This Saturday's Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes, run over 2000 metres at set weights at Royal Randwick, features some of Australia's best three-year-olds and is a traditional lead-up to the Victoria Derby as well as the Cox Plate.
This year it has been pushed back a week from its usual position on Epsom Day, making it the final Group 1 of the Sydney Spring Carnival, but in doing so produces a clash with the remaining cream of the three-year-old crop, the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas and (this year) the Thousand Guineas. Thus, the elite three-year-old horseflesh will now be spread over 2 states.
The Spring Champion Stakes is set to jump at 4:10pm (AEDT). You can catch all the action on Sky Racing!
First run in 1971, when Gay Icarus beat Baguette and Gunsynd, the Spring Champion Stakes has been won by some champion thoroughbreds, including Kingston Town, Tie The Knot and in recent years, It's A Dundeel, which took out the 2012 renewal. The last horse to win the Spring Champion-Victoria Derby double was Monaco Consul in 2009, while Savabeel was the most recent galloper to clinch the Spring Champion-Cox Plate double, in 2004.
The Group 3 Gloaming Stakes (1800m) at Rosehill is one of the key lead-up races to the Spring Champion (last year, Complacent won the double) and my top pick for Saturday's feature is Sweynesse ($3.50 with TAB.com.au Fixed Odds), which stormed home from the tail of the field for an impressive victory in the Gloaming. That came 10 days after this son of Lonhro won another good guide to the Spring Champion, the Group 3 Spring Stakes (1600m) at Newcastle. Sweynesse is unbeaten from 4 runs and I believe he'll stretch that to 5 and give trainer John O'Shea his first Group 1 since becoming Godolphin's head Australian trainer.
$1.85 favourite, First Seal is the obvious danger, after showing a slick turn of foot to win the Group 1 Flight Stakes at Randwick last Saturday. Trainer John Thompson accepted with the Fastnet Rock filly for this week's Group 1, but said he will wait 'til the latest possible moment before confirming her place in the field against the boys. It's the first time in her career that she has had a 7 day back-up, but she continues to be 'on the up' after thrashing Winx by 3 lengths in the Flight following an upset win in the Group 2 Tea Rose Stakes (1400m), also at headquarters. One word of caution though: only one favourite has won the Spring Champion Stakes in the past 10 years.
For third I'm tipping Valentia ($15). Trainer Gai Waterhouse is chasing her 4th Spring Champion Stakes success and this son of Fastnet Rock could certainly deliver, with the step up in journey certain to suit. Valentia boasts a solid form-line and finished 3rd at his most recent outing, in the Group 2 Stan Fox at Rosehill (1500m). When he dismounted that day, jockey Tommy Berry said the colt felt like a stayer. Don't leave him out.
To make up my first four, I'm selecting another Waterhouse hay burner, Hampton Court. Part-owned by James Packer and broadcaster Alan Jones, the son of Redoute's Choice and Roses'n'Wine let down beautifully after being held-up for a run, to win the listed Dulcify (1600m) on Epsom Day and looks suited by the extra 400 metres. Josh Parr takes the ride and will be chasing his first victory in the event.
Check the full TAB.com.au market for the Spring Champion Stakes here.
The roughie of the field is Drum Roll ($101), which got so far back at Goulburn last start, I think the rider thought there was another lap. I can't see trainer David Vandyke having to prepare a victory speech, but stranger things have happened.
A field of 9 will line up. Good luck on the punt.
2. First Seal
4. Hampton Court
G3 - The Majordomo Hospitality Handicap Steeple Chase
G2 - Prix Raoul Balliere
G2 - Prix Ariste Hemard
G3 - Victress Stakes
G2 - Premier Trophy