Todd’s Spring Preview

By Todd Burmester

Spring has sprung!

There are plenty of thrills all year round for many punters, but to say you don’t get that bit of extra adrenaline at this time of year when you consider what lies ahead surely would be kidding yourself.

When I think of the Spring carnival, I think firstly of the Cox Plate. For me, it sits as ‘the greatest two minutes in sport’ without doubt. I know that phrase isn’t mine as an original, but it sure resonates. The Cups, I see as the biggest ‘challenge’. There is so much build up and hype, that to have a go at identifying the winners nice and early, and to pull off that challenge on occasion really is satisfying. Lastly, you have the attraction of some big sprint and mile races that can be as open as the Sydney Heads as well as seeing what the calibre of the latest 3 year old crop is at the elite level.

Is your mouth watering yet?

That’s enough of an introduction let’s get down to business. Having seen a few weeks of early Spring racing now, it’s time see what those early races, combined with some prior knowledge can tell us in terms of forecasting what is to come.

Let’s talk firstly about the Cox Plate.

All pointers suggest Winx has a mortgage on it, and it would be a brave or silly man to predict otherwise. She’s not been beaten for 11 straight runs, and her first up win smashed the sectionals clock. You’d assume she can only improve. The x-factor is the missed run that was planned second up. The reality is, they are not machines. Her mortgage on the race will be cemented after her second up run if she is able to be equally impressive over the mile, after a four week break. If she’s beaten, maybe the door is slightly ajar for her rivals. To me, the obvious value at the moment is Hartnell at around $15, who smashed a field of mainly stayers in his latest run. If Winx were to be beaten second up, or for whatever reason doesn’t make it to the Cox Plate, a ticket at $15 with the name Hartnell on it surely will feel pretty good on race day.

Moving on to the Cups and realistically, picking the winner of those this far out is a lottery, and to have a serious punt would be a mugs game. I always recommend a couple of spec bets simply for the challenge. For this reason, I am not going to review a stack of runners, but rather, look at the key runs I’ve noticed early in the spring that suggested to me that horses are ‘on song’ for their cups assault.

I’ve mentioned Hartnell already. He’s well found in the market for both Cups, as well as the Cox Plate. I’m not sure which way he will go, but such is the class of this animal that he will be in the finish of any of the races he runs in. More and more the Cups are becoming an event where classy WFA horses fit the bill, more so than the days when dour handicappers were what you needed.

Three runners that I believe have impressed in their early starts this campaign are The United States, Tosen Stardom and Our Ivanhowe. Apart from their early form this campaign, I love the fact they are imports who have shown strong form in Australia last campaign, and are now further acclimatised and ready to really reach their potential. Does Fiorente ring a bell?

From the point of view of the local horses (not previously imported), I can’t get Signoff’s 4th in the Cup of two years ago out of my mind. He’s had setbacks since, but clearly is a galloper with more than his fair share of ability, and D K Weir seems to be able to get rocking horses to win races. I’d consider this horse a big chance.

The ones I’d be happy to risk are Tarzino, Jameka and Preferment who haven’t convinced me with their early form this campaign.

To give full disclosure, I have very limited knowledge of the imported runners who will come over simply for a Cups raid, but will stick to the rule that I will only come into one of them if they have at least one Australian run first. If one or more of them impresses in a lead up race, they will go into the mix.

What else has the early Spring form told us about other coming winners?

The Makybe Diva Stakes told us two things. Palentino is a serious Group 1 horse who will win another at that level this campaign, and that Black Heart Bart should be kept to 1400m, and if he is stretched out beyond 1600m he will not be a winning chance at Group 1 level.

In the three-year old ranks, two horses that have had strong early form, have the ‘look’ of Derby horses to me. They are Throssell and Rocketeer. Both come from smart yards and I am keen to follow their progress. Over the shorter distances, a three-year-old named Wazzenme continues to run well and looks progressive.

The Caulfield Guineas is the other jewel in the crown for three-year-olds, and Astern is atop of the market and I deny anyone to argue with that. His Golden Rose win was outstanding, making his rivals that day look second rate, and they were not second rate horses at all. The only question mark for me over him winning the Guineas is whether he can put in two peak runs this campaign. I believe he can.

The Thousand Guineas is for the fairer sex three-year-olds, and again through the Golden Rose form, Omei Sword finds herself as favourite. I think that is fair, but am not convinced she is the same quality as Astern. At about $12 in this market, I liked the run of Sebring Dream recently, and am keen to follow her progress to this race, and will be surprised if she is $12 on the day.

The sprinting ranks are the last to mention. The horse I want to comment on is Voodoo Lad. Nobody missed his win recently at Moonee Valley where he looked like Bernborough and Tulloch all wrapped into one. I think he can make the grade in higher class races, but the word of warning I have is his tendency to over race. I believe this was worse when he raced up the straight at Flemington, so I will only entertain him in the harder races if they are around a corner. Having said all of the above, if they shoot too high and he meets a horse named Chautaqua, I know where I want my money, and it’s not on Voodoo Lad.

My closing comments are not about horses, general pointers to follow. A few tried and true form patterns that I recommend are:

  • Follow the form out of the Turnbull Stakes as a key pointer to the ‘big 3’.
  • The Vase still is the best guide to the Derby
  • Don’t back an import in the Melbourne Cup that hasn’t started in Australia
  • Good jockeys are even more important in big races

Enjoy the spring and good punting!