Runners to watch: Moonee Valley, 21st January

Race 1: Benchmark 78 Handicap (1200m)

Awake In Grinzing (5th): not suited by a slowly run race, got back to last and finished off the race well but will be more effective when he gets up around a mile. Nice return, though.

Note – Gratwick had a picnic in the lead, kicked away around the turn and had enough in hand to hold off the fast-finishingMalaise and Mr Sneaky. The placegetters ran well but gave away too much start.

Race 2: Schweppes Handicap (1600m)

Note – Zasorceress ran right up to an eye-catching first run for the Weir stable with a dominant display here. Everything about the race said she wasn’t suited, tight track and trip short of her best, but she was still too good.  Stick with her, she can win again. My Obsession ran her best race this prep to run into second from Kiss Me Ketut.

Race 3: Metcash Handicap (2040m)

Note – Wheal Leisure proved that her excellent effort at Flemington on New Year’s Day was no fluke with a comprehensive win here and a gun ride.  She rounded them up by the turn then when challenged by runner-up Presscott kicked in again and pulled clear. Smart filly. Blue Ocean had every chance in third.

Race 4: Gold Star (1500m)

O’Lonera (3rd): more than pleasing return by a handy middle distance performer first-up. Settled well back, was held up before the turn but attacked the line nicely. He continues to improve through the prep so he looks in for a nice campaign.

Note – Burning Front was a weighted certainty and that’s how it panned out. He led and lobbed along at his leisure and sprinted away to a clear win. Cosmic Lights ran a much better race just clinging on from O’Lonera.

Race 5: Schweppervescence (1600m)

Note – fairly easy work for Domino Vitale, who had the run of the race and did enough to beat Hipparchus. Nice effort from a middle distance type and though he does have his convictions may pick up a race soon. King’s Command loomed up but didn’t quite finish it off.

Race 6: Schweppes Sparkling Handicap (2040m)

Cool Chap (2nd): beaten by a better horse but he’s in prime shape for the Tasmanian Cups.

Note – Big Duke continued his rise through the ranks with a very impressive win after jockey Ben Allen appeared to be caught napping a little in the middle stages when the runner-up Cool Chap pocketed him. He still proved superior and is a horse going places. Hursley improved noticeably second-up and usually holds his form when he finds it.

Race 7: Schweppes Indian Tonic (1000m)

Manolo Blahniq (5th): attacked the line with plenty of purpose from last in a promising first-up effort.  He took on the best three-year-olds in the spring and wasn’t entirely disgraced and in the right grade can pick up races this time in.

Note –  a brave, rails hugging ride from Mark Zahra on Lady Esprit who always travelled well and the run came in time for her to drive through and nail a game Sunday Escape and Runsati in the last couple of strides.

Race 8: Sandwich Chefs Handicap (1200m)

Note – in a driving finish Smart Dart arrived in time to tip out Rock ‘N’ Gold with Devils Pinch, ridden a bit more conservatively, fading late after hitting the lead early in the straight. These horses are well exposed.

Race 9: Jacob Schweppes Handicap (1200m)

Note – Ameristralia did a good job to win after sitting wide better than midfield. She finished the race off strongly and whileGrey Street did get close she held him with the leader Prussian Vixen sticking on for third. Ameristralia was second-up here and don’t be surprised if she’s competitive at mares Group level in the next month.