Sun. Sep 25th, 2022

The Underwood Stakes is always a key race in the make-up of the spring. Many a horse has won this or run well on the way to further glory in the Cox Plate or Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.

This year’s edition shapes as a fascinating affair, as an intriguing tactical battle among the six runners, each of which has a question mark over their profile.

Zaaki is the testing material, as he so often is when contesting a race.

He’s won nine races in the last 18 months, including three at Group 1 level as well as an All Star Mile, plus been placed in Group 1s another three times. He’s the standard-bearer at WFA in this country.

Zaaki won the Underwood Stakes second-up last year, coming off a Tramway win, which is the same profile he is coming into this year with. He’ll either lead this race along, or sit outside Alligator Blood, and all eyes will be on when Jamie Kah decides to put the pedal to the metal.

I’m Thunderstruck is second favourite, and has matured into a significant WFA horse as a five-year-old. He finished behind Zaaki in the All Star Mile and Queen Elizabeth back in the autumn, but appears a significantly better horse now.

He’ll be in the third pair, likely sitting behind Mr Brightside and looking for that in-form galloper to give him a cart into the race as they both look to hunt down Zaaki. It whets the appetite to think about it.

Mr Brightside and I’m Thunderstruck met each other twice, in Zaaki’s All Star Mile as well as the Doncaster, and the ledger is squared at 1-1. Mr Brightside was slightly behind “Thunder” in both of those runs, but can be expected to be handier than him this time.

Mr Brightside finished three and a half lengths behind Zaaki in that All Star Mile, but has also improved between four and five, and has put together two strong wins to open his spring campaign. He’ll be asking the question of both favourites, and could easily knock them off.

Alligator Blood almost snuck away with the Makybe Diva Stakes last start after being given a peach by Tim Clark. It was a fantastic ride and run, but he simply wasn’t good enough to outlast I’m Thunderstruck. Can he turn the tables on that horse with an extra 200m? It’s not out of the question if he can be rated perfectly again.

Zaaki is proven at distances between 1400m and 2200m. Mr Brightside and Alligator Blood have never raced beyond a mile, and I’m Thunderstruck has only tried it once for a heavy track failure. The challengers have to do it at 1800m here.

Mo’unga is certainly proven at the trip, but hasn’t found a way to capture his best in the last 12 months. He might just be a level below our best horses, given he does have Group 1 placings to the likes of Zaaki, I’m Thunderstruck and Incentivize in that period. Let’s see what he does if he can get a good track, before writing him off completely.

Nonconformist rounds out the field, and will be the despised outsider, but should still be quite competitive. He beat Zaaki home at WFA in the Caulfield Stakes last year, and then ran second in the Caulfield Cup, so has his share of class. He should settle last on the inside of I’m Thunderstruck, and don’t be surprised if he gets a look in.

How hard Zaaki goes in the first half of the race and how gradually Jamie Kah increases the pressure from there is going to be telling in this race. If she gets it right, it might mean the others can’t catch him. If she goes too slowly, or too quickly, I’m Thunderstruck and/or Mr Brightside could sail past.

And with the big long straight at Sandown Hillside, every horse is surely going to have their chance. What a race it promises to be.

Selections: 1.Zaaki 2.I’m Thunderstruck 3.Mr Brightside 4.Mo’unga

The Sandown Stakes has pulled together a quality group of gallopers to contest this Group 3 event, a mix between the hardy veterans and rising up-and-comers.

Pinstriped is one of those rising stars, capable of catching the eye like few others, as he did in the Australian Guineas when an unlucky fifth as second favourite, and also first-up when he came home like a hungry dog for dinner but just couldn’t reel in a match-fit front-runner.

Military Expert is another four-year-old that is making an impression, going two from two this spring so far. He keeps getting better every time he steps out, and makes his own luck up on the speed.

Sandown racing, baby. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Gentleman Roy is a six-year-old, but has only had 12 starts, winning six of them. He certainly looks ready to graduate to black type company, and loves to bowl along and defy all others to catch him. Mostly they don’t, and even though he was second behind a potential star first-up, he was mighty in defeat.

Dragon Leap brings the best form, with his placing in the Memsie Stakes at his first Melbourne start. It’s a race that always holds up, and so it has proven already with I’m Thunderstruck and Alligator running the quinella in the Makybe Diva Stakes. Dragon Leap split those two horses, and was also in front of Callsign Mav, who won last week’s Rupert Clarke Stakes.

Selections: 1.Dragon Leap 2.Pinstriped 3.Gentleman Roy 4.Military Expert

The other race that will capture the most attention is the Testa Rossa Stakes, in what shapes as a match-race between two highly promising gallopers.

It feels like we’ve been talking about Ayrton forever, but he’s only had the 10 starts. He was favourite for a Stradbroke Handicap after only having two starts, but never quite made the race. Then he was favourite for the Golden Eagle, but didn’t make that either.

Along the way he’s found ways to get injured, and is yet to have a truly structured preparation to show us his absolute best. Even here, he was supposed to run in the Rupert Clarke last week, but had to get put back a week after the Caulfield track took too much rain.

I With I Win has also only had 10 starts, the last of them being one of the most visually impressive wins we’ll see this spring. He sailed through a decent field as if every other horse was nailed to the fence, winning by a widening four lengths at his first Australian start. His Kiwi form has held up too.

I Wish I Win has a 2.5kg weight advantage in this race, but also a wider draw to contend with. Ayrton might be a length or two ahead of him once they settle, but should make their searching runs together down the long Sandown straight. Hopefully, we get the epic battle it promises.

Selections: 1.Ayrton 2.I Wish I Win 3.Open Minded 4.Gravina

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.