. Sixth in the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) at his only course and distance run, he has returned a different horse, beating subsequent Group 2 winners Forbidden Love and Anamoe in the Group 2 Expressway Stakes (1200m) before holding on gamely for second to class sprinter Lost And Running in the Group 3 Southern Cross Stakes (1200m). This looks like a good piece of placement from trainer Bjorn Baker, given under handicap conditions, he would be conceding at least 15kg to all but one of his rivals.

One to watch – WELL IN SIGHT

Unbeaten filly Well In Sight could prove one of the fairytale stories of the day should she run well here. Bought by Patriot Bloodstock’s Mitchell Lloyd and Anthony Manton for just $20,000 on an online sale, she has won her first three starts impressively at Albury for trainer Mitchell Beer and now gets the opportunity to contest a $750,000 race. It is a mammoth step up but she deserves her chance and the celebrations will be wild should she salute.

Race 6 – Group 2 TAB Blamey Stakes (1600m)

History

The Blamey Stakes is named for Sir Thomas Blamey, the only Australian to attain the rank of field marshal who served as a Victoria Racing Club committee member from 1947 to 1951. Introduced in 1955 over 2000m, it was shortened to 1600m in 1973 and was given Group 2 status upon introduction of the pattern in 1979. In 1981, the race changed from a weight-for-age contest to the current set weights and penalties system. In 2020, the Blamey Stakes was granted “win and you’re in” status for the $5 million The Seppelt Wines All-Star Mile.

Notable winners

Some of the greats of the turf have won this race in its seven-decade history, including Rising Fast, Sailor’s Guide, Dhaulagiri, Tobin Bronze, Gunsynd, Surround and Hyperno. Back-to-back wins from champions Vo Rogue in 1988 and 1989 and Better Loosen Up in 1990 and 1991 again proved the Blamey Stakes as a top horse’s race. Apache Cat and Palentino are two Australian Guineas winners to have returned the next year to win the Blamey Stakes, while Melbourne Cup winner Green Moon and successful stallion Tavistock also count the Blamey Stakes among their victories. Last year, Fifty Stars was just denied by Star Of The Seas as he attempted to become the first three-time winner in the race’s history.                           

Where do horses head after this?

With the winner of the TAB Blamey Stakes gaining an automatic spot in the $5 million The Seppelt Wines All-Star Mile, it is the next logical target. The Blamey Stakes can also serve as a lead-up to next weekend’s $1.5 million Group 1 TAB Australian Cup (2000m), although only Inspirational Girl is entered for both.

Early favourite – ZAAKI

A revelation over the last 12 months, Zaaki has firmly stamped himself as one of the stars of the turf. Already guaranteed a run in the Seppelt Wines All-Star Mile, this will have him ready for his assignment in two weeks.

One to watch – BANKERS CHOICE

Making his Australian debut, Bankers Choice has stamped himself as one of the most promising horses in New Zealand by winning five of his last six starts. That culminated in a tough victory in the Group 3 Anniversary Handicap (1600m) at Trentham in January, with runner-up Coventina Bay going on to defeat perennial Melbourne visitor The Chosen One in the Group 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m) at Te Rapa last month. Just like Zaaki last year, don’t be surprised if Bankers Choice is the name on plenty of lips come the spring.

Race 7 – Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m)

History

The brainchild of former Victoria Racing Club committee member Doug Reid, the Australian Guineas was established in 1986. Run as a Group 3 that first year, it was quickly upgraded to Group 1 status ahead of its second running. It has shifted between a mid-to-late February and early March time slot and returns to March this year for the first time since 2019. Run over 1600m for most of its history, it was extended to 2000m for three years from 1998 to 2000.

Notable winners

Within a decade, the race had already established itself as a race of the highest quality with early winners including Military Plume, King’s High, Zabeel, Triscay, Mahogany and Flying Spur. In the years since, there has been a mix of successful stallions like Pins, Reset and Shamus Award; popular geldings such as Apache Cat, Light Fantastic and Alligator Blood; and top-class fillies, including Miss Finland, Shamrocker, Mosheen and Mystic Journey. Last year, Lunar Fox caused the biggest upset in race history, scoring at a remarkable 300-1.                             

