It longer than markets suggested this prep however Avilius returned to the winner’s circle in the Colgate Optic White Stakes (1600m).
The first winner of the Colgate Optic White Stakes after Winx’s dominance, the Godolphin import will follow in her footsteps to the Cox Plate with his next start pencilled in as the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes on October 6.
The Shorts attracted something of a mini Everest line up and Pierata shot to favouritism for the main event as he recorded a half length win over Classique Legend.
While Kolding is now exempt from ballot in the Epsom Handicap, James Cummings will be sweating on an Epsom start for Cascadian who should be peaking third up and out to the mile after another strong closing effort.
Race 1: Marokawa - Class 3 Highway Handicap (1000m)
Highway Handicaps are a superb initiative. As was the case on Saturday, they allow country owners to attend Sydney on a Group 1 day with their Benchmark 58 horse and win a race.
Marokawa had a torrid run at Randwick a fortnight earlier where he went to the line untested.
He got some luck down the straight on Saturday and hit the line hard.
This was his fourth career win so the son of Swift Alliance has now graduated from Highway Handicaps.
Deviate resumed well in fourth. There is an 1100m Highway Handicap for her at Randwick on Everest Day.
Race 2: Cuba - Benchmark 78 3YO+ Schweppes Handicap (1400m)
Cuba went straight to the front and was too good. He’s having a great prep and following Saturday only has a Benchmark of 79.
John Thompson will no doubt let him gradually keep working through the grades. He’s great at that and allows his horses to build confidence and transition smoothly to stakes level.
Super Star Bob was great in second and is a chance to nab a Kosciusko spot off that effort.
It sounds like the Matthew Dale stable are going to decide between him and Notation some time during the next week. On figures Notation should clearly be the one they choose.
The Fastnet Rock mare isn’t too far off the favourite Victorem on the rating she ran up to when second behind Sweet Deal in the Tibbie Stakes.
It’s not necessarily that black and white though. Notation has been up for a while whereas Super Star Bob would go into the Kosciusko peaking third or fourth run from a spell. Timing can be everything.
Race 3: Junipal - Benchmark 88 3YO+ Handicap (1600m)
Junipal has been up for a while but continues to fire. The Reset four-year-old has raced in Melbourne, Queensland and now Sydney so far this prep but is seemingly thriving on it.
Maher suggested he could be a lightweight runner in a Toorak Handicap. There is a fair gap between a Benchmark 88 Handicap and Group 1 however there is a minor possibility he can sneak in at the bottom of the weights.
Third placegetter Master Of Wine is of some interest. The UK import has produced two good runs from as many starts this prep. The son of Maxios has a Benchmark of just 74 so can certainly work through his grades.
Race 4: Funstar - Group 2 Tea Rose Stakes (1400m)
Funstar was one of a few fillies in the Tea Rose Stakes who went up a level on Saturday getting out to 1400m.
WHAT A FINISH! In a three-horse war to the line, Funstar for @cwallerracing @mcacajamez wins the Darley Tea Rose Stakes @royalrandwick with hot favourite Libertini relegated to third... pic.twitter.com/D8JJWJ5DsP— TAB (@tabcomau) September 21, 2019
She’s run to a Timeform rating of 114p which is a shade above the races five year winning average.
The Flight Stakes is next for her. Five of the last ten Tea Rose Stakes winners have gone on to claim the double, Alizee was the last in 2017.
Three fillies in that time have been beaten in the Tea Rose Stakes and went on to win the Flight Stakes. That gives hope to girls like Probabeel and Emeralds who were each taking ground out of the winner late.
The Tea Rose Stakes will no doubt be the last time we see Libertini race over further than 1200m for the forseeable future. The daughter of I Am Invincible was brave however Tommy Berry returned to scale stating she peaked 100m from home.
Race 5: Kolding - Group 3 Bill Ritchie Handicap (1400m)
Kolding has booked his spot in the Epsom with just 50.5kg on his back.
Chris Waller has a superb record in the Bill Ritchie Handicap having won four of the past seven runnings now.
Of those three prior winners, Boban in 2013 is the last horse to claim the Bill Ritchie Handicap - Epsom Handicap double. Comin’ Through won the Bill Ritche Handicap and then finished second to Happy Clapper in the 2017 Epsom Handicap.
