Nature Strip

Nature Strip was a dominant winner of the Rubiton Stakes (Image: Racing Photos)

The Wrap - The Week That Was

All times are courtesy of Daily Sectionals - www.dailysectionals.com.au 

The ‘good horses’ were back at Caulfield on Saturday and none were better than Nature Strip who turned in the standout performance of the day.

The wind had a big impact on Saturday. It started out of the west which is a headwind in the straight but did turn more southwesterly as the day went on.

The gusts were fluky and I suspect the biggest impact they had on racing is jockeys were keen to get cover and conserve their energy which resulted in some slowly run races and an on-speed domination.

How the races were run:

The Week That Was - C.F. Orr Stakes

After a controversial ten days, Nature Strip was one of three winners from the now defunct Darren Weir Racing.

The four-year-old son of Nicconi began moderately off the inside alley but quickly mustered speed to join Jungle Edge in a share of the lead. He tore his rivals apart by running a blistering 20.58-second fraction from the 1000m-600m marks at which point the race was over.

A rule that has served me well in form analysis is to ignore a ‘poor’ run when a horse is immediately spelled and if you take out Nature Strip’s Moir Stakes run his form is as good as any sprinter in the country. He beat Houtzen in track-record time leading into that Moir run and had he run anywhere near the same rating he would have at the very least figured in the finish.

For mine, he’s the best horse in the country up to 1100 metres and if he continues to slowly improve his manners there’s no reason he won’t be just as effective at 1200 metres.

The Blue Diamond picture is starting to become clearer.

The two preludes were run in contrasting fashion.

I Am Immortal who led and won the boys division would have been more than six lengths in front of Vinicunca – who led the fillies Prelude - at the 400m mark.

The fillies ultimately went on to run 64.44 seconds while the boys clocked 64.52 seconds.

The way he races, I Am Immortal looks like he could go a touch quicker early and not impact his finish speed, he pulled through the first 400m and probably cost himself some energy as a result. He continues to win and, while he will likely need to rate higher to win a Diamond, his ability to make his own luck will carry him a long way.

The Blue Diamond Fillies Prelude was a sit/sprint affair with Lyre producing the second-best last 800-metre split (behind Nature Strip) of the entire meeting.

She had a fitness edge on many of her rivals having had two race starts and at least two jumpouts leading into Saturday and that counted for plenty.

My doubt on her leading in was that she sat off a very moderate tempo when winning at Sale and that is probably the one question mark heading into the Grand Final.

The market said that Catch Me was going to back-up her dominant Blue Diamond Preview win but she couldn’t have been more disappointing.

She had every chance up on speed but was gone as soon as they entered the straight. She wasn’t the same horse that won in fast time two weeks earlier and it shows just how fickle two-year-old racing can be.

I wouldn’t give up on Brooklyn Hustle. She only had one jumpout leading into Saturday as opposed to two prior to her debut at The Valley on December 1 and it showed – she raced very ‘fresh’, pulling her way around Caulfield. She was still able to produce the second-best last 800/600/400/200 metre fractions of the race in spite of doing so much wrong.

Saturday’s run will have taken the edge of this daughter of Starspangledbanner and she could jump out of the ground come the Blue Diamond.

Athiri sat three-deep on speed which isn’t a huge disadvantage around the 1100 metres at Caulfield but like Brooklyn Hustle she should take plenty of benefit from Saturday’s run. She is right in Blue Diamond contention.

Vinicunca was also first-up but she had a very comfortable lead, she will have to absorb more pressure going toe-to-toe with I Am Immortal in two weeks and that will be a challenge.

The big winner out of Saturday didn’t go around: Loving Gaby. The imposing daughter of I Am Invincible was outstanding in winning the Chairman’s Handicap in strong time the week prior and given what transpired at Caulfield on Saturday, she elevated herself to top pick for the Blue Diamond.

