The Cantala Stakes is a Group 1 race staged by the Victoria Racing Club and held at Flemington Racecourse. It offers prizemoney of $2 million to three years and above Thoroughbreds that compete over a trip of 1600 metres. The race is run under quality handicap conditions.
The race is typically run in late October or early November, depending on how the Saturdays on the calendar fall, on one of Flemington’s biggest spring meetings, where every race is Group quality.
The Cantala Stakes is one of four Group 1 races on the day, along with the Victoria Derby, Coolmore Stud Stakes and the Empire Rose Stakes.
History of the Cantala Stakes
The Cantala Stakes was first run in 1881. The early editions, from the race debut through 1918 used the name Coburg Stakes.
Cantala Stakes was first used in 1919 and this name persisted all the way through 1961.
The George Adams Handicap was the race name beginning in 1962 and lasted through 1984 when sponsorship was acquired by Ampol Limited, a petroleum company headquartered in Sydney. You would have thought that Ampol would sponsor a Sydney race and perhaps they did, or it could have been possible that the ATC, Racing New South Wales or whomever accepts sponsor money in exchange for race naming rights shunned Ampol’s offer to sponsor a big race at Randwick, Rosehill or Warwick Farm.
Car manufacturers became involved in 1989. It was the Honda Stakes until 1992, and then the Nissan Stakes through 1995, followed by the Chrysler Stakes through 1997.
Holden never became involved and it’s easy to say they never will now that GM has pulled the plug and removed Holden from life support.
In 2016, it was simply the Cantala Stakes again. That year, the race was shifted from the last day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival to the first day, swapping places with the LKS Mackinnon Stakes, which shifted from the first day to the last day of the carnival.
It was renamed as the Kennedy Mile as the sponsorship was acquired by the luxury watch and jewelry seller. The company has its paws all over the sports scene and they seem as much or more interested in the AFL, but nothing wrong with that.
Beginning in 2019, the current name Kennedy Cantala Stakes and the namesake of Lake Cantala in western Victoria gains a new lease.
The race distance, other than the first 14 years of the race, when it was 1800 metres, has always been 1600 metres, allowing for the slight difference from when the race was metrified in 1972.
Race grade is even easier. It was a Principal race up until the Group 1 status was conferred in 1979.
Race Venue of the Cantala Stakes
The race has always been held at Flemington Racecourse.;
Flemington is the most famous track in Australia and even persons with zero interest in racing know the cultural and historical significance of the track. Flemington joined the list of Australian National Heritage sites in 2006.
Of course, it is home to The Race That Stops a Nation, the Melbourne Cup.
The track is a pear-shaped oval, with the wide part being the final two turns leading into the finishing straight.
A well-known feature of feature of the track is the 1200-metre straight that begins outside the confines of the course proper and runs past the grandstands, making sprint races up to 1200 metres a simple affair with no turning involved.
Racing History of the Cantala Stakes
The Cantala Stakes has a rich history and has been run 140 times as of the 2020 race won by Yulong Prince.
Horses that are strong at 1600 metres will generally produce a strong field and since it is open to the older horses, many veteran campaigners line up for the Cantala Stakes.
The first time the race jumped in 1881, it was won by Courtenay. All we know is that Courtenay was a horse, probably a stallion, as they could not afford to discard Thoroughbred DNA haphazardly at that time.
None of the winners from 1882 through 1906 seems remarkable in any way, but in 1907, Iolaire won and was the first horse to win the Cantala Stakes twice with a second win in 1908. We do not know how Iolaire did as a racer, but we did notice that his sire was Great Britain’s Grafton that did not race but was sent to Australia, where he had a significant influence on bloodlines. The name Grafton might refer to the Royal Navy ship HMS Grafton, which was launched in 1892 and saw service in World War I.
Following Iolaire’s two wins, we find nothing noteworthy in the elite sense of legendary horses.
In 1914, the winner was De Gama. This was New Zealand horse that dropped in 1910 whose sire was Vasco. Vasco De Gama. Get it?
Again, records from that era being what they are, we only know for certain that De Gama won two races, because he won the Cantala Stakes again in 1917 as a seven-year-old.
Our first legitimately notable winner was 1922’s Violoncello. This was a British horse that was banished to New South Wales in 1920. Down Under, he did a fair share of winning. Earlier in 1922, he won the very first Cox Plate and the year prior, he won the Caulfield Cup. His other notable wins were the Linlithgow Stakes and the C. B. Fisher Plate.
History reports that he was sold for the princely sum of 4,000 guineas as a seven-year-old and sent to Australia by Sir Samuel Hordern. Hordern, who knew when to hord them and when to ford them, saw Violoncello’s half-brother Quinologist (same dam Catgut) win the 1916 AJC Metropolitan Handicap. Hordern was into animal husbandry and was interested in breeding cattle, horses and dogs. He was the breeder of Artilleryman, the 1919 Melbourne Cup winner.
Violoncello was actually a good horse in England, where he had five wins and two placings from 21 starts. Down Under, he had those big wins, so while he cost Hordern, he was probably a sound investment by a man who seemed to have the Midas touch in many realms.
The Night Patrol was another Pom ex-pat that won the Cantala Stakes in 1924. Like Violoncello, The Night Patrol won the Cox Plate ahead of the Cantala Stakes and was a good racer. He came in second in the 1925 Cox Plate, won the Linlithgow Stakes twice and the William Reid Stakes twice. George Rous, the third Earl of Stradbroke and namesake of the Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap, bought The Night Patrol and shipped him south.
