Flemington and Randwick take centre stage for the weekend's racing, and tab.com.au form analyst Mitchell Lamb has singled out Merchant Navy as one to watch at Flemington.
The winner of five of six lifetime starts, Sugar Bella has all the hallmarks of a galloper that's going to rack up a lot of race victories.
She is an absolute push-button ride in that she puts herself into the race with enough early speed, settles well, and shows a brilliant turn of foot when asked for an effort; those three traits in themselves are a trio of essentials for a highly successful racehorse.
The daughter of Not A Single Doubt went to town three times in her second prep over the summer, and she triumphed easily on all three occasions -- dismissing of some handy types in the process, including the males in the latest start.
Kris Lees has taken his time with this girl, but he had clearly seen enough from that last campaign to think she's stakes class and he's wasted no time in getting her into a black-type race. She's struck a decent field of mares that isn't great in the Group 3, and she will be down on the limit having drawn perfectly to boot.
She's a mare going places, make no mistake, and races like the Birthday Card and the Sapphire Stakes in the coming weeks are well within her scope. I'm very keen on her here, and as the autumn progresses.
Around The Grounds
Concealer, now a mature four year old, might be ready to really show her best. She's a classy mare who's been racing since the November of her two-year-old season, but she must have had some issues along the way to have only had the nine starts.
She won up the straight on debut but hasn't tasted any success since, although she has plied her trade, for the most part, in high-quality, black-type events. In her spring prep, she was placed up the straight at Group 3 level behind Lyuba and Savanna Amour, beaten in a three-way photo. She clearly likes the straight, as she was also beaten only half-a-length by last weekend's smart winner Hear The Chant.
She has to contend with the males here, and it will remain to be seen whether barrier No. 1 will be a help or a hinderance, depending on the way the track is playing early in the day, but this isn't a field with any group-class speedsters; in fact most of the field are off-season city-class gallopers, who've essentially found their ceiling in life, while Concealer may still have some upside to her.
Very keen she can kick off the day in the right manner and get punters some cash in the pocket early.
As well-bred a filly going around on Saturday as any, Nasaayim has displayed above-average ability in her three starts and you get the feeling the Lindsay Park team purposely kept her out of the Blue Diamond to target the Sires' Produce Stakes, in which she can make it three from four career wins.
She just failed to pick up the winner on debut up the straight over 1000 metres, and she then went to Ballarat for an easy maiden win before they brought her to town again to win at long odds-on; on face value it wasn't the way in which you like to see $1.40 shots prevail, but she showed she's got plenty of ticker and, perhaps more importantly for this race, clearly wants the 1400 metres of this now as she was strong through the line after wearing down the leaders.
Regan Bayliss will be able to put her into a lovely spot in transit from barrier No. 2, she's ready to peak over the seven furlongs, and I think she's the type of filly that could potentially go to Sydney for a crack at either the ATC Sires' Produce or the Champagne Stakes. Let's hope that's the case.
Since General Nediym scorched up the Flemington straight in 1998 to win the Newmarket Handicap, three year olds have owned Australia's most famous sprint race -- winning it on a further eight occasions. For the most part, the winners have been outstanding three year olds who've been able to get into the race with no weight, and that's exactly what Merchant Navy is, and has been able to do, in this year's edition.
Make no mistake about it, he is a brilliant galloper who has done very little wrong in his seven-start career. His only blemish came on a trip to Sydney for the Golden Rose, in which zero went right. He proved that was an anomaly by displaying an astounding burst of speed to beat a historically high-class field of his peers in the Coolmore Stud Stakes.
He was beaten fair and square on his first foray against older horses a month ago, but it was a performance full of merit when you consider he was poorly in at the weights, nowhere near his peak fitness wise, and 1100 metres around Caulfield isn't anywhere near as suitable for him compared with the six furlongs of the Flemington straight; he was still able to run the fastest last 600m in the race, and he'd have won in three or four more strides.
This is not a vintage Newmarket field despite worthy rivals -- most notably straight-track specialist and last year's winner Redkirk Warrior, last start Group 1 winner Brave Smash, quality fillies Booker and Catchy, and to a lesser extent the fairy tale of the field in Rich Charm -- but Merchant Navy is a vintage three-year-old sprinter who couldn't fit the mould of a modern-day Newmarket winner more if you dreamt it up. I can't wait to see him win this and jet off to Royal Ascot to showcase his ability to the Poms.
