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Hawk’s Saturday Selections – Caulfield Cup Analysis And Selections

October 17, 2015

The spring reaches the first of its climaxes today with the running of the Caulfield Cup, the first of the “big four” in Australian racing this season.

For the next 16 days, racing is the number one sports topic in Australia as all roads lead to Flemington and the first Tuesday in November for the Melbourne Cup.

Throw in next Saturday’s Cox Plate and the extravaganza that is Derby Day and it is a time of great excitement for the racing enthusiast.

In my weekly The Griffin blog for the South China Morning Post, I have commented on Hong Kong’s reaction to the Caulfield Cup and how it has attracted more attention than Champions Day – both of which are available for betting here.

After days of analysis and changing opinions, I have finally settled on my Caulfield Cup selections. So, here is my look at the first of Australia’s big features.

Race 9 – GROUP ONE CAULFIELD CUP (2,400m)

I think it’s fair to say it’s a solid Caulfield Cup, there is plenty of depth, but to call it the best ever on the account of two in-form horses like Complacent and Magic Hurricane missing a start is a bit rich. Still, there are a number of nice horses in the race and plenty that seem to be striking form at the right time, too.

It is a race that looks to have very little speed on paper, although there will be something that is bound to push forward. Still, it should be no better than an even tempo. SNOW SKY should race on the lead from gate three, with ROYAL DESCENT from the outside pushing across to race outside him. The query is MAGNAPAL – does Dean Yendall take advantage of carrying only 50kg and push forward? Behind them, I expect to see RISING ROMANCE in the box seat with MONGOLIAN KHAN his outside, while I also think VOLKSTOK’N’BARRELL will be forwardly positioned too.

I’m loathe to tip a favourite in a big race – there is usually so much value outside the favourites in these features – but this year, contrary to many, I think there’s terrific value to be had about the favourite MONGOLIAN KHAN. I think he’s better than a 20% chance of winning the race, so the $5 on offer is delicious and I’m happy to keep jumping in.

He is all class, this horse. The first winner of the New Zealand Derby/Australian Derby double since the mighty Bonecrusher in 1986, he has a potent mix of speed and stamina that makes him lethal at these trips. Importantly, he’s finding form at the right time – his seventh in the Makybe Diva Stakes was perfect for a returning stayer, he recorded the fastest last sectionals in an pace-dominated Underwood Stakes and his slashing third last weekend in the Caulfield Stakes was exactly what you would want to see from a Caulfield Cup horse.

Compared to the Melbourne Cup, where Derby winners have a shocking record, the form tends to stand up well at Caulfield – and last year’s three-year-old staying form has actually stood up this spring, with Victoria Derby winner Preferment taking out the Hill Stakes and the Turnbull Stakes and a horse like HAURAKI looking to have returned well.

Trainer Murray Baker is arguably New Zealand’s finest horseman and knows what it takes to prepare a Caulfield Cup chance, even if he is yet to win the race – he finished second with Nom du Jeu (2008) and Harris Tweed (2010) and twice third with The Phantom (1989, 1993), and Mongolian Khan looms as a better horse than that trio.

If there are chinks in his armour, it is the weight – 55kg is not exactly ideal for a four-year-old, but he’s earned the weight and he looks a strong enough horse to handle it – and the fact he is backing up for the first time in his career, coming off a track that was rated by some jockeys as a road last weekend. Still, they are minor chinks and he looks the winner on paper.

The best value in the race outside the favourite lies with ROYAL DESCENT. One of Australia’s most consistent horses, she’s only won the one Group One – the Australian Oaks – but has placed in eight races at the highest level since. She appears to be racing in career-best form currently, coming off a half-length second to Kermadec in the George Main Stakes and a nose second behind stablemate Preferment in the Turnbull Stakes. Crucially, the map looks suitable for her – plenty have pointed to the outside barrier as a hurdle for her, but it might actually be an advantage. It forces jockey Glen Boss to push forward, to look for a spot either on the lead or outside the lead, and it is those tactics which will see her in the mix for a long way.

Some point to the distance as a concern, and perhaps her best trip is a mile, but she’s stepped out two times at 2,400m for her 10-length Australian Oaks romp (where she left three Oaks winners in her wake, too) and a fifth in the Caulfield Cup two years ago when she loomed up to win but just died on her run late. The ground was quite firm that day, as it will be again today, but there’s no doubt she’s a stronger mare now and with a pretty kind weight, 53.5kg, she should be right there when the whips are cracking.

