Turnbull Stakes day is the equine equivalent of moving day at the US Master golf championship and this year’s Turnbull Stakes meeting at Flemington was no exception with Melbourne Cup and Cox Plate dreams becoming reality for some, while for others their confidence was shattered.
This pivotal meeting is conducted every year the week after the AFL Grand Final and it’s when Melbournians shift their focus from AFL football to the now rapidly approaching jewels of the Victorian spring racing carnival.
The imported Chris Waller trained stablemates Kings Will Dream (Cox Plate) and Finche (Melbourne Cup) were the big winners out of the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes, a set weights and penalties event run over 2000m, but long time Cox Plate fancy Mystic Journey who finished a disappointing 5th btn 1.8 lengths and the emerging Mr Quickie 2nd last, were the big losers from the washup of the race.
The Group 2 Bart Cummings on the same program over 2500m guarantees the winner a start in the Melbourne Cup and as a result it’s always a hotly contested affair. Numerous Cup hopefuls were striving to gain this automatic ticket into the Cup but it was the heavily backed favourite Surprise Baby which emerged triumphant & raced itself into Cup favouritism winning in ultra impressive style second up from a spell.
The lightly raced winner of this year’s Adelaide Cup over 3200m was ridden quietly early, settling midfield one off the fence about 8 lengths off a moderate tempo being set up front by Wolfe.
The pace quickened noticeably from the 1000m when jockey Martin Harley got going on last year’s Ebor winner Muntahaa who raced up to put the pressure on but while he was under pressure at the top of the Flemington straight the leader Wolfe gave a good kick and slipped a couple of lengths in front with another former lightly raced imported stayer Supernova starting to run on strongly near the inner as Surprise Baby came to the outside for rider Jordan Childs but was still 5 lengths off them.
At the 200m Supernova was looming strongly and settled down to fight it out with Wolfe but Surprise Baby was starting to really hit top gear down the centre of the track and quickly joined in at the 150m before hitting the front inside the 100m and powered to the line to score by a widening 1 3/4 lengths over Supernova and Wolfe.
The 5yo gelded son of former Melbourne Cup winner Shocking took his record to 10 starts for 5wins and 2 placings and unsurprisingly following that performance he firmed into a $9.50 equal favourite in prepost Cup markets with corporate bookmaker Sportsbet.
While Surprise Baby grabbed most of the headlines, the run of Finche in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes in what was a significantly stronger field was equally as, if not more impressive than the winning effort of Surprise Baby.
The race was a training triumph for Chris Waller who quinellaed the event with the winner Kings Will Dream and runner up Finche.
The Waller stable swept all before them on the day both in Melbourne & in Sydney winning all four Group 1’s that were on offer across the two states.
The win of Kings Will Dream capped an amazing comeback after the horse had been pulled up and retired from the race in the Cox Plate last year with a life threatening pelvic fracture.
It was touch and go for weeks whether or not the horse would pull through and survive let alone race again.
Transferred to Waller’s Sydney stable after his previous trainer Darren Weir was disqualified for four years, Kings Will Dream gained fitness through two prior lead up runs with an encouraging first up 5th btn 1.7l behind Samadoubt in the Group 1 WFA Winx Stakes over 1400m at Randwick on August 24.
Switched back to Waller’s Melbourne yard the former UK galloper followed that up with a battling 8th after sitting 4th the fence and after racing a fraction keenly throughout he gradually weakened over the final 150m to be btn 3.2l from the winner Gatting in the Group 1 WFA Makybe Diva over 1600m at Flemington on September 14.
Returning to his favourite 2000m trip and fitter for those two runs back from the injury enforced layoff it was the Kings Will Dream of old as he travelled sweetly throughout midfield on the fence on the inside of Finche. He was travelling full of running at the top of the straight and nudged Finche out of the way soon after to get into the clear.
Accelerating brilliantly Kings Will Dream quickly put up nearly two lengths on his stable mate as he ran down the leaders before Finche really closed down the margin in commanding fashion over the final 100m to finish 2nd btn just a neck at the finish.
It was an effort by the former French import,who finished 4th in last year’s Melbourne Cup, that had Cup winner written all over it. The six-year-old Frankel gelding is now fully acclimatised and in his second Australian preparation he looks a ball of muscle but still appears to have good natural improvement fitness wise left in him with the Cup now slightly less than a month away on November 5.
Former French stayer who is already looming as one of the major Cup hopes.
