With the autumn festival of racing in Melbourne coming to a spectacular close on the weekend with the running of The Australian Cup, we now head into April with an air of excitement and expectation.
April is Sydney’s time to shine with the running of The Championships, the grand finals of horse racing. With time-honoured events and many unique condition races, Sydney’s autumn carnival now rivals any festival in the world regarding quality, Group status, and prize-money.
Let’s hope the rain stays away! Death, taxes, and a wet Sydney autumn!
doncaster handicap - 1600m
randwick - april 1
The Doncaster Mile, known officially as the Doncaster Handicap or unofficially as ‘The Donny’, is a gruelling Group 1 1600m event raced under handicap conditions. A hard and fast Doncaster usually results in a good 2000m horse taking the chocolates or a rock-hard-fit three-year-old carrying a feather down the bottom end of the scale. With winners including Super Impose, Sunline, and more recently Winx, the famous Randwick Mile is one event all trainers, owners, and jockeys want to win.
The 2023 edition looks the most even in recent memory. Mr Brightside will head the betting markets after a stunning All-Star Mile win. The defending champion hasn’t been missed this time around by the handicapper, however, on recent form, it would take a brave person to write him off.
Zougotcha looks poised to strike after a second-up romp in the Group 2 Phar Lap stakes. She was brave fresh in the Group 1 Surround after a setback, and will get her chance with the light allocated weight. The Chris Waller stable is flying, and as always, his team will feature heavily throughout The Championships.
Bandersnatch looks over the odds. Despite sitting wide in transit, he was too strong late for his Group 3 Doncaster Prelude rivals. I expect him to threaten on the quick backup, and the Hawk’s polish must be respected!
tj smith stakes - 1200m
randwick - april 1
The TJ Smith Stakes is a Group 1 weight-for-age event contested over 1200m. The event named after the legendary trainer Tommy Smith, who won an incredible 33 Sydney training premierships between 1952 to 1985, now attracts Australia’s best sprinters fighting over the $3,000,000 on offer.
The great Mahogany won the race’s first edition in 1997, and prior was known as the Endeavour Stakes. The 2023 edition is the most anticipated of the modern era!
The Champion Nature Strip aims to create history by becoming the first horse to win four consecutive TJ Smith Stakes. Our sprinting king has now officially lost his mojo, and he has had his colours lowered in his last three starts. It is more concerning that he has been the first one off the bit on all occasions. Champions rarely lose three in a row, nor are they ridden a long way from home viscously. With that being said, you write off a champion at your peril, and this could be a fitting swansong. I don’t think he can win, however, it would be a great victory for racing if he salutes.
Still trying to figure out how they can beat the new kid on the block, the Everest Champion, Giga Kick. Admittedly his barrier manners are a concern, however, he still has natural improvement to come, and he oozes raw ability. His first-up run was eye-catching against a track bias, and his jumpouts leading into this event have been blistering. If he puts it all together on the day, he is the one to beat.
Private Eye returned to racing in fine style in the Newmarket Handicap. He was never a winning chance, however, he savaged the line late, and he put the writing on the wall for a second-up tilt. If they go too fast on top of the speed, he can gobble them up late.
Add the untapped I Wish I Win, Newmarket Handicap winner In Secret, and the consistent Mazu, this is the TJ Smith for the ages.
queen elizabeth stakes - 200m
randwick - april 8th
The $4,000,000 Queen Elizabeth Stakes, formerly known as the Queen’s Plate, AJC Plate, and AJC King’s Cup, is now Australia’s third richest WFA race (after The Cox Plate and The Everest). The 2000m event has attracted international runners since the prize money was increased in 2014. With an honour roll including Phar Lap and Peter Pan, this is one of the unofficial grand slam races on the Australian racing calendar.
Anamoe versus Dubai Honour could be the match race of 2023. Anamoe, the most winningest Group 1 horse from Goldphin, should now be mentioned in the same breath as So You Think after his last 12 months of racing. His spring was breathtaking, and his autumn has somehow been better. His last-start win in the Group 1 George Ryder was outrageous, sitting three wide with no cover, and he had no right to figure in the finish. Winners keep on winning, and champions know where the line is.
Dubai Honour is here to spoil the party. The William Haggas-trained five-year-old gelding showed a devastating turn of foot to claim the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes, and he looks the likely danger to the ‘Big A’. He brings world-class form to Sydney; if the rain arrives, this will be a thrilling contest.
sydney cup - 3200m
randwick - april 8th
The Sydney Cup was rejuvenated in conjunction with the birth of The Championships. The 3200m handicap that once lived in the shadows of its spring equivalent, The Melbourne Cup, is now a high-quality feature in its own right. With a purse of $2,000,000 on offer, International raiders set their sights on this race every year.
This race has a rich history dating back to the 1850s, and it played an integral role in introducing and growing thoroughbred racing during the colonial period.
Heading the markets for this year’s edition is Cleveland. The Joseph O’Brien-trained five-year-old ran home gamely in the Group 1 Tancred Stakes at his Australian debut, and the 3200m second-up looks ideal. He has raced in some of the best races in the world, and a peak performance would make him incredibly hard to beat. If he is presented with a heavy track, I am unsure they can beat him.
Out of the local contingency, King Frankel looks ready for the gruelling two-mile event. He was brave in the Tancred, where he went for the doctor too early, and he should be rock-hard fit for this stage of his preparation. Track conditions and barriers will play an essential role for the talented Frankel gelding.
the quokka - 1200m
ascot - april 15th
The inaugural running of The Quokka adds spices to an already hot April! The Quokka, a similar concept to the Everest, is a 1200m slot race held at Ascot in Western Australia.
The Quokka has a total purse of $4,000,000 and is held under the weight-for-age scale. With only 14 slots up for grabs ($200,000 each), The Quokka will be one competitive affair!
The William Reid winner Imperatriz heads an all-star field, and she will be incredibly hard to beat if she can produce her customary turn of foot. Her form in New Zealand is first-class, and her two starts in Australia have been exceptional.
Oakleigh plate hero Uncommon James will attempt to take his white-hot form west after three stunning performances this campaign. He will have a lot of fans after a luckless last-start run at Randwick, and the camp will be determined to make amends after seeing another Group 1 slip through his hooves. The 1200m is ideal at this stage of his preparation, and a peak performance isn’t far away.
Bella Nipotina is too consistent to leave out of winning conversations. Her run behind Imperatiz was eye-catching, and her win in The Group 1 Manikato during the spring was breathtaking. She is a 1200m specialist, ready to explode this campaign.
Australasian oaks - 2000m
morphettville - april 29th
As April draws to a close, the racing spotlight heads to Adelaide for the running of the Australasian Oaks. The Group 1 event for three-year-old fillies is contested at set weights over 2000 metres. The event that was first run in 1982 has a rich honour board, and it holds significant importance for mares heading to the breeding barn post-racing.
With $500,000 on offer and valuable black type up for grabs, the competitiveness of this race each year is extreme. Favourites traditionally play a role, with 50% winning over the last two decades, and it provides an important platform for future career performances.
With no standout favourite for the 2023 edition, the Schweppervescence
And Port Adelaide Guineas will be our best form guide and reference leading into the event.
One thing is certain; interstate raiders will cross the border hoping to pinch the time-honoured event.
If you thought March was exciting, April might leave you speechless.