Racing in NSW has received a shot in the arm with the announcement of a $20 million prize money injection and the addition of a new race type to Sydney Saturday programs.
The annual boost in stakes, unveiled by Racing NSW on Wednesday, will be spread across country and metropolitan racing.
It includes the creation of $100,000 Midway Races, which will be open to horses trained out of small to mid-sized city and metropolitan stables.
The Midway Races will be added to Saturday metropolitan programs from July 1 with eligibility determined by the number of winners a trainer has produced in the preceding 12 months, and the level of the victories.
Prize money for some of the flagship races during the spring and summer has also been increased with the Epsom Handicap purse rising to $1.5 million and the Villiers Stakes tripling to $750,000.
Country race meetings will be given an extra $9 million with prize money for Highway races increasing to $100,000.
Racing NSW chairman Russell Balding said they hoped the initiative would benefit people at all levels of the industry.
“These increases broaden the spread of prize money and further improve the dividends back to our owners and participants,” Balding said.
“We also want to make sure that our traditional spring feature races continue to attract quality fields and maintain their prize money relativity.”
Connections of Mugatoo remain intent on gaining a start in the All-Star Mile and have bypassed the Chipping Norton Stakes to concentrate on the Melbourne feature.
The Australian Bloodstock galloper narrowly missed out on securing his spot among the top 10 gallopers in the public vote and now has to sweat on receiving a wildcard entry.
Mugatoo was nominated for Saturday’s Chipping Norton Stakes at Randwick as a precaution but trainer Kris Lees said they have decided to roll the dice and wait for the All-Star Mile process to unfold.
“We’re still concentrating on getting to the All-Star Mile,” Lees said.
“It’s a fortnight away so we will stick to the original plan of going into it second up should we get in.
“You’d like to think you’re in strong contention.”
Lees said Mugatoo had continued to thrive since his first-up fifth to Colette in the Apollo Stakes and would have a quiet barrier trial on Monday to keep him ticking over.
Stablemate Collide was also a non-acceptor for the Chipping Norton with Lees opting to wait for the Randwick City Stakes (2000m) seven days later.
He believes the distance of that race is a more suitable starting point for the European import, who is on a Sydney Cup path.
Leading trainers Chris Waller and James Cummings dominate the Chipping Norton field with six of the nine runners between them.
Waller, who has won eight of the past 10 renewals of the 1600 metre race, saddles up favourite Verry Elleegant along with Kolding, Funstar and Toffee Tongue.
Godolphin will be represented by emerging mare Colette and stable stalwart Avilius.
Mike Moroney doesn’t run horses in Group One races for the sake of it and he thinks three-year-old Poland can give the Australian Guineas a shake.
Poland has started once at the highest level when he failed to fire in last year’s Caulfield Guineas, finishing eleventh.
Moroney admitted he erred by running Poland in that race, saying in hindsight the horse was a bit weak and immature at the end of his spring campaign.
The Flemington trainer is expecting Poland to show he is a legitimate Group One galloper when he tackles the Australian Guineas at Flemington on Saturday.
Poland will be attempting to give the trainer his 48th top level winner.
“I don’t run my horses in Group One races unless they are up to it,” Moroney said.
If Moroney’s faith in the three-year-old was dented in the spring, the So You Think colt restored it with a tough first-up win in the Autumn Stakes at Caulfield over 1400 metres.
Moroney concedes the Australian Guineas is going to be another step up in grade but he is keen to see how Poland handles it this time around.
“We’ve got to take on better company and we’ve got to see whether he can measure up,” Moroney said.
“He came through his last-start win really well.”
Moroney said he hadn’t given the All-Star Mile a lot of consideration for Poland but if he ran well on Saturday he would think about a start.
The placegetters from the Australian Guineas over the past two years have all found themselves in the All-Star Mile with the exception of 2020 third placegetter Soul Patch.
Three of the five runners who contested both races gained starts via wildcards and Poland will have to be granted one to get into the All-Star Mile field.
Moroney is hoping Buffalo River can force his way into the $5 million March feature by snaring the Blamey Stakes, with the winner given a golden ticket into the Moonee Valley showpiece.
Moroney was thrilled with Buffalo River’s first-up second to Regardsmaree over 1400 metres at Flemington, feeling the horse was left a sitting shot after striking the front early.
Moroney believes the six-time winner has come back better than ever and is set for his best campaign to date.
During his three decades as a leading trainer in South Africa, David Payne won Group One races almost at will.
