Britain’s 2017 Flat season won’t really get rolling until after Aintree’s Grand National this week, but in contrast the crème de la crème of thoroughbred racing Down Under have been in action in Australia, where Sydney’s prestigious ‘Championships’ meeting is taking place.
There was extra spice to Randwick’s opening day, with the remarkable Winx, the highest-rated racemare in the world, stretching her legs in a 1000m gallop on the track in front of the packed stands.
Winx, who will be chasing a 17th consecutive victory in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes there on Saturday, looked in tip-top shape and trainer Chris Waller said: “That just blew the cobwebs away, and, while the weather forecast is favourable, we now know that Winx can handle a soft track, so I’m not overly concerned what ground she encounters.
“She is like a hydrofoil in that she skims across a rain-softened track, and I have her just where I want her for Saturday.
“I keep getting calls from Royal Ascot, who are anxious to see Winx strut her stuff there, and, while it won’t be this year, we have certainly not ruled out the possibility of making the trip in 2018.”
Connections of top Aussie speedball Chautauqua also have a long-term plan on the table after the colt, who has been in the wilderness since losing his mojo in Hong Kong last May, bounced back to form when coming from last to first to clock up his seventh Grade 1 success when capturing the TJ Smith Stakes for the third year running.
Sprouting wings as they straightened for home, Chautauqua passed all 14 rivals with a blistering stretch run to overtake the great Black Caviar’s prize money earnings when getting up on the line.
Trainer Michael Hawkes said: “Maybe this performance will put the doubters back in their box. Chautauqua was jaded when he came back from Hong Kong, but we have never stopped believing in this horse and it was just a case of being patient and waiting for him to recover his spark.
“Our number one aim will be The Everest, which is worth A$10million and is being run over the same 1200m in October, but this race was also a “Win and You’re In’ event for the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar on 4 November, so California could also be in the equation.”
Meanwhile, a new star came to the top of the Kentucky Derby market in America, and Always Dreaming, the hugely impressive winner of last Sunday’s Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, has a profile not dissimilar to the Arrogate, who is the best horse on the globe.
Last month’s Dubai World Cup hero kick-started his remarkable career at a humble Californian track called Los Alamitos, and the similarities with Always Dreaming were hard to ignore, Todd Pletcher having chosen a Tampa maiden and a Gulfstream allowance race before pitching his exciting prospect in with the big boys.
Clocking a time only beaten by Alydar in 1978, Always Dreaming looked something special, and he is now a best-priced 8-1 for the ‘Run for the Roses’ at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, with Pletcher confident that his new stable-star will have the stamina to cope with the extra distance.
No American loves Royal Ascot more than trainer Wes Ward, who plans to bring his flying filly Lady Aurelia back to Britain in June for the King’s Stand Stakes.
Ward said: “Lady Aurelia did her first proper piece of work at Keeneland on Sunday morning, clocking 60.20sec for 1000m on the turf course, and the plan is to return to the that track for a Listed race on 15 April.
“That would give us the perfect timing for Royal Ascot. She lost her unbeaten record over six (1200m) in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket, but the five (1000m) of the King’s Stand is right up her alley.
“Lady Aurelia is all about speed. She blew them away at Ascot last year and then won the Prix Morny in France, despite not being at her best, and I can’t wait to see her back at the Royal meeting.”
Bill Mott of Cigar fame is another American who is pencilling in a trip to Ascot. “Our Al Quoz Sprint runner-up Long On Value has just arrived back in Chicago from Dubai, so he can have a six week break and then we’ll sit down and decide whether to head across the Atlantic,” said the trainer.
Long On Value would have a choice of the King’s Stand or the Jubilee, and Mott confessed “Royal Ascot certainly sounds tempting.”
The Japan Racing authorities won’t sleep peacefully until they have won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Europe’s richest race.
They have gone close on several occasions, and Kitasan Black’s chance of being on his travels increased after veteran Yutaka Take’s enterprising tactics paid off in Sunday’s Osaka Hai, which carried Grade 1 status for the first time this year.
Kitasan Black, who won both the Tenno Sho and the Japan Cup last year, was not hard pressed to dispose of what was a strong field, which included Satono Crown, who beat Breeders Cup Turf winner Highland Reel in the Hong Kong Vase last September, as well as Japan Derby hero Makahiki.
Following discussions with the JRA, Horse Racing Ireland agreed to grant the winner of this year’s Osaka Hai an automatic entry to their prestigious Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September, so Kitasan Black could well take in that Grade 1 race en route to a tilt at the Arc, in which Satono Diamond is also lined up to bolster the Japanese challenge.
Focus in Britain this week is on the Grand National, the greatest jumps race in the world, and I hope to have solved Saturday’s 40-runner puzzle by Thursday, so watch this space.
Meanwhile, we can top up the betting kitty with three “good things” on the all-weather today, PEALER in the maiden at Wolverhampton and a pair of top weights in the handicaps at Kempton.
MITIGATE is only 4kg higher than when dotting up at Lingfield, and JACOB CAT, who returned after a six-month break to win over the track last Saturday, can defy a 3kg penalty at the evening fixture on the Polytrack.