Australia: Giant Fields On Tap For Group Ones On Friday

The final two Group One races in the Australian season will be run at Eagle Farm this Friday night, providing perfect examples of why Aussie racing is proving so popular with fans in North America. Giant fields of 18 on a spacious turf course guarantee tremendous wagering value, making manifest some of the fan responses from a recent Sky Racing World survey about why they love playing Australian Racing.

Just as top horses based on America’s East Coast head south to Florida for the winter, leading Australian trainers are attracted north from Sydney and Melbourne to the warmer, winter climes of Queensland. Known like Florida as the “Sunshine State,” Queensland is famous for one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef – and for hosting Australia’s best winter racing in its capital city of Brisbane, my hometown.

This year’s “Winter Racing Carnival” was initially cancelled due to the coronavirus, but has been resurrected in an abbreviated format. Reduced purses and prevailing travel restrictions mean that the Brisbane races are missing the usual complement of Australia’s top jockeys, but there are still some nationally prominent stables represented – Godolphin has entered a quartet of horses in one of the feature races, while Chris Waller will saddle four runners across the pair of Group Ones.

Queensland’s marquee race is the Stradbroke Handicap, at 7 furlongs. My earliest Stradbroke recollection is of listening on the radio at my grandparents’ home to the 1979 renewal, won by a horse named Imposing. Across the second half of the 1980s, I worked for that same Brisbane radio station and spent several Stradbroke Days assisting chief race caller Wayne Wilson in his booth, high atop Eagle Farm Racecourse.

This year’s Stradbroke favorite, Dawn Passage (7-2), is finishing his 3-year-old season in fine fashion, having reeled off three straight wins. However, he was dealt the extreme outside gate (23, but there are five “emergencies” / also eligibles included in the draw, meaning that Dawn Passage will break from post 18). Another 3-year-old, Hightail (10-1), fared much better with gate five and also brings winning form to the table.

Among older horses, Victorem (7-1) raced his way back into Stradbroke calculations with a 16-1 upset win, which followed a surprise bucking display at his previous start. Also at 7/1 is the class horse of the field, Trekking, one of four Godolphin representatives. Trekking won last year’s Stradbroke carrying 119 pounds, but will have to lump 127 pounds from the second-widest gate, while trying to become the race’s ninth repeat winner since the Stradbroke was inaugurated in 1890. Still, trainer James Cummings declares Trekking is in peak condition as the 5-year-old comes off a Group One win in Adelaide three weeks ago.

Friday’s other Group One race, also at 7 furlongs, is the JJ Atkins Plate. Named for one of Queensland’s most successful trainers, this 2-year-old event often proves a launching pad for late-blooming juveniles prior to the new Southern Hemisphere racing season commencing in August. Favorite Rothfire (5-2) has won five of six races. Wisdom of Water, brilliant winner of his past two starts, is co-second choice at 5-1 with undefeated filly Macroura, whose co-trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace have dominated this season’s juvenile ranks.

A complementing pair of supporting stakes races makes for an all-stakes Late Pick 4, with an average field size of 15.7. Both the Rough Habit Plate and Mick Dittman Plate are for 3-year-olds, but at the dramatically different distances of 1 3/8 miles and 5 furlongs respectively. New Zealand gelding Rough Habit counted two Stradbroke victories among numerous wins spanning four “Winter Carnivals,” that endeared him to Queensland racing fans in the early 1990s. Mick Dittman was one of the finest jockeys Queensland has produced. Incredibly, the pair combined in the United States, when Dittman rode Rough Habit in the 1993 Hollywood Gold Cup won by Best Pal.

The Eagle Farm card will be broadcast live on TVG this Friday night alongside cards from Randwick, Flemington and Newcastle. All races will be live-streamed in HD on skyracingworld.com and major ADW platforms such as TVG, TwinSpiresXpressbet, NYRABets, WatchandWagerHPIbetAmWager, and BetAmerica. Wagering is also available via these ADW platforms. Fans can get free access to live-streaming, past performances and expert picks on all races at skyracingworld.com.

A native of Brisbane, Australia, Michael Wrona has called races in six countries. Michael’s vast U.S. experience includes; race calling at Los Alamitos, Hollywood Park, Arlington and Santa Anita, calling the 2000 Preakness on a national radio network and the 2016 Breeders’ Cup on the International simulcast network. Michael also performed a race call voiceover for a Seinfeld episode called The Subway.

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