The 2019 Winterbottom Stakes headlines racing at Ascot in Perth on Saturday, November 30th.
This is the middle week of three-week The Masters carnival in Perth, which concludes with next weekend's Kingston Town Classic meeting.
There's a strong line up of sprinters engaged for the Winterbottom and we've gone through the chances of every runner below!
Some interesting things to keep in mind when assessing this race. Five of the last six winners have been Eastern States based runners which had been contesting group 1 races prior to the Winterbottom. Notably, just one of the past 10 winners has started from inside barrier 5. The last seven winners have jumped between barriers 7-13. Since becoming a Group 1 race in 2011, we've had horses aged four, five, six, seven and eight win the race.
The speed map looks a bit of a headache and it could go a few ways, but one thing for certain is there's no lack of speed in the race. The main question to be answered is which horse leads. We saw (14) Misty Metal burn along in front last start, but we know she's also capable of sitting off another horse. There's no doubt she'll go forward but it's whether they elect to take a sit behind the Eastern States horses drawn wide which are sure to come across. The other issue is whether Misty Metal jumps well, and whether she has the early speed of the others. It will be a hotly-run first 400m or so. (3) Hey Doc will definitely come across from barrier 14 and I think they'll lead if they can, but if needs be will sit outside the leader. James Cummings has already said (5) Home Of The Brave is likely to follow Hey Doc across as he's drawn immediately to his outside. That becomes a problem if Hey Doc can't get the rail as he may be posted three-wide facing the breeze. (15 Dubious will go forward with his light weight and could potentially find the back of the leaders on the rail. (8) Valour Road is drawn to the outside of Misty Metal in barrier 9. I think he'll be able to land in a great spot given Hey Doc and Home of The Brave should come across to take a position in front of him. (11) Spirit Of Valor tends to go forward whatever he's drawn, so despite starting from gate 11 I think we'll see him in the first half-dozen runners. (4) Rock Magic is likely to find himself three back the rail in midfield from barrier 1 and (9) Endless Drama could remain to his outside in the run. That leaves (10) Vital Silver in an interesting position from barrier 6. He could sit further forward but I doubt they will. I think they'll look to have him just off the pace in midfield, further forward than where we saw him in the Manikato. He might well find himself in a three-wide running line, which would be ideal. (6) Durendal and (7) Viridine will race just behind mid division; Pike is likely to have (12) Stageman in the three-wide line from barrier 10. We know (13) Flirtini will go back from the wide draw and the hotter the tempo, the better her chances are. Of course the most interesting runner from a speed map perspective is the favourite (1) Trekking, who shortened after drawing barrier 4, but I don't think that's a good draw for him. The tempo will suit him, but he's likely to be close enough to last and strung up in traffic. He'll need luck and Ascot doesn't have the longest of straights to overcome that. (2) Malaguerra is first up for yet another stable and draws wide. I'm uncertain as to what they'll do with him from that draw.
(1) Trekking: Deserves to be favourite and has to rate as the one to beat, but $2.50 is a bit on the short side in my opinion. His form is hard to argue with; first up he ran the fastest final 200m over an unsuitable distance in the Moir, he won the Schillachi second up, then ran 3rd in The Everest and was beaten a length by Pierata last start. All of that is elite Group 1 sprinting form, and typically that holds up in this race, as alluded to in the historical notes above. The trickiest thing for Trekking is the barrier draw. He's likely to be right near the back of the field and strung up in traffic. He'll need plenty of luck and a great ride by Kerrin McEvoy to win this. But if he does get luck, he'll be right in the finish.
(2) Malaguerra: Ran 3rd in this race second up from a long layoff last year but he's had more problems since then and is now onto his 4th trainer after having just one start for Lindsey Smith. Vaughen Sigley now has the eight-year-old in his care but it'd be some kind of effort to get him back to his best here.
(3) Hey Doc: Looks over the odds at $16. It's been two years since his last win but that was in a Group 1 sprint and he's only had the four starts since then. His effort first up from more than a year off the track was enormous, beaten 0.3L by Teleplay and Home of the Brave at Sandown. He's got a good second up record with two wins and a 2nd from five starts and his racing pattern will suit Ascot. I think his best chance is if he can speed across and find the rail early in the race, but if he has to sit outside the leader on a hot tempo, he might struggle. He's potentially still underdone in terms of fitness but there's no denying he's an elite level sprinter, and quality comes to the fore in the Winterbottom.
(4) Rock Magic: He ran fairly well first up in the Manikato before choking down at Flemington last time out. He's likely to be locked away on the rail from barrier 1, so he'll need some luck. He'll run honest like he always does but he's a 10-year-old now and he's only managed one placing from his 13 starts in Group 1 company. Happy to oppose.
(5) Home Of The Brave: Was very heavily backed at Sandown last start in the Kevin Heffernan Stakes, driving hard late to miss by a nose to Teleplay, with Hey Doc a further nose away in 3rd. He'll come across from barrier 15 but he's at risk of getting caught three-wide without cover, in my opinion. Damian Lane has flown across to take the ride on him, so he loses absolutely nothing there, but he's had six starts in Group 1 company for zero placings. A win would surprise.
(6) Durendal: Draws well and gets the blinkers back on but he's not up to the level.
(7) Viridine: Comes off a good win in the Listed Doveton Stakes at Sandown last start over the 1000m and now steps up to the 1200m again. That Doveton Stakes was a pretty weak affair - he only beat Mystyko and Thermal Current. Craig Williams jumps off to ride Dubious but Damien Oliver jumps on which is just as good. Was only 1.35L off Trekking in the Schillachi Stakes three starts back. Needs to improve.