Far from disgraced when raced a touch fresh early in a slowly run Group 2 WFA Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick over 1600m on September 7 when 5th btn 4.3 lengths from the winner Samadoubt.
Raced handy to the lead throughout and after initially getting outsprinted at the top of the straight he whacked away and found the line strongly over the final 50m.
Followed that encouraging effort with a strong win in a 2000m Group 3 handicap at Randwick on September 21 when ridden forward early to sit parked right on the speed, again raced a touch keen in the early part of the event but kept coming relentlessly over the final 150m to wear down the leader Stampede to score by just under a half length on the line.
Followed up that performance with a slashing Melbourne Cup trial in the Group 1 Turnbull at Flemington on October 5.
Looking for further now and with the Cup just under a month away he seems certain to be right at his peak on Cup day.
Currently, for me, he’s clearly the best of the locally trained contingent, sits 25th in the most recent Melbourne Cup order of entry issued on October 7 and on his latest form he looks very nicely placed with just 54kg in the Melbourne Cup.
Vow And Declare
Danny O’Brien trained Declaration Of War gelding who caught the eye with was a strong closing fourth in the Turnbull Stakes over 2000m on Oct 5 when resuming.
This lightly raced four-year old displayed his class when a strong finishing second in the Qld Derby over 2400m at Eagle Farm on June 8 and backed up that performance with he annihilated the older stayers in the Group 3 Tatts Cup over 3000m at Eagle Farm on June 22.
Importantly he passed a Cup qualifying distance clause with that dominant win and is currently sitting 37th in the order of entry with his next run is likely to be in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup over 2400m on Oct 19.
He’ll probably just about force his way into the Cup field with natural attrition and he’s a big track horse that loves Flemington as it allows him to settle and reel off his powerful finishing sprint. The two miles of the Cup would appear to pose no problems and he could easily emerge as somewhat of a surprise packet for the Cup and looks nicely in with just 52kg on his back.
Talented five year-old that is building an imposing strike rate with 5 wins from 10 starts and has won from 1200m up to the 3200m trip of the Cup.
Possesed enough early speed at the start of his career to win his first two starts over 1200m but has really excelled once stepped up to 2000m and beyond.
Qualified for the Cup with a brilliant win second up in the Bart Cummings Group 2 handicap over 2500m at Flemington on Oct 5 in a performance that earned him a 1kg penalty for the Cup and he will now carry 53kg and is now the first horse in the order of entry.
Prepared by astute Victorian country trainer Paul Preusker from his Horsham base he’s in very capable hands and appears to have returned for his Cup campaign better than ever and it was no surprise to see him deliver the goods second up after his terrific first up effort when unsuited by the 1600m trip and the WFA condition of the Feehan Stakes at Moonee Valley. On that occasion he ran home well to grab 4th finishing 2.7 lengths astern of the winner, the classy Homesman.
Stays all day, handles all track conditions and has thoroughly earned his $9.50 equal favouritism in the Cup with Finche.
Brilliant winner of the Qld Derby during the winter defeating Vow And Declare and resumed with a barnstorm third to Gatting in the Group 1 Makybe Diva at Flemington over 1600m on September 14 when reeled off some amazing finishing sectionals. He stunned punters and left his trainer Phillips Stokes scratching his head as they left the course when a very disappointing second last in the Turnbull over 2000m at Flemington on Oct 5. Sent out a well tried $3.40 favourite he failed to make ground in that event and never looked likely after sitting at the rear of the field throughout.
His first up run was outstanding and the second up run was too bad to be true and arguably the worst run of his brief career. He’s a horse tailor made for Flemington as he likes to get back and unleash a his brilliant turn of foot so his Turnbull run was a complete mystery with a subsequent veterinary examination revealing nothing amiss. Trainer has stated barring any unforeseen circumstance he will press on towards the Caulfield Cup on October 19, a track at which he has a very good record.
His latest run was too bad to be true and the only thing that I can think of is that he was big in condition first up and put in such a huge effort that he may just have raced very flat second up. Prepared to forgive that run and will give him one more chance but would need to improve significantly, which he is capable of, to figure n the finish of either the Caulfield or Melbourne Cups based on his Turnbull run. The quandary with fellow is that on his first up run he shouldn’t have had any trouble figuring right in the finish of those races.
Massive question mark over him now but he’s way too good to dismiss entirely on one poor run. Already qualified for the Cup and although 24th in the order of entry he appears likely to gain a start and will carry only 52.5kg in the Cup a drop in weight of 4kg from the Turnbull.