Spring Racing 2020 Recap Part 2 - Who won the big races on the road to the Melbourne Cup

Following hot on the heels of our look back at the road to the Melbourne Cup we have a deep dive into the Group 1 racing across Melbourne Cup week. Who won, where were the hard luck stories and who are the horses to follow into Autumn.

31st October
Track: Rosehill
Race: The Golden Eagle
Prize: $7,500,000

Running in its second year the Golden Eagle was designed by the ATC to keep horses racing for longer rather than succumb to the big money of sending prize runners to stud.

Playing on the ‘Golden’ branding of the Rosehill racing calendar the Golden Eagle is a race for 4yo’s over 1500m. The $7.5m prize money on a global stage also puts the race as the 3rd richest turf race in the world.

The inaugural running of the race in 2019 was won by Chris Waller trainer Kolding who went on to contest the Cox Plate and other spring features in 2020.

2020 saw the race favourite Funstar looking to go back to back for Waller however the $4 favourite faded badly after having to push forward early.

Brad Widdup runner Icebath had seen a lot of chatter and at the low weight of 52.5kgs was right in the running. On a heavy 8 Icebath had completed an impressive win earlier in the Spring and was rightly installed as 2nd favourite for the race.

It was a thrilling finish to the Rosehill showpiece however with ATC Oaks winner Collette for the Godolphin stable fly home down the outside to pip Icebath by a nose to the $7.5m prize.

As race leader Sierra Sue bagan to fade in the home straight Icebath emerged from the middle of the track while Colette under the ride of Koby Jennings wound up down the outside. Jennings, more accustomed to riding on Provincial tracks pushed Colette to show a huge burst of speed to loop the field and pip Icebath by a nose.

Colette will certainly be one to follow in the future when the track is Heavy however a few of these will certainly be looking for better ground. When we head into Autumn racing both Icebath and Colette will be liking the wet conditions that generally arrive at the start of April.


31st October
Track: Flemington
Race: Victorian Derby
Prize: $2,000,000

The Victoria Derby is one of the toughest tests for three year olds in Australia with the race run at Flemington over 2500m.

Always held four days before the Melbourne Cup Derby Day is recognised as the day that kicks off the Spring Carnival week at Flemington. With its roots going back as far as 1856 the race is in fact older than the Melbourne Cup so makes an excellent starting point to kick off a premium week of racing.

It has produced many great staying runners over the years and is a great opportunity for runners of the Golden Rose who found the distance too short to show their true endurance potential.

This year saw the 2020 edition of the race added to the 150 years of history as former AFL Premiership winning coach Denis Pagan won the Victoria Derby with his horse Johnny Get Angry in a true stayer performance.

With just his 7th start Johnny Get Angry gave Pagan his first racing Group 1 and in doing so became a duel champion of sport and racing.

Johnny Get Angry had started out over 1400m but with every rise in distance seemed to improve. On the run up to the Derby he had competed in the Exford Plate, again over 1400m, finishing 9th of 11. He then went close to winning the Group 2 Moonee Valley Vase over 1800m, finishing just 0.2l of the winner Cherry Tortini.

That result had installed Cherry Tortini as one of the favourites for the Derby but it was Johnny Get Angry and Pagan who put on a real winning performance. Clicking up the gears in the straight he put away favourite Young Werther and held off late challenges from Cherry Tortini and Hit The Shot hitting the line full of running.

Denis Pagan will surely be turning attentions to Autumn and distance racing for Johnny Get Angry after seeming to have more in the tank after crossing the 2500m line.


3rd November
Track: Flemington
Race: Melbourne Cup
Prize: $8,000,000

The pinnacle of the Australian racing calendar is the time honoured Melbourne Cup, the richest two mile turf race in the world.

Held at Flemington racecourse on the first Tuesday of November each year the 3200m race attracts talent from all over the world with runners from the UK, Ireland, Germany and Japan entering the race in recent years.

In recent editions of the race it had been the European raiders winning with 3yo’s at low weight with Rekindling in 2017 and Cross Counter in 2018 winning the race. In 2019 Vow and Declare for Danny O’Brien bucked the trend however the favourite for this years race was Tiger Moth for the Aiden O’Brien stable and very much in the mold of past 3yo winners.

Betting saw last years fast finishing Surprise Baby installed as race favourite with much expected from other local runners in Caulfield Cup winner Verry Elleegant and Russian Camelot who had both been giving excellent displays over shorter distances.

From the internationals much had been heaped on the runner up to Verry Ellegant in the Caulfield Cup, Anthony Van Dyck who arguably could have won that race and had excellent form leading into the race.

On the day it proved that talk was cheap however with Joseph O’Brien, the youngest ever trainer to win a Melbourne Cup, getting his second win in 4 years with Lloyd Williams owned Twilight Payment. A horse that finished 11th in the 2019 Melbourne Cup.

It was a huge display for jockey Jye McNeil who took Twilight Payment to the front and never looked back. The 8yo gelding showed an excellent kick on the turn to go clear by two and in true staying fashion there wasn’t enough pace in the race to run him down. At $26 for the win and $8.60 the place bookies would have been happy after a late plunge on Tiger Moth and Surprise Baby backfired for punters.

Eachway backers on Tiger Moth would have been happy however as the lightly raced O’Brien 4yo having just his 4th start emerged from the pack to try and run down the Williams runner eventually finishing 2nd.

The hard luck story of the race however has to be the fast finishing third place runner and cult figure of Prince Of Arran who again finished in the placings for a third consecutive year. The Charlie Fellowes runner came absolutely steaming down the outside in the final 100m and had there been an extra 50m would have easily run over the top of both Twilight Payment and Tiger Moth.

