Australia Day means BBQs, beverages and a great time all-round, but is also means an outstanding card at Moonee Valley each year, highlighted by the Group 2 Australia Stakes (1200m).
A total of eight races will be run at Moonee Valley on Friday night and the action is set to get underway with the running of the Turf Legends Board Game Plate for two-year-olds at 6:30pm local time.
It has been a warm week in the greater Melbourne metropolitan area this week and at the time of publish, we are looking at a ‘Good 4’ at Moonee Valley on Friday evening.
Nine two-year-olds remain in contention for the first race on Australia Stakes Night following the early scratching of the Aaron Purcell-trained Inindeed.
On three horses have exposed form and of those, Native Soldier is the only runner to have posted a race win previously. The Sepoy colt took a couple of runs to learn his craft upon debuting in November, but was a pretty easy winner at Geelong on Boxing Day. This is probably a step up in class and it’s tough to see where he’ll settle in the run from the outside barrier.
There is simply too much that could go on in this race, as is the case with all two-year-old races filled with debutants and I am happy to stay out this time from a betting perspective.
An open field of ten has been taken for the second and there is a case to be made for several horses from a betting perspective.
A number of these horses are stepping to weekend grade for the first time this time in, including Charlie Garcon. The I Am Invincible gelding has steadily built to the task through two starts this time and was last seen working to the line well for fifth in the Hygain Winner’s Choice BM78 (1000m) at Ballarat on January 16th. He should be able to find a position behind the pace from barrier 8 and will be nearing peak fitness for this.
Sunday Pray has not been seen at the races since October, but produced a number of good performances last time in and is not without a chance of figuring here. The Manhattan Rain gelding is typically better over a bigger trip, but his first-up form is good and he has won amongst stronger company than this previously.
If forgiven for his last run, Sam’s Image looms as the horse to beat here however. The I Am Invincible gelding has had an eleven-week let up since he failed to fire and finished ninth at Flemington, but has trialled well and can dictate terms here from barrier 2.
955m sprints at Moonee Valley are always an exciting prospect and Friday’s Heat 9 in the 55 Second Challenge Series is set to be no exception to that rule.
Sister Kitty Mac has been racing well amongst lesser company than this and while clearly facing a step up in class here, she has a fitness edge on many of her rivals here. The Kaphero mare stormed home at odds to finish a close second over 1100m at Werribee on December 24th, before running third in a 1100m race at Warrnambool on New Year’s Eve. She’ll need to cross the field to find a position on the pace from a wide draw, but will be given every chance by Craig Williams.
Fica Girl was never a factor before finishing towards the tail of the field at Sandown last time, but forgetting that run she has been a strong and consistent performer throughout the last 12 months and can return to winning form in this race. The daughter of Benfica resumed for an easy win in the Big Screen Company BM64 (1000m) at Mornington on December 13th and if she can replicate that performance from her ideal draw here, she can be right in the finish at long odds.
Only six horses will step out in the feature and it is looming as Japanese import Brave Smash’s race to lose. Brave Smash debuted in spring for a close second behind Vega Magic in the Listed Regal Roller Stakes (1200m) before easily winning the Listed Bendigo Bank Stakes (1200m) a fortnight later. While fading late to finish second to Bons Away in the Listed Testa Rossa Stakes (1200m), the Tosen Phantom entire performed well to finish third in The Everest (1200m) most recently on October 14th. He has a clear class edge on this field and should just win from barrier 2.
Darren Weir will saddle half the field after also confirming Ken’s Dream and Steller Collision, while Group 1 placegetter Mr Sneaky, classy mare Flippant and the Lindsay Park-trained Thronum complete the field.
The Vobis Gold Star is obviously not the feature race at Moonee Valley on Friday, but it is shaping as the most exciting race on the card.
Widgee Turf has returned to racing in career-best form this time and is seeking a fourth-consecutive win on Friday. The Turffontein gelding resumed for an easy win over 1300m at Sandown on December 2nd, before putting a decent field to the sword at Moonee Valley three weeks later; undoubtedly his most convincing performance to date. Having toughed it out to the line to win over a mile at Caulfield most recently, Widgee Turf can dictate terms from the rails draw and will be extremely difficult to beat again.
Burning Front has won the two most-recent editions of this race and the veteran is in the right form to secure a third on Friday. The Primus gelding was unable to returned to winning form through his first seven starts this time in despite racing competitively, but he turned in a typically tough performance to lead all the way in the Listed Chester Manifold Stakes (1400m) a fortnight ago.
The first capacity field of the card will step out in Race 6 and it remains an open contest from a betting perspective.
Illumicon has not been seen at the races since August, but he showed above-average ability during his maiden preparation and can return for a win here. The Nicconi colt weathered a less-than ideal run in transit before finishing fourth at Morphettville on debut, but responded with a convincing win over 1300m at Bendigo most-recently. The combination of Tony McEvoy and Luke Currie has been outstanding throughout the last 12 months and they can notch another win with Illumicon.
Prevailing Winds was luckless last time out, but had not finished worse than second through his three campaign starts prior and should be right in the finish once more. The son of Exceed And Excel has form around a few quality Saturday-grade horses this time and as long as he handles the unique conditions at Moonee Valley, is capable of posting his third career win.
A capacity field of stayers will step out in the penultimate on Australia Stakes Night, including Diamond Grace. Diamond Grace has not been seen at the races since mid-August, but produced a number of strong performances and results last time, including consecutive wins over a mile-and-a-half. The fact that Mick Kent has decided to launch the five-year-old’s campaign in this suggests that she is very forward and she tends to run very well fresh.
Raindrops On Roses has been racing well this time and is not without a hope of returning to winning form on Friday. The High Chaparral mare is bred to relish the distance and has steadily built to the task this time; running third in a mile-and-a-half race at Sandown a fortnight ago.
This is another extremely open betting race and all of Richard Of Yorke ($5.50), Bondeiger ($5.50), Tuff Bickie ($9.50) and Rokda Kasba ($5) are live chances.
The final race on Australia Stakes Night is set to offer punters a great opportunity to take advantage of some late value.
The Darren Weir-trained Knight Commander is yet to have a rider confirmed, but remains the $3.80 favourite in this race after drawing ideally. Knight Commander returned to winning form via a dominant performance at Geelong last time out, but will need in improve again in what is an obvious step up in class.
One horse that is worth consideration at odds is the Robbie Griffiths-trained Believing. The consistent son of Bel Esprit flew home to finish fourth over 1100m at Flemington on January 13th and will take a sit behind the pace from his outside draw, before looking to emulate his last-start effort.