The Manikato Stakes is a Group 1 sprint race held at Moonee Valley Racecourse on the Friday night ahead of the Cox Plate. It is a 1200-metre sprint run under weight-for-age conditions by horses of either gender, aged three years and above, with prizemoney of $1 million.
History of the Manikato Stakes
The race has always been run at Moonee Valley Racecourse and it has jumped continuously since 1968.
Prior to metrification, the trip was six furlongs and as everyone knows, other than ourselves, as we had to look it up, six furlongs equates to 1207 metres. Those with an accountant’s desire for accuracy would fairly claim that the slight change in distance makes it difficult to compare the winning times of the first four times the race was contested to winning times after metrification. So many other factors influence running times, though, especially weather and track conditions, making it pointless to quibble over a paltry seven metres.
It was run as a Principal race from 1968 through 1978. It was deemed worthy of Group 2 classification beginning in 1979 and lasting through 1988. After and since, it has maintained the top Group 1 classification.
The race has always attracted the top sprinters from across the country, as we will see when we examine the race history.
The race was named the Freeway Stakes from the first running until 1984, when it was renamed in honour of the 1979 and 1982 winner, Manikato. Manikato, were he racing today, would have made a huge prizemoney haul from winning 29 times with 13 placings from 47 starts.
Manikato won the Group 1 William Reid Stakes five times consecutive from 1979 through 1983, so he is credited with a Principal race win for 1979 and four Group 2 wins for the subsequent years.
We will devote more attention to Manikato later on and anyone who is interested can visit our Manikato Page Here:
For one year, the Manikato Stakes was part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series and the winner was given a free pass to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in the United States. This U.S. race offers $1 million in U.S. money for the prize purse, which is about $1.3 million in AUD, hardly worth the bother of floating a Thoroughbred over 16,000 kilometres, in our view.
As best as we could determine, Strawberry Road, winner of the 1983 Manikato Stakes, was one Oz horse that went across to compete in the Breeders’, but we are fairly certain that there have been no Aussie winners.
Race Venue of the Manikato Stakes
The Manikato Stake has always run at Moonee Valley Racecourse in the Melbourne suburb of Moonee Ponds.
It was founded in 1883 by William Samuel Cox, the namesake of the W.S. Cox Plate.
Unlike Caulfield and Flemington, Moonee Valley Racecourse is private land owned by the Moonee Valley Racing Club.
It is a unique track with multiple configurations. It has an irregular oval shape and is worth the price of a ticket just to get a good look. Anyone interested in further details can see our page here:
Racing History of the Manikato Stakes
With weight-for-age conditions and lucrative prizemoney, the race has attracted the elite Thoroughbreds and there have been many winners that have won twice. There are great champion sprinters sprinkled throughout the history of the race, too many to do justice to in the allotted space.
We will mention some of those winners here and anyone who wants a full rundown on some of the winners could have a look here:
The winner of the first race in 1968 was Winfreux. We do not know much about him, but the winner of the 1969 race was the legendary Vain.
Vain was the Australian Champion Racehorse of the Year for the 1969 – 1970 season and the Leading Sire in Australia for 1983 – 1984. He only made 14 starts before his connections retired him to stud. Vain won 12 of those races and finished second in the other two. They probably would have raced him further, but he was injured during a track gallop in 1970. He was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2003.
Vain’s major wins are too extensive to list in their entirety, but we will mention the Golden Slipper Stakes, the Champagne Stakes and the Caulfield Guineas, all in 1969.
The next two races, 1970 and 1971, supplied the first dual winner and that was the mare named Dual Choice. She was the top filly in Australia as a two-year-old.
1972 went to Century, a great horse that won 11 times, including the Newmarket Handicap and the Lightning Stakes before starting as a sire that produced over forty stakes winners, including champions Euclase and Rubiton. Century was the Australian Champion Sire in 1978.
The next two Manikato Stakes, 1973 and 1974, were won by Tauto.
He was not a big money winner, more due to the era in which he competed than any lack of ability. We like his sort, because this galloper made 72 starts. His victories came when many major races were classified as Principal races. He was a versatile sort, winning sprints, miles and the 191 Cox Plate.
We must skip ahead to 1979 for Manikato’s first win, and then skip ahead to 1982 for his second win. Winning the same race twice with two years intervening provides solid support for the beauty of weight-for-age racing.
Strawberry Road saluted in 1983. This great horse won three Group 1 races as a three-year-old. At four, he won the Cox Plate. He went to Germany to win the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden as a five-year-old. At six, he raced in France and won the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, and then raced in the U.S. for second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf. He raced until eight years of age, and then stood stud in Kentucky.
No disrespect to the next three winners, but we have to move to 1987 when 1972 winner Century’s son Rubiton won the Manikato Stakes.
Rubiton won over $1.3 million and part of that sum came from the 1987 Cox Plate victory. That same year, Rubiton won the Futurity Stakes, Underwood Stakes and MacKinnon Stakes. Another distinction Rubiton enjoys is that along with winning the Cox Plate, he was the sire of two-time Cox Plate winner Fields Of Omagh.