The next notable, this one a definite legend, was Amounis in 1926 and 1929. Amounis made 79 starts, which automatically makes us like him. He won the 1927 Cox Plate and the 1930 Caulfield Cup. As an eight-year-old in the 1930 – 1931 racing season, he beat Phar Lap in the Warwick Stakes, when Phar Lap was in his prime. We must say that Phar Lap beat Amounis more times than he lost to him. That upset win in the Warwick Stakes came as Phar Lap was on a 10-race win streak and after, Phar Lap won 14 in a row, so Amounis was responsible for denying Phar Lap 24 consecutive wins.
Plenty of good horses watched Amounis win and more detail on this giant of the turf can be found here:
More good horses won the Cantala Stakes in the years following the victory by Amounis, but the next truly notable winner we encounter is 1945’s Royal Gem.
Royal Gem was the versatile sort, winning from 1000 – 2400 metres.
Following the Cantala Stakes win, he would win the Caulfield Cup in 1946 and the Newmarket Handicap in 1948.
He was sent to the U.S. following his six-year-old season. He stood in Kentucky, where he sired Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star and reportedly, sired the winners of more than 1000 races.
Prince Cortauld was the 1954 winner. He was a New Zealand horse that won 25 races, including most of Australia’s premier miles. He beat Rising Fast three times, so this was no handy miler, but a great one. He won two Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the one in Victoria and the one in NSW.
There was a two-time winner in 1960 and 1961. That was Aquanita, a horse that made 70 starts. He won the Cox Plate in 1962 and he won in Western Australia and Queensland as well.
Wenona Girl won in 1963. She raced 63 times and retired as the highest stakes-winning mare in Australia. She was a good broodmare, too.
Just a couple years later, 1966, Storm Queen was the winner. She won nine Principal races at three and four years of age, six of which are now classified as Group 1.
Vain, the 1969 winner, also won the Golden Slipper Stakes that same year. He was Australian Champion Racehorse of the year for the 1969 – 1970 season. He only raced 14 times, winning 12 and running second in two, so he was sent to stud and is credited with siring two Golden Slipper Stakes winners, Inspired and Sir Dapper.
Only two years later, it was Gunsynd winning. Like some of the earlier winners, Gunsynd won the Cox Plate. His Cox Plate win came in 1972.
Taj Rossi won in 1973 and he won the Cox Plate that same year for Bart Cummings and was named Australian Horse of the Year in 1974. He won nine races and would most likely have won more, but he had some health issues and retired from the racetrack at the age of four.
Maybe Mahal, one of the few mares we have seen in the winners’ list, was another Bart Cummings prepared galloper. Her other major wins at Group 1 level were the Doomben 10,000 in 1977 and 1978, the Lightning Stakes on two occasions, the Newmarket Handicap and the Doncaster Handicap.
We skip a number of years up to 1989, when the Cantala Stakes went to the champion Better Loosen Up. Unlike some of the others, Better Loosen Up waited a year to win the Cox Plate in 1990. He was a close second in the 1989 Caulfield Cup and was capable of beating horses such as Super Impose and Vo Rogue. Better Loosen Up won over $4.7 million.
It was the next year, 1990, when Shaftesbury Avenue was the winner. He went head-to-head with Super Impose on eight occasions, with each winning four times against the other.
Bonanova won in 1999 and earned over $1 million.
The next year, 2000, belonged to Testa Rossa.
This top horse won over $3 million and was a rival of Redoute’s Choice, both on the track and in the barn. Testa Rossa’s 2000 win was his last win, but he beat both Miss Pennymoney and Redoute’s Choice in the 2000 Group 1 Futurity Stakes at Caulfield.
Divine Madonna was the winner in 2006. She won over $2 million dollars and over a career that spanned 26 races, she finished outside the top five just twice. Her Group 1 total of four wins included the Queen of the Turf Stakes, the Toorak Handicap and the Myer Classic in addition to the Cantala Stakes.
The next noteworthy winner was Hucklebuck in 2014. The Cantala Stakes was the Emirates Stakes at that time and was his only Group 1 win, where he beat Lucky Hussler.
Turn Me Loose, the 2015 winner, might have won more, but he was hurt in a race in early 2017 and retired. He lost to Winx on two occasions and was beaten by Black Heart Bart in his last two races, including the Group 1 C. F. Orr Stakes.
Le Romain, a favourite of ours, was the 2016 winner. Le Romain was one of those that were in the wrong place at the wrong time. He competed against the likes of Savatiano and Probabeel. Le Romain’s other big Group 1 wins were the Randwick Guineas and the Canterbury Stakes. His Canterbury Stakes win was over Chautauqua, when Chautauqua was known as the Grey Flash and not the Grey Bloke Who Won’t Leave the Barrier.
Shillelagh’s 2017 Cantala Stakes win was over Tom Melbourne.
The 2020 winner was Yulong Prince. That race can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCUJqI2HiUI
The Cantala Stake is rich in history and drama. It is one of the feature events of the Melbourne Spring Carnival that concludes with the running of the Melbourne Cup.
The race has featured wins by some of the best to take to Australian turf and is considered one of the top 1600-metre Group 1 races in the country.
|Year||Cantala Stakes Winners|
|2018||Best Of Days|
|2015||Turn Me Loose|
|2011||Albert The Fat|
|2007||Tears I Cry|
|1989||Better Loosen Up|
|1979||Bit Of A Skite|
|1978||Family Of Man|
|1924||The Night Patrol|