Railway Stakes hope Alsephina out to give Star Turn a second Group 1 winner
WA runners could hold an advantage over their rivals from the eastern states as temperatures rocket in Perth
Sun-seeking trainers-turned-breeders Carolyn and Michael Grant are hoping their patience with a delicate broodmare is rewarded when another western leading lady – Alsephina (Star Turn) – seeks a second elite-level win for her sire as the heat goes on at Ascot for today’s Railway Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m).
Alsephina, bred by the Grants’ G&G Bloodstock, is the latest female threatening superstardom from Western Australia, having built a Perth-style picket fence last campaign with six straight wins, capped by victories in the Starstruck(Listed, 1600m) and La Trice (Gr 3, 1800m) Classics last summer.
Trained by Grant and Alana Williams, who bought a half share on seeing her as a foal in the Grants’ paddock, the five-year-old hasn’t missed a place in 13 career runs, winning nine of them.
And while her string of victories stopped with close seconds in her two Group 3 starts this campaign after a ten-month break – in the Asian Beau Stakes (Gr 3, 1400m) and when shuffled back and blocked in the RJ Peters Stakes (Gr 3, 1500m) – she’ll be vying for favouritism in today’s $1.5 million edition of Perth’s historic handicap, first run in 1887.
Bookmakers last night had Alsephina – who will have blinkers added today – around the $4.60 mark, just ahead of the Group 1 winner Tuvalu (Kermadec), who’s former Perth-based trainer Lindsey Smith is heading home to try to win a third Railway, after Scales Of Justice (Not A Single Doubt) in 2016, and Old Comrade (Old Spice) in 2001.
Tuvalu, winner of last year’s Toorak Handicap (Gr 1, 1600m) at Caulfield and placed at the highest level a further three times, will carry topweight of 58 kilograms and Jamie Kah from barrier four. Alsephina and WA wizard Willie Pike will spring from gate seven, with only 53 kilograms.
That, and other factors, put the mare precisely in the sweet spot for the race. The past five winners, and seven of the last eight, have carried the minimum 53 kilograms, with the outlier carrying 53.5 kilograms.
Furthermore, the Williams stable and Pike won the race four times in a row before missing out last year, with Galaxy Star (Redoute’s Choice), Regal Power (Pierro), Inspirational Girl (Reliable Man) and Western Empire (Iffraaj). Pike also combined with Grant Williams, when he was training solo, to win with Elite Belle (Canny Lad) in 2014.
Not only will the racing action in Perth hit the top level today, the heat will be on literally, with the city’s heatwave forecast to send temperatures to 37 degrees.
That could make the welcome just as uncomfortable as the barrier draw for the race’s other two eastern states raiders. The Chris Waller-trained mare Roots (Press Statement, $5.50) has gate 15 for Tommy Berry, while the Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young-trained Forgot You (Savabeel, $17), under Daniel Moor, has the outside gate of 19, though both would move in three sans emergencies.
But the weather is just how the Grants like it. Michael – who trained Cat’s Fun (Catbird) to win the 2006 WA Derby (Gr 1, 2400m) and Perth Cup (Gr 2, 3200m) in 2008, and Carolyn – who prepared stakes winner Wave Rock (Blackfriars) around the same time – swapped training for boutique breeding six years ago, and moved G&G Bloodstock to to Victoria’s Macedon Ranges.
After four years there, however, they recently returned to WA because, Carolyn said: “We couldn’t stand the cold anymore.”
Having a first Group 1 winner bearing their brand so soon after their homecoming would not only endorse their decision, it would be sweet reward for their enduring patience in the troubled saga of Alsephina’s dam, Delta Gee (Street Cry).
She is a daughter of one-start mare Valiant Wave (Green Line Express), bred by Michael’s father Ian, who sold her carrying Delta Gee to WA’s Rangeview Stud. Valiant Wave died soon after bearing Delta Gee, who the Grants then bought back into their family, as a bucket-reared orphan weanling off the farm.
Trained by Michael Grant (in the days before partnerships) Delta Gee was more than handy, winning in Listed class in Perth. She was second-favourite when brought down in a four-horse fall in the WA Oaks (Gr 3, 2400m) of 2009, before running second twice at Group 3 level at Moonee Valley.
Her time as one of around eight broodmares for G&G has, however, been agonising, with Alsephina extremely lucky to have been born at all. Though now 18, Delta Gee has had only five live foals, has slipped five times and missed with two other attempts.
“We decided to breed with her but she hasn’t been the easiest mare to breed with,” Carolyn said. “She tends to slip foals really late, even when she’s on medication.
“Before we even got a foal from her, the vets said she had endometriosis, and had only a five-to-ten per cent chance of carrying a foal to full term.”
After five failures, including her first mating with Encosta De Lago (Fairy King), medical treatments appeared to work as Delta Gee bore four foals in succession. The first, Born To Try (Blackfriars) won five races, but the third – Alsephina – is top of the pile.
