Group 1 preview and tips

Last week saw the return of Group 1 racing for the 2022-23 season, with the Winx Stakes being won by Anamoe in Sydney.

Most pleasing was that four-year-olds filled the first four places across the line, which indicates that last season’s three-year-old crop will add great depth to the weight-for-age ranks this racing year.

Now it’s Victoria’s turn to see racing at the highest level, with the Memsie Stakes at Caulfield.

Only two four-year-olds will greet the starter, Lightsaber and Illation, but there are a handful of five and six year-olds that have had fewer than 15 starts and can still be considered untapped, plus a couple of others like I’m Thunderstruck and Duais that haven’t reached their potential yet.

We could be on the version of a classic WFA season with a host of chances, and the Memsie appears to be a reflection of that. Of the 14-horse field, 12 are first-up, and nine have run in the quinella at Group 1 level in their last two starts, with many of them winning.

The market can’t split three horses at this stage of the week, with Alligator Blood, Western Empire and Illation all fighting for favouritism around the $5.50-$6 mark.

What a storied career Alligator Blood has had – a nose second in the Caulfield Guineas and winner of the Australian Guineas at three, disqualified from the Magic Millions in a doping scandal, only racing three times as a four-year-old amid ownership disputes, multiple training changes, and then almost appearing from nowhere to win the Stradbroke just over two months ago.

Western Empire is similarly fascinating. A five-year-old with only 13 starts, he’s won seven of his last nine but has only raced three times in the last 16 months. One of those was one of the most dominant Railway wins this century, and we know the Bob Peters horses from Perth usually catch fire on the eastern states.

When was the last time a four-year-old with only three starts competed in the Memsie, let alone opened favourite? The unbeaten Illation is that horse and good judges will be tipping him despite his career thus far consisting of a maiden in Pakenham, and a couple of listed races in Adelaide, all back in April and May.

(AAP Image/Scott Barbour)

Gosh, what an incredible trio it is at the top of the market.

Cascadian is the hardy WFA warrior that the more hyped horses have to take down. A winner of the All Aged and Doncaster in his time, he’s also run top five in Group 1 races another 12 times during his career. He ran fourth in this race two years ago and resuming in the Winx Stakes last year was only beaten half a length.

Like Cascadian, Tofane is also the tried-and-true. Her Group 1 1400m record is stunning – four wins and three placings from seven starts. They’ve tried to retire her off a few times, but she just keeps coming back and winning. Has she got one more in her? With three trials leading in, she won’t be wanting for fitness.

I’m Thunderstruck was the rising star last year and he confirmed those expectations with his wins in the Toorak Handicap and Golden Eagle. While not winning in the autumn, he ran second in the All-Star Mile and Doncaster, and gives every impression he has another level to go to. The question here is just whether he’ll need the run.

Snapdancer took out her first Group 1 with the Sangster back in April, and backed it up with a second in the Tiara at Eagle Farm. She can go pretty quick, and if rated well enough to keep running strongly at the end of 1400m against this calibre of opposition, she can win without surprising.

Duais might be the best WFA horse in Australia, and is seen here at $21. Obviously she has made her name over longer distances than 1400m, but we’ve seen many a high quality middle-distance horse take out Group 1 wins at shorter trips due to quality alone. Don’t write her off.

One of the best non-winning runs during the entire autumn carnival was by Lightsaber in the Australian Guineas. He rode a hot speed during the race, yet was still there standing while the backmakers came from everywhere, with only a freak talent in Hitotsu getting past him. He’s a big price at $34 if he can reproduce something similar and/or has developed during his spell.

Of the remaining horses, Nonconformist hasn’t been seen since his second in the Caulfield Cup last year, and will run well without threatening. Callsign Mav has a bit to prove in Australia. Elephant seems to be below the level. Zeyrek is too, but will look for longer races to make his mark. Dragon Leap might win easier races, but this looks too tough.

They won’t dilly-dally up front on Saturday. Snapdancer is always leading, or just off. Callsign Mav is the same. Alligator Blood has been a front-runner in the past, and Waterhouse & Bott like them that way. Lightsaber will be somewhere thereabouts, with Western Empire and Elephant not far away, and Tofane won the Orr Stakes at Caulfield earlier this year by leading.

Selections: 1. I’m Thunderstruck 2. Snapdancer 3. Alligator Blood 4. Lightsaber