THE decision to move Flemington’s “million dollar mile” to Derby Day has been roundly applauded by punters who have hailed Saturday’s nine-race card one of the best they have ever seen.
A high-class field of 17 (16 + one emergency) has been declared for the renamed Cantala Stakes (formerly Emirates Stakes), one of four mouth-watering Group 1 races on the day.
12Follow’s Jake Henson joined Matt Taylor to share his thoughts on one of the races of the year.
Matt Taylor: They say Derby Day is the best meeting on the racing calendar and if Saturday’s fields are anything to go by, it looks set to deliver again. One new race to the program is the Cantala Stakes, formerly known as the Emirates Stakes which has been moved from the final day of the carnival. Jake, it really does look a sensational line up the ‘million dollar mile’.
Jake Henson: It certainly does! The Coolmore might be the race of the spring but this one isn’t far behind it for mine. So many different betting angles and options. It makes the two feature miles they run in Sydney (for more prize money might I add) look a little bit silly!
MT: Nothing like a bit of interstate rivalry! The rail will be in the true position as is customary on Derby Day and the track has been posted as a Good 4 with no rain predicted. After last year’s track debacle and Mick Goodie’s honest assessment of what went wrong, should we be anticipating a fair surface on Saturday?
JH: You would think it will play very well. Potts and Juppy have been walking the track and also spoken at length to Mick Goodie and it seems like the issues that arose last year should be a one off occurrence. Thinking it will play evenly with a preference to be off the fence with some cover in most races. Down the straight mid to wide draws probably best.
MT: So Jake what does that mean for the Cantala Stakes? How do you see the map sorting itself out and which of the key contenders in this deep field will be best poised to make a winning challenge?
JH: A 17 horse field always presents it’s challenges when doing a map as anything can happen. It’s an educated guess but I do expect the tempo to be moderate to fast. You’d expect Mackintosh goes forward along with Great Esteem and Voodoo Lad from the outside brigade. Entirely Platinum no doubt presses on as well. Then there is a stack of horses that can settle anywhere from just off the pace to back in the last bunch depending on how it all plays out. For that reason I am cautious of those horses that might get shuffled back on the rails from their inside draws. Horses like McCreery, Seaburge, Good Project.
MT: A few of the horses you haven’t mentioned there are The United States ($6.00), He’s Our Rokkii ($7.50) and Palentino ($7.50) which head up a fairly open market in this one. How do you see the race panning out for them and could you entertain a bet on any of them?
The United States trumps the field in the Schweppes Crystal Mile. pic.twitter.com/2x0BdDz15c
— Racing.com (@Racing) October 22, 2016
JH: It’s terrific to see three popular horses heading up the market with juicy quotes next to their names. That is the beauty of the Cup Carnival! Palentino does his best work at Flemington and if you can forgive that mini-flop at Randwick where he was a very plain he deserves his spot in the market. Back with his left-hand blinker on and to his favourite track while mapping very well from barrier seven I see him as one of the main dangers.
He’s Our Rokki is in breathtaking form and this Saturday looks to be his biggest challenge yet. Map looks ok as he does have some tactical gate speed to settle midfield with some cover off the rail. He’s had three sound runs although you could query the depth of some of the races he has won. I’m neutral on him at the price.
The United States is the runner that most interests me. Drawn perfectly in gate 10 he’ll get back but should be able to settle in front of a handful of runners at least and most importantly get off the rail. He was dominant in winning the Crystal Mile last week and presents here on the quick back-up. The last time he faced that setup he won the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes over 2000m at WFA level beating Hauraki by a length and gapping the rest. I’ve got him clear favourite in an otherwise open race and can see a little value in the current price which is in that $6 range.
MT: There has been a school of thought around that The United States is coming out of a soft race at Moonee Valley, whereas others are coming through much stronger form lines. Do you agree with that and is it a concern for you at all, despite his previous success on the quick back up?
JH: There is some concern around that for sure but he was a long while fresh in that race off a set-back. He was as vulnerable as can be and still did it very easily. Expecting some sharp improvement this Saturday in what would likely be his last run of the prep before gearing up for the Sydney Autumn I imagine so I can’t envisage them leaving much in the tank.
MT: What about the three-year-old Seaburge? You’ve mentioned his inside draw is a concern for you but with even luck in running could he measure up against the older horses?
JH: I certainly think he’s drawn a tricky gate, he really doesn’t have enough weight advantage over the field for that to be anymore than a complimentary factor either. On my ratings he’d have to improve a few lengths in a race like this. I’ve marked him 20-1 and see no value in the single figures on offer.
MT: And are there any others in the field you’re keen on backing at a price, or are you happy to stick with The United States?
JH: I’ll be backing The United States, keeping a small result on Palentino and something small 1 x 3 each way on Good Project who rates well and if he can overcome the difficulties he faces on the map can run a big race at 20-1.