When he relocated to Australia in 2002, he quickly established himself among Sydney’s top echelon of horsemen, and the feature race winners continued to flow.
Over the past few years, Payne has made a conscious decision to wind back his numbers, which only makes it more satisfying when a horse like two-time Group One winner Montefilia comes along.
“We only go to the races with one runner here and there so you get a good horse and it keeps you going,” Payne said.
“I used to have 120 horses. We were big and now we only keep about 20 in training. And that’s when we’re full.
“I just have a smaller string now and I enjoy it.”
Montefilia is his latest stable star and she returns in the Group One Surround Stakes (1400m) at Randwick on Saturday.
While Payne knows where the filly’s autumn campaign will start and finish, he is keeping an open mind on her targets in between.
The Rosehill Guineas (2000m) is her most likely second-up goal but if she happens to show she has more speed in her legs, a Coolmore Classic (1500m) tilt is a possibility.
“That’s why I put her in everything, then we can decide where we want to go,” Payne said.
“But the Oaks is where she will finish off.
“I think she’s good. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of her. She is a big, strong filly and she will win a few decent races.”
Montefilia resumed with a closing fourth in the Tea Rose Stakes last preparation and the Surround Stakes is held over the same course and distance.
Payne’s gut instinct tells him she will again need further than 1400 metres to produce her best but such is Montefilia’s class, he won’t be surprised to see her win.
“Not on the way she has been working. She’s been working really well,” Payne said”.
“But in my heart, I feel it’s a bit short for her.”
Montefilia has drawn barrier 11 in the 16-horse field and was posted at $11 with TAB fixed odds on Wednesday.
Dame Giselle heads betting at $4.80 after faring well with gate nine, ahead of Victorian filly La Mexicana ($7) who has drawn alongside the favourite.
The Golden Slipper campaign of exciting filly Four Moves Ahead is back on course after she impressed trainer John Sargent in a crucial trackwork gallop at Randwick.
The daughter of Snitzel was scratched from last Saturday’s Silver Slipper after she kicked out and injured a knee while in her box just days before the race.
Sargent said he was happy with how the filly had recovered and confirmed she would take her place in the Sweet Embrace Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on Saturday.
“She did everything right this morning so we can put that behind us,” Sargent said.
“Nash (Rawiller) galloped her over half a mile and she came back well.
“She’s a natural two-year-old with a lovely attitude and she’s very tractable.”
Rawiller has been booked to ride the youngster, who is one of 18 nominations for Saturday’s fillies’ feature.
Four Moves Ahead stamped herself as a Golden Slipper prospect with an impressive debut victory on the Randwick Kensington track last month.
She is raced by Jonathan Munz of Pinecliff Racing, which also owns and races her stakes-winning half-sister Emeralds.
Emeralds, also trained by Sargent, clocked the fastest final 600m sectional time on the program when an eye-catching third behind Savatiano and Kolding in the Expressway Stakes first up last month.
Jason Collett put the mare through a solid workout on her own at Randwick on Tuesday and Sargent indicated the gun New Zealand hoop would again be in the driver’s seat when Emeralds lined up in the Guy Walter Proven Thoroughbreds Stakes (1400m) on the Randwick program.
“She did some terrific work this morning,” Sargent said.
“We couldn’t be happier with her.”
Sargent has also been delighted with the progress of Elizabeel, who takes on the likes of dual Group One winner Montefilia and Light Fingers Stakes winner Every Rose in the Surround Stakes (1400m) .
Elizabeel will tackle the $500,000 race second up following a strong finishing fourth in the Light Fingers two week ago.
Trent Busuttin believes they may have stumbled on the style of galloper Tagaloa really is after his return to form in the C S Hayes Stakes.
On that occasion, Tagaloa used his speed from the outset and kept going to win his first race since last year’s Blue Diamond Stakes.
Busuttin said the Group Three victory demonstrated to him that Tagaloa was a strong on-pace galloper.
And the stable plans to use the same tactics in the Group One Australian Guineas (1600m) at Flemington on Saturday.
“I think we learned more out of the win than what we knew going into it,” Busuttin said.
“He went through his gears strongly. We’ve found out he is a tough, on-pace galloper who can take up a position on the speed and keep going.”
In the C S Hayes Stakes, Tagaloa was part of a speed battle from the outset and carved out a slick 10.65 second, 200 metre sectional time between the 1200 metres and the 1000 metres.
He then had to endure Here To Shock taking him on for the lead, which he relinquished, before regaining the front and withstanding the challenge of Aysar to win.
