With spring just around the corner, we saddle up seven runners in three states in what will be a jam-packed weekend for us.
The weekend kicks off in sunny Queensland at 12:07pm (AEST), with Manndawi running in a 2040m Class 3Handicap at Doomban. The Matthew Dunn-trained French import is clearly the highest rated runner in the race, with a rating 12 points higher than any of his rivals. Robbie Fradd will take the ride from barrier 2 and will carry 56kgs. With extra fitness under his belt, the step back in class and increased race distance should mean we see an improved performance from the French Group 1-placed gelding.
Our attention then quickly turns to Flemington. Master Zephyr is looking to go one better than his last start, where he flashed home to run an impressive second at Flemington three weeks ago. This week he finds a 2500m Handicap at 12:50pm (AEST), where he jumps from barrier 5 and, with Ben Allen’s claim, he will carry 53.5kgs. The three-week freshen-up looks to have done him wonders, as he appears in perfect order and at a distance where he has a very impressive strike rate – three wins and two placings from his nine starts at the distance. Trainer Darren Weir has opted to put the winkers back on the six-year-old gelding, in what looks a very suitable race.
In race four, we find Duke of Ellington in a 1700m Benchmark 84 Handicap scheduled to jump at 2:00pm (AEST). Apprentice Jockey Ethan Brown will take the ride and, after his 3kg claim, will carry 54.5kgs. Ethan is a very promising jockey with a win rate of over 20% and a place rate of over 50% in Victorian Metro races. The Ciaron Maher-trained French import will be jumping from barrier 4, which appears to be an ideal gate for him. After a rather disappointing effort last start, he has been given a 5 week freshen up and looks to be in very good order and well weighted in a very even race.
Romanesque is the next ‘cab off the rank’ as he has his first Australian start for trainer Jarrod McLean. Still a 3yo in real time, this son of Montjeu will run in a 1400m Benchmark 70 Handicap at Flemington, that will commence at 3:15pm (AEST). In his last start Ireland, he came a close second to a horse called Radanpour, who has winning form over a Melbourne Cup runner from last year in Bondi Beach. Brad Rawiller will take the ride from barrier 15, with 59kgs and will have the tongue tie on for the first time. It should be very interesting to see how he goes, as we expect him to need a few runs and longer journeys before we see his best.
It will also be most interesting to see how Tom Melbourne runs in his first start for new trainer Chris Waller. He will commence his campaign at Rosehill in a 1400m open Handicap that begins at 3:35pm (AEST), in what looks to be a very winnable race for the 2016 Albury Gold Cup winner. Sent north after a disappointing autumn, he has trialled well for the new stable. In his first trial, he cruised to the line with Winx and couldn’t have looked more impressive. In his second, less than two weeks ago, he stormed home under minimal riding to win by over three lengths. Experienced jockey Blake Shinn is booked to take the ride from barrier 2 and will carry 58.5kgs. While sometimes dangerous to read too much into trial form, it appears that Tom may have turned a corner and, while it might not be his most suitable distance on Saturday, we are expecting a good showing from our talented galloper.
Back to Flemington and the last of our Saturday runners, with Hardington in a 2000m Benchmark 78 Handicap. This race is set to jump at 4:35pm (AEST) and the Gelagotis trained five-year-old will look to improve on what was a sound effort last time out at Morphettville. The stable has tinkered with his gear, with the ear muffs going on for the first time, as well as the visors staying on. Damien Oliver is booked to ride in the second widest barrier in 15, with 56.5kgs. While this field looks very strong, we are expecting a very good showing from him, as he will be a lot fitter from his previous two runs.
The action will continue on Sunday, with Night’s Watch making his Australian debut at Bendigo. This four-year-old gelding from New Zealand will be stepping out in a 1300m Benchmark 64 Handicap at 3:55pm (AEST). He brings some serious form with him from New Zealand and looks a horse with more than his share of ability. Mark Zahra will take the ride from barrier 10 and will carry 59kgs. The sky is the limit for the now four-year-old, as we are hoping he can quickly lift his rating and run in much better races this spring.
Good luck to all connections involved in horses greeting the starter this weekend.