At Sandown in Melbourne, former Coolmore shuttler and triple Gr1-winning champion European sire Galileo (Sadler's Wells-Urban Sea, by Miswaki) added a Group race success when 4YO Irish-bred entire The Taj Mahal (Galileo-You'resothrilling, by Storm Cat) opened his stakes account with a brilliant front-running victory in the $300,000 Gr2 Zipping Classic (2400m) for 3YO+, defeating stable-mate Almandin & Big Duke. The Lloyd Williams-owned The Taj Mahal improved his record to 2 wins and 7 placings (including the Gr1 Secretariat Stakes) from 19 starts for $624,978 in earnings. The victory was a fitting won for trainer Robert Hickmott who is stepping down from his role as private trainer for Williams' Macedon Lodge. "Rob has done a fantastic job for us. He's been with us for 15 or 16 years and he's been head trainer since 2000. In fact the first race he won was here with Zipping," Williams told racing.com. "We've parted on very good terms. Rob is a great man and he wants to have a go on his own so he leaves with our absolute blessing." Previously trained by Aidan O'Brien, the beautifully bred The Taj Mahal is out of a sister to champion racehorse and leading sire Giant's Causeway and is a full-brother to three-time Gr1-winning champion miler Gleneagles, English 1,000 Guineas winner Marvellous and Gr1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.
Assuming diametrically opposing views on the outcome of the race that stops the nation, below are a selection of first three tips, and why, for this afternoon.
PETER MULLEN (DAILY NEWS CHIEF COLUMNIST)
GARY KNOWLES (BREEDING&RACING EDITOR)
At Royal Randwick in Sydney, former Coolmore shuttler and triple Gr1-winning champion European sire Galileo (Sadler's Wells-Urban Sea, by Miswaki) celebrated an elite race success when 8YO Irish-bred gelding Foundry (Galileo-Sharp Lisa, by Dixieland Band) proved the superior stayer when scoring a tough win in the $750,000 Gr1 The Metropolitan (2400m) for 3YO+, defeating Big Duke & Chocante. Owned by Lloyd Williams and formerly trained by Ballydoyle master Aidan O'Brien, Foundry improved his record to 3 wins and 6 placings (including the Gr2 VRC Blamey Stakes & Gr2 Great Voltigeur Stakes) from 16 starts for $670,509 in earnings. Foundry holds entries in both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.
Predictably, Champion mare Winx dominated proceedings at last night's annual 'Racing's Night Of Champions' awards ceremony in the Royal Randwick Ballroom of the Australian Turf Club in Sydney. Champion trainer Chris Waller's two wins made it seven straight in both the Champion Trainer category and the Bart Cummings Medal. The category winners were:
Godolphin's UK-based trainer Charlie Appleby celebrated his first Gr1 success in Australia when 5YO UK-bred gelding Polarisation (Echo of Light-Concordia, by Pivotal) outstayed his rivals to claim the $2 million Sydney Cup (3200m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday. First past the post when the time-honoured staying feature was declared a no-race two weeks ago, Polarisation benefitted from the frantic pace set by 3YO filly Lasqueti Spirit to score by 0.2 length over 8YO NZ-bred gelding Who Shot Thebarman & 5YO Irish-bred gelding and race favourite Big Duke. This was the first stakes victory for Polarisation who advanced his record to 6 wins and 9 placings from 24 starts for $1,598,995 earnings. "It's been a fantastic team effort to achieve the results we have in Australia," assistant trainer James Ferguson told Godolphin.com. "We've been well looked after. It's just made it all worthwhile and I'm absolutely delighted and so pleased for Sheikh Mohammed, Dubai and Godolphin." Ferguson added: "Fortunately, things have finally gone right for Polarisation who showed he is a very good, courageous stayer to come out and win a couple of two mile races only two weeks apart." Ferguson said Polarisation would be aimed at the Melbourne Cup later in the year.
Australian Bloodstock’s Luke Murrell believes the delay caused by the rescheduling of the $2 million Gr1 Sydney Cup (3200m) this Saturday could be an advantage for progressive stayer Big Duke (Raven's Pass-Hazarayna, by Polish Precedent), reports ANZ Bloodstock News. Big Duke has marked himself as the most promising stayer in Australia with stakes victories at his past three outings, including a last-start dominant win in the Gr2 Chairman's Handicap (2600m) at Royal Randwick on day one of The Championships. “I personally love a horse on the seven-day back up so he was suited the other day, but given he has had quite a long preparation I think the little break may have worked in our favour,” Murrell said. “The stable has said that he has put on weight, which is always a good sign as opposed to training off, and his work this morning (at Terang) was very good.” Murrell said the Irish-bred import had always shown ability and that he hopes he can continue to progress and become a Cups horse in the spring. “(He has surprised us) how far he has progressed this prep, but we always knew he was a nice horse.” He added: “The fact that he’s got to a Group One this time in is just a bonus. We’re looking forward to the Sydney Cup and then ahead to the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup.”
