Sights On The Slipper - Seven Days and Counting!

Chris Scholtz examines where things stand for the Golden Slipper Stakes following the final lead-up races at Rosehill on March 17.

At last the preliminaries are done and dusted - now it's a nervous wait to the big dance for the connections of the youngsters still in contention for a start in next Saturday's $3.5 million Longines Golden Slipper Stakes at Rosehill.

The final lead-ups went to plan at Rosehill on Saturday when the odds on favourites Sunlight and Written By consolidated their positions at the head of the market for the world's richest 2YO race.

Both youngsters dominated their races from the front, responding under pressure when required and in the end doing what was expected of them but without the dominant brilliance that had been a feature of their earlier big wins.

Their times were reasonable, factoring in the track pattern that saw the riders of both youngsters tracking away from the slower rails section to find the obvious better ground over the last 400m.

Sunlight held the advantage of previous race experience at Rosehill but Written By had no issues racing right-handed for the first time, coming off his three Melbourne wins to run a half second faster than the filly in the Pago Pago Stakes.

Written By ran the 1200m in a quicker 1.10.22 (last 600m 34.39) compared to Sunlight’s 1.10.74 (last 600m 35.27).

Written By’s first 600m was almost four tenths slower than the fillies in the Magic Night Stakes but a faster overall time was assured when Sandbar made a real race of it with him over the last 300m.

While Written By was at full tilt to win by only a half neck, the merit in his performance can be seen in the wide margin back to the body of the field with only third placegetter Spin taking any significant ground off the first pair.

Sunlight also left clear air behind her after she beat off the chasers at the 300m with only the promising Cristobal emerging as some threat. In the end Sunlight was under less pressure than Written By over the last 200m to safely hold Cristobal by more than a length with her rider Luke Currie obviously mindful not to stress the filly in the hot weather.

Certainly Sunlight - like most youngsters on the day - was feeling the heat prior to the start, her sweaty appearance confirming trainer Tony McEvoy’s view that this was a race she needed to bring her to her peak for the grand final in seven days.

The question with Sunlight going forward is whether she still has that one big run left in the tank that will be required if she is to win the Slipper after a testing season of six starts that has seen her race in Victoria, Queensland and NSW.

Sunlight is also attempting to be the first filly to win the Magic Millions Classic-Golden Slipper double. However she did prove at the Gold Coast that she can meet the challenge of racing twice in a week, unlike the lean and mean Written By who will be facing a seven day back-up for the first time after having well-spaced gaps between his four race starts to date.

And here’s the rub that comes down heavily in favour of Sunlight – there is no doubt the Golden Slipper Stakes is now a fillies race!

The results over the last decade confirm that the females are helped significantly by the weight allowance of 2kg they receive from the colts, perhaps due to the advances in equine science that have brought the physics of both sexes much closer.

The results since 2006 show the honours are split evenly between the sexes with colts and geldings winning six times and the fillies six times.

However dig deeper and the results since 2010 show an alarming dominance by the fillies across the Golden Slipper placings. Of the 24 placegetters in the eight Golden Slippers since 2010 some 17 fillies have finished in the first three compared to only seven colts and geldings.

It lays down a strong case to say Sunlight and the other fillies who have put the runs on the board in the key lead-up races are almost assured of being somewhere in the frame when the results go up on Saturday.

One factor both Sunlight and Written By have in their corners is the experience of their support teams.

Sunlight’s trainer Tony McEvoy will bring into play his years of hands on work with top class two-year-olds during his time with the Lindsay Park stable while the astute Grahame Begg will have the added input of his father, the Hall of Famer Neville Begg, to help guide him through the final week with his colt.

There might be an omen here as Neville Begg, Written By’s breeder and senior owner, trained the 1980 Golden Slipper winner Dark Eclipse off a seven day back up from her success in the Magic Night Stakes.

Be warned - in races like the Slipper it’s eerie how history can repeat!

Which brings us to the most critical of questions - did we see the Slipper winner race at Rosehill on Saturday? Surely there must be some reservations about whether Sunlight and Written By left it on the table in Saturday’s heat.

Even before the critical barrier draw on Tuesday the niggling concern will be whether Saturday’s wins left them with the scope to match the expected improvement to come from some of their lightly-raced rivals who were relaxing in their stables over the weekend?

Foremost among them are the imposing colts Performer and Santos – both super in barrier trial wins at Randwick last Thursday - the Melbourne stablemates Seabrook and Prairie Fire and the classy fillies Estijaab and Fiesta.

