The first Group 1 of the 2023/24 season has been run and won, with the ever-consistent Fangirl finally claiming her first WFA win after a year of chasing Anamoe around. Read on below for analysis of how each horse performed, with a view to what it means going forward.
Fangirl had run second to Anamoe three times at Group 1 weight-for-age level last season, as well as second to I Wish I Win in the Golden Eagle. That’s two of the best three horses in Australia, neither of which were in the Winx Stakes yesterday.
James McDonald gave her a peach of a ride from what could have been a tricky barrier, and she produced a high quality finish to stamp herself the true WFA horse she’d always looked like being. The track was a drying soft 6, and she can improve again on a genuine good.
You’d be happy to back such a consistent mare in anything she contests, and the question will be whether she can get up to the 2040m of a Cox Plate.
PRINCESS GRACE (2nd)
Princess Grace won five Group races in the US before coming to Australia, and proved she had acclimatized to Australia with two good performances in the autumn.
Sent out an easing $21, Brett Prebble made use of barrier one by camping on the rail midfield, and never went around a horse as he moved into the race. She had enough quality to hit the front at the 150m, and only got nailed late by Fangirl, who was in the better part of the track.
There is no doubt she’ll be a horse to beat in races like the George Main and Epsom Handicap, and may even push out to 2000m given she is Group 1 placed at 1800m overseas.
Zaaki did what Zaaki does. He jumped well, put himself in the race by sitting second behind the leader Lindermann, and gave his all in the run to the line. With Lindermann dropping out early, and Major Beel (sitting third in the run) and Golden Mile (sitting fourth) also falling away, Zaaki was left in front and exposed a long way out, while the chasing Fangirl had momentum and something to chase.
Zaaki isn’t going to get better as a nine-year-old, but he showed again that he’ll still provide a test for younger horses in the Group 1 races, and of course will be better placed when getting to 2000m rather than a shorter trip like 1400m here.
Hinged hasn’t won since February 2022, but since then has been placed four times in Group 1 races, with another six top five finishes at the elite level. Kerrin McEvoy gave her a great ride just behind the speed, and she attacked the line well but there are just a few horses better than her when we get to these events.
Most of her best performances have been on heavy tracks, but she hasn’t seen one for a while, so while it was a soft 6 on Saturday, the drying conditions weren’t to her ultimate favour. She’ll continue to be thereabouts in these races.
Osipenko was one of the most pleasing runs of the day, given there had been a little query on him after a moderate trial. He was taken right back to third last after drawing wide, but was the eye-catcher of the race charging into fifth out wide, once Brenton Avdulla gave him nothing but clear air upon straightening.
This horse would have won the Caulfield Guineas second-up last spring if not for a bad barrier, and he did win the Hobartville second-up in the autumn. If he draws well next start, we can expect him to sit more forward, and he will give whatever race he is in a mighty shake.
THINK IT OVER (6th)
Connections of Think It Over will have been thrilled with his return after 16 months off the racing scene due to injury. His sixth placed finish here replicates what he did in this race in 2021, which led to a campaign that saw him win four races, and he may have finished half a length closer if not for a squeeze at the 75m when crowded for room between Zaaki and Fangirl.
He may need another run to get right back to his best after such a long lay-off, but he’ll deserve the respect of punters going forward.
Duais hasn’t won since her purple patch in March last year when taking out the Australian Cup and Tancred Stakes, but showed in a short Brisbane campaign that she might be ready to produce her best again soon.
That was backed up on Saturday when settling near the rear of the field, but finishing strongly to only be beaten under two lengths. She’ll need to get to 2000m before being able to win a race, but she looks on track.
Similar to Duais. Montefilia was snagged right back to last from barrier 13, and given plenty of time to find her feet. Jockey Dylan Gibbons then pushed her out into the better part of the track once in the straight, and she hit the line nicely with some of the best closing sectionals of the race.
This mare, now with Chris Waller, has won four Group 1 races, been placed in another four, and run fourth in the Caulfield Cup twice. We know her quality, and she is no doubt well placed to keep targeting our best 2000m-2400m races.
KING COLORADO (9th)
King Colorado was the most intriguing runner in the Winx Stakes, the only three-year-old in the field and having just his fourth career start. Unfortunately for connections and racing fans, his performance was inconclusive given he was held up for clear running for most of the straight.
Louise Day was about to move into the race after settling her mount in a midfield position, but was chopped out by Think It Over at the 350m, Fangirl at the 300m, and then had Major Beel falling into her lap when trying to switch to the inside. King Colorado finished off well enough given all the inconvenience, and was only beaten just over two lengths in the end. He is certainly one to watch.
FRANCESCO GUARDI (10th)
Francesco Guardi was last seen 10 months ago, winning the Moonee Valley Cup by the best part of four lengths. Every day since that win, Chris Waller has been eyeing off this year’s Melbourne Cup for this talented stayer.
Waller would have been pleased with what he saw on Saturday, with his steed moving into the race nicely at the 400m, but obviously couldn’t sprint with the proper WFA horses over the last 250m. He gets a big tick.
Last season’s Randwick Guineas winner had a day to forget, never closer than four wide after jumping from barrier 12, and having no cover at any stage.
The question of whether he will be able to handle the step up to WFA racing is still to be answered, but no conclusions can be drawn from the Winx Stakes, in what was a complete forgive.
Lindermann led the field along after jumping brilliantly to take up the running, and while no leaders won on the day, he looked particularly disappointing. But the stewards report shows that he was “coughing repeatedly” post-race, and therefore can be forgiven a sub-par performance.
NAVAJO PEAK (13th)
Navajo Peak was 100-1, had to snag back to near last after being caught wide early, and worked to the line well enough given how outclassed he was in this sort of race. He’s won twice up to 2000m in his career, and may be looking for The Metropolitan over 2400m as a target.
MAJOR BEEL (14th)
Similar to Lindermann and Golden Mile, Major Bill dropped out in the straight after racing handy. It may not have been Tim Clark’s best ride, given the horse looked to be stuck three wide throughout despite having the option to tuck in behind Zaaki at various stages.
Still, the jury is out on what sort of player the ATC Derby winner will be this spring, but we will no doubt see him at 1600m next time out for a further guide.
GOLDEN MILE (15th)
Golden Mile was very poor at face value, having a charmed run in fourth position and failing to let down at all in the straight. The stewards report shows he sustained a laceration, likely when being loaded in the barriers, so can perhaps be forgiven, but he has now only beaten two runners home in his last four races.
Mo’unga has always been one of the more enigmatic gallopers getting around, and he certainly had one of his more wild days on Saturday. The last time we saw him, he finished second in a $5M race to top off his most consistent campaign yet, beating home Anamoe, and yet he never went a yard first-up in the Winx Stakes.
The horse had drawn wide, and jockey Sam Clipperton tried to push forward initially but eventually went back just worse than midfield with cover. He was under hard riding from the 600m, was clearly the first one beaten not long after that, and found absolutely nothing in the straight.
It was a similar performance to when he ran last in the same race last year, but he turned around his form to run a placing in the Makybe Diva Stakes three weeks later, so Annabel Neasham will no doubt be hoping for a similar form reversal this time.