Kolding ran to a Timeform rating of 118 on Saturday. Interestingly, that’s the same figure Boban ran to when he won the 2013 Bill Ritchie Handicap.
The son of Ocean Park has won five of his past six starts since he was gelded. He is racing with plenty of confidence and certainly has history in his favour heading toward the Epsom.
While they’ll probably struggle to make the Epsom field, they can certainly make their presence felt in Melbourne.
Cascadian third up out to a mile is a tantalising prospect. If he fails to make the Epsom Handicap field, there is the Group 1 Toorak Handicap (1600m) at Caulfield the following Saturday which may even be a better fit.
Race 6: Pierata - Group 2 The Shorts (1100m)
Pierata has gotten the better of a small but extremely select field of sprinters to now sit as favourite for next month’s Everest.
The Pierro entire produced a Timeform rating of 126 on Saturday, a pound higher than what he ran to when just beaten by Redzel first up in the Concorde Stakes (1000m).
Full steam ahead to The Everest from here whether it be via the trials or the Group 2 Premiere Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on Epsom Day. Redzel claimed the Shorts - Everest double in 2017.
Out of The Shorts heading towards the Everest, the first four across the line did nothing but enhance their claims for the race. The defending champ Redzel was brave enough in third.
Post race connections suggested Graff may bypass The Everest and aim up at the Golden Eagle, citing they feel the Star Witness colt is in need of more ground.
In Graff’s defence, he was beaten just over a length in what shapes as the key Everest formline.
The Kris Lees-trained entire was strong late on Saturday and while jumping from 1200m to 1500m in a fortnight isn’t necessarily ideal, he may be good enough to contest both races.
Race 7: Avilius - Group 1 Colgate Optic White Stakes (1600m)
After being twice beaten as favourite so far this prep, Saturday showcased what we know Avilius can do. It was a dominant win, one which returned a Timeform rating of 126.
Even though Winx has won the past three renewals of the race, the classy import doesn’t look out of place in terms of his rating.
He likely heads to Melbourne for his next start for the Turnbull Stakes (2000m). Winx claimed the George Main - Turnbull Stakes double in both 2017 and 2018.
Without her on the scene, Avilius is the premier weight-for-age middle distance horse in Australia.
Dreamforce produced a fantastic effort in second. Two of the past three Epsom Handicap winners have placed in the George Main Stakes prior to winning the Epsom Handicap a fortnight later, Hauraki in 2016 and Happy Clapper in 2017.
They get stuck behind a weight for age star in the George Main like Winx or Avilius, then move out of their shadow back to handicap conditions and thrive a fortnight later.
Race 8: Finche - Group 3 Kingston Town Stakes (2000m)
Finche hasn’t put a foot wrong since arriving in Australia 12 months ago.
The Frankel gelding built on a solid first up run on Saturday and produced a Timeform rating of 119.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise he won as Chris Waller has dominated this race for a long time. The Rosehill trainer has claimed five of the past six Kingston Town Stakes renewals.
Finche is Melbourne Cup bound but will likely head to The Metropolitan (2400m) for his next start.
Waller has taken out the race three times courtesy of The Verminator (2011), Opinion (2014) and Patrick Erin (2018).
Herculian Prince for Gai Waterhouse in 2010 was the last horse to claim the Kingston Town Stakes - Metropolitan double.
Race 9: Sweet Scandal - Benchmark 88 3YO+ Handicap (1200m)
Sweet Scandal provided Chris Waller with his fourth winner on the card, the icing on the cake after the three Group successes prior.
THAT’S FOUR @royalrandwick! @cwallerracing does it again as Sweet Scandal wins the last! What did you think of the two #TheKosciuszko horses, Don’t Give A Damn and Suncraze? pic.twitter.com/Ev6e53mVNt— Sky Racing (@SkyRacingAU) September 21, 2019
This was a great way to start a prep for Sweet Scandal who has run close to her career peak returning from a spell.
The Sepoy mare has won six of her 14 career starts now and the pursuit of black type through the spring beckons.
Improvement was strong in second. Both of her runs since returning from a long break have been excellent.
There are a host of fillies and mares sprints in Melbourne over the next six weeks which the first two across the line have the potential to figure in.