With the AFL Grand Final taking centre stage in Victoria on Saturday, the weekend’s major metropolitan card will take place at Caulfield on Sunday.
Further to the highly-anticipated Group 1, 2018 Underwood Stakes Day features several key form races, including both the Group 3 Caulfield Guineas Prelude and Group 2 Thousand Guineas Prelude.
The Underwood Stakes is set to be one of the most open Group 1 events of the entire Spring Carnival and is headlined by the likes of Humidor, Bonneval and Grunt.
This is a tough way to start Underwood Stakes D ay from a betting perspective and South Australian raider Éclair Calling is the $5.75 favourite at the time of publish. The Tartan Bearer gelding has improved through his two starts this time and was last seen finishing off well for third in the Listed The Sofitel (1400m) a fortnight ago. He looks ready to peak third-up and is drawn ideally. The Lindsay Park-trained Muraahib ($7.50) has returned to racing in great form this time and looks over the odds at his $7.50 quote. Muraahib recorded an easy win over 1200m at Pakenham first-up before repeating that effort and result and Geelong last time. This is a step up in class, but he’s performed well in Saturday metro races previously and will only improve again.
Another open field has been taken for the second and the Ken Keys-trained Al Passem has so far received the most attention in betting; firming $7.50 into $5 at the time of publish. The Al Maher gelding has returned a few good performances and result this time and won a mile race at HQ two starts back, before making a smart transition to black type company when third in the Listed Bendigo Bank Stakes (1200m) last time out, behind Land Of Plenty and Peaceful State. There are no horses to that ability in this field and he’ll be hard to beat. Cliff’s Edge has returned two lacklustre performances this time, but he remains the $4.80 favourite in betting here. At his best, he is one of the better horses in this field but I would prefer to watch him go around here, with a view towards later targets.
Several decent stayers will step out in the Inglis Cup but it really is shaping as topweight Prized Icon’s race to lose. The multiple Group 1 winner resumed this time for a credible third over 1400m at Rosehill in August before a couple of decent efforts from back in the field for fifth in both the Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes (1600m) and Group 3 Cameron Handicap (1500m) most recently. The step out to 2000m is going to be perfect and even with 58.5kgs in tow, his class suggests that he will be the one to beat. Damien Oliver takes the ride and he is a justifiably $2.35 favourite.
A capacity field has been taken for the fourth and the early scratching of Deep Euphoria has allowed live chance Smart Coupe ($14) to gain a start. Smart Coupe produced a few good performances at black type level in autumn and will take plenty of benefit into this race after a credible first-up run for third at Bendigo. Soothing ($6) is one of three for Godolphin in this field and she is seeking a fourth-consecutive win, following three impressive performances to launch her campaign. She will need some luck after drawing the potentially awkward barrier 13, but with James McDonald aboard she should be given every chance.
Several genuine Group 1 prospects will step out in the Testa Rossa Stakes and there is a case to be made for more than half the field in betting. Booker ($4.40) has been the stable star for Matt Ellerton & Simon Zahra throughout her entire racing career to date and she will be hard to beat first-up on Sunday. The Written Tycoon mare resumed in autumn for a dominant win in the Group 3 Kevin Hayes Stakes at this course and distance, and a repeat of that performance would find her hard to beat. So Si Bon ($14) will also resume and is over the odds at his current price, on class alone. Trekking has opened the $3.90 race favourite and is looking to make it two-in-a-row after an impressive win at Randwick a fortnight ago.
We’re set for an outstanding edition of the Caulfield Guineas in two weeks and Sunday’s Prelude has understandably drawn a class and open field of three-year-old colts and geldings. Declarationofheart ($4.60) has opened race favourite and should be rock-hard fit for his third-up assignment. The Declaration Of War colt resumed for an easy win at Sandown first-up, before making a credible transition to black type company when fourth in the Listed Antler Luggage Plate (1400m) two weeks ago. This is another step up in class, but he’s drawn and weighted ideally, and has in-form hoop Mark Zahra aboard once more. Fighting Harada ($17) has been luckless at his two most-recent starts at looks overs at his double-figure quote. The Fighting Sun colt has shown above-average ability throughout his seven career starts and with even luck on Sunday, he’s good enough to fight out the finish.
Some of the country’s best three-year-old fillies will step out in the Thousand Guineas Prelude, but the undefeated Smart Melody ($2.40) looks extremely difficult to go past again. The Smart Missile filly has continued to improve with race and was last seen delivering a decent field a comfortable defeat in the Listed Cap D’Antibes (1100m) a fortnight ago. She is yet to be tested at the trip, but she’ll be hard to run down on what she’s shown so-far. Kiwi raider Peaceful brings a completely different form line into this race and I will be happy to have a small each-way bet on her at her current price ($16/$4.40). The Savabeel filly won the Listed Futurity Stakes (1400m) in her homeland in winter and resumed three weeks ago for a smart win in the Listed O’Learys Fillies Stakes (1200m) at Wanganui. I will be backing Smart Melody on the nose and taking Peaceful each-way at her current price.
This is a great edition of the Underwood Stakes and there is a case to be made for all ten horses confirmed for a start. British raider Blair House has received all the early attention in Underwood Stakes betting and is $6.50 into $5 at the time of publish. The Pivotal gelding has produced several outstanding efforts and results this time, including an impressive win in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta (1800m) at Meydan in March. Charlie Appleby’s horses have been flying in Australia throughout the last few years and Blair House looks beautifully placed to continue their record. Two-time Group 1 champion Grunt ($3.10) easily took out the Makybe Diva Stakes two weeks ago and while he is yet to be tested in a race more than a mile, he remains the $3.20 favourite.
This is another talent-rich field and there’s a case to be made for many, but I’m going to continue backing Furrion ($2.25) while he’s winning, particularly after he drew the rails in the last on Underwood Stakes Day. Furrion stamped himself as a horse to follow through an impressive autumn campaign, but he looks to have gone to another level this time and made the successful step up to Saturday metropolitan grade with a dominant win over this trip at Flemington two weeks ago. A repeat of that performance would find him extremely difficult to beat on Sunday.