We’re now only a week out from The Everest, the biggest sprint race in the country, and what has become one of the three biggest races on the Australian calendar.
As usual, there has been an incredible amount of drama in the lead-up, and the complexion of the race has changed dramatically in the last two weeks with the withdrawal of favourite and last year’s winner Giga Kick, following an injury sustained in his first-up run at Moonee Valley. Sunshine in Paris, who was one of the first slots confirmed this spring, has also been ruled out.
And while those two horses are out, seven others have been signed up in the last fortnight. Adding further intrigue to this year’s Everest is the fact that the best sprinter in Australasia right now is probably Imperatriz, and connections have repeatedly knocked back offers to run, preferring to stay in Melbourne instead.
Let’s have a look at how the race is shaping up.
I WISH I WIN – slot confirmed
The Everest is the biggest race at the Randwick 1200m, but the TJ Smith is next. I Wish I Win won the latter last season, defeating Giga Kick, in a truly remarkable last-to-first performance. With a Golden Eagle also to his name, he is a star beyond doubt.
I Wish I Win was beaten first-up, in the Memsie Stakes behind Mr Brightside, but not disgraced. There is no hotter horse in the country than Mr Brightside, who has now won five races in a row, four of them at Group 1 level. The query around this horse is whether he can round up an elite field of sprinters on what is sure to be good ground, as opposed to the heavy like in the TJ Smith.
THINK ABOUT IT – slot confirmed
Think About It burst into Everest contention last season with back-to-back Group 1 victories in the Kingsford-Smith Cup and Stradbroke Handicap, and with the withdrawal of Giga Kick and his own win in the Premiere Stakes last week, the Joe Pride-trained galloper is the Everest favourite 10 days out.
Think About It’s rise has been so swift in the sprinting ranks, remembering he had only had three career starts at the time of last year’s Everest, that he has only met one of the confirmed 11 slot-holders in a race before. And that fact alone will add an enormous element of the unknown to the race.
PRIVATE EYE – slot confirmed
Private Eye won the strongest edition of The Shorts we’ve ever seen two and a half weeks ago, and in doing so booked himself a slot in the Everest. The Joe Pride galloper finished second in the big race last year, so we know he is more than up to it, and on his day gives the impression there is no more powerful sprinter in the country.
He should be at the peak of his powers as a six-year-old now, and has such versatility that he is all but assured of running a good race as long as the track isn’t too wet.
MAZU – slot confirmed
Mazu is starting to get a reputation as “always the bridesmaid, never the bride”, and it’s hard to see how he can beat all of Australia’s best sprinters in one race. He hasn’t won since his three-year-old days, when he peeled off five wins in a row through the autumn of 2022, but since then has placed in an Everest, Winners Stakes, TJ Smith and Doomben 10,000.
The Snowden camp is confident Mazu can run a big race, and third in the race last year proves he can be competitive, but his chances would only skyrocket with a wet track on the day.
BUENOS NOCHES – slot confirmed
Buenos Noches has been an Everest watch ever since Giga Kick won the race last year, having just nosed out this horse in the Danehill Stakes at Flemington. He subsequently confirmed his talent with a placing in the Coolmore and being beaten just over two lengths in races like the Lightning and Newmarket.
He put the writing on the wall with a brilliant first-up win in the Show County with a big weight, and was arguably the run of the race in The Shorts behind Private Eye. After being cluttered away on the rail and having to work into the clear, he sailed right by In Secret once in the clear.
Buenos Noches is likely the most untapped older horse in the field, and loves his races spaced, which trainer Matt Smith knows full well, given his campaign will see him a month between runs into the big one.
IN SECRET – slot confirmed
In Secret was a star three-year-old filly, winning the Coolmore Stud Stakes and Newmarket Handicap at Flemington, as well as being just nosed out of races like the Golden Rose and Surround Stakes.
She has returned in good order, with a second placing in the Concorde and running a close fourth in The Shorts, but doubters could well argue that she hasn’t quite progressed at the level required from three to four. Those races were a bit short for her, over 1000m and 1100m respectively, and she was always going to need 1200m to show her best – the Everest is a tough six furlongs, which is right up her alley given her love of the Flemington straight. But have others gone past her?