Further evidence of the field quality of the Manikato Stakes exists in the form of 1988 winner Rancho Ruler. His is not the most familiar of names, but some who possess an historical perspective will recognise that part of the name is derived from Bold Ruler, a Yank horse that won the middle leg of the US. Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes in 1957.
Rancho Ruler is on the list of Australian horses that have won above $1 million. He won or finished high in good races, including the Memsie Stakes at Caulfield back in the day when the race was Group 2. His big win was the Group 1 Marlboro Cup at Caulfield in 1988.
Street Ruffian was the winner in 1990 and deserves mention in our view mainly because he made 99 starts. He won the 1990 Japan Plate at Caulfield in 1990 and in the process, beat no less than Super Impose. He returned to attempt to reprise his 1990 win in 1990, running third.
We must skip ahead and overlook the good horses that won the Manikato Stakes between 1991 and 1997, because we come to 1998 to find Dane Ripper.
A ripper she was. A million dollar winner, her accomplishments include the Stradbroke Handicap and the Cox Plate in 1997 and the Australian Cup in 1998. She was the Australian Champion Filly or Mare in 1998, won over $3 million from just 29 starts for 12 wins and eight placings.
1999 winner Redoute’s Choice is well known as one of the top sires Australia has ever produced. He won four major races, the Caulfield Guineas, the Blue Diamond Stakes and the Manikato in 1999 and the C F Orr Stakes in 2000. He sired Miss Finland, Lankan Rupee and The Autumn Sun, to mention just a few of his 30 Group 1 winners that produced 39 Group 1 wins.
The year 200 belonged to the legendary sprint mare Sunline. She won over $14 million NZD, two Cox Plates and a haul of other big races. Sunline deserves much more than space here permits:
Moving ahead, the next four editions of the Manikato Stakes were won by two horses. Spinning Hill won in 2002 and 2003, while 2004 and 2005 belonged to Spark Of Life. Spinning Hill won almost $2.3 million in her 14 wins and 14 placings from 40 jumps and her lines were so impressive that we can’t help wishing we were related. Spark Of Life also won well in excess of $1 million competing against elite competition all around the country, particularly NSW.
Both those gallopers are worthy of more space, but 2006 supplied Miss Andretti. At one point, she held five track records in Australia and England, so to say she was fast is damning her by faint praise. She won 19 of 31 jumps, a winning strike rate above 60 percent and in 2007, was declared the Australian Horse of the Year.
Her connections tried unsuccessfully to mate her with Redoute’s Choice and Fastnet Rock. They did get a colt from her by Exceed And Excel. That foal was called Mr. Villeneuve that was never raced, despite being sold to Lee Freeman for $460,000. Of Mr. Villeneuve, Freedman said, "I had seen the colt many times and he continued to improve. I was very keen to get the first foal of a great race mare."
If Freedman could be fooled, what chance do we honest blokes stand?
We have to move forward now to 2010 winner Hay List.
Hay List won over $2.5 million, from 16 wins and six seconds in 28 races. He won the All Aged Stakes and the Newmarket Handicap in addition to the Manikato, along with two Group 2s and two Group 3s, but he was perhaps best known as one of the pursuers of Black Caviar.
The strong winners’ list grew even stronger with Buffering in 2013. He won over $.2 million and one of his notable accomplishments was winning the A J Moir Stakes three times, in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
Then came Lankan Rupee in 2014, one of Redoute’s Choice’s progeny. We always appreciate the offspring of one winner winning. Lankan Rupee was good enough to beat Buffering in the Group 1 T J Smith Stakes in 2014.
Chautauqua won in 2015. He is one of our all-time favourites, as much for the decision to retire being his and not his connections’. We could spend the entire day discussing him, but suffice to say he was one of the best sprinters to grace the turf, winning over $7.3 million.
Rebel Dane was the 2016 winner. He won over $2.4 million from 40 jumps.
Hey Doc was the winner of the Manikato Stakes in 2017 and 2020. Just as Manikato in 1979 and 1982, Hey Doc won the race with two intervening years.
Those were Brave Smash in 2018 and Loving Gaby in 2019.
The Manikato Stakes seems to be getting stronger and stronger every year. An interesting aspect to the race is that even though it is a sprinter’s race, four of the winners, Strawberry Road (1983), Rubiton (1987), Dane Ripper (1997) and Sunline (2000) went on to win over the 2040-metre trip of the Cox Plate.
Maybe it is the unique geometry of Moonee Valley, but more likely, it is that those four were some of the best over any trip, but it is compelling to encounter versatile Thoroughbreds at any Australian racecourse.
|Year||Manikato Stakes Winners|
|2005||Spark Of Life|
|2004||Spark Of Life|
|1985||Touch Of Genius|
|1977||Ease The Squeeze|