Saturday is "Fork Day". On this day every spring, aspiring equine stars meet a fork in the road. Fork Day decides who will take the high road to chase the spotlight and perhaps Cup glory, and who is destined for the low road, with just a chorus role in Melbourne's spring extravaganza.
The Epsom and Metropolitan at Randwick are the culmination of spring racing in Sydney, and they're important in their own right, but they're equally important as forerunners to Melbourne's majors – Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup. While the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington is a gilded guide. Fork Day is tantalizing.
The Epsom Handicap
In the 1600m G1 Epsom Handicap at Randwick, spring's best "milers" will line up. Toydini ($4.60 TAB.com.au) won the Carbine Club Stakes at Randwick over the 1600m course last autumn beating Hawkespur, which subsequently went on to be the winter-star in Queensland. Horses that relish the Randwick "mile" often reproduce the goods, time after time.
Boban ($4.80) is the James O'Connor of racing, wildly talented but often just wild. He's hit a purple-patch of form recently, bolting in at his last two starts over shorter distances. Will he settle well enough to stretch his brilliance to 1600m? His only previous run at 1600m resulted in a drubbing - last place, 24 lengths behind the winner of the T.J.Smith Stks in Queensland in June last year. He raced like he had firecrackers tied to his tail, but he's a different horse now. If he finds cover in running and behaves himself, he's right in this.
Streama ($6.50) is a high-quality mare and Sacred Falls ($12) won Randwick's premier Doncaster Mile in autumn. Veyron ($23), Riva De Lago ($15), and Ecuador ($7.50) all have claims. I like Toydini to beat Boban and Sacred Falls. It's a really good race, but the Epsom might be a chorus-only rehearsal for Melbourne.
The Metropolitan Handicap
The 2400m G1 Metropolitan Handicap has thin slither of budding talent and a good chunk of old-stagers. Chris Waller is weaving some magic with the improving Moriarty ($4.60). His last-start win in the 2000m G2 Hill Stakes was strong. He won the G2 Brisbane Cup over the 2400m course in winter, and he could cap his steady rise with a G1 win on Saturday. Prince Cheri ($3.80) is also a stayer on the "up". He needs to improve further to win on Saturday, and even more to be a player in Melbourne, but I like an improving horse for this race.
If one of these up-and-comers can win, I think they can play a part in the Melbourne majors, if only a supporting role. The rest of the field is mostly capable stayers of known ability. I think the "new-kids" will outshine them. It's Moriarty to beat Prince Cheri, with old Mourayan ($13) chasing them home.
The Turnbull Stakes
The strongest race of the day is the 2000m G1 Turnbull Stakes at Flemington. It's bristling with talent. The Melbourne Cup favourite Puissance De Lune ($4.60) is still smarting from his defeat in the 1800m G1 Underwood Stakes behind It's a Dundeel. That race was a pace-free-zone, and "PDL" got trapped at the back with no hope of winning. The Flemington 2000m will suit him much better.
Fiorente ($4.00) is definitely going well enough to win. I'm a little suspicious of the form from his last win at Moonee Valley in the 1600m G2 Dato Tan Chin Nam; he beat Spacecraft who would be 50-1 in this field. However, Fiorente's class is undeniable and he'll like Flemington too.
The Turnbull has at least ten runners with winning claims, but you can't tip them all. I am tipping Puissance De Lune to get his first G1 - and his "mojo" back on Saturday, but Fiorente is going to stretch him to the limit. I think Fawkner ($10) can run a cheeky race, and his astute owner Lloyd Williams was desperate to run him; scratching two of his other horses to ensure that Fawkner made the field.
Saturday will decide whose dreams remain alive, and who must accept their lot as a minor player on the big stage. The horse transport companies will be busier than racecourse cleaners on Sunday morning, shifting Sydney-hopefuls to Melbourne, and carting dropouts to the spelling farms. Fork Day sorts them out.
G1 - The Bet365 Celebration Steeple Chase (class 1)
G3 - The Bet365 Gold Cup Steeple Chase (handicap) (class 1)
G1 - Aes Champion 4yo Hdle
Grade B - Setanta Sport H'cap Hdle
Grade B - Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe H'cap Chase