Steve Moran

Confessions: I love Randwick, Flemington, geldings…and I’m warming to Sydney 

Not a bad joint this Sydney, I thought to myself last weekend after taking in Saturday’s racing in the harbour city. 

And rarely have I enjoyed the races as much as the fare presented that day from Flemington and Randwick.

The nation’s two premier tracks raced superbly – lead or swoop it mattered not – and provided a feast of action highlighted by one absolutely herculean performance, which came not from a winner, but from a beaten runner – Sweet Deal (Casino Prince) in the Guy Walter Stakes (Gr 2, 1400m).

And this on a Randwick card which produced any number of wow factor winners, most notably the Jamie Richards-trained Kiwis Probabeel (Savabeel) and Te Akau Shark (Rip Van Winkle) with the latter surely the best horse in Australasia right now.

It was great racing with very good racehorses being tested! That’s what we want, isn’t it?

Now, I have a confession to make. I watched the races from the couch. Well, on the laptop in the garden terrace of the North Shore Hotel in North Sydney.

Well, you see my suit was crumpled after being shoved in the suitcase on my return from South Africa. And I had work to do that would have made a Randwick dining invite, which I’m sure would have been afforded me by Mr Ross at the ATC, somewhat wasted. Plus, racing is a damn good television sport which is one of the marketer’s challenges. You don’t, I didn’t, miss a thing.

Plus, I was a touch discombobulated after a friend who’d promised me the use of her apartment for the weekend (oh, that’ll get the tongues wagging) either failed to leave the key out or, as she theorised, it was vacuumed by the cleaners as she’d left it under the mat in a mint wrapper in a bid to be not too obvious.

Regardless, I was in search of accommodation at 8pm in Sydney on the eve of the Mardi Gras. Good luck, I thought to myself, and said event certainly ruled out the notion of any random room share.

Lo and behold, I came across the North Shore. This place is a gem and cheap as chips. Don’t tell anyone. OK, the rooms are basic but they’re clean and comfortable and the winner is the aforementioned garden terrace.

North Sydney, what a spot. Sunset cinema at the picturesque North Sydney oval; food festival on the main street common and the pubs a’jumping. They included the more than interesting Rag And Famish and the more punt-centric North Sydney Hotel where I had the best pub steak since Zabeel (Sir Tristram) won the Australian Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) in 1990.

You see, I was agog. Previously, seriously, trips to Sydney had rarely extended beyond airport to Randwick races or Newmarket sales; or more latterly an Uber to the Crowne Plaza, Coogee, to pick up the Inglis shuttle to Riverside Stables. OK, I went to Darling Point once. Mate lives there. Got plenty. Doesn’t punt.

This time I got the train to Circular Quay. Very efficient. How cool is Museum Station? How cool is it that I can simply tap my credit card to then hop on one of the ferries to sail by two of the world’s most iconic structures…and beat the cross harbour traffic.

So there I was, thinking to myself ‘this is not a bad joint after all’ as I finished said steak and planned an early night to combat any jet lag. Oh no, as a couple of likely Novacastrian lads (Pete and Mike) shoved a can of whisky and dry in my hand as I walked through the hotel garden, and proceeded to talk racing until midnight.

“Sweet Deal,” I told them, “good thing.” And she was, alas she just didn’t win. A bit like Greg Chappell’s famous ‘I’m not out of form, I’m just getting out’, which I believe was, in fact, ‘I can’t really say I’m batting badly. I’m not batting long enough to be batting badly.’

Now, if you believe the official data: Sweet Deal, after being bizarrely pestered by Con Te Partiro (Scat Daddy) in giving her no-chance tactics, ran the first 800 metres in an extraordinarily quick 45.3 seconds. That she then managed to be beaten just a nose was similarly extraordinary.

Probabeel’s win was in the same category – extraordinary – after James McDonald on Funstar (Adelaide) did steal a break on Opie Bosson aboard the Kiwi.

This naturally had Waikato Stud’s Mark Chittick winding up the public relations, noting Probabeel was Savabeel’s (Zabeel) 19th individual Group 1 winner and his 98th stakes winner (just one shy of Zabeel at the same stage of their careers) before thoughtfully acknowledging Windsor Park Stud’s success with Rip Van Winkle’s (Galileo) son.

Good ol’ stallion Savabeel (by Zabeel (Sir Tristram), of course). Won a Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) you know; second in a Derby; nearly won a Group 1 against all-comers at 1400 metres.

In terms of horses, there wasn’t quite the same level of dazzling performance at Flemington with the possible exceptions of Alligator Blood (All Too Hard) and perhaps Ilovemyself (Ilovethiscity). The ratings gurus are apparently querying the latter but watch him through and past the finish! He’s pretty good.

Craig Williams’ riding was a Flemington highlight. I love his preparedness to take decisive action early in a race, even if this means getting busy. This was especially apparent on his two winners, Blazejowski (Dash For Cash) and Fifty Stars (Sea The Stars), who were both a little slow to begin.

He could easily have eased back to last on Blazejowski, in which case he would not have won. Well as sure as you can be in such matters. Instead he kicked forward in that first 200 metres when the race, like most, was at its least intense. This makes abundant sense.

Williams is also happy to sit wide and gradually slide forward at Flemington, making use of it’s now very pronounced camber. This is smart. The days of waiting until the clocktower to make your move at Flemington are virtually gone, other than in a suicidally-run race and they’re increasingly rare.

Now, I know this is a breeding-centric portal, but I did take some pleasure from the fact that Te Akau Shark is a gelding and I’ll keep seeing him race. Likewise, the wonderfully consistent Group 3 winner Quackerjack (Not A Single Doubt) and the Australian Guineas quinella Alligator Blood and Superstorm (Sebring).

The weekend’s racing was punctuated by the news that Yulong had secured Blue Diamond Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) winner Tagaloa (Lord Kanaloa) as a stallion prospect after earlier locking in the Orr Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) winner Alabama Express (Redoute’s Choice) (who flopped in the Australian Guineas, with a post-race blood test revealing a possible virus).

I get the rush to snag a son of Lord Kanaloa (King Kamehameha) and understand that everybody likes to make money, while this will look a genius move if he goes on to win the Golden Slipper (Gr 1, 1200m) or, better still, next season’s Caulfield Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) (which, incidentally, he’s bred to do). His dam won at 1800 metres and is a half-sister to four 2000-metre winners and daddy, who raced until five, did win a Group 1 at 1600 metres to complement his explosive sprint successes.

But right now, Tagaloa is a winner of two from four and a Blue Diamond winner on a biased track. Let’s hope he proves to be more than that and he’s tested accordingly.

A balance, as last weekend’s high-quality racing showed, is needed and I fancy what the world needs now is love, sweet love, a cure for the coronavirus and more high-class racehorses on the track rather than more stallions at stud.