SNOW SKY is the first Australian runner for Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte operation, who have raced some of Europe’s best horses in recent times – think Frankel, Workforce, Dancing Brave, Danehill, Quest For Fame, Kingman, Commander In Chief, Flintshire – the list goes on and on. Snow Sky is unlikely to ever join that list, but he’s an honest horse who is well placed in Australia.

He was placed in the St Leger last year before having his first crack at international company in the Hong Kong Vase. It was a run that must be overlooked, he got well back off a slow tempo – one of the slowest races run in Hong Kong last season – and just couldn’t sprint with them. He won the Yorkshire Cup earlier this year sitting off the speed in a six-horse field, but his most impressive performance by far came in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot when jockey Pat Smullen took the race by the scruff of the neck and led all the way. That looks the best way to ride him and Damien Oliver is likely to adopt similar tactics today.

Top weight, 58kg, is a slight concern, although horses at the head of the weights have it far easier now with a smaller spread than they once did. The Caulfield Cup looks a far more suitable race for him than the Melbourne Cup, so I’m expecting him to be one of the first into the straight today – it is just whether he can hold off the late finish of Mongolian Khan.

Throwing in RISING ROMANCE for fourth, given she should get a gun run here and the fact that her run in the Turnbull Stakes needs to be thrown out. She was progressing well before that and she has that touch of class. She looked home last year before Admire Rakti swooped late and it would not surprise to see her in the finish again this year.

For exotics, I’ll be throwing in GRAND MARSHAL at big odds – he has been ticking over nicely in Sydney and looks bang on target for the Melbourne Cup but can produce a good trial here. Don’t be surprised to see him in the mix at the end.

Next best are the Japanese pair, FAME GAME and HOKKO BRAVE – not expecting to see either of them winning today but think it is very possible one or both, more likely Fame Game, will produce the annual “flashing light” performance looking towards Flemington. Two of the biggest performances in the Caulfield Cup in the past decade have been from Sunday Racing-owned horses, Eye Popper (2nd, 2005) and Delta Blues (3rd, 2006), and while only one scored at Flemington, still expecting something very similar from Sunday Racing-owned Fame Game.

In an open race, not entirely ruling out Godolphin’s HAURAKI either – he looked to find form again last start, and obviously meets Mongolian Khan well at the weights for his Australian Derby second. I’m just worried about where he will get to in the run, and I’m also not convinced he goes as well the Melbourne direction as he does in Sydney. Still, he’s probably one to include in all exotics.

6 – MONGOLIAN KHAN
10 – ROYAL DESCENT
2 – SNOW SKY
14 – RISING ROMANCE
——–
9 – GRAND MARSHAL
3 – FAME GAME

Here are the rest of my thoughts for Caulfield today:

Race 1 – YELLOWGLEN PLATE (1,400m)

6 – HELL OR HIGHWATER
3 – AIR APPARENT
7 – PURRPUSFUL
4 – ITALY

Race 2 – LISTED GOTHIC STAKES (1,400m)

6 – SANTA ANA LANE
2 – METALLIC CROWN
1 – TAKEDOWN
3 – HOLLER

Race 3 – GROUP TWO CAULFIELD SPRINT (1,000m)

2 – KURO
6 – KINGLIKE
1 – BALL OF MUSCLE
5 – HEADWATER

Race 4 – GROUP THREE ETHEREAL STAKES (2,000m)

2 – AMBIENCE
3 – HONESTA
10 – DAWN OF HOPE
9 – DAWNIE PERFECT

Race 5 – GROUP THREE CAULFIELD CLASSIC (2,000m)

6 – TIVACI
5 – ECLAIR ATTACK
13 – SACRED EYE
10 – RAGNAAR

Race 6 – GROUP THREE DAVID JONES CUP (2,000m)

2 – DIBAYANI
6 – SADLER’S LAKE
1 – STRATUM STAR
5 – FENWAY

Race 7 – GROUP THREE MOONGA STAKES (1,400m)

8 – UNDER THE LOUVRE
3 – CHARLIE BOY
4 – VASHKA
9 – SETINUM

Race 8 – GROUP TWO TRISTARC STAKES (1,400m)

2 – CATKINS
4 – SOLICIT
6 – SABATINI
5 – HAZARD

Race 10 – LISTED ALINGHI STAKES (1,100m)

5 – BROOK ROAD
4 – FONTITON
6 – THE MESSINA NYMPH
1 – AFLEET ESPRIT

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