The Armchair Punter takes aim at the Hill Stakes and Chautauqua

Stephen Brassel - Wednesday October 4

I'm a bit slow out the barriers this week with The Armchair Punter column but there's still plenty on my mind and one thing which really got me going was the $500,000 debacle called the Hill Stakes while I'm also seriously doubting whether Chautauqua can win The Everest.

Was the Hill Stakes worth a $500,000 carrot? In a word NO! Photo: Steve Hart


Last Saturday's Epsom meeting turned out exactly as anticipated with regards to the quality of the Hill Stakes field and nobody at racing HQ should be surprised.

As I wrote back at the beginning of July under the heading; 'Can Australian racing handle concurrent carnivals?'

In part the article read; "With Racing NSW and the ATC announcing major prizemoney increases for the spring carnival the gloves are well and truly off to attract the elite horses but the big question is; 'Does this benefit the overall Australian racing industry?'.

"The major prizemoney increases come at Randwick on September 30 and the showpiece The Everest meeting on October 14 and, while it's obviously fantastic for participants you've got to question just where the depth of talent will come from?

"Epsom Day, on September 30, sees the $1m feature, the $750,000 Metropolitan and the $500,000 Hill Stakes.

"So here we have the new look Hill Stakes, bolstered by an extra $300,000 being run at WFA over 1800m, a day prior to the Underwood Stakes over 1800m at Caulfield.

"On what we've seen over the past few years there just isn't the depth of talent to feed both Sydney and Melbourne and the effect will be a sub-standard race somewhere, which shouldn't be the case when they are racing for such big prizemoney.

"We've only got a limited pool of top end talent and that being the case the quality gallopers will only stretch so far."

Three months later and the Hill Stakes was run and won on Saturday to a collective yawn and, to put it bluntly, the race was a $500,000 joke. Good luck to Gary Moore and the connections of Classic Uniform who picked up the $287,000 first prize but the horse who finished second was Embley, a 91-rater.

Two runs earlier Embley had won a Benchmark 83 and he followed up with a Benchmark 90 win. In the past the Hill Stakes, when run at Rosehill, was a great lead up race to some of the big Group I events of the spring.

It was won by Saintly en route to the 1996 Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup and other notables included Gunsynd, Super Impose, Bernborough, Redcraze, Peter Pan and Phar Lap, and that's just naming a few.

The Hill Stakes was a great race however, in recent years has lost caste so in their infinite wisdom the powers that be decided to give it a major financial facelift and a distance change to 1800m, but it was for all for the wrong reasons. The prizemoney rise and distance change were specifically to entice the Winx camp to bring the champion mare along for the day.

Connections of Embley scratched that horse from the Epsom to run in the much easier Hill Stakes and were rewarded with a $94,000 second prize. Good luck to them, they made the right decision.

The bottom line is we had nine moderates contending a $500,000 Hill Stakes while the Epsom only had 14 acceptors and ended up with 10 runners after four scratchings, including Embley.

A day later at Caulfield we saw the $750,000 Underwood Stakes, a 'real' WFA contest with a heap of Group I performers going on show, it put the Hill Stakes to shame.

Take a look at where the Hill Stakes runners were in their respective spring preparations, Classic Uniform had six starts this time in going to the race while Embley had five, there were four others who were only third-up and the other three were having their second runs back from a spell.

Hardly looked like too many were seriously targeting the race as would befit a $500,000 event.

The decision to lift the Hill Stakes prizemoney to $500,000 and run it against the Epsom was ludicrous. It was all for the sake of one horse and she never even turned up for the party!

And nobody wanted to bet on the race. Just having a quick look at the NSW tote the jolly green giant held just $277,000 on the win pool compared with the Benchmark 90 which closed off the meeting which held $392,000.

Sure it was race four and we all know there's more money invested late in the day but the interest in the race was more befitting of a normal Saturday middle distance handicap, which is exactly what it was, but with a Group II standing and $500,000 in prizemoney.


Everyone seems to be glowing in their praise of how Chautauqua has come up this preparation with everything pointing to the champion sprinter being 'spot on' for his upcoming assignment in The Everest. But really, is he going that well?

In the Premiere Stakes on Saturday he ran on strongly but still only finished a half-length behind Ball Of Muscle and a half-length in front of Kuro and where would those two be in The Everest betting, 100/1 chances at best!

And what of $151 chance Pumpkin Pie, she finished only a length behind the champ and would be 1,000/1 in the big race.

At his first-up outing the great grey charged home to finish seventh of nine behind Redzel but was only 1.2 lengths in front of country galloper After All That, whose previous two runs before spelling were unplaced efforts at Tamworth and Scone.

It's hardly a formline screaming 'back me' on October 14, but I will concede Chautauqua has proven plenty wrong in the past but I'll put my hand up and declare you can leave me out of him winning The Everest.


