The $1.2 million Australian Cup carnival reaches its crescendo this Saturday night at The Meadows in Melbourne, with the running of the Group 1 Australian Cup final and the final of the Group 1 Super Stayers.
Worth $250,000 to the winner, the Australian Cup final (525 metres) is a wide-open affair, with only 2 favourites successful from the 8 heats, half of which were run in atrocious weather conditions, after a wild thunderstorm descended on the track.
Western Australian chaser Quartz Bale ($3.50 with TAB.com.au Fixed Odds) was the fastest qualifier, stopping the clock at 29.60 before the wind and rain struck. Prepared by leading conditioner Paul Stuart, the giant son of U.S sire Yahoo Omar began well from box 5, railing powerfully passing the catching pen to dominate his heat and draws well in box 3 this Saturday night. He has speed drawn directly outside from the likely leader Luca Neveelk ($5.00) and has the size and strength to again put himself in a prominent position once he balances up. If begins like he did in the heats he will figure.
Luca Neveelk has sizzling early sectionals but could be under siege in the final part of the race. The Ballarat and Geelong Cup winner ran 29.98 in the heats when the surface turned to heavy and will be out to make his own luck in front. His run-home time will be crucial.
Trained by John Galea, who is chasing his first Group success, Sisco Rage ($7) has drawn the coveted rails rug and was impressive in the heats, winning in 29.87 after jumping perfectly from box 3 and assuming the early lead. The son of High Earner and Sisco Power only needs to jump cleanly again to put himself in the box seat and is a must to include.
Drawn alongside him in 2 is Hostile ($5), which was super-strong in the heats from box 7, chasing down tear away leader Ronray Spirit. The son of Collision and Restless Style may have stormed home in his heat, but he can also mix it with them early, with a recent 5.04 first split at Sandown. He is racing in outstanding form for trainer Darren Beasley.
The Australian Cup favourite ($3) is Lamia Bale, which has drawn box 8 and landed straight on the arm in her heat, leading all the way from box 4 in 29.78. Trained by experienced mentor Steve Collins, the two-time Group victor was a recent runner-up in the Group 1 Rookie Rebel (600 metres) but is yet to win from the pink rug.
Rookie Rebel won the inaugural running of the Australian Cup in 1958 and it has been one by some other champion chasers since, including Brett Lee, Tenthill Doll, Bogie Leigh and last year's champ, Buckle Up Wes.
My tips for this year's Australian Cup final are Hostile on top to beat Sisco Rage, Samus Allen and Quartz Bale.
The Group 1 Super Stayers final (725 metres) appear to be at the mercy of Zoom Top and Galaxy winner Space Star ($1.50), after he broke Nellie Noodles' track record of 42.03 in the heats, a mark which had stood for almost 5 years. Jumping beautifully from box 1, the son of Bekim Bale and Tonto Tears sizzled around the Broadmeadows circuit, scoring by 12 and 1/4 lengths and stopping the clock at an extraordinary 41.93. Trained by Robert Britton (who also prepared Nellie Noodles), Space Star will jump from box 6 in the decider and is chasing his 3rd Group 1 victory in a month. Only bad luck will prevent him from notching it.
The Brooke Ennis-trained pair of Lady Toy ($2.90) and Blinkers On ($23) are my tips to fill the trifecta from boxes 1 and 3, respectively. Lady Toy, runner-up to Space Star in the Galaxy, won her heat in 42.58 from the red and is the obvious danger to the favourite, while Blinkers On finished second to Space Star in the Zoom Top and is in great form.
First run in 1978, the past two runnings of the Super Stayers were taken out by Destini Fireball. This time it's Space Star's shot at the title and the $100,000 winners purse.
My selections are Space Star to beat Blinker's On, Lady Toy and Berry Blit.
Join Mark Duclos and Simone Fisher at the starting boxes at The Meadows on SKY Racing1, this Saturday night. The first race is at 6.58pm.
G3 - Lowland S
Listed - Ibhayi Stakes
G3 - Northern Trotting Breeders Stakes
G1 - Pascoes The Jewellers Northern Oaks
G3 - The Founders Cup (1700)