Steve Moran

Steve Moran Looks At The Looming Extravaganza Of Autumn Sprints

The recurring theme is the evenness of the competition in our major sprint races which begs the question: are these horses all very, very good or simply very even?

That will be determined over the next five months and will begin with Rebel Dane (California Dane) and Takedown (Stratum) seeking to measure up in the Hong Kong International Sprint (Gr 1, 1200m) at Sha Tin on 11 December?

And, then in the not so distant autumn, will Chautauqua (Encosta De Lago) be sufficiently reinvigorated to confirm his ranking as our best sprinter, indeed the world’s best as he is on current IFHA rankings or have his older rivals bridged the gap?

Or will the outstanding sprinting three-year-olds, headed right now by Flying Artie (Artie Schiller), dominate the older horses? Might Chautauqua be challenged or bettered by one of his own stablemates from that age group in Star Turn (Star Witness)?

Recent evidence says that for all the presumed talent that sits with the established sprinters, there is not much between them. There really is no established or definitive pecking order despite Chautauqua’s international ranking and no simple formula as there was, just a few years ago, when Black Caviar (Bel Esprit) won everything – literally – and in her absence Hay List (Statue Of Liberty) won everything else.

The very best of Chautauqua remains superior to all but even at his best he’s not been invincible and the margin between his chief, established rivals is narrow as was evidenced again last Saturday when just one length separated the first six in the Winterbottom Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) won by Takedown who is now Hong Kong bound.

That sextet, of course, included Malaguerra (Magnus) who two weeks earlier had won the Darley Classic (registered as VRC Sprint) where Spieth (Thorn Park) and Fell Swoop (Not A Single Doubt) finished within a half length of him.

Splitting those two races, on the calendar, was the Jockey Club Sprint (Gr 2, 1200m) in Hong Kong (the precursor to International day) where Not Listenin’tome (Dylan Thomas) – whose best outcome in nine starts in Australia was winning the Zeditave Stakes (Gr 3, 1200m) – won by a half length from Lucky Bubbles (Sebring) who had run Chautauqua to 0.3 lengths in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize (Gr 1, 1200m) in May.

It seemed, immediately after that May race, that either Lucky Bubbles or Amazing Kids (Falkirk) – both Australasian bred – would emerge as the dominant Hong Kong sprinter and likely have a mortgage on December’s international race but, after the lead-up Jockey Club Sprint, that would not appear to be the case.

Thus it appears more than reasonable to expect that Takedown and Rebel Dane can, at least, be competitive with their on-pace or at least handy to pace – in Rebel Dane’s case – style a plus in Hong Kong where late swooping sprint wins, Chautauqua aside, are a rarity.

Mind you the locals may still have something up their sleeves and the Australian trained visitors will also have to contend with those from Japan. They are Big Arthur (Sakura Bakushin O), who looked to be an emerging star when he won the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (Gr 1, 1200m) in March, before having no luck in the Sprinters Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) in October, which was claimed by the other Hong Kong entrant Red Falx (Swept Overboard).

Back to home and the looming autumn sprints are likely to feature the aforementioned Chautauqua, Malaguerra, Spieth and Fell Swoop along with Takedown and Rebel Dane on their return plus the three-year-olds Flying Artie, Star Turn, Extreme Choice (Not A Single Doubt), Astern (Medaglia D’Oro) and Russian Revolution (Snitzel).

WA trainer Simon Miller has announced that he’ll head east with the unlucky Winterbottom Stakes fourth First Among Equals (Exceed And Excel), although Adelaide and Brisbane are the more likely destinations, and why wouldn’t it be a consideration for Rock Magic (Redoute’s Choice) and State Solicitor (Nicconi) who also ran so well last weekend.

Add to the above rich mix, the possible participation of Black Heart Bart (Blackfriars), Japonisme (Choisir), The Quarterback (Street Boss), Terravista (Captain Rio) and English (Encosta De Lago) and the trick this autumn might be getting a run in the major sprints let alone winning them.

And, just food good measure, we can further add the almost forgotten Supido (Sebring) and the highly talented, albeit hot and cold, Kaepernick (Fastnet Rock) whose good spring performances against Takedown and Spieth speak to his competitiveness and further underline just how the sprint form is so entwined.

Supido has just come back into work, with Michael Kent at Cranbourne, after missing the spring. He hasn’t raced since May when a Goodwood Handicap (Gr 1, 1200m) third to Black Heart Bart – a run which followed six successive wins including four down the straight course at Flemington were he is unbeaten.

“He had a few niggles so we felt it was best to let the spring go by and focus on the autumn when there are so many options for the sprinters. He’s spelled well and his straight record is so good, I wouldn’t rule out the option of running him first-up in the Lightning (Stakes),’ Kent said.

The Black Caviar Lightning Stakes (Gr 1, 1000m) is also the likely target for Star Turn who, along with Chautauqua and Kaepernick, gives the Hawkes family training team a strong sprint hand even after the departure of Our Boy Malachi (Top Echelon) who bled for the second time in the Darley Classic.

Our Boy Malachi, the wonderful winner of 19 from 27 starts, has been retired. “It’s a shame, he’s been such a great horse. And that day, Dwayne (Dunn) said he was travelling like he was just going to win and he never says stuff like that,’ Wayne Hawkes said.

Hawkes said that Chautauqua has ‘done well’ since going to the paddock and that his main aim was a third successive win in the TJ Smith Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m). “Look, he just wasn’t right at his best in the spring so we pulled the plug. There was nothing wrong with him and we just think the trip to Hong Kong and back might have taken something out of him.

“The Oakleigh Plate’s probably the race for Kaepernick, a fast run race where he can sit off the pace and run on. The Lightning would be more the race for Star Turn. His form stacked up via Malaguerra and Fell Swoop in the Darley and he had to do all the work in the Coolmore. It’s hard to lead and win at the 1200 metres down the straight but at 1000 metres (the Lightning distance) it’s not so much a problem,” Hawkes said.

Of course, the case for the three-year-olds in the autumn is straightforward. Star Turn and Extreme Choice had one run apiece against the older horses in the spring and, respectively, scored decisive wins in the Schillaci Stakes (Gr 2, 1100m) and the AJ Moir Stakes (Gr 1, 1000m). They later, of course, were to finish third and fifth behind Flying Artie and Astern in the Coolmore Stud Stakes (registered as Ascot Vale Stakes) (Gr 1, 1200m).

That Coolmore form has been a strong pointer to autumn’s Newmarket Handicap (Gr 1, 1200m) at the same course and distance. The past four three-year-old winners of the Newmarket had contested the Coolmore: Brazen Beau (I Am Invincible, won); Shamexpress (O’Reilly, third); Wanted (Fastnet Rock, 7th) and Weekend Hussler (2008, won). Three-year-olds have won six of the past 12 Newmarkets.

And every now and again, the Coolmore does prove to be an exceptional later form reference as was the case in 2008 when Weekend Hussler beat Bel Mer (Bel Esprit) and Scenic Blast (Scenic).