Who better to preview the Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap than our own Queensland superstar, The Professor.
Over to you, Prof…
No rain to speak of recently in Brisbane, and the Eagle Farm track is currently rated a Good 4 with 1.5mm of rain in the last 7 days and no irrigation. There doesn’t look to be any significant rain coming before the race either, so I’ll be very surprised if we’re not racing on a Good 4 or better.
It’ll be a very different scenario with the track bias compared to last year’s Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm. What was once a strong on-fence bias looks to have gone the other way, with the track consistently chopping up now. The last meeting here was May 23rd and though you could settle on the fence and win, it became clear as the meeting progressed that the best going was out wide and most runners were coming well off the fence in the straight. I’m expecting horses drawn in middle and wide gates to be finding the best ground in the straight.
Stradbroke Handicap: Pace
The Stradbroke Handicap is usually a fast-run affair, so I’m not expecting a slow tempo. But there doesn’t look to be a great deal of speed in the race on paper. It’s very hard to see the race being run at the same break-neck speed as last year, and I think we can expect one of the more moderately run Stradbrokes in recent times.
Stradbroke Handicap: runner-by-runner
1. Trekking (J Cummings / M Cahill)
Barrier 22, 58kg
Looking to go back-to-back. Won comfortably last year, settling well back from the very fast tempo and running home best in the straight. Form this prep has been very good, most recently winning the Goodwood in Adelaide. Won’t get the same tempo to set him up out front and does carry 4kg more this year, but the Goodwood looks the best lead-up form in the race to my eye.
2. Kementari (J Cummings / R Maloney)
Barrier 10, 55.5kg
Two runs this prep in Queensland and has not been suited, getting back against slow tempos. Worked strongly enough to the line last start in the Victory Stakes when one of the more disadvantaged by the tempo. Might get a more suitable tempo here. Do think he is just a length or two off the level required to win this type of race.
3. Niccanova (S Tregea, J Orman)
Barrier 17, 53.5kg
Might have been the most disadvantaged runner in the Victory Stakes – trapped three-deep with cover settling six or more lengths off the leader in a very slowly run race. Ran home very strongly to only be beaten 1.3 lengths by Victorem. Drawn wide again so a chance to be caught deep, but may find the best part of the track. One of the roughies I’m definitely interested in.
4. Ranier (J Cummings, L Cassidy)
Barrier 19, 53kg
Admittedly not a horse I know a lot about. Winner of his last two starts in Sydney but looks to have had everything in his favour on both occasions. Doesn’t look like he gets everything his own way here and with no disrespect to anyone, Hugh Bowman jumping off is not a positive jockey change..
5. Victorem (J Graham, D Smith)
Barrier 9, 52.5kg
Very hard to ignore him here. Winner of the Victory Stakes last start, and what caught my eye was that he actually jumped in front and settled midfield rather than at the back. He drops 4kg after that win as well. Ratings suggest he probably is a bit below Group 1 level, but if he jumps well and settles midfield in a slowly run race then he could be a handful late.
6. Tyzone (A & T Edmonds, R Fradd)
Barrier 21, 52.5kg
Also out of the Victory Stakes – was also back and wide against a slow tempo and ran home very strongly with fastest last 200m split of the meeting. Can run a figure that is up to winning this race. Will be spotting some very good gallopers a lead though – likely settles very close to last from barrier 21.
7. Crack Me Up (Bjorn Baker, J Huxtable)
Barrier 11, 53kg
Ran home strongly from the back of the field at Randwick last start in his first run for Bjorn Baker. His best form is probably good enough to win – but you need to go back a couple of years to find that form. Don’t think I’m quite ready to put my faith in J Huxtable in a Group 1 race.
8. Vega One (T Gollan, J Byrne)
Barrier 20, 52kg
I thought the run two starts back in the BRC Sprint was better than it seemed and though he was trapped wide in the Victory Stakes, was still disappointing considering how easily a lot of the horses he lines up against here went past him. A candidate to be trapped wide again from barrier 20. I couldn’t be with him.
9. Chief Ironside (K Lees, C Bayliss)
Barrier 14, 52kg
Big jump in grade from the Scone Cup. Apart from one standout performance at Moonee Valley looks well below the grade here.
