Since The Championships format was established in 2014, combining some of Sydney’s biggest races into a rich and prestigious two-day carnival, there’s been a common element – rain. Sadly, 2017 isn’t shaping up any differently. The Harbour City copped another drenching on Thursday, sending the track into the heavy range. Showers are forecast for Friday and Saturday so, fingers crossed, the track doesn’t deteriorate into the dreadful state of Randwick Guineas day. It’s black type top to bottom but four G1 races stand above the rest on Day 1.
Waller Chasing Fifth Donny in a Row
The highlight of the day is The Star Doncaster Mile, worth $3 million. Australia’s unofficial mile championship was first run in 1866. The late TJ Smith and his daughter Gai Waterhouse (with Ecuador running this year) are the most successful trainers having each won seven times but they could be joined by Chris Waller, who is chasing an incredible fifth successive win in the world’s richest mile handicap (Sacred Falls 2013-14, Kermadec 2015, Winx 2016). Recent runnings of The Doncaster show that off-pace runners and horses in the fourth or fifth run of the prep perform well here. A capacity field of 20 is virtually assured and more than half of that line-up are priced at better than 20-1 to win! With so many chances, we can afford to go wide. #6 Le Romain ($6 favourite with Sportsbet) trailed only Winx in the George Ryder and carved through the wet at Randwick to win the Canterbury Stakes two back. Lightweight chances #15 Hey Doc and #16 Antonio Giuseppe also appeal ($15 apiece at William Hill).
Viva la Revolution
The latest class of Australia’s best sprinters will be on show in the $2.5 million Darley TJ Smith Stakes. The inaugural race in 1997 was known as the Endeavour Stakes before being named in the honour of champion trainer Tommy ‘TJ’ Smith, who won 33 training titles in Sydney. #1 Chautauqua returns in pursuit of a third successive win in this race but hasn’t hit the heights of previous preps this campaign. In a wide open field, the $5 favourite #14 Russian Revolution still represents decent value. He’s lost just once in six career starts and carved through a bog (10) track at Rosehill to win the G1 Galaxy last time out. With so much exposed form here, this 3yo colt for Peter and Paul Snowden is the one with potential to keep improving. And there’s no better jockey in the country than Kerrin McEvoy when it comes to group races and big fields.
Kiwi Champ Looks Vulnerable
The $2 million BMW Australian Derby dates to the same year that the Melbourne Cup was first run (1861). The Derby has been historically dominated by colts and geldings – over the past 27 years, the only filly to win the race was Shamrocker (2011). This is one of the toughest races on the Australian turf calendar to win. The past three winners have come from barrier 1 and double-figure gates feature only twice in the places in the past four years. The public is mad for the $3.50 (Unibet) favourite Gingernuts (NZ) after his stunning win in the Rosehill Guineas on a heavy track on March 18. But he’s hardly bulletproof – this is his seventh run for the prep and goes back up in distance to 2400m from a wide draw. #1 Prized Icon is the proven product having won the VRC Derby (2500m) last spring and looks overs at $11 (Ladbrokes) if the track stays in the soft range. #9 Harper’s Choice ($61) will lead this race and could pinch if Jason Collett can pinch a big lead heading for home.
Snowden’s Invader Ready for Battle
The Sires’ Produce Stakes is Royal Randwick’s 2yo championship and forms the second leg of the Sydney autumn carnival’s 2yo triple crown (along with the Golden Slipper and Champagne Stakes). The Gai Waterhouse-trained Pierro was the last horse to win the Triple Crown, becoming just the sixth juvenile in history to achieve the feat when claiming all three races in 2012. The Slipper has provided two of the past four winners and six of the 12 placegetters but there is a trend developing of horses being specifically set for this race having an edge. With Gunnison scratched, another Snowden runner Invader appeals at a juicy quote of $9.50 (Luxbet). He didn’t have any favours in the Todman, but he still found the line strongly and being scratched from the Golden Slipper may prove a blessing in disguise. Hugh Bowman returns to the saddle while he’s drawn nicely in gate 4 of 19.