The Chris Waller-trained Performer put his Todman Stakes antics behind him with a focused trial win at Randwick wearing blinkers. Built like a mature 3YO, he is the horse with the ‘X factor’ going into Saturday and will have the added advantage of racing on his home track.

Performer’s aberration in the Todman Stakes has certainly tested Waller’s training skills, but he was a lot more at ease after Thursday’s strong trial performance from this high quality colt.

Prior to the Todman Stakes, Performer had posted the highest Timeform ratings of the 2YO season to that time with classy wins in in the Breeders Plate and Canonbury Stakes - races that figure prominently as the source of Golden Slipper winners (*see race history below).

The sobering fact confronting Performer is Golden Slipper history as no winner has finished worse than fourth in its final lead-up race in the last 30 years.

The historical hurdle for Performer is even bigger when results over the last decade are taken into account as every victor since 2007 has finished first or second in their final race.

It will certainly be history-making if Performer can rebound from losing his rider in his final lead-up - but Waller has made a habit of doing the abnormal during his record-breaking career.

Chris Waller has rarely been a Golden Slipper player but this year he is front and centre with two top shelf hopes in Performer and Fiesta.

While Performer is a headstrong boy Fiesta is the complete professional.

Sure, Seabrook got home over the top of Fiesta in the Sweet Embrace Stakes but she is a foolproof filly who has enjoyed a faultless prep and is certain to put herself into contention at some stage on Saturday.

Santos, representing the Gai Waterhouse/Adrian Bott partnership, has a sense of timing about him after two strong lead-up wins in the Pierro Plate and Skyline Stakes.

The Skyline Stakes form has been questioned because of the bunched finish but Santos was not entitled to win after he sweated up in the saddling enclosure before the race when he threw a shoe that needed to be replated.

As a result he was in a piggish mood going to the gates yet showed faultless race manners and gritty determination to beat Spin, who held up the form with his strong third behind Written By on Saturday.

Santos, like Performer a powerfully built colt more in the mould of a 3YO, was a lot more relaxed going through his gears to win last Thursday’s trial at Randwick. It left Gai Waterhouse beaming with that famous smile she seems to reserve for Slipper days.

Nobody should forget that Waterhouse is a specialist 2YO trainer who shares the Slipper training record of six wins with her late father Tommy Smith. On that score alone you can be sure Santos will be trained to the minute come Saturday.

Estijaab had to pull out all stops to win the Reisling Stakes, a win that underlined the strength of the form around Sunlight after she was beaten by McEvoy’s filly at her previous start in the Silver Slipper.

Estijaab is the Slipper bunny. She is all speed and sets up as an obvious leader as it would be detrimental to try and harness her brilliance from the gates.

However it will leave her vulnerable in such a high pressure race as the Slipper where the attacks start early. She ran race record time in the Reisling Stakes by dictating the pace but her slowing last 100m raised doubts about how she will cope with the Slipper’s sustained speed.

Melbourne’s Mick Price has been a luckless Golden Slipper trainer over the years, having brought several excellent contenders to Sydney – beaten favourites Samaready and Extreme Choice among them - only to see their chances dashed by poor barriers and bad luck in running.

That Price returns with two serious contenders Seabrook and Prairie Fire this year is no surprise and he is entitled to be bullish about their chances.

Seabrook is right in the mix after she overcame a three wide run to beat Fiesta at Randwick in her Sydney debut. She posted the time, running a faster 1200m than Santos, and there was a lot to like about the way she responded to run strongly through the line after her tough passage.

On that performance she looks made for a hard run Golden Slipper.

When Sydney’s weather disrupted trial plans last week Price had to quickly alter Prairie Fire’s program. He was thinking on his feet after the Randwick trials were cancelled on Tuesday by arranging for Prairie Fire to compete in a modified trial on the synthetic track at Rosehill on the same morning.

That hitout gave Prairie Fire a good look at Rosehill, and in the end it may prove more beneficial for the colt who will go into the Slipper off a break of a month since he ran fourth to Written By in the Blue Diamond at Caulfield.

Prairie Fire was reported to have handled the Rosehill turns like a veteran and finished the 'trial' in front with something in reserve. He may be the Slipper wild card at his current lengthy odds.

The Blue Diamond form, always worthy of respect in the Slipper, is a key guide this year with Sunlight’s maiden stablemate Oohood another filly on the radar after her closing third placing behind Written By.

