Four-year-old’s are just so hard to beat in the Epsom, being able to get into the race with a weight that has often not yet caught up to their true ability. This proved the case yet again, with that age group supplying the trifecta on Saturday.
The race was run at leisurely tempo, particularly for the first half mile, before Damien Oliver on Nugget decided to inject a little bit of speed into the race. It was probably just what the eventual winner Rediener needed, as it just took that little bit of toll on Golden Mile, but not enough to allow Kovalica to make up enough ground to win the race.
Many had a question mark over whether Golden Mile was capable of running a strong 1600m when he won the Caufield Guineas in a blanket finish last year, with several hard luck stories behind him. We probably got our answer on Saturday when he had every possible chance and kicked well clear in the straight, but was only paddling late.
Kovalica was enormous in defeat, and Chris Waller now has some decisions to make on whether he keeps that horse at a mile, for races like the King Charles and 1500m of the Golden Eagle, or does he get tempted by a Cox Plate?
The winner Rediener deserves his credit, having now won four races in a row, but he did get 4kg’s and 5kg’s off Kovalica and Golden Mile respectively. This is the challenge for all Group 1 handicap winners when they claim victory on the minimum weight, needing to keep improving. He’s certainly in the right hands.
Chris Waller may well have claimed the trifecta if Democracy Manifest didn’t run right up the rump of Golden Mile, and we might see him go down to Melbourne for the Toorak Handicap in two weeks time.
While the Epsom was $7.50 the field in the betting, the Metrop saw the shortest price favourite of the day with Just Fine shooting for three in a row since arriving in Australia.
All three Group 1 races on the day were won by horses that raced on the rail, with no doubt that it was the place to be on Saturday.
Spirit Ridge, a grand old veteran of the Australian racing scene, still performing with great toughness and honesty, took them along at a strong enough tempo to set up a course record time. It was a great ride by Regan Bayliss, rating him perfectly in front, using his fitness and amping up the tempo to get the others off the bit chasing.
Just Fine quickly emerged as the only challenger once straightening – Randwick has a particular capacity for a two horse war down the straight, and we were treated to another one here.
The talented import proved that he is up for a fight, having to beat off Spirit Ridge a couple of times when that horse would not lay down. Even with only 50kg’s on his back, it was a gutsy performance from a horse that is clearly still improving and has now ticked the 2400m box after three failures at the trip in the UK.
It’s three weeks into the Caulfield Cup from the Metrop, but Just Fine hasn’t actually been nominated for the race, even though connections have been paying up for the Melbourne Cup.
There was the best part of five lengths back to third, and it’s hard to recommend many horses that finished behind them. They will all drop down a level or two going forward though, and fast races on firm ground usually hold up well as form references.
There is a reason Gai Waterhouse has always trained her horses to go the front over many decades as Australia’s first lady of racing. She obviously twigged on very early what a high percentage play it is for horses that race on the speed – you remove bad luck from the equation, the rail is the shortest way home, and it can be hard to make ground from back in the field on firm tracks in particular.
Tropical Squall was a more than respectable third in the Tea Rose last start, but beaten fair and square by both Tiz Invincible and Kimochi. However, the Prized Icon filly emerged victorious in the Flight Stakes on Saturday, on a day that favoured those up on the speed and close the rail. She has now won three of her four career starts, including a Group 1, emulating her sire who also won a Group 1 over the Randwick 1600m.
The honest Kimochi had every chance to run her down after getting the rails trail behind the winner all race, but simply wasn’t quick enough in the end. She’s now run five placings in a row, all of them at Group 1 or Group 2 level, and will no doubt keep putting her hand up.
Two of the best runs in the race were Tiz Invincible and Mollynickers, both beaten just over two lengths.
Tiz Invincible had proven herself a class above these fillies at 1200m-1400m over three previous runs this campaign, but never got into the race after drawing the widest barrier, with jockey Zac Lloyd never being able to slot in. She was three and four wide throughout, yet never shirked her task to still be there asking the question at the end. The Maher/Eustace camp are renowned for keeping their horses up through long preparations, but whether she can make it all the way to a Thousand Guineas at Caulfield in November would be a tough ask.
Victorian filly Mollynickers was also excellent, running the best closing sectionals of the race after not being given a great ride by Jamie Kah. She settled further back than she needed to after jumping well, tried to hook out early but didn’t commit to it, and ending up crossing several pairs of heels to be the widest runner. The horse attacked the line with gusto, and can be followed with confidence wherever she lines up next.
Think About It was acknowledged to be the best horse in the race going into the Premiere, and it was the fourth of four big races on the day where the winner raced on the rail.
With The Everest only two weeks away, Joe Pride must have had his charge at close to full fitness, and the horse did enough to win the race. He has shown immense versatility in such a short career, having raced forward, midfield and back, from wide barriers and inside draws, on good and wet ground. He’s now won eight races in a row and 10 from 11 in his career.
Hawaii Five Oh was superb in defeat, jumping out of the ground late, really lengthening his stride like a serious racehorse, and almost giving the Waterhouse/Bott combination another feature win on a huge day for their stable. He will be impossible to ignore from an Everest perspective now, and his 1400m credentials should hold him in good stead over what promises to be a brutal 1200m affair.
Bella Nipotina was her usual honest self, and while it is hard to see her winning an Everest against the cream of the crop unless it was on wet ground, she will never be disgraced if getting a slot. You’d almost always back her to beat home more than beat her, regardless of what race she is in.
On reflection, the three place-getters were always the three most likely to figure in the finish. Alcohol Free needs further, Zapateo needs the sting out of the ground, Kote and Athelric aren’t up to that class, and Lost and Running seems to be finished.