It’s a well-worn axiom in racing that no trainer or owner should be frightened of one horse.
Unfortunately for punters, who like fields of eight runners or more for each-way betting purposes, that axiom has been largely ignored on Saturday in Sandown’s feature group 1 race of the spring, the Underwood Stakes.
ZAAKI THE SCARY MONSTER
It would appear that English import Zaaki must be equipped with a turbo charger (or have six legs and double the lung capacity of ordinary top-class horses), such has been the current hot Cox Plate favourite’s effect on the field for the Underwood.
Only five are scheduled to go to post for the 1800-metre race, a contest worth $600,000 to the winner: given that prizemoney is paid down to eighth place (with sixth to eighth picking up $20,000 each, money that will now not be won) it is hard to fathom why a few more trainers didn’t chance their arm.
SMALL BUT SELECT, OR DULL AS DITCHWATER?
It has to be said that this is a quality line-up, however, given that group 1 Doomben Cup winner Zaaki’s four rivals have won 30 races between them: multiple group 1-winner Probabeel is the standout, with 11 wins to her name, while Fifty Stars (10 from 35 starts including a group 1 Australian Cup) and The Chosen One (placed in Caulfield and Melbourne cups) have plenty of scalps on their CVs.
But with small fields there is always the concern that races can turn into overly tactical affairs, either sit-and-sprint contests or games of jockey cat and mouse rather than truly run affairs.
Even the nonpareil Winx usually had to face greater numerical tests: only once in her barnstorming run of 33 consecutive victories did she ever face fewer than five rivals, and in 25 of those wins she had to see off seven or more opponents.
ELEPHANT TO TRUMPET HIS CREDENTIALS
While The Underwood is the main attraction there are some fascinating support races as racing serves up a grand final hors d’ouvres, particularly the 1500-metre Sandown Stakes, which features the return to the track of the emerging New Zealand star Elephant.
The son of Shocking tasted defeat for the first time in his five-race career in the group 2 Feehan Stakes at The Valley earlier this month when he was just touched off by Superstorm, one of Zaaki’s rivals later in the day.
But he lost few admirers on that occasion and he is a warm order to see off the likes of Cherry Tortoni and Harbour Views as all three take their next steps to bigger targets later in spring.
For those who love outsiders Lunar Fox will surely make some appeal: he went off at the remarkable odds of 300-1 when he won the group 1 Australian Guineas at Flemington last autumn before running fourth, at 50-1, in the All-Star Mile.
Other interesting horses in action on Saturday are the lightly raced Team Williams stayer Cormorant, who had form around last year’s Melbourne Cup runner-up Tiger Moth when the pair were youngsters in Ireland, and later in the day So Si Bon in the Testa Rossa Stakes.
Friday’s Benalla Cup meeting was postponed at short notice after jockeys told stewards they thought a part of the track was unsafe before