Where do horses head after this?

The introduction of the Seppelt Wines All-Star Mile has changed this race as it provides a pathway for a classy three-year-old to head in that direction instead, almost ensuring that an Australian Guineas winner would continue their campaign in Victoria. In the past, that would have seemed absurd with the four options being the Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m) the following week, the Group 2 Alister Clark Stakes (2040m) at Moonee Valley, a Sydney campaign or the paddock, with Sydney being the usual option.

Early favourite – PROFONDO

The late addition of Profondo to the Australian Guineas field has added another dimension to what was already shaping as an exciting affair. The Richard Litt-trained three-year-old has only had three starts but he looks a colt of immense talent, as seen at his most recent start in the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) in October. He has a wide draw to overcome and will likely be eclipsed for favouritism by Hitotsu, but there is no doubting his ability.

One to watch – PINSTRIPED

With the hype around the Group 1-winning colts, Pinstriped has been somewhat forgotten this week. The unbeaten colt couldn’t have done much more in the Group 3 C S Hayes Stakes (1400m) last time out and the C S Hayes has been the best form reference for the Guineas in recent years. Since 2015, four of the seven Guineas winners have completed the C S Hayes – Guineas double, while a fifth – Palentino – was first past the post in the C S Hayes but relegated. A sixth, Lunar Fox, came through the C S Hayes too, making filly Mystic Journey the outlier in recent years.

Race 8 – Listed ATA/Bob Hoysted Handicap (1000m)

History

This race was once named for Hall of Fame trainer Brian Courtney, first being run in 1979, but was changed to the Bob Hoysted Handicap in 1997. It was shortened from 1100m to 1000m in 2007, when it was run at Sandown due to a Flemington track renovation, and it has remained at the shortened trip since.

Notable winners

Flying Perth mare Fabergino became the first two-time winner the last two years, last year leading home a Western Australia quinella with Indian Pacific second (with Indian Pacific then running second in the Group 1 Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap a week later). It has traditionally been a race dominated by fillies and mares with only one male winner since 2015, that being Malaguerra in 2016. Other big names to have taken the race include Group 1 winners Secret Agenda and Let Go Thommo and Group 2 winners Wilander and Falkirk.                              

Where do horses head after this?

While it can produce contenders for the Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap, only one horse this year is entered for both, that being favourite Malkovich. In recent years, it has proven to be a pathway to the Group 1 William Reid Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley as well as South Australia’s sprinting Group 1 events, the Robert Sangster Stakes and The Goodwood. Occasionally, horses can also step up to the Group 1 The Galaxy (1100m) in Sydney.

Early favourite – MALKOVICH

Backing up just a week after finishing a terrific fourth in the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate (1100m), Malkovich is looking for his first win since June. However, he has run a string of top races, including finishing second to Halvorsen over this course and distance in the Listed Century Stakes (1000m) on Kennedy Oaks Day. He will lead them for a long way.

One to watch – IT’S ME

Trained at Scone by Brett Cavanough, It’s Me won her first four starts, culminating in a gallant victory in the $1.3 million The Kosciuszko (1200m). Unfortunately, she injured a tendon in that race and was off the scene for more than a year. While she tasted defeat for the first time fresh, she stuck on well until very late and it was a terrific effort for a mare who hadn’t raced in 16 months. The 1000m suits her better and she looks a leading candidate.

Race 9 – The Schweppes Plate (1600m)

History

This Benchmark 84 handicap is a new addition to the Flemington Racing Spectacular.

Early favourite – YONCE

It won’t be long before Yonce is tackling stakes races based on her four-from-four record to date, in which she has stamped herself as one of the most promising mares in the country. She has continued to step up at every start and she looks very well placed again here.

One to watch – NICOLINI VITO

The Flemington-trained Nicolini Vito has won his last three in a row and looks to be heading higher through the grades. He has to overcome barrier 16 here, but intriguingly, he does hold an entry for next weekend’s $1.5 million Group 1 TAB Australian Cup (2000m) and victory here could put him in the frame for a berth.

Image caption: The Colin Hayes-trained Zabeel takes the Group 1 Australian Guineas in 1990.

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