Those treatments on Delta Gee appeared to wear off again, with misses to Written Tycoon (Iglesia) and Toronado (High Chaparral), but with much care she now has a yearling colt by Brazen Beau (I Am Invincible), and is back in foal to that Darley stallion.
Little wonder the Grants are counting their lucky stars with Alsephina, who was born at their Victorian farm.
“We sell most of our yearlings,” Carolyn said, “but she had a little issue on her X-ray which the vets said wouldn’t affect her in a race but might knock her off at the sales. So we thought we’d be better off keeping her and racing her.
“Then Grant Williams was at our Macedon farm looking at some of his weanlings, and he saw her in the paddock and liked her. We agreed to sell him half and we’d keep half, which I’m really glad we did now.”
Alsephina was still late to the show, with slow maturation delaying her racing debut until an autumn three-year-old, but the rest has been some very imposing history, with possibly more to come today.
“She was a good sort from the word go, although she wasn’t huge,” said Carolyn, who in a fitting western-flavoured twist now shares in the ownership with WA football byword and former Essendon star Tony Buhagiar.
“This prep she’s built up a lot, and is a lot stronger than she was last prep. Her first-up second, she probably needed a bit of race fitness after her time off. Then second-up, she got back and got boxed in but finished off very well.
“She’s got blinkers added for this race, which was always the plan. Sometimes she gets to the front and relaxes a bit. And she got shuffled back in the field last start, which we don’t want to do this time since Tuvalu will probably be up on the pace and be hard to run down.
“But she just wants to win, so that’s always a good thing. She had a few feet issues last time, which seem to have been resolved, since we switched her from living on sand to living on wood shavings.
“Her feet have improved massively. She’s strengthened up with her time off. She’s a good doer, a good eater, and goes to the races and falls asleep. She’s very relaxed, which is good when it’s 40 degrees.”
Victory for Alsephina would bring Star Turn (Star Witness) a second top-tier winner, after Startantes in last year’s Tattersall’s Tiara (Gr 1, 1400m) at Eagle Farm. Chosen as a first-season cover for Delta Gee by Michael Grant on the back of his racetrack performances – which included a Group 2 and a Group 3 win and four top-level thirds – Star Turn is now standing his seventh season at Vinery Stud for $27,500 after a bump up from $16,500 following the breakthrough of Startantes.
Alsephina is one of seven stakes winners, including five in Australia for Star Turn, who has had a keen 129 winners from 172 runners at 75 per cent.
The Perth weather may be a concern for Forgot You, according to Cranbourne-based Busuttin, who’s stabling the five-year-old entire with the Williamses.
But after having him back in the stable from a year’s break with a suspensory ligament injury – and seeing him win a third stakes race last start in the Melbourne Cup Day Plate (Listed, 1800m) at Flemington – Busuttin is delighted to have him back and firing.
Forgot You was shaping as one of the most promising three-year-olds in the country through 2021. Victory in the Stutt Stakes (Gr 2, 1600m) and a fast-finishing sixth from a wide gate in the Caulfield Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) won by Anamoe (Street Boss) preceded his win in the Moonee Valley Vase (Gr 2, 2040m) on Cox Plate day as a $2 favourite, before he couldn’t quite stay the distance when fifth as third-favourite in the Victoria Derby (Gr 1, 2500m).
The next autumn, a third – again behind Anamoe – in the Rosehill Guineas (Gr 1, 2000m) was followed by a Heavy 9 failure in the ATC Derby (Gr 1, 2400m), and when being prepared for the 2022 spring his suspensory injury struck.
“He was off the scene for basically 12 months, but he’s racing well enough now and he’s 100 per cent fit, so hopefully it stays that way,” Busuttin said.
“He’s in good order. He travelled over to Perth on Monday and arrived in the middle of a heatwave. That might be a shock to his system, but Grant Williams tells me he’s coping with it fine, although the local horses might have an advantage with that heat.
“From the wide gate we’re going to have to go back, but I’m sure he’ll be attacking the line very hard, and if he got over the top of them I don’t think anyone would be surprised.
“His form’s saying he’s back as good as he was. He won that stakes race on Cup day and looked the winner a long way from home.”
Busuttin conceded he felt Forgot You may be better suited by the distance of the Northerly Stakes (Gr 1, 1800m) at Ascot in two weeks, for which he’s currently an $11 chance.
“I do, but while there are promising horses in the Railway like Alsephina and Roots, there are no real dominant ‘Wow’ horses in the race,” he said.
Tuvalu heads into the race off a last-start long-neck third in the Crystal Mile (Gr 2, 1600m) on Cox Plate day, which followed his length second to Alligator Blood (All Too Hard) in the Underwood Stakes (Gr 1, 1800m) at Caulfield.
Local siring hero Playing God (Blackfriars), who won his first WA stallions’ crown last season and leads the general standings in the current term, has three chances for his first Railway winner in Bustler ($10), Comfort Me ($19), and Mojo Rhythm ($21).