February 12, 2010

Just as the Kentucky Derby/Oaks prep races are getting underway here in the U.S., so too are 2-year-olds in Australia preparing for their Triple Crown: the G1 Golden Slipper on April 3, the April 10 G1 AJC Sires Produce Stakes, and the G1 Champagne Stakes on April 24. What makes these races so different from American 2-year-old races is not just that they are run on turf rather than dirt, but also that fillies regularly and competitively race against males at the highest level.

First run in 1957, the Golden Slipper is the youngest of the big three races, but at A$3.5 million, it is also the richest race for 2-year-olds in Australia. Since Magic Night became the first filly to win in 1961, 22 fillies have won the open company Golden Slipper, including Miss Finland, Bint Marscay (second dam of American colt Friesan Fire), and Burst, who in 1992 became the first filly (and only fifth horse) to win the Aussie two-year-old Triple Crown.

The AJC Sires Produce (first run in 1867) and Champagne (first run in 1864) are significantly older races, but with equally impressive results for fillies. In fact, since 1974, 15 fillies have won the AJC Sires Produce—that’s a win rate of over 40% —and in only eight years did a filly not fill at least one of the top three placings. Many of these winners ended up being named champion two-year-old (of both sexes) in Australia, including Fashions Afield (2005), Hasna (2003), Victory Vein (2002), Merlene (1996), Burst (1993) and Shaybisc (1980). The Champagne has shown equal success, with at least 43 filly winners in its history, 21 since 1965 alone, the latest being Samantha Miss in 2008.

This year, a number of fillies have already proven themselves worthy of fall glory, so keep your eyes on them:

Chance Bye (Snitzel, out of Rouge Femme by Red Ransom)
Two-year-old Chance Bye is undefeated in two starts, winning the Inglis Nursery on Dec 19 at Randwick, and following that up with a dominant victory in the Inglis Classic at Rosehill on Jan 23. A feel-good story with a 75-year-old multi-millionaire owner (Jack Knight) who fronted her trainer Michael Tubman A$15,000 to purchase her as a yearling and female jockey Kathy O’Hara, Chance Bye is a “dream horse” likely to be a major player leading up to the Golden Slipper. Because both of her wins were in sales-restricted races, she’ll need to earn additional money to secure a Slipper start, so Tubman is likely to start her in the G2 Silver Slipper on Feb 27.

What’s particularly interesting about her for American race fans is her third dam Warfever not only birthed the talented handicap horse Luthier Fever, but also is a half-sister to the fantastic champion mare Waya.

Military Rose (General Nediym, out of Bella Maddelena by Flying Spur)
In her short career, undefeated Military Rose has banked over A$1.3 million, with four wins including the lucrative Magic Millions 2-year-old Classic vs. open company on Jan 9. Winning that race on her Gold Coast home track was a dream come true for her trainer Gillian Heinrich, and marked another high point on jockey Stathi Katsidis’ return from injury, as well as alcohol and drug problems. After a short break, Military Rose may have only one race before the Golden Slipper, as she has earned enough in non-restricted listed races to gain a starting post.

Both her sire and damsire won the Golden Slipper. Also among her family stand-outs are: multiple-G1 winning sire Zeditave; G2 Caulfield Sprint winning sire Jet Spur; G2 Silver Slipper winner and G1 Thousand Guineas runner-up Melito; multiple-G1 South African winner Greys Inn; and sire Alannon whose one and only crop included two-time Hong Kong Sprint champion sire Falvelon.

Solar Charged (Charge Forward, out of Soul Singer by Danehill)
In her debut effort over Randwick’s Kensington track last Nov 28, Solar Charged blew away the eight-horse field, setting a new track record (57.97 for 1000 meters) in winning by five lengths with Corey Brown aboard for trainer John O’Shea. She’s been on the shelf since then, but will trial at Randwick next week, and likely next appear in either the Silver Slipper or Kindergarten Stakes, according to her trainer.

There’s not a tremendous amount of success in her immediate family, but her half-sister Causeway Queen did rattle off six wins in a row as a 3-year-old, culminating in a victory in the listed Tasmanian Oaks. Her sire Charge Forward finished second to Dance Hero in the 2004 Golden Slipper, and ended his racing career with a victory in the G1 Galaxy in 2005.

Elimbari (Fastnet Rock, out of Shalt Not by St. Covet)
This filly won her maiden effort at Rosehill on Jan 16 for trainer Kris Lees, and she has some big family shoes to fill—her dam won over A$800,000 and her three-quarter sister is one-time Golden Slipper favourite Amelia's Dream who, severely injured after her victory in the 2008 G2 Silver Slipper, never returned to the races, and is in foal to Encosta de Lago. Elimbari will next appear in the Kindergarten Stakes at Warwick Farm on March 6.

Psychologist (Choisir, out of Miss Conception by Danzero)
In her debut effort, Psychologist set a class record for 1100 meters (1:02.67), winning the Feb 6 G3 Blue Diamond Prelude Fillies in smashing style for trainer Tony Vasil and jockey Mark Zahra. Unfortunately, in the very next race, 2-year-old colt Beneteau ran .22 seconds faster in winning the G3 Blue Diamond Prelude for colts and geldings, and thus vaulted over her for favouritism for the Feb 20 G1 Blue Diamond Stakes at Caulfield.

And while it’s highly unlikely that she will run in the Australian 2-year-old Triple Crown races, I did want to mention another filly to keep your eyes on:

Banchee (Oratorio, out of Miss Jessie Jay by Spectacularphantom)
This is a 2-year-old Kiwi filly to keep on your watch list for 2010—Banchee, a half-sister to dual G1 New Zealand 1000 and 2000 Guineas winner Katie Lee, who made an impressive debut on December 14:



She followed that up with striking second-place finish in the open company G3 Eclipse Stakes on January 1, a race whose form held up when the winner Cellarmaster finished second, a long neck behind Jimmy Choux, in the G2 Wakefield Challenge Stakes on Jan 23:



On January 31, she came from dead last to finish a superb third in the open company NZ$1 million Karaka Million over six furlongs—watch her on the far outside, as she had to circle around the entire field and lost a ton of ground:



Her damsire Spectacularphantom (who died in 2003) was a son of Spectacular Bid, and, through his dam Imanative, a half-brother to G1 Arlington Classic winner Fairway Phantom and Arlington Classic runner-up Par Flite, as well as to Inreality Star, dam of the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champion Meadow Star.

Banchee’s dam Miss Jessie Jay is a half-sister to NZ-G1 Telegraph Handicap and AUS-G1 BTC Cup victress Gee I Jane. As for Banchee’s 3-year-old half-sister Katie Lee, coming off a second-place finish in the G2 NZ Bloodstock Royal Stakes on Jan 1, she finished third (less than one length behind the winner) in the G3 Desert Gold Stakes on Jan 30, and remains on target for both the March 6 G1 NZ Derby and March 20 G1 NZ Oaks.


*Just a note on race videos: New Zealand Racing is extremely active in posting videos of top races on YouTube; unfortunately, it's up to Australian fans to record and post videos of their top races. Too bad the Aussie racing authorities don't stand up and help promote the sport by making videos available.
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