10. Graff (K Lees, S Cormack)
Barrier 11, 53.5kg
Current form doesn’t look good enough. Can be close to the speed from barrier 2 but likely in the worst part of the track in the straight. Not for me.
11. Deep Image (R Heathcote, S Thornton)
Barrier 18, 51.5kg
Only beaten 0.1 lengths in the BRC Sprint and 1.3 lengths in the Victory Stakes, but had every possible chance on both of those occasions. Doesn’t seem to be in the same form he was last prep and I’m happy to risk him here.
12. Winter Bride (A & T Edmonds, J Bayliss)
Barrier 16, 51kg
Had every possible chance when she led the slowly-run Victory Stakes last start and couldn’t hold off the swoopers. Hard to see her turning that around here.
13. Madam Rouge (C Waller, J Taylor)
Barrier 13, 51kg
Looks a few lengths off the level required to win.
14. Outback Barbie (T Gollan, M Du Plessis)
Barrier 8, 51kg
Does have the ability to run a figure that wins a standard Stradbroke Handicap, let alone this slightly lower quality affair. Has been disappointing this prep though. But will be well placed from barrier 8 and carrying only 51kg so I’m not completely throwing her out.
15. Bam’s On Fire (C Maher & D Eustace, T Harrison)
Barrier 1, 51kg
Was only beaten two lengths in the Robert Sangster when ridden upside down, but the figures out of that race were only modest . Prior run at Caulfield she had all the favours leading in a slowly run race. Can lead from barrier 1 but don’t think that will be an advantage given how the track is likely to play. Happy to risk her.
16. Dawn Passage (G Waterhouse & A Bott, J Innes)
Barrier 23, 50kg
Current favourite. Won twice impressively in Sydney before coming up to Queensland and winning comfortably as a short-priced favourite at Doomben last week. Looks to have the ability to win at this level. Well set up on the quick back-up and carries 7.5kg less than weight-for-age. Is drawn out in the carpark but I think he can actually settle in a reasonable spot given there isn’t a lot of pace in the race. Will be well in my market but I don’t know that there is much value in the current price.
17. Hightail (P & P Snowden, B Spriggs)
Won the Gold Coast Guineas last start over 1200m in what was a high rating race. Settled just off of a fast pace and ran home strongly to score narrowly. This is a jump in grade but if he can reproduce the rating he ran last start, he’ll be around the mark. Drawn nicely in barrier 5 to be just off the pace and expect to run home strong again.
18. Exhilarates (J Cummings, T Marshall)
Barrier 4, 49.5kg
Has to turn around recent results against Hightail and Dawn Passage. Did appear to have every possible chance to beat those horses at her last 2 starts. Did like the way she went to the line last start against Dawn Passage and can get a cosy trip from barrier 4.
19. Baccarat Baby (D Vandyke, M Hellyer)
Barrier 3, 51kg
At her very best is capable of winning this but has been well short of that mark so far this prep and I find it hard to see her winning.
20. Brave Song (P & P Snowden, TBA)
Barrier 21, 51kg
Recent form has been well below level required to win this. Would be surprised to see him in the finish.
21. Bandipur (K Purdy, TBA)
Barrier 7, 51kg
Has run some competitive races in Group races in Victoria but don’t like the set up – 1100m up to 1400m, especially when the 1400m is already a query. Drawn to get a nice run but don’t think a genuine winning chance.
22. Military Zone (P & P Snowden, TBA)
Barrier 15, 51kg
Unlikely to get a run but looks a few lengths off the pace.
23. Delectation Girl (K Lees, TBA)
Barrier 6, 51kg
Needs to improve out of sight to be competitive.
Summary & Tips
Obviously the reduced prizemoney and COVID-19 crisis means this is not quite up to the standard of a normal Stradbroke Handicap, but nonetheless looks an interesting race.
History suggests that to find a Stradbroke Handicap winner you want to look for a horse carrying well below weight-for-age who can get a soft run off the speed and finish off strongly. Most of the field fit the first criteria and yet I think the horse that is carrying the closest to WFA looks the best hope here. Trekking’s lead up form through the Goodwood looks stronger than what other main chances are coming through. He is just about the only horse in the race that has consistently shown the ability to run a rating that is good enough to win at this level – which probably explains why he is a multiple Group 1 winner. I have him marked favourite in an open race.
Of the others, Hightail and Niccanova are the two that I think represent some value at current prices.