Australia: Reigning Horses Of The Year Melody Belle and Nature Strip At Flemington

Two reigning Horses of the Year headline a pair of excellent Group 1 races in Melbourne, while early season 2-year-olds are “gifted” a million-dollar purse in Sydney this Friday night. The fourth and final day of the “Melbourne Cup Carnival” at Flemington coincides with Rosehill’s $1,000,000 Golden Gift, as both cards wedge neatly between the Breeders’ Cup programs in the U.S.  With some large Trifecta and Pick 4 pay outs on Melbourne Cup Day, handicappers will be looking to build their bank in Australia on Friday night.

Melody Belle, recently crowned New Zealand Horse of the Year for the second straight season, has taken her incredible tally of G1 wins to 12 with victories in the same pair of races that preceded her successful mission to Australia last November. In 2019, Melody Belle won a G1 for fillies and mares on the opening day of the “Melbourne Cup Carnival,” before a gallant runner-up effort a week later. This year, connections skipped the first of those races and have specifically targeted this Friday night’s Mackinnon Stakes.

The 6-year-old brings a superb 17-for-34 career record back to Melbourne, as she seeks redemption for an unlucky second place finish to Aidan O’Brien’s globetrotting filly, Magic Wand. Melody Belle (4-1) will be ridden for the first time by 25-year-old Jye McNeil, fresh off his career-defining win for Joseph O’Brien in Monday night’s Melbourne Cup (at odds that matched his age). The Mackinnon Stakes (Race 8) is a weight-for-age contest at 1 1/4 miles, almost identical conditions to the prestigious W.S. Cox Plate. Thus, it is not surprising that Melody Belle’s stiffest opposition is expected from Mugatoo (4-1) and Arcadia Queen (3-1 favorite), based on their respective fourth and fifth-place finishes in the Cox Plate two weeks ago.

Two races prior to the Mackinnon, Australia’s Horse of the Year for the 2019-20 season will be in action in the G1 Darley Classic. Nature Strip returns to Flemington’s iconic “straight six” furlongs course, and will try to replicate the most exhilarating performance of a career punctuated by perplexing losses. Australian racing’s biggest enigma has now lost three straight races for the first time, yet nobody who witnessed his scintillating performance in this event last year will be brave enough to write him off. As in 2019, Nature Strip finished off the board (his usual modus operandi if not getting his picture taken) in The Everest, before returning from Sydney for the Darley Classic. If his career record of 26,14-3-0 leaves one flummoxed as to which version will appear next, it is worth bearing in mind that the 6-year-old’s record down the Flemington straight course is four-for-five (and two-for-two at six furlongs).

Nature Strip shares favoritism at 3-1 with another G1 winner down Flemington’s straight course, Bivouac, who comes off a terrific second in The Everest. Further opposition exiting the world’s richest turf race is expected from the mare, Libertini, who was heavily bet (8-1 into 5-1) in The Everest but had no luck from the extreme outside gate. Both Bivouac and Libertini contested The Everest second up and are still fresh into their current campaigns. Coincidentally, they finished in the minor placings in the same G1 race (for 3-year-olds) down the Flemington straight during last year’s Melbourne Cup Carnival.

While Melbourne holds the Friday night spotlight, Sydney’s Rosehill Racecourse will be the scene of an exciting addition to Australia’s rich program of juvenile races. The Southern Hemisphere racing season began on Aug. 1 and the first 2-year-old races were run only a month ago, yet an early carrot is being dangled for connections of the most precocious juveniles. The Golden Gift, at 5 1/2 furlongs, carries a purse of $1,000,000. The China Horse Club owns a pair of debut stakes winners, Captivant (3-1 favorite) and Tiger of Malay (7-1). Last year’s inaugural Golden Gift winner, Dame Giselle (a subsequent multiple stakes winner), is part-owned by the China Horse Club and came through the same debut race as Tiger of Malay. It’s unusual to see 2-year-olds traveling interstate this early in the season, but the lucrative purse sees both Sneaky Five (9-2) and Ghostwriter (10-1) being whisked to Sydney after scoring debut wins in Melbourne and Brisbane, respectively. The race includes three first-time starters, and North American fans will be intrigued by a Chris Waller-trained son of American Pharoah named Head of State (14-1), who has won both of his trials (“training races”). A G2 event for fillies and mares follows the Golden Gift on the Rosehill card.

The Flemington and Rosehill cards will be broadcast live on TVG this Friday night (First Post: 10:25 p.m. ET / 7:25 p.m. PT) alongside cards from Doomben and Gold Coast. All races will also be live-streamed in HD with past performances available for free at skyracingworld.com and major ADW platforms. Wagering is available via all the major ADW platforms such as TVG, TwinSpiresXpressbet, NYRABets, WatchandWagerHPIbetAmWager, and BetAmerica. The Pick 7 wager is available on the Flemington (AUS-A) card.

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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