After watching the Moir Stakes then the Flight Stakes and Thousand Guineas Prelude over the weekend I couldn't help but feel the Sydney fillies have it all over their Melbourne counterparts or for that matter any interstate opposition.

When Catchy won the Blue Diamond in such brilliant fashion she held the mantle as the 'top girl' but come Golden Slipper day and She Will Reign ploughed through the heavy ground to win impressively.

So let's forget the two-year-old form and start again as three-year-olds and, following the performances of both She Will Reign and Alizee on the weekend I reckon the girls mantle now sits well and truly north of the border in NSW.

She Will Reign looked a superstar in the making when winning the Moir Stakes at the Valley against the older horses but Alizee also looked something special winning the Flight Stakes at Randwick a day later.

I couldn't believe it was the same horse I backed a few runs earlier for minor placings but now she's getting over a touch more ground and, more importantly being ridden a bit more patiently, the daughter of Sepoy is starting to excel, she's a star.

Booker won the Caulfield Guineas Prelude from Shoals and Catchy on Sunday but, on what we saw at Randwick on Saturday, those girls down south will be in serious trouble when they come up against the Godolphin filly.


Not much I can say about Pat Webster which hasn't already been said but I've got to throw my two bobs worth in anyway after he won the Epsom with Happy Clapper.

Seeing him win the historic race on Saturday was one of the biggest thrills I've had in racing over nearly 60 years of being around the Sport Of Kings and watching him being congratulated by so many when he walked to the winners stall showed just how much he is loved.

Pat is one of the most genuine, decent, fair dinkum people you would ever meet and he's done so much for others without any fanfare but his name never gets thrust into the spotlight because he's never wanted it that way.

It has taken a long time for Pat to win that elusive Group I but I reckon that makes the whole story even better.

Here's to Pat, you're a champion and may that second Group I be just around the corner.


In Her Time has come along rapidly in the past 12 months and, after missing a berth in The Everest you'd have to question is she becoming Australia's most unlucky horse?

After winning three straight in Sydney she was far from disgraced in the Coolmore over the Slipper carnival before heading to Brisbane for three Group I outings when she was trapped wide on each occasion and arguably she should have won at least one of those races.

Benjamin Smith produced the mare ready to go first-up in the Premiere Stakes last Saturday and she dually saluted with racecaller Darren Flindell declaring "she's off to The Everest". But no, the slot holders looked elsewhere.

She'll be an absentee from the big race unless something unforeseen happens along the way and she gets a call up off the bench but if she did find her way into the field she'd be a more than capable addition to the field.

After all, in winning the Premiere Stakes first-up last Saturday she did beat English, Clearly Innocent, Chautauqua and Fell Swoop who are all slotted to run in the $10m race.


There's not many trainers who can boast a 100% strike rate at Randwick this season but Wyong trainer Wayne Seelin is running along at just that rate.

His evergreen seven-year-old Isorich has been Seelin's only representative at headquarters this season winning on both occasions he's made the trip down the Pacific Highway.

He's an incredible horse old Isorich as everyone seems to love him but he's still a 'quaddie killer' winning five races in town over the past 15 months at odds of $13, $41, $16 and his last two at $21.

Will we ever learn?


Murray Baker and his training partner Andrew Forsman certainly know how to win a race in Australia and with Bonneval there's no doubt they have one capable of winning just about anything.

The beauty with her is she's capable on all ground, goes left and right-handed and has won between 1600m and 2400m, plus she's getting better every time she goes around.

After a few impressive wins in New Zealand she blitzed them in the Australian Oaks on a heavy track in the autumn and has taken her game to another level winning her only two starts at Group level in Australia this Spring on good tracks.

Provided she gets even luck in the Caulfield Cup, Bonneval is clearly the one to beat with only 52.5kg and who's to say she then wouldn't go on and make it the ultimate double in the Melbourne Cup.

She may even become the one to give champion Winx a run for her money should they eventually go head-to-head.


Land Of Plenty has had a stack of chances but he's a pretty smart commodity and if everything goes right for him one day there a big race to be won.

His three runs this time in have all been good including a third behind Redkirk Warrior and Scales Of Justice at Flemington but it was his effort in Sunday's Group I Rupert Clarke Stakes which really caught my eye.

Trapped wide throughout he was entitled to drop out from the turn but he fought bravely to the line only beaten three lengths behind Santa Ana Lane.

He may have won only one race from 12 starts but there's a good race around the corner for this Grahame Begg-trained four-year-old.


Mackintosh was a well backed favourite in a below-par Hill Stakes on Saturday but the five-year-old let his supporters down badly and I doubt they'll be charging in again anytime soon.

That was his third start back from a spell and, after tracking the leader, and eventual winner Classic Uniform to the turn, he was disappointing finishing third.

There have been good wraps on the Chris Waller-trained gelding since an impressive three-year-old winter season and a win in the Theo Marks Stakes 12 months ago but since then he has been in the market on most occasions but just can't deliver.

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