Tagaloa’s only previous start over 1600 metres was in the Caulfield Guineas, which proved to be a non-event as he was pulled out of the race after injuring his near-fore suspensory.
Busuttin expects him to handle a 200 metre distance rise on Saturday.
“To me, there’s no reason why he can’t run out 1600 metres,” Busuttin said.
“When I was looking at him as a two-year-old, I couldn’t wait to get him out to 1600 metres and further.
“He was strong to the line the other day and I think he will run out a powerful 1600 metres.”
Busuttin said Tagaloa had derived benefit from his last-start run.
“I’d say he’s improved. He worked up in great fashion at Cranbourne this (Tuesday) morning with Sierra Sue, who is a smart mare. It was extremely good track work.”
Tagaloa is a $3.50 Australian Guineas favourite with TAB fixed odds.
He also has the best form reference as four of the past six winners of the Australian Guineas have taken out the C S Hayes Stakes – Alligator Blood last year, Grunt (2018), Hey Doc (2019) and Wandjina in 2015.
Team Snowden is preparing to take the shackles off its leading Golden Slipper candidate with Captivant to launch his autumn in the Skyline Stakes at Randwick.
Visiting Englishman Tom Marquand, who will emerge from quarantine early this week, has been snapped up for the ride.
Co-trainer Peter Snowden said the stable was keen to get a jockey who could commit to Captivant for the duration of his autumn campaign.
Marquand has a record of success in Australia where he captured his first Group One win aboard Addeybb in last year’s Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
“There are plenty of riders here but they are all committed to different stables and different horses,” Snowden said.
“He’s a nice horse so you like to have a nice rider on board.”
By exciting first season sire Capitalist, who Snowden trained to win the 2016 Golden Slipper, Captivant came from behind to claim the Victory Vein Stakes on debut in October.
He was again hitting the line strongly to finish on the heels of the placegetters in the Golden Gift won by Sneaky Five.
The Snowdens put him on ice with a view to targeting the major two-year-old races and regard him as their pre-eminent chance for the juvenile showpiece.
“At this stage he is but we will know a bit more about all of them in the next few weeks,” Snowden said.
There were 14 nominations for the Skyline Stakes on Monday, including Magic Millions winner Shaquero and his Chris Waller-trained stablemate Head Of State, who rises to stakes company after an impressive midweek victory.
Victorian Forbes is slated to make a belated local debut for the Blue Diamond Stakes-winning partnership of Anthony and Sam Freedman after finally being granted his barrier trial ticket at his third attempt.
Forbes was twice scheduled to have a trial in Sydney but was scratched at the gates both times before taking out an 800 metre heat at Goulburn on Sunday by almost 10 lengths.
There are 18 entries for the Sweet Embrace Stakes, which is set to feature a clash between two of Sydney’s top juvenile fillies in Four Moves Ahead and Mallory.
The Group One Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) headlines Saturday’s program and has attracted an all-star cast led by Verry Elleegant, Colette and Cox Plate winner Sir Dragonet.
Tom Dabernig doesn’t have to be told that Aysar has made a habit of running second.
But the Lindsay Park head trainer is keeping the faith when it comes to the three-year-old’s next start in the Group One Australian Guineas (1600m) at Flemington on Saturday.
Dabernig has some compelling reasons why the son of Deep Field can turn around his run of near-misses.
He believes Aysar has a key advantage in being proven at 1600 metres, and also that he has been set specifically for the race.
Dabernig pointed out that Aysar had raced twice over the Guineas journey for narrow seconds behind two smart horses in Ole Kirk and Crosshaven.
“He got beaten by a half-length in the Caulfield Guineas when he started from a wide barrier. I think the Caulfield Guineas is great form for the Australian Guineas,” Dabernig said.
“Then in the Carbine Club Stakes he looked to have his stablemate Crosshaven beaten but he just out-toughed him.
“In each of those runs he was beaten by smart horses.”
It is a trend that has continued for Aysar this campaign.
He resumed with a second to subsequent Oakleigh Plate dead-heater Portland Sky in the Manfred Stakes at Caulfield over 1200 metres and was runner-up to Tagaloa in the C S Hayes Stakes at Flemington last start.
“He’s run into good horses each time. I thought his second in the C S Hayes Stakes was a great run,” Dabernig said.
“They ran the fastest 1400 metres for the day, more than half a second faster than the Vanity Stakes and a second-and-a-half faster than the open handicappers.”
Dabernig said Tagaloa’s winning time of 1:21.63 minutes was also the quickest C S Hayes for over 20 years.