I really hope they travel Prairie Fire to Sydney for the Todman Stakes, rather than stop head to the Black Opal on Sunday at Canberra, because I think he's a genuine chance of knocking off the hot favourite in Performer at Randwick.
He did a good job in the Blue Diamond, where he was forced to be ridden a touch upside down for two reasons. Firstly Mark Zahra had to take advantage of the fact that he'd drawn the inside gate because he was going to be no hope if he were buried away back in the field on the fence, and that effort to be a touch closer probably took away a touch from his turn of foot when the winner Written By quickened.
In this race, pending who actually starts and who doesn't, there'll hopefully be genuine speed on up front. From a wider gate, Brenton Avdulla should then be able to drop Prairie Fire back into the second half of the field and give the Mick Price-trained colt every chance to wind up late and finish strong -- in some way similar to how his filly Seabrook won the Sweet Embrace last Saturday.
Performer is not be taken to be lightly -- he's a high-quality juvenile no doubt -- but I'm not yet convinced enough about his star status to be with him at even-money here. I do genuinely believe Prairie Fire is a colt with big upside, and I'll be with him at that quote on Saturday.
Over The Odds
Smart As You Think will have to overcome a few hurdles, but she's definitely good enough to be very competitive at what is a huge price.
She has actually been to Sydney before, when she was basically knocked out of the Vinery Stud Stakes as a three year old having looked like she was possibly going to be right in the finish of the race.
She was good first up this prep in a leader-dominated race at Sandown before she started a warm favourite in Adelaide. That race didn't really pan out for her as she was forced to make a long sustained run around the entire field, and one batted a bit late, while the winner Strategic Demand got a dream run through the middle to win; still, it was a decent effort considering how it all went down.
This is a jump up from that, but she'll be almost ready to peak now and they wouldn't be here her if they didn't believe she was going well enough to justify it. There's a couple of decent middle-distance types engaged, but no stars, and she will run better than her quote suggests.
($100 = 46.3 percent)
($100 = 59.52 percent)
TAB Early Market Movers and Big Bets
Race 3 - Portman $4 - $3.80 ($750 @ $4, $500 @ $4)
Race 4 - Outrageous $6 - $5 ($275 @ $6, $1,400 @ $5)
Race 5 - Palazzo Vecchio $6.50 - $5.50 ($200 @ $6.50, $2,000 e/w @ $6/$2.35)
Race 6 - Redkirk Warrior $7.50 - $6.50 ($500 e/w @ $6.50/$2.45, $220 @ $6.50)
Race 7 - Shillelagh $4.60 - $4.20 ($300 @ $4.20, $200 @ $4.20)
Race 8 - Gailo Chop $2.80 - $2.70 ($500 @ $2.80, $300 @ $2.80, $200 @ $2.80), Single Gaze $9 - $8 ($1,000 @ $9, $2,500 x $1,500 @ $8.50/$2.65, $500 @ $8.50)
Race 9 - Regimen $5.50 - $5 ($300 @ $5.50, $270 @ $5)
Race 1 - Nettoyer $4 - $3.40 ($667 @ $4, $371 @ $3.70, $500 @ $3.50, $200 @ $3.30)
Race 2 - Houtzen $2.50 - $2.40 ($1,000 @ $2.50, $300 @ $2.50)
Race 4 - Ef Troop $6 - $5.50 ($300 @ $5.50, $200 @ $5.50)
Race 5 - Viridine $9 - $7.50 ($200 @ $9.50, $200 @ $7.50)
Race 6 - Invincible Gem $8 - $7 ($200 @ $7)
Race 7 - Peaceful State $11 - $8.50 ($200 e/w @ $8.50/2.35)
Race 8 - Sugar Bella $8 - $4 ($350 @ $7, $400 x $200 @ $7/$2.50, $200 @ $6, $500 @ $4.60, $250 @ $4.60, $300 @ $4.40)
Race 9 - Alward $7 - $4.20 ($400 @ $6, $250 @ $5, $595 @ $4.60)