The make-up of the fields for three feature races during the Melbourne Cup Carnival has become clearer after first acceptances closed for the $2 million AAMI Victoria Derby (2500m), $1 million Kennedy Oaks (2500m) and $1.5 million Darley Sprint Classic (1200m).
The connections of 24 three-year-olds have paid up for the Victoria Derby, the marquee race on AAMI Victoria Derby Day at Flemington on Saturday, 31 October. The equivalent Group 1 for fillies, the Kennedy Oaks, has attracted the same number of first acceptors whilst a total of 31 elite sprinters are still in the running to claim the Sprint Classic at Flemington on the final day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, Saturday, 7 November.
Twenty-four stayers – one fewer than at this stage last year – remain in the hunt to add their name to the illustrious rollcall of Victoria Derby champions, a race which was first run in 1855.
They include Albarado, who shot to the head of the early betting markets with his victory in the Group 3 Neds Classic (2000m) at Caulfield last Saturday. The two horses he beat into second and third that day, Let’s Karaka Deel (Ciaron Maher and David Eustace) and Hit The Shot (Matt Cumani), remain on course to take their places in the 16-runner field after they too were amongst the first acceptors.
Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Danny O’Brien would appear to have a strong hand as he attempts to win his first Victoria Derby. Cetshwayo earned his place in the line-up with his win in the AAMI Victoria Derby Trial (1800m) at Flemington last month, whilst his stablemate Young Werther is a live contender after he followed up his impressive debut win with a close second in the Listed Super Impose Stakes (1800m), beating Albarado into third place.
The powerful Godolphin operation are represented by exciting prospect Alcyone, trained by racing royalty in Bart Cummings’ grandson James; whilst at the other end of the spectrum, AFL Premiership-winning coach Denis Pagan is still dreaming of Derby glory in his first year in the training ranks with Johnny Get Angry amongst the first acceptors.
Other notable first acceptors include Patrick Payne’s Cherry Tortoni, the one-time favourite for the race who showed his class with his victory in the Listed Taj Rossi Series Final (1600m).
Caulfield Guineas (1600m) placegetter Grandslam (Ciaron Maher and David Eustace), who will line up in this Saturday’s Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m), is also a first acceptor but the connections of both Aysar (Tom Dabernig and Ben Hayes) and Ain’tnodeeldun (Anthony and Sam Freedman) have decided not to progress towards the Victoria Derby with their talented three-year-olds.
Click here to view first acceptances for the AAMI Victoria Derby
The centrepiece of Kennedy Oaks Day at Flemington on Thursday, 5 November, the VRC Oaks has again been targeted by many of Australia’s most prominent stables with James Cummings (Oaks Trial winner Pensato and Silhouette), Tom Dabernig and Ben Hayes (Personal), and Mick Price and Michael Kent Jnr (Café Rizu) all represented.
But perhaps the most exciting filly still chasing Oaks glory is David Payne’s Montefilia, whose last two starts have both yielded Group 1 victories. Having taken out the Darley Flight Stakes (1600m) with a slashing run under jockey Hugh Bowman, Montefilia backed up one week later and promptly claimed the Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) with relative ease.
Montefilia and Jason Collett winning the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes at Randwick, picture Sportpix.com.au
Danny O’Brien’s hopes of winning a second straight VRC Oaks rest on the shoulders of Starelle, Salto Angel and Vilanculos. Of the trio, Salto Angel is rated the best chance by bookmakers after her eye-catching finish in last Saturday’s Lexus Ethereal Stakes (2000m).
The filly that beat her that day, Chica Fuerte, is set to represent the Freedman Racing stable in the VRC Oaks, a race which was first run back in 1861.
Hungry Heart (Chris Waller), Instant Celebrity (Philip Stokes), Miss Guggenheim (Price and Kent Jnr), Queen Of Rocks (Dabernig and Hayes) and Vangelic (Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott) were amongst the more notable names to drop out at the first acceptances stage.
Click here to view first acceptances for the Kennedy Oaks
The Darley Sprint Classic has attracted six more first acceptors than in 2019, when Nature Strip put in a commanding performance to win by 3.25 lengths.
Chris Waller’s enigmatic sprinter remains on course to defend his title whilst his two stable companions Haut Brion Her and Madam Rouge, a last-start winner of the Group 2 Schweppes Tristarc Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield, are also still in the mix.
Haut Brion Her finished ahead of Nature Strip in The Everest, and the two horses that filled the minor placings behind winner Classique Legend, Bivouac (James Cummings) and Gytrash (Gordon Richards), remain in contention for Group 1 glory in the Sprint Classic.
Bivouac already has a Flemington Group 1 next to his name, having demolished a field which included Gytrash in the Seppelt Newmarket Handicap (1200m), and his stablemate Trekking is also aiming to add to his haul of wins at the elite level after Godolphin included him in the first acceptances.
Trekking is the early favourite for Friday night’s Group 1 Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes (1200m), and nine of his rivals in that contest – Hey Doc, Kementari, Splintex, Order Of Command, Dirty Work, Lyre, Pippie, Bella Vella and Diamond Effort – are also still in the running for the Sprint Classic.
The likes of Farnan, Wild Ruler and Anders all still hold entries for the Sprint Classic and could also line up the week before in the Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m), enabling them to contend for a rare sprint double.
The connections of Eduardo, Away Game and the injured Rothfire have opted not to accept whilst the Everest winner Classique Legend, who was amongst the Sprint Classic nominations, is currently in quarantine at the TAB International Horse Centre in Werribee ahead of his transfer to Hong Kong.
Click here to view first acceptances for the Darley Sprint Classic
MoMontefilia and Jason Collett winning the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes at Randwick, picture Sportpix.com.auJason