RACE TALK with Chris Scholtz

10 November, 2023

Champions Day – A Fitting Finale

It’s been a huge spring for racing in both Sydney and Melbourne in terms of performances and prizemoney – and it ain’t over just yet!

As the sayings go the best is always saved for last and it ain’t over until the fat lady sings!

What we have at Flemington on Saturday delivers on both counts in spades.

Grandiosely rebranded as Champions Day several years ago, in 2023 the final day of Cup Week will live up to its name with three Group One features drawing the best available talent over a range of distances from 1200m to 2000m.

Champions Day – A Fitting Finale It’s been a huge spring for racing in both Sydney and Melbourne in terms of performances and prizemoney – and it ain’t over just yet!

Grandiosely rebranded as Champions Day several years ago, in 2023 the final day of Cup Week will live up to its name with three Group One features drawing the best available talent over a range of distances from 1200m to 2000m.

The stayers had their day on Tuesday when Without A Fight went into the history books as the 12th winner of the elusive Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double. He posted figures that rate among the best we have seen this century, confirming his place as a high class benchmark winner.

It’s form that will be put to the test on Saturday – but more of that later.

With the Cups behind us Champions Day focuses on three weight-for-age contests that have not quite lived up to their billing in recent years.

That’s certainly not the case this year as the $3 million Darley Champions Sprint (1200m), $3 million Kennedy Champions Mile (1600m) and $3 million TAB Champions Stakes (2000m) will settle arguments about the best of the best in each category – at least from a Victorian viewpoint.

Sure the Hong Kong star Romantic Warrior has returned home after his heart-stopping win the WS Cox Plate and the Everest winner Think About It has been spelled after his winning run came to an end at Rosehill last Saturday.

They will be missed, but in their absence it should still prove to a day for champions with many questions to be asked and answered.

Will the sprinter’s crown be claimed by the Kiwi star Imperatriz or Godolphin’s sprint queen In Secret; surely the Champions Mile will resolve which horse rates as our best miler; and there will be no discussion over which horse is Australia’s best middle distance weight-for-age performer once the dust settles in the Champions Stakes.

The three feature races also throw up and even bigger subject for discussion (or argument if that’s the way you like to approach such racing matters) and that’s which mare deserves to be crowned Australasia’s best female performer.

Rarely if ever have we seen our best mares brought together to race over a range of distances at G1 level on the same day.

It’s a scenario to savor, starting with Imperatriz and In Secret going head to head down the straight in the Champions Sprint. While the betting suggests it could be a match race, it’s a disservice not to concede that the grossly under-valued Bella Nipotina will keep them both honest on her seven day back from leaving  Private Eye and The Everest winner Think About it without an excuse at Rosehill last Saturday.

And let’s not forget that this deep field also features to other outstanding female G1 winners Espiona and Asfoora. The obvious conclusion is if one of these five super mares wins as anticipated she will wear the undisputed crown as our best female sprinter.

Moving on to the Champion Mile and a highly anticipated mini Cox Plate rematch featuring Sydney’s sweetheart Fangirl taking on her male rivals Mr Brightside and Alligator Blood.

At one point or another this spring each of this trio has been acclaimed as our best miler – and the issue is still unresolved!

Mr Brightside was taking all before him in Melbourne with a sequence of wins over Alligator Blood before he headed north to Sydney for the $5 million King Charles (1600m) where he had no answer to the brilliance of Fangirl on a firm Randwick surface.

At the same time Alligator Blood burst out of Mr Brightside’s shadow to record outstanding G1 wins at 1800m and 2000m in the Underwood Stakes and Might And Power Stakes at Caulfield.

The trio then met up in the Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley where Mr Brightside was first home, beaten a lip by Romantic Warrior after a brilliant ride from Craig Williams that deserved victory.

In that memorable finish he was only short neck in front of a gallant Alligator Blood with a luckless Fangirl hard on their hells a length away without getting any room to move over the last 400 metres.

It’s a promoter’s dream to have this trio of outstanding stars revert to their favourite distance for a three-way showdown that in any other year would deserve top billing as the spring finale. The burning questions is if Fangirl comes out on top does that elevate her to their pedestal as Australia’s best female performer?

Then we get to the Champions Stakes, a super race that pits the top class UK star West Wind Blows against a super field of G1 winners.

Zaaki, the two-time winner of this race aiming to make it three straight, heads the list but it’s a quartet of top class G1-winnning mares – Montefilia, Duais, Atishu and the Kiwi star Prowess – that will make this a wonderful contest.

Duais was arguably the unluckiest runner in the Cox Plate finishing a close fourth (Zaaki was sixth with every chance) without ever getting a clear crack from the 500m. It’s easy to judge the Cox Plate as the best form for this race but is that a disservice to West Wind Blows as his second placings in the Turnbull Stakes (2000m) and Caulfield Cup (2400m) – won by Without A Fight – were two of the highest rating races of the spring.

Duais has not won since her G1 double in the autumn of 2022 when she dominated the Australian Cup over this course and distance and the Tancred Stakes (2400m) at Rosehill

She has since had chequered preparations but has bounced this spring with form that indicates that she is ready for a career high performance. It will need to be to win the Champion Stakes where the form of other mares – especially Prowess coming off her last start G2 win over 1600m at Moonee Valley – cannot be ignored.

At the end of the day surely we will have a mare entitled to wear the crown as Australia’s queen of the turf…..after all it truly is a day for champions!

 

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