On day one of The Championships at Royal Randwick in Sydney, promising 5YO Irish-bred gelding Big Duke (Raven's Pass-Hazarayna, by Polish Precedent) posted his third successive stakes victory when scoring by 2 lengths for trainer Darren Weir in the $300,000 Gr2 Chairman's Handicap (2600m) for 3YO+, over fellow 5YO Irish-bred gelding Aloft (Galileo-Dietrich, by Storm Cat) & 4YO New Zealand-bred gelding Rock On (Road to Rock-St Jessie, by Jetball). Raced by a syndicate headed by Australian Bloodstock, Big Duke improved his record to 6 wins (including the Gr3 Manion Cup & Gr3 Launceston Cup) and 5 placings (including the Gr3 TRC Hobart Cup) from 12 starts for $516,133 earnings.
At Rosehill Gardens in Sydney on a heavy track, promising 5YO Irish-bred gelding Big Duke (Raven's Pass-Hazarayna, by Polish Precedent) continued his ascension through the Australian staying ranks when stewards upheld a protest from his rider Craig Williams that saw him score by 0.1 length for trainer Darren Weir in the $150,000 Gr3 Manion Cup (2400m) for 3YO+, over 6YO Irish-bred gelding Our Century (Montjeu-Mixed Blessing, by Lujain) & 5YO gelding Allergic (Street Cry-Cajou, by Encosta de Lago). Raced by a syndicate headed by Australian Bloodstock, Big Duke improved his record to 5 wins (including the Gr3 Launceston Cup) and 5 placings (including the Gr3 TRC Hobart Cup) from 11 starts for $341,633 earnings. Celebrating his first winner in Sydney, champion Victorian trainer Darren Weir confirmed Big Duke would now head to the $2 million Gr1 Sydney Cup (3200m) at Royal Randwick on 8th April, before embarking on a Melbourne Cup campaign in the spring.
Favourite Big Duke has drifted slightly from $2 out to $2.20 for the Gr3 Hobart Cup (2400m) after drawing wide for Sunday's $200,000 feature. The Darren Weir-trained Irish import will be seeking to extend his unbeaten Australian record to three as well as claim the first black-type success of his hitherto brief career. The biggest shortener was Settler's Stone which firmed from $61 into $31 after drawing well in gate three. Last year's dual Hobart and Launceston Cups winner Up Cups, who will carry top weight of 58kg, saw his quote ease from $12 out to $15 after drawing barrier eight. The final Hobart Cup field is:
1. UP CUPS (David Brunton-Craig Newitt) 58kg (8)
2. LUCKY LUCKY LUCKY (Tony McEvoy-Luke Currie) 56kg (10)
3. GEEGEES GOLDENGIRL (Stuart Gandy-Sigrid Carr) 55kg (4)
4. COOL CHAP (Lee & Anthony Freedman-Kerrin McEvoy) 54kg (6)
5. GLADSTONE (Scott Brunton-Anthony Darmanin) 54kg (1)
6. MILSON (Julie Richards-Daniel Moor) 54kg (2)
7. BIG DUKE (Darren Weir-Brenton Avdulla) 54kg (9)
8. COUNT DA VINCI (Scott Brunton-David Pires) 54kg (7)
9. THE PRINCELING (Charlie Goggin & Luella Meaburn-R Clark) 54kg (5)
10. SETTLER'S STONE (Troy Blacker-Jarrod Todd) 54kg (3)
A field of ten including three interstate invaders will line up in the $200,000 Gr3 Hobart Cup (2400m) on Sunday. Top Victorian trainer Darren Weir accepted as expected with his highly promising stayer Big Duke which is likely to start favourite to give Weir his fifth success in the staying feature. As expected the weights for the race had to be raised owing to the original top weight Master of Arts not accepting leaving last year's Hobart and Launceston Cups winner Up Cups from the David Brunton stable to assume that honour with 58 kilograms. The barrier draw for the Hobart Cup will be held at the Luxbet Park Hobart today at 11am. Click here to view the Hobart Cup field.
Last year's Hobart and Launceston Cups winner Up Cups could end up being top weight in Sunday's Hobart Cup (2400m) with the handicapped top weight Master of Arts unlikely to accept for the race, reports Tasracing. The Darren Weir-trained Master Of Arts has been allocated top weight of 59 kilograms for the Gr3 staying feature but Weir's racing manager Jeremy Rogers said on Sunday that the gelding would not make the trip. Rogers said of the four horses nominated from the Weir yard, only Big Duke was a definite starter. "Big Duke...is definitely going to Hobart and Brenton Avdulla has been booked to ride him," Rogers said. Chance To Dance, Goldstream, Leica Day and Kapour are also unlikely to accept, meaning under the new handicapping rules applicable to Gr3 events the David Brunton-trained Up Cups would be re-handicapped to carry 58kg, an increase of 1.5kg.
Irish-bred import Big Duke (Raven's Pass-Hazarayna, by Polish Precedent) will have his next start in the Hobart Cup after extending his unbeaten Australian record to two at Moonee Valley on Saturday, reports AAP. The Australian Bloodstock-owned 5YO has now won 2 of his 5 starts following his fast-finishing win in a benchmark 78 handicap over 2040 metres. "Today was to see whether we go to the Hobart Cup or not, and I reckon he deserves his trip over there," trainer Darren Weir said. "So that will be his next run." Weir has won the Hobart Cup on five occasions with True Courser, Offenbach, Gotta Keep Cool, and most recently with Hurdy Gurdy Man in 2013. The Gr3 Hobart Cup (2400m)will be run on Sunday, 5 February.