Glorious Guineas day at Caulfield with something for everyone
David Jennings admires the differences of a big raceday in Melbourne
The Racing Post has dispatched Ireland correspondent David Jennings to Australia for a month-long assignment to cover the Spring Carnival, building up to its highlight, the world-famous Melbourne Cup, on November 7 at Flemington. Keep up to date with all the news, sights and sounds from a unique occasion over the coming weeks in his bulletins at racingpost.com
I struggled to spell Caulfield on Saturday morning, but within a few hours I had become an expert on the track which opened in 1859 and was home to the brilliant Black Caviar.
This new-found knowledge is down to Josh Rodder, the track's racing and media executive, who agrees to a guided tour before the stalls open for the ten-race marathon on Guineas day. You follow, you listen, you learn. And, every so often, you wonder why on earth do we not copy some of the ideas in Ireland and Britain?
There are six separate tracks. Yes, six. Three of them are grass, two sand and one synthetic Polytrack. We're racing on the outer grass track later. "It's basically a speed track," says Rodder as we ramble down the home straight, which is flatter than the pancake I scoffed for breakfast. Wouldn't fancy mowing the grass, though.
"The grass is long, isn't it?" says the tour guide, who goes on to explain why. "It's because the track is sand-based and we try to keep the grass as long as possible for drainage purposes and to ensure we never race on heavy ground."
It needs to be durable too. Between 4am and 9.30am every single morning 520 horses work on the track.
The pre-parade ring is quaint and has trees towering over it. This is the sleepy corner of Caulfield. The partying takes place at the opposite end of the track where The Temper Trap will play later in the evening.
There are food vans everywhere. You won't go hungry here. Or thirsty. Plenty of Pimm's around, champagne is flowing and there is even a Carlton and United Breweries bar serving the freshest beer you can buy. It is as fresh as beer can be, we're told. Only made on Thursday. Untouched and unbelievably tasty. It is not even noon yet. Careful now, David. Don't dirty your bib just yet.
There is something for everyone, especially owners. We could certainly learn a thing or two about the way owners are treated. Rodder explains that even those who only own a nostril hair of a horse receive a gold card and can come racing for free. There are specific areas for owners dotted all around the enclosures and the buffet provided for them looks incredibly tasty. How could I be starving? Breakfast is not long over.
Picnics are particularly popular. A Jennings picnic usually consists of a bedsheet, a cheese sandwich and a carton of milk. Not in Australia. They have blankets that royalty could sleep under. There are buckets with ice for wine, beer and I even spotted some Moet. The food is fancy too. Crackers and cheese, salami, pastrami, lamb kofta, pasties, salads, breads and some sort of chicken which appears to have been barbecued. It all looks and smells delicious. These picnics have been planned for weeks.
Guineas day has been planned for months in Caulfield. It is their biggest week of the year. Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday. Twenty nine races in the space of seven days.
The first of those goes off at 12.20 – a 5f Listed race for newcomers – which is won by Damien Oliver on Qafila. We're up and running.
They are sticklers for time over here. Seldom do you see a race go off later than a minute after its scheduled off time. The process is very slick – horses parade, jockeys arrive, canter down to start, no messing around down there, into the stalls, out of the stalls. The world's richest turf race is on at Randwick and several other tracks around the country are hosting meetings as well, so timekeeping is crucial.
Wall Of Fire arrives just a little too late in the Herbert Power Stakes, but chasing home Lord Fandango is a nice way to warm up for the Melbourne Cup. You don't want to show your hand too early.
Hugo Palmer is the new Austin Powers – racing's very own international man of mystery. He has three runners in stakes races across three different continents on Saturday. He has come to Caulfield, though, and is unsurprisingly thrilled by the way Wall Of Fire performed.
"He had to give a quality field weight and he very nearly managed to do it. He's more likely to freshen up and shoot the breeze at home now rather than run again. We'll let him enjoy himself and make sure he's fresh and well for the big day," Palmer says.
That big day is on November 7 and you just wonder whether Aidan O'Brien will have surpassed Bobby Frankel's record of 25 top-tier winners by that stage.
He somehow remains stuck on 24 after Johannes Vermeer and Katelyn Mallyon fail by a fast-diminishing head to catch Gailo Chop in the Ladbrokes Stakes.
Mallyon, whose column is part of seven pages of racing coverage in the Herald Sun, is happy to engage in an in-depth analysis of the race with me afterwards.
"Coming into the home straight, he quickened up so much underneath me that I thought he would go past anything," she says.
"He probably peaked just a little bit before the post came but overall it was a great run. He's going to relish the Caulfield Cup distance. He's a beautiful, big horse and he relaxed good out there”.
Debriefs don't get much better than that.
There were surely some fascinating debriefs after the feature race of the day, the Ladbrokes Caulfield Guineas, as unconsidered 100-1 outsider Mighty Boss sneaks up the rails to cause the biggest shock of the day, the month and possibly the year.
That's the beauty of racing. Surprises are never far away. There were some around every corner you looked at Caulfield. Every one of them as pleasant as the next.
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