Fellowes would have been absolutely gutted to watch as his runner struggled to find a gap as they hit the 400m mark getting stuck behind Russian Camelot and Godolphin runner Auvilius whilst to rest of the field wound up. When Prince of Arran finally broke through at the 250m the 8yo gelding made up 10 lengths on the front runners to finish 3rd.

It’s doubtful that Twilight Payment will be heading down under for another campaign having now won nearly $5m in prize money. Lloyd Williams carries such stock in the racing market it would be hard to see him returning any of the current runners and looking to the future with younger runners.

Tiger Moth could return in 2021 however plans will be made depending on his form back in Ireland and the UK. He definitely has the potential to kick on again for a good few years but the lightly raced gelding is being aimed at specific targets which veteran trainer Aiden O’Brien isn’t likely to disclose until after the winter.

The third place horse Prince of Arran is fast becoming a darling of the Melbourne Cup story with 3 placings in three years. Fellowes didn’t make it down under to watch the race in person however he was full of praise for his runner and team and tweeted a hint to returning again next year:

“Incredibly proud of PRINCE OF ARRAN. Another wonderful run in Australia’s great race. Thank you @AledBeech for looking after him so well, thank you Jamie Kah for a lovely ride, thank you to the Obaida family for sending him to me to train. 4th time lucky next year?”

https://twitter.com/FellowesRacing/status/1323495133086732289?s=20


5th November
Track: Flemington
Race: VRC Oaks
Prize: $1,000,000

The Kennedy Oaks, registered as the VRC Oaks is the showpiece of ladies day at Carnival week with fillies racing over 2500m for $1,000,000 in prize money.

The race run with set weights of 55.5kgs is for the 3yo ladies and was first contested back in 1861 when it was won by a horse called Palestine.

Roll forward 159 years or so and we see the Oaks being contested by 14 fillies and a red hot Montefillia leading the betting at $1.80 under the ride of Hugh Bowman.

The David Payne trained runner opened at such a short price after impressive back to back Group 1 wins at Randwick where she won the Spring Stakes and the Spring Champion stakes on back to back Saturdays.

With only two other runners in betting, Personal and Miravalle the betting markets had near enough called the race with a price so short but it was to the be the aforementioned Personal who would take out the race with a convincing come from behind win.

A daughter of Fastnet Rock, Personal had been the bridesmaid throughout spring finishing 2nd in the Thousand Guineas Prelude, The Thousand Guineas and The Group 2 Wakeful Stakes.

Much like the win of Johnny Get Angry in the Derby however it was the extra distance than benefitted Personal after showing improved performance over longer distances. The back marker style of running always seemed to find her winding up just shy of the winner.

In the Oaks however the Coolmore owned runner found to much for the rest of the field running over the top of Montefillia and big priced Salto Angel in a 3 way finish.

Personal was to be sent to the paddock until the new year before decisions were made however given the money now available in NSW’s Autumn carnival it would be hard not to see her returning.


7th November
Track: Flemington
Race: Mackinnon Stakes
Prize: $2,000,000

The last Group 1 of the Spring Carnival see’s the Mackinnon Stakes close out the festival card with a race over 2000m with a prize of $2,000,000 available.

Previously the LKS Mackinnon Stakes (Named after the former chairman of the VRC), the race was originally held on Derby day and used as a run in to the Melbourne Cup. However it was moved to a feature race on the Saturday in order to close out the Carnival.

With the race dating back to 1869 the 151st edition of the race was won by WA racer Arcadia Queen who wrapped up and impressive Spring Carnival with her second Group 1 victory.

After winning Group 1 Caulfield stakes and upsetting the apple cart by beating home Russian Camelot Arcadia Queen found the international contingent in the Cox Plate too hot. Against a more local field the Grant and Alana Williams trained runner was rightly installed as $2.45 for the closing showpiece.

Settling at the back of the field, this was probably one of the tidiest Group 1 wins we saw through spring as the 5yo mare pulled wide off the bend and kicked on from the 300m mark.

Where other runners were moving off the bridle into the home straight jockey Luke Currie kept Arcadia Queen in the race under hands and heels before eventually getting to work at the 250m mark and kicking clear to win by 1.7l.

After a successful series of Group 1 entrants the Williams team will be definitely looking towards the Autumn and who can go compete to bring home more titles in March and April.


Conclusion

Top Performer

Without doubt the performance of the Spring has to go to the Chris Waller trained Verry Elleegant. Notching up an impressive three Group 1 wins in the Winx Stakes, Turnbull and Caulfield Cup were unprecedented and got her at one point to favourite for the Melbourne Cup in which she finished a creditable 7th.

Where Chris Waller once had a void in Winx retiring he may have just found one to fill his time and we look forward to seeing her back in 2021.

Top Trainer

There have got to be a few creditable mentions.

Charlie Fellowes - Brought Price Of Arran back for a third year and to place again is no mean feat.

Chris Waller - Very Elleegant does her own talking but also had multiple group wins throughout spring.

Grant & Alana Williams - Backing up the success of Regal Power steering stablemate Arcadia Queen to duel group one success.

Overall for the PGR team though, how can you go past the training performance of AFL Championship winning coach Denis Pagan who only received his training licence in the winter. With less than 6 months of training under his belt he managed to pluck young gelding Johnny Get Angry and turn him into a Group 1 winner. It’ll be a delight to see Denis in and around the tracks for years to come.

Best Race

For us it’s the Turnbull Stakes. In a race run over 2000m it was great to see it contested right up to the final few steps. With the race eventually being won by Verry Elleegant it could have gone anywhere with horses descending from the clouds.

It was also a perfect training performance by Waller who’s runners filled the quinella and trifecta spots but also showed the strength in depth the stable posses with a 4yo, 3yo and 7yo taking the first three.

Spring Racing 2020 Recap Part 1

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