Blake Shinn on Fenway wins the Vinery Stud Stakes at Rosehill Gardens in March Photo: Brendon ThorneA strong international presence and a determination by the owners and trainers of the top-rated horses to keep their gallopers entered for the big races right up to the cut-off point, suggests it will be difficult to get a start in the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate and even harder to win.
At the second declaration stage for two of the trio of great races that headline the Melbourne spring carnival, the majority of the fancied candidates stood their ground – that is perhaps not so surprising for the weight-for-age Cox Plate, but unusual in the case of the Caulfield Cup, which is a handicap.
The number of second acceptances for the Caulfield feature rose from 78 last year to 81 this and Racing Victoria believes there could be a race record of four internationally trained starters in the world’s richest 2400-metre handicap.
Two of the contenders – the Japanese raiders Hokko Brave and Fame Game – are already in Melbourne while four others, the Royal Ascot winners Snow Sky and Trip To Paris (Hardwicke Stakes and Ascot Gold Cup respectively), the Lonsdale Cup winner Max Dynamite and the Northumberland Plate winner Quest For More due to arrive soon.
All but six of the top 50-weighted horses remained in the race, with the only stand out withdrawals the Godolphin contender Contributer, group 1-winning four-year-old mare Fenway, imported mare Noble Protector and Darren Weir’s Prince Of Penzance.
“The scene is being set for an outstanding renewal in 2015, one which is looking increasingly difficult for many horses to obtain a start,” Greg Carpenter, RV’s executive general manager, racing, said on Tuesday.
“Contributer and Fenway are the only top 25-ranked horses to be withdrawn from the Caulfield Cup with the connections of both horses electing to pay the second acceptance fee for the Cox Plate only.”
The continued presence of the higher-weighted entries, many of whom are the internationals, is a blow to lowly weighted locals trying to sneak a run in the 18 horse cup field.
It also makes life difficult for the riders of the lower-weighted runners because if the original topweights stay in the contest the weights will not be raised, making it hard for many to get down to their limit to take rides on runners competing off their “true” handicap mark.
The Cox Plate is also chock-a-block with foreign entries who have paid up at the second declaration stage, with 73 horses, including five internationals, still trying to snare a spot in the 14-runner field on October 24.
The numbers are up from the 67 at the same stage last year and include a quintet of foreign raiders: Arod, from the Peter Chapple-Hyam stable, Highland Reel, and Ol’ Man River representing the powerful Coolmore operation of Aidan O’Brien, French-trained and Australian-owned Gailo Chop, as well as Lightning Spear, a lightly raced colt owned by Qatar Racing.
The best credentialled locals are a familiar crew, with Fawkner (second), Foreteller (fifth), Happy Trails (sixth), Criterion (seventh), The Cleaner (ninth) and Royal Descent (12th) all backing up from their efforts last year.
The Plate is a race where the best of the younger generation often take on their rivals to great effect. Shamus Award sprang a surprise when winning as a maiden two years ago, while colts All Too Hard and Pierro were previous placegetters.
There are nine three-year-olds left in the race including the colts Mr Individual, Press Statement and Snoopy and two fillies Jameka and Payroll.
Aidan O’Brien will not set Cougar Mountain for the Plate and has withdrawn him, while the cups contenders Dandino (Darren Weir) Precedence (James Cummings, who will be seeking to uphold the memory of his recently deceased grandfather Bart) and last year’s VRC Oaks winner Set Square (Ciaran Maher) have also been taken out to concentrate on their handicap assignments.
“The international invitees Arod, Gailo Chop and Highland Reel all feature among the second acceptances for the Cox Plate and their presence would add considerable intrigue alongside a talented local contingent headed by Kermadec, Fawkner, Contributer and Criterion,” Carpenter said.
Forty-eight three-year-olds remain in the Caulfield Guineas but impressive Golden Rose winner Exosphere is not one of them. Neither is the highly promising Danehill Stakes winner Kinglike, who is being restricted to a sprinting campaign with the Coolmore on Derby day at Flemington likely to be his main target. The field is headed by Ready For Victory and Chris Waller’s Press Statement, while Saturday’s Caulfield winner Bassett is also an entry.
The number of fillies remaining in the Thousand Guineas (54) is almost double the 33 that stood their ground at the same time last year. Group 1-winning Peter Moody contender Pasadena Girl is the best performed, but she will face stiff opposition from the likes of Blue Diamond runner-up Reemah and recent winners Alaskan Rose, Stay With Me and Don’t Doubt Mamma.
The unbeaten Maher-trained flyer Petits Filous, who recently won down the Flemington straight, is, like Moody’s Kinglake, being reserved for a sprinting campaign this time in, while Golden Rose runner-up Speak Fondly has been taken out.
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