Cox Plate hero headed for The Championships

Danny O’Brien believes valuable colt Shamus Award is on target to again shine on the biggest stage in the $4million Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 2000m during The Championships at Royal Randwick in April.

The prominent Melbourne trainer said the three-year-old, which won the Cox Plate as a maiden last October, had thrived since his first-up third in the Group 1 C.F. Orr Stakes at Caulfield on February 8.

Shamus Award is being aimed at Saturday’s Australian Guineas before an assault on The Championships: “He’s really thriving,” O’Brien said. “He ran as well as we could have expected first-up over 1400-metres which is well short of his best.”

The colt is nominated for the $3m The Star Doncaster Mile over 1600m on April 12 and the Queen Elizabeth on April 19.

O’Brien said after the Australian Guineas he would head to the Rosehill Guineas over 2000m on March 29, and then the Queen Elizabeth three weeks later.

O’Brien expected Fiorente would be the one to beat in the Queen Elizabeth, though he is also wary of Cox Plate failure It’s A Dundeel, which started favourite at Moonee Valley.

“Both Shamus Award and Fiorente had a terrific battle in the Cox Plate,” O’Brien said. “It’s a Dundeel didn’t have the right preparation after a setback but he’s a great horse.”

O’Brien is not concerned by Shamus Award tackling the clockwise direction of racing for the first time: “It’s an unknown but he has done plenty of work in that direction,” he said. “Certainly Randwick is a big, beautiful track and most horses get round there OK.”

O’Brien has another major player in his stable for his Sydney mission in last year’s Newmarket Handicap winner Shamexpress who is back in top form and headed for the Group 1 Darley TJ Smith Stakes on Day One of The Championships, April 12.

O’Brien said the four-year-old would defend his Newmarket crown on March 8 before heading straight to the Darley TJ Smith Stakes with possibly a Sydney trial in between: “The TJ Smith is a $2.5million race – all the best sprinters in Australia will be there.”

Darley’s dream Diamond result

If ever Peter Snowden has been driven to question his decision to abandon the post at Darley’s head trainer, it would’ve been at about 5.13pm this afternoon.

That was around the time Earthquake crossed the line in her sensational win in the $1 million Group 1 Sportingbet Blue Diamond Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield.

The daughter of Exceed And Excel maintained her unbeaten run – three wins from as many starts – and earned comparisons with some of the great modern-day fillies with her stunning victory in Victoria’s premier juvenile event.

It came just a few months after Snowden announced that he would relinquish the position as the main man in Sheikh Mohammed’s Australian operation, to start up a training partnership with son Paul, with John O’Shea to take over the reins at the start of May.

“It’s certainly made it a bit bigger decision now,” Snowden said smiling.

“I thought about the decision for a long before I did it and I still don’t regret what I’m doing even though a lot of people will say I’m mad after today.

“This job’s been so good to me and Paul and to leave it on a good note is better than leaving on a sour note or not on a winning note, so this is all-important.

“We’ve still got two more months to go yet, though, and hopefully we can kick a few more goals along the way.

Earthquake charged to Golden Slipper favouritism – at $2.80 – after her Blue Diamond win, when she overcome the second-widest starting position in the 16-horse field to score an emphatic win.

Leading Queensland jockey Damian Browne found a spot three off the fence with cover just behind the leading trio, one of which was fellow boom Sydney youngster Rubick, but still had to be clicked up around 450m from home.

But just as she did in her Blue Diamond Prelude, which she won easily, the $2.90 favourite exploded in the straight and swept past her rivals to score a 1.5-length win over Jabali ($15) with that Mick Price-trained colt’s stablemate Cornrow ($61) just a neck back third.

Rubick had to settle for fourth placing, around three lengths from the winner, while the other unbeaten runner going into the event, the Gai Waterhouse-trained Nayeli ($8.50), raced on the pace but dropped out sharply in the straight to beat home just one rival.

Snowden hinted post-race that he got a huge kick out of watching Earthquake in action.

“Once she balanced up, she pricked her ears and went to them and I thought ‘oh my god, what’s in the tnak here’?” he said. “That was special.”

Snowden confirmed that Earthquake would now be given the chance to emulate another superstar youngster he prepared, Sepoy, who completed the Blue Diamond-Golden Slipper double in 2011.

“That’s only her second start,” he said. “I didn’t tell anyone what I was thinking about, but that has always been the plan.

“She’s got to pull up well, she comes first, but if she comes through (well), she’s had the perfect preparation for a Golden Slipper.

“She’s only had three starts now and she keeps on improving. I never thought I’d get another Sepoy, I may not and this filly isn’t him as yet, but she’s doing things similar to what he did.”

Story by Brad Bishop


Fiorente has fans cheering

Today’s Carlton Draught Peter Young Stakes at Caulfield, to draw a footy comparison, was a bit like Gary Ablett or Buddy Franklin having a run around in a curtain-raiser.

The three Group 1s on the Blue Diamond Stakes Day card were the main fare, and carried the four premiership points if you like, but the big-name presence in the race that preceded them ensured there was almost as much interest in the earlier contest.

The Gai Waterhouse-trained star, Australia’s premier galloper in the eyes of many, was having his first start since winning last year’s Emirates Melbourne Cup.

And the six-year-old son of Monsun produced a performance that any box office star would have be proud, resuming with a win despite plenty of fitness improvement to come with a view to many Group 1 features down the track.

Damien Oliver, who secured his third Melbourne Cup aboard the entire and was back aboard today, was thrilled to see him live up to his billing.

“It’s great,” Oliver said of the win. “Now that the mare’s gone, Black Caviar, it’s nice to have a star keep standing up.

“I think he’s come back as good as he was in the spring. I wouldn’t say he’s gone up, but he’s consistently performed at the highest level since he’s been here and I don’t think he’s put in a bad run.

“He couldn’t have come back better than he has and hopefully he can keep it up for the Australian Cup and then hopefully onto Sydney.”

Fiorente had to call on all his class, and much of Oliver’s vigour, to get the job done. After settling just worse than midfield, they travelled well until the point of straightening when the Hall of Fame jockey was throwing everything at his prized mount.

Even 150m from home the $2.15 favourite looked like he was going to struggle to reel in Star Rolling and fellow Melbourne Cup winner Green Moon, who ran a huge race on the pace, but found another gear in the final 100m to get home by a short head from $151 shot Mourayan.

The margin might have been narrow, but Waterhouse cared little knowing that there is improvement to come.

“He’s a beautiful horse and they don’t often win first up over 1800 against a class field,” she said. “I think there’s lots of improvement to come.”

The Young Stakes success was Fiorente’s fifth, at start number 17, and the $132,000 winner’s purse lifted his career earnings just beyond $5.5 million.

He will look to add $600,000 to that in next month’s Group 1 Darley Australian Cup (2000m) at Flemington, in which he will be striving to become the first male horse to complete the Melbourne Cup-Australian Cup double in the same season since the latter was first run at weight-for-age event in 1979.

Hyperno and Shocking both won an Australian Cup after claiming the Melbourne Cup, but it was the following season, while Saintly won his Australian Cup before saluting in the Melbourne Cup.

Champion mares Let’s Elope and Makybe Diva are the only two horses to have won the Victoria Racing Club’s big two Cups in the same season.

Story by Brad Bishop


Price weighs up Newmarket decision

Mick Price has revealed current TAB Lexus Newmarket Handicap (1200m) favourite Lankan Rupee is no certainty to run in the $1 million Group 1 at Flemington on March 8.

Following a scintillating win in yesterday’s $400,000 Group 1 Sportingbet Oakleigh Plate (1100m) at Caulfield, the four-year-old firmed into the outright favourite for the Newmarket at $3.20.

Price, who already has the equal $6 second favourite Samaready heading towards the Newmarket, said Lankan Rupee may have his next run in the Group 1 Hacer Group William Reid Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley on March 21 en route to the $2.5 million T.J. Smith Stakes (1200m) in Sydney in April.

“I just have to have a think,” Price told RSN. “Do you go to the Newmarket which is a tough 1200 and then into the William Reid at his fourth run?

“The T.J. Smith (1200m) is worth $2.5 million so why wouldn’t you save enough fuel for the T.J. Smith?

“Should you run in the Newmarket? Maybe yes, maybe no I’ve got a bit of thinking to do.

“He’s had two solid runs and if I give him a break now and then run him in the William Reid (1200m) and then the T.J. Smith, he would be spot on.”

Price said Lankan Rupee came through yesterday’s victory in good order, with the Caulfield-based trainer similarly pleased with how two-year-olds Jabali and Cornrow pulled up after finishing second and third respectively in yesterday’s $1 million Sportingbet Blue Diamond Stakes (1200m).

Though admitting they had no excuses yesterday, Price said both would likely try to turn the tables on Earthquake in the Group 1 Golden Slipper Stakes (1200m) in Sydney in April.

“Both colts will have a week in the paddock and Jabali is definitely going to Sydney and Cornrow is probably going to Sydney,” he said.

“I’m hoping Earthquake goes somewhere else.”

Story by Ben Asgari


Snitz blitz in Lightning

Neil Werrett didn’t need Black Caviar to win Australia’s premier sprint race after all.

The prominent owner today saw Snitzerland, another mare from his monster team of horses, win the $500,000 Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning (100m) at Flemington.

It was the first running without the mare who now has her name attached to the race that she won three times since 2010 and Werrett said it was a thrill to again visit the Lightning winner’s stall.

“It’s been quite an amazing day,” he said. “To name a race after Black Caviar and then win it has been a real triumph.

“I can’t tell you how great a thrill it is.”

Snitzerland, a daughter of Snitzel who had twice finished runner-up at Group 1 level including the 2012 Golden Slipper, logged her maiden win at the highest level.

The Gerald Ryan-trained four-year-old showed her customary pace out of the barrier to share the speed with Bernabeu and while the spruik three-year-old dropped out shortly after entering the course proper, Snitzerland took control at around the same time.

The $5 chance dashed clear and although Shamexpress ($7.50) finished hard in a typically solid straight-track effort half-a-length was as close as the Newmarket winner got.

Samaready, the heavily-supported $3.10 favourite, was under pressure in the first half of the race but got going late to finish third, a further length back.

Pago Rock ($31) and Unpretentious ($18) both worked home well to finish fourth and fifth respectively in what appeared solid trials for the Newmarket Handicap.

Bernabeu ($5.50 to $4.80) failed to replicate his straight-track heroics from last year’s Melbourne Cup Carnival and finished a long last, while two-year-olds – Bugatty ($31) and Boomwaa ($17) – were never a factor, finishing eighth and 10th respectively.

The victory was the Group 1 win for Sydney-based jockey Brenton Avdulla in his native Melbourne and it said it made an already special day for the family even more significant.

“That was special,” the 23-year-old said, voice trembling. “It’s a special day today, my pop passed away just before I was born and it’s his birthday today, so it’s worked out alright especially to get my first Group 1 in Melbourne.”

“I knew that we were coming here today with a horse that was on song ready to go and I don’t think Gerald’s had her going any better, even when she ran in the Slipper.

“She’s just been doing everything right I think she’s improved definitely off what she did last prep.”

Snitzerland took her record to eight wins from 17 starts and lifted her career earnings to $1,874,500 with the Lightning win.

One of the first questions put to Werrett, who races Snitzerland with Steven McCann, after the race was whether she would get the chance to add to that at the Royal Ascot Carnival – at which Black Caviar won two years ago – but the part-owner said it “had not been discussed.”

The Black Caviar was the first leg of this year’s Global Sprint Challenge, which carries a $1 million bonus to any horse that can win selected races in three different countries.

“I’ll have a talk to Gerald,” he said. “We’ve got a few more things to win here first.”

The next of those could be the $1 million Lexus Newmarket Handicap (1200m), back at Flemington, on 8 March.

Story by Brad Bishop