OVERPASS – slot confirmed
Overpass has only had three runs this calendar year – winning The Quokka over Amelia’s Jewel, Bella Nipotina and Asfoora, running second in the Doomben 10,000 between Giga Kick and Mazu, and running second in The Shorts last start when splitting fellow slot-holders Private Eye and Buenos Noches.
He has quietly become one of the toughest and most honest sprinters in the country, since a gelding operation after the spring of 2022. We know he will lead the race, as Redzel did twice to win The Everest, and will certainly make them all work to get past him. One thing is all-but-guaranteed if he gets in – he will beat home more than beat him.
Golden Slipper winner Shinzo has been confirmed just this week. Only one three-year-old has won the Everest, Yes Yes Yes, and he was also handled by Chris Waller, so the master trainer knows what type of talent and constitution is required in a younger horse.
But he will be hitting the race with the far-from-ideal preparation. Connections decided to hit the Golden Rose first-up, a highly irregular move given what a high pressure 1400m race it is, let alone for a colt that had never raced beyond 1200m before. Shinzo finished ninth, albeit running on from last to be beaten less than three lengths, and also pulled up lame with a bruised heel. It will be a remarkable turnaround from that to win an Everest at just his sixth career start.
CYLINDER – slot confirmed
Cylinder will be the second three-year-old, alongside Shinzo, in The Everest. It’s an age group that always adds another dynamic to any WFA race. He was a very good two-year-old, with a couple of Group 2 wins alongside a second to Shinzo in the Golden Slipper, and he has progressed to be an excellent three-year-old too – with another two Group wins and an unlucky third in the Golden Rose, a race it is easy to make a case he should have won.
Cylinder showed his toughness first-up in winning a dogfight at Caulfield, and also showed acceleration after being trapped in a pocket second-up at Rosehill. He’s a talented colt, and must be a serious player next week.
HAWAII FIVE OH – slot confirmed
Hawaii Five Oh demanded a slot after his fast-finishing second-placed effort behind Think About It on Saturday in the Premiere Stakes. The run was even better than it looks given how many winners and place-getters on the day had a rails run, while he settled back last and had to make his run five- and six-wide down the straight. He was simply outstanding.
His progression in the last six months has been remarkable, going from maiden winner to Hawkesbury Guineas winner, to Stradbroke place-getter, and now being nosed out at WFA by the Everest favourite over the Randwick 1200m. He may end up being even better at 1400m, but a strong tempo in the big one will be seeing him attack the line with gusto.
ESPIONA – slot confirmed
Espiona has been one of the more enigmatic horses going around in the last couple of years. She announced herself with a boom on Derby Day 2021, when winning her second career start by near on seven lengths at Flemington, but could only win one race in the next 15 months despite starting $5 or under on each occasion.
However, things have finally started to click in 2023, with three wins from her last five starts, including the Group 1 Coolmore Classic back in March. She was sensational first-up in the Sheraco, with an eye-catching second to Sunshine In Paris, and won as she liked second-up in the Golden Pendant. The issue for her is going to be that 1200m isn’t her pet distance, so she will need it to be a very high pressure race, in order to use her stamina and acceleration late in the piece.
LAST SLOT UNCONFIRMED
Who will the remaining slot go to?
Some are saying the unbeaten colt Ozzmosis, who has only had three career starts. He would certainly an even more x-factor to the race, but would need to have improved sharply from his win at Rosehill two weeks ago. But he could have Giga Kick vibes?
Bella Nipotina would be deserving of a spot, for her ultra-consistency alone. You know exactly what you’re going to get with her, and she’d be within a length or two of the winner, but it’s hard to see her beating all of them. Rain would help her though.
Asfoora isn’t strong enough at 1200m. Perhaps another three-year-old like Charm Stone or Encap? Maybe even Benedetta from Melbourne, winner of six from nine starts and still improving.