(8) Valour Road: He's a really interesting runner, Valour Road. He won the Magic Millions two-year-old race on debut and followed that with victory in the Karrakatta Plate at just his second career start. As a three-year-old he then went to Adelaide and won the G2 Euclase Stakes, leading all the way to beat Tofane and Gytrash, which is strong form. He ran 5th in this race last year and although he's had one less start this preparation than when he tackled the race last year, I think he's probably in better shape form-wise. This is a harder race than last year's though. I think they'll settle just off the leaders rather than trying to lead himself; he's got the talent and certainly won't shock me if he wins.
(9) Endless Drama: The eight-year-old Kiwi is a three-time Group 2 winner and first up last preparation defeated Te Akau Shark over this distance. Now we know Te Akau Shark's best distance isn't 1200m but there was at least some depth to the form. He ran 3rd in this year's Stradbroke Handicap which was won by Trekking, beaten 3L. They carried the same weight that day and the same weight again today so you'd think he has a bit to find on Trekking. Does have a good record at this distance (three starts, two wins and a 2nd) and draws well in barrier 2 so I can see him running well.
(10) Vital Silver: Has come back in terrific order this preparation. He was beaten 2.2L first up by Sunlight and Santa Ana Lane, and followed that with a big run for 2nd behind Loving Gaby in the g1 Manikato Stakes last start. We're used to seeing him ridden up on the speed over here but he had to make a wide looping run from the back of the field after drawing wide in the Manikato. I think with the speed on paper to his outside, he'll be able to find a spot off the rail in midfield, potentially in a three-wide line if they want. He's got a decent third up record, he's undefeated from three starts at Ascot and he brings Group 1 Eastern States form to the race, which should see him be very competitive in this at each way odds.
(11) Spirit Of Valor: On his best form, he'd be pretty competitive in this. He ran 2nd in last year's Manikato Stakes behind Brave Smash after sitting three-wide the trip. He's now under the care of Ciaron Maher and David Eustace (previously Aiden O'Brien) and his three starts have been pretty ordinary. He ran 3rd to The Inevitable two starts back but was still beaten 4.5L and he ran last at Caulfield last start, pulling up lame. Would be surprised if he finished in the money here.
(12) Stageman: Been racing since May this horse, except for a little seven-week break in July/August. Just keeps showing up and racing well. He comes off a luckless run in the Colonel Reeves Stakes last start, where he started $3.20 and was blocked the entire straight under a stranglehold. Prior to that he ran 3rd to Flirtini and Misty Metal in the Prince Of Wales Stakes, where he recorded an identical final 400m to Flirtini. He's likely to be ahead of her in the run this time, so if you consider her a chance, you probably have to consider him a chance too. Gets the blinkers on for the first time (we saw these connections do the same with Regal Power to good effect in the Railway) and Pike obviously takes the ride. He's not hopeless but whether he has the class of the best sprinters is the query.
(13) Flirtini: Has been outstanding in her past two starts, particularly last start when she flew home from back in the field off a hot tempo to win. There's no doubt that she will get everything run to suit her here. They'll take her back like they did last start, slot in near the back of the field and storm home off the hot speed I'm predicting up front. My query with her is if that form is actually any good in comparison to the elite sprinters in this field. She obviously ran the quickest final 400m of the race last start, but there were horses in the 72+ over 1000m on the same day that ran quicker. I'll be very interested to see how she measures up to the best horses in this race. Certainly in with a chance.
(14) Misty Metal: I wouldn't be too put off by her first couple of runs. She tends to hit her straps after a couple of runs and third up at 1200m suits her. She may be better over 1000m-1100m but she's got two wins over 1200m so it's not like she can't run the trip. She was tardy away first up when Flirtini beat her by a length and then Troy Turner simply went way too quick on her last start. She was gassed at the 200m mark. But if you look at her second up record (one placing from four starts), that's not unusual for her. She bounces back third up though, with a record of two wins and a 3rd from three starts. The first part of the race will be particularly interesting for her in terms of whether they show intent to lead or are happy to take a sit. I can see her running a big race but will likely find a couple better.
(15) Dubious: The sole three-year-old in the race. No three-year-old has won this race since it gained Group 1 status in 2011 and the last thre-year-old to win the race was Hardrada back in 2002. Dubious' form as a two-year-old was exceptional but he has somewhat struggled to reach those heights as a three-year-old. His best run this campaign was when he ran 2nd to Dalasan in the Danehill Stakes down the straight at Flemington back in September, but he was plain in the Blue Sapphire Stakes six weeks ago. Craig Williams jumps aboard which is a notable jockey booking but he'd need to improve to win this, even with the weight relief.
I keep coming back to the fact that elite Group 1 form normally comes to the fore in this race, at least in recent years, and there's only a few in this race that can claim to have that. (10) Vital Silver will be my main bet in the race at $9.00. His two runs this time in have been against some of the best sprinters in the country and his record at Ascot is unblemished. He should get a good run from the gate and be right in the finish in even luck. (1) Trekking is obviously the best horse in the race and is the one to beat, but the speed map is the big concern for me and I won't be diving into the $2.50 quote. (3) Hey Doc is the value at $16 and I'll be backing him too. If he can get across and find the rail they'll have a tough time running him down. (13) Flirtini hasn't done much wrong leading into the race and gets everything set up perfectly for her, while her stablemate (8) Valour Road is the one flying under the radar.
Top Pick: (10) Vital Silver
Value: (3) Hey Doc
Top Four: (10) Vital Silver - (1) Trekking - (3) Hey Doc - (13) Flirtini
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