Turnbull Stakes day is traditionally known as moving day, as horses stamp themselves contenders for spring riches, and the big stables and jockeys want to be in peak form. And what a day it was, mostly in Melbourne, but also with some highlights in Sydney.
GOLD TRIP THE ONE TO BEAT IN THE COX PLATE
Gold Trip’s win in the Turnbull Stakes was one of the most powerful we’ve seen, as good a win in this time-honoured race as has been seen this century. Only two horses since 2000 have carried more than Gold Trip’s 58kg’s on Saturday, Zipping in 2010 and the great Northerly in 2002, both with 59kg’s.
The official winning margin was 1.75 lengths, but such was the dominance of the win and his softness on the line, it felt like double or triple that. Last at the 800m and still 13th at the 400m, he showed searing acceleration to hit the front with 200m to go, and made good horses look third rate.
Gold Trip has been an interesting horse since arriving in Australia with a fourth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on his CV. He hasn’t always shown up, but his best has proven to be truly elite – carrying top weight to win a Melbourne Cup, top weight to be nosed out of a Caulfield Cup, and now this Turnbull win.
He deserves to be right in the conversation as Australia’s best horse, and it won’t matter how much improvement Romantic Warrior has to come out of Saturday – if that Gold Trip shows up on Cox Plate day, then it is his race to lose.
MELBOURNE CUP CONTENDERS STAND UP
The Bart Cummings is usually a solid form reference when looking toward the Melbourne Cup. Almandin won the double in 2016, as did Brew in 2000, and it has also produced a series of top five finishes in recent years.
Future History won the Bart Cummings on Saturday, given a perfect Craig Williams ride that was extremely reminiscent of his Melbourne Cup win on Vow And Declare in 2019. He’s a lightly raced six-year-old as a northern hemisphere foal, still having his first preparation for the Maher/Eustace stable, and gets into the race that stops a nation with 50kg’s on his back pending a penalty. He’ll be a factor on the day.
The run of the race was First Immortal in second place. The 2500m start at Flemington is the toughest in Australian racing for those drawing wide, which he did with the widest barrier in a field of 16. He was four wide all the way around the first turn, and was never closer than three wide for the entire race. He had cover at stages, but not for all of it, and was brought five wide around the home turn.
By the time the Bart Cummings field had straightened, no horse had covered more ground than First Immortal, yet the rapidly improving four-year-old had the temerity to accelerate and surge in the straight, still looking the winner at the clock tower. Future History had the cheapest run in the race, and was just able to hold him off, but there is no doubting the staying talent of the Kavanagh gelding.
Soulcombe was outstanding in the Turnbull Stakes, with his third placing. In first, second and fourth were Gold Trip, West Wind Blows, Romantic Warrior, all of which are proven on the world stage. He accelerated as well as any horse at the 300m, and had the quickest last 200m of the race.
With his win in the Heatherlie carrying 58.5kg’s, being beaten a length and a half at WFA in the Underwood, and now this performance with 56kg’s in the Turnbull, Soulcombe drops down to 53.5kg’s for the Cups and it hard to think he won’t be fighting out the finish of whatever he contests from this point on.
THE THREE-YEAR-OLD’S ANNOUNCE THEMSELVES
No Australian Group 1 races change complexion later in the piece than the VRC Derby and VRC Oaks. Horses you’ve never heard of a month before the race start in single figures, favoured horses don’t make it there, and the lingering question is always that we never quite know who is going to stay the trip and who isn’t.
Riff Rocket shot to the top of VRC Derby markets with a breathtaking win in the Super Impose Stakes on Saturday at Flemington. It was impossible not to be taken by the win, given how quickly he accelerated away to win by the best part of six lengths, and there was further merit in the fact the second, third and fourth horses had all been in good form in the lead-up races. And while there’s no doubt they are the B- and C-graders, we never really know how many A-graders there are in a Derby field in any given year.
Zardozi was a less emphatic winner of the Edward Manifold than we saw of Riff Rocket, but the style of her win and UK breeding put her in the frame as one of the fillies to beat in the VRC Oaks. The Godolphin camp had her quickly up to 1400m as a two-year-old, where she had two wins at the trip, suggesting they always felt she was going to be looking for ground. Her form has turned around in Melbourne after some very plains runs up in Sydney.
The Coolmore Stud Stakes is arguably the biggest three-year-old race in Melbourne these days, even moreso than the Derby, Oaks and Caulfield Guineas, and a few horses on Saturday showed they’ll be up with the main chances.
Stretan Angel took out the Danehill Stakes over the highly regarded I Am Unstoppable on Saturday, and is proving herself a remarkably adaptable filly only four starts into her career. Her second place in the Cap D’Antibes after a booming finish was reminiscent of September Run in her three-year-old season, the Chris Waller filly who actually won that race and loved the straight. September Run also won a straight race on Turnbull Stakes day, as Stretan Angel has, and then went onto win the Coolmore.
What Stretan Angel has now proven is that she can win from back in the field but also while racing handy with no cover. It’s an important string to her bow going forward.
King’s Gambit didn’t live up to expectation down the straight three weeks ago after leading the Poseidon field up, and was taken back to Sydney by the Snowden training operation. Widely regarded as one of the most talented of his generation but with lots of bad habits, he needed some work and a win to prove he was still on the right track.
Tommy Berry settled him back in the field in the Roman Consul on Saturday, let the race unfold in front of him, and expertly maneuvered the expensive I Am Invincible colt up the rail to win with comfortable and impressive ease. King’s Gambit’s two most dynamic performances as he’s matured, this race and his third in the Golden Slipper, have now been when ridden more conservatively, and that looks the secret going forward. The Snowden’s will have to send him back down the straight to win the Coolmore, but it should be a different story if ridden more quietly.