The Autumn Stakes and C.F. Orr Stakes were the two 1400m features on Saturday and on raw times Hawkshot would have beaten Manuel by six lengths.

Hawkshot has been crying out for 1400m and a positive ride and he produced a stunning performance up on speed. On a day that most races were run at very moderate tempo, the son of Fiorente was one of few horses to lead at a tempo above standard.

Prior to Saturday, Hawkshot’s best performance was his debut win at Ballarat in March when sitting outside a strong tempo over 1200m and it wasn’t until Saturday that he again was allowed to stride freely.

He looks like an ideal Australian Guineas candidate and with that ability to roll at strong fractions he will develop into a lovely 1600-2000m horse.

It’s hard to know what to make of the C.F. Orr Stakes. Manuel led at a moderate tempo and then pinched two extremely cheap sectionals from the 800-400-metre marks – 12.14 and 12.26-seconds – which was six-lengths slower than Hawkshot in the previous race.

There was less than two-lengths covering the first eight over the line in the C.F. Orr Stakes with Holbien able to sit deep and finishing 1.95-lengths of Manuel in eighth. If there was one horse I could pinpoint to follow it was Best Of Days who paraded very well and had a chequered passage in the straight.

Race one was a prime example that a slow tempo doesn’t always disadvantage backmarkers and there are different rules for different horses.

Yogi is a horse we are used to seeing off the bit a long way from home but on Saturday he was able to stay in touch without getting out of his comfort zone.

Prima went around 10-lengths below standard in leading through the first section of the 1800m contest which provided the perfect platform for Yogi to dash home over the top of them. He reeled off the fourth-best last 600-metre fraction of the meeting (34.20-seconds) which is something he wouldn’t have been able to do off a genuine tempo.

The last race was testament to what was a ‘relatively’ fair track at Caulfield on Saturday.

Arbeitsam and Call Me Handsome went out well above standard through the first section of the race which set it up for the powerful closers and there were none stronger on the line than Avilius.

He’s a machine and this return suggested he is right on track for the Australian Cup.

Night’s Watch had to circle the field and his effort to run third was most meritorious.

Horses To Follow:

Race 3 – JUST HIFALUTIN (Enver Jusufovic)

This was the stronger of the two 1200 metre races.

Just Hifalutin was snagged back to the second-half of the field off a moderate early tempo and looking at the stewards’ vision she never got clear galloping room in the straight. She should have gone close to winning and a race like the Mannerism Stakes over 1400m in two weeks-time would be an ideal target for this five-year-old mare. 

Race 7 – DEALMAKER (Chris Waller)

Hawkshot was dominant and I’m not certain that Dealmaker can turn the tables in the Guineas but he will certainly finish closer.

He was trapped three-back on the fence and took his time finding clean air in the straight but he dropped Ringerdingding over the final 200m putting nearly a length on that highly-rated galloper. In saying that, Ringerdingding did cost himself by laying-in.

Dealmaker will be better suited over the mile and Flemington looks the ideal track for his racing style.

Around The Grounds:

Thursday, February 7: Racing.com Park Race 7 – CLARICE CLIFFS

This was an outstanding win under lights on Thursday night.

Trained by Greg Eurell, this four-year-old mare bounced to the front and never gave her rivals a look in. She broke the 1200m track record and produced a sizzling 33.63 second last 600m.

She has shown a great deal of talent in her short career to date and on the back of Thursday’s win she can come straight to town on a Saturday. 

Thursday, February 7: Benalla Race 1 – Permissive Star

This looked a handy 1100-metre maiden going in and the clock certainly backed that up.

Permissive Star was very well-backed on debut and he didn’t disappoint backers. He jumped straight on the bunny and always looked to have the race in hand for James Winks.

The overall time was eight-lengths quicker than the other 1100 metre maiden on the day and the second horse, General Short, had shown very good ability at his only other start.

Permissive Star looks a horse with plenty of upside and General Short won’t be a maiden for long.