“Tagaloa is a Group One winner and he looked back to the form he showed as a two-year-old. He’s also unproven over 1600 metres,” Dabernig said.
“Aysar came out of the race really well. I’ve trained him with purpose to peak third up in this race and all the signs say that’s the case.
“He’s a big, healthy, robust horse who will be spot-on.”
Dabernig is quietly confident Aysar can break through in the Group One Guineas.
“My main query will be how he settles before the race as he can still be a bit too colty,” he said.
Aysar is a $9 chance with TAB fixed odds to win the Australian Guineas.
Dabernig will make a decision later in the week whether Crosshaven takes his place in the feature after he finished second last in the Futurity Stakes on Saturday.
Golden Slipper contender Alpine Edge will be matched with stablemate Vanna Girl in an important trackwork hitout this week.
The Toby and Trent Edmonds stable plan to start Alpine Edge and Vanna Girl in a 900 metre jump out on the course proper at the Gold Coast on Tuesday.
Alpine Edge will race in blinkers for the first time when he returns from a let up in the Group Two Todman Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on March 6 with Glen Boss booked to ride.
“The jump out will be one of his main hitouts before the Todman,” co-trainer Trent Edmonds said.
The son of Better Than Ready suffered his first defeat when he finished runner-up to Shaquero in the Magic Millions Classic at the Gold Coast on January 16.
Vanna Girl is being aimed at the winter carnival where the Hollindale Stakes and Doomben Cup are on her agenda.
The Edmonds stable were buoyed by official confirmation on Friday that cult hero The Harrovian had gained a start in the $5 million All-Star Mile (1600m) at Moonee Valley on March 13.
Part-owner Stephen Massingham phoned Trent Edmonds at trackwork at the Gold Coast on Friday to deliver the good news.
“It was absolutely smashing down with rain and had been an ordinary morning but that bit of news certainly brightened up the day,” Edmonds said.
“He has his first run down there on Saturday at Flemington in a Group Three 1400 metre race, which I think is a smart move to duck those stars in the Futurity.
“We didn’t want to gut him first up. If he can win on Saturday that would be great and we can go on to the All-Star mile full of confidence.
“I just thought that would be the smart play on a nice, big track at Flemington where he can be ridden steady and let rip to the line.”
The Harrovian was joined in Melbourne by stablemate Usmanov who will contest the Listed ATA/Bob Hoysted Handicap (1000m) at Flemington on Saturday.
It was a tale of two victors as Perth raider Celebrity Queen and unheralded three-year-old Portland Sky dead-heated for first in a desperate drive to the line in the Group One Oakleigh Plate.
Close finishes have become a common occurrence at Caulfield in recent weeks and this time judge Paul Egan was unable to split the first two horses home in a high-stakes race.
The victory by Celebrity Queen delivered prominent owner Bob Peters, jockey Willie Pike and trainers Grant and Alana Williams another Group One for their collection.
On the other side of the winner’s stall, the victory gave apprentice Teo Nugent his first Group One win and trainer Matt Laurie his second.
Nugent said the last 50 metres seemed a long way with ‘the wizard of the west’ in Pike blowing down his neck.
Portland Sky’s Oakleigh Plate triumph was a big thrill for the youngster, who started riding four years ago under the tutelage of Laurie.
“The emotions are coming but it is a great thrill. He had a great turn of foot when I asked him,” Nugent said.
Laurie said he had always had a big opinion of Portland Sky ($10) and was happy to back his judgement by running the horse in the Oakleigh Plate.
Laurie’s other option was to start Portland Sky in the Zeditave Stakes against his own age, also on Saturday’s program, which he said in hindsight would have been easy money.
“In the end we thought if he doesn’t perform, we won’t have lost too much but if it comes off, there’s a lot of reward,” Laurie said.
“I’m glad we took the punt.”
The Oakleigh Plate was a first Group One victory for Celebrity Queen ($9), who has now won seven of her 13 starts.
In a tight finish, Kemalpasa ($41) was a short neck away third.
The Danny O’Brien-trained Paradee made it three wins on end when she led throughout in the Group Two Peter Young Stakes (1800m).
Paradee will now get her opportunity at Group One level in the Australian Cup at her next start.
O’Brien’s stable representative Ben Gleeson said Paradee had thrived since her last-start win at the Magic Millions carnival in January.
Paradee ($5) held off Shared Ambition ($5) by three-quarters of a length with Homesman ($4.80) a short half-head away third.