There’s something special about the Autumn carnival arriving at Randwick.
The big money might be at Rosehill. But not the tradition.
Races that date back more than a century. Won by the very best. Horses, trainers and jockeys.
The Doncaster is my favourite. There’s something about a capacity field over that Randwick mile. The greats digging deep as they top the rise. Gunsynd. Super Impose back to back. Sunline. But that’s next week.
Tomorrow, be ready for a feast at headquarters. And believe it or not, it’s more than just the Black Caviar spectacular.
As well as celebrating the Sydney debut of the world’s best horse (she’ll make it 12 from 12 .. simply amazing), fans will focus on the 150th AJC Derby. It was first run in 1861. The same year as the inaugural Melbourne Cup. At the time the American Civil war was raging. England’s cricket team toured here for the first time. Dame Nellie Melba was born. And the original pilot for Hey Hey It’s Saturday was recorded.
Keen on winning a race with a 3-year-old? This is it. It’s worth plenty, but there are those who would run for the trophy alone. A few handy types have saluted over the years.
Phar Lap won in 1929. It was Jim Pike’s first victory on Big Red. There’d be plenty more.
Fast forward to ’57. Tommy Smith had a fair opinion of a horse called Tulloch. Rightly so. He won the Derby by 6 lengths, breaking Phar Lap’s track record.
What about these names through the seventies and eighties? Dulcify. Kingston Town. Strawberry Road. Bonecrusher. And then the mighty Octagonal in 1996.
Famous tales too. Old timers still speak of 1961, when Mel Schumacher was outed, after pulling the leg of a rival jockey. They happened to be hurtling down that famous straight at the time. He won the Derby but lost the protest, and ended up as one of racing’s most famous trivia questions.
There’ll be no leg pulling tomorrow. Not on track anyway. Fair to say this field is without a Phar Lap or Tulloch. But it’s still a talented bunch, ready to carve out their own bit of history.
The raging favourite Jimmy Choux blew them away last start in the Rosehill Guineas. The Kiwi has the inside gate tomorrow. That might not suit him, but connections still seem supremely confident.
I must admit I have a niggling doubt about the heavyweight jockey. He won like Pike two weeks ago. But I rarely put my hard earned on ex-jump jockeys from New Zealand, over an arduous 2400 metres.
There’s only one filly in the field, and I give her a huge chance. Trainer Danny O’Brien had no hesitation taking on the males with Shamrocker last start, and she’ll be even better tomorrow. The distance is no concern, and Glen Boss is up top. She’ll do me.
The smokie could be one trained by the bloke who’s seen more Derbys than just about anyone. I Think I Do will love the big Randwick straight after rattling home last start. Bart might need to clear some space on that groaning mantlepiece.
No matter what the result is tomorrow, the day will carry a tinge of sadness. Twelve months ago, Stathi Katsidis was celebrating more Group One success. He won the Derby on Gold Coast stayer Shoot Out. Greatness beckoned. A few months later he was dead.
There are many in the industry still scarred by the tragedy. Memories will come flooding back tomorrow. A day with so much history, that would be so much better if he was still around to be part of it.