However only two maidens have won the Golden Slipper - and the last was Fairy Walk in 1971!

Of course the Slipper picture can change dramatically with Tuesday’s barrier draw.

As a reminder of how important the gates are for Slipper runners consider that 15 of the last 30 winners started from gates 1-5 but only six came from gates 12-16.

It means the connections of 16 two-year-olds will be on tenterhooks come the draw on Tuesday – that big Longines clock is ticking and that’s just a small part of a week they will long remember!


2YOs to win or place in the following races and then win the Golden Slipper:-

BREEDERS PLATE: Sky High (1959); Eskimo Prince (1963); Baguette (1969); Luskin Star (1976); Pierro (2011) Vancouver (2014); Capitalist (2015); Fine And Dandy (2nd 1958); Inspired (2nd 1983)

GIMCRACK STAKES: No winners; Fairy Walk (2nd 1970); Burst (2nd 1991)

WIDDEN STAKES: Overreach (2013); Reisling (3rd 1964)

CANONBURY STAKES: Fine And Dandy (1958); Sebring (2008); Vancouver (2015); Skyline (3rd 1957)

MARIBYRNONG PLATE: Fine And Dandy (1958); Vain (1968); Baguette (1969); Canny Lad (1989); Vivarchi (2nd 1975); Prowl (2nd 1997)

MERSON COOPER STAKES: Pago Pago (1963); Storm Queen (1966); Vain (1969); Vivarchi (1975)

MAGIC MILLIONS CLASSIC: Dance Hero (2004); Phelan Ready (2009); Capitalist (2016); Belle Du Jour (2nd 2000)

BLUE DIAMOND STAKES: John’s Hope (1972); Manikato (1978); Bounding Away (1986); Courtza (1989); Sepoy (2011); Canny Lad (2nd 1990); Flying Spur (2nd 1995); Miss Finland (2nd 2006); Fairy Walk (3rd 1971)

BLACK OPAL STAKES: Catbird (1999)

KINDERGARTEN STAKES (prior to 2012): Star Watch (1988); Bint Marscay (1993); Guineas (1997); Belle Du Jour (2000); Forensics (2007); Ha Ha (2nd 2001)

SILVER SLIPPER STAKES: Eskimo Prince (1963); Baguette (1969); Luskin Star (1976); Pierro (2012); Mossfun (2014); She Will Reign (2017); Marauding (2nd 1986); Ha Ha (2nd 2001); Polar Success (2nd 2003)

VRC SIRES PRODUCE STAKES: Pago Pago (1963); Storm Queen (1966); Vain (1969); Full On Aces (1981); Canny Lad (1990); Fairy Walk (2nd 1971); Vivarchi (3rd 1976); Flying Spur (3rd 1995)

SKYLINE STAKES: Sir Dapper (1983); Star Watch (1988); Guineas (1997); Prowl (1998); Dance Hero (2004); Inspired (2nd 1984); Stratum (2nd 2005)

SWEET EMBRACE STAKES: Dark Eclipse (1980); Crystal Lily (2010); Bint Marscay (2nd 1993); Calaway Gal (3rd 2002)

TODMAN STAKES: Luskin Star (1977); Marauding (1987); Tierce (1991); Pierro (2012); Vancouver (2015); Marscay (2nd 1982); Sir Dapper (2nd 1983); Phelan Ready (2nd 2009); Capitalist (2nd 2016); Tontonan (3rd1973); Danzero (3rd 1994)

REISLING STAKES: Hartshill (1974); Burst (1992); Merlene (1996); Belle Du Jour (2000); Polar Success (2003); Overreach (2013); Mossfun (2nd (2014); She Will Reign (2nd 2017)

PAGO PAGO STAKES: Inspired (1984); Rory’s Jester (1985); Stratum (2005); Star Watch (2nd 1988)

MAGIC NIGHT STAKES: Toy Show (1975); Century Miss (1979); Dark Eclipse (1980); Bounding Away (1986); Bint Marscay (1993); Calaway Gal (2nd 2002).

Racing and Sports

Chris Scholtz

Managing Director Tronta Media P/L; Contributing Editor Racing & Sports
Chris is an award winning racing media professional working in the print, radio and online mediums since 1971 and managing director of his own racing industry media company since 1988. He has covered all of Australia’s major racing carnivals, numerous international events and is widely recognised as a leading form assessor and race analyst. Chris brings his passion for racing to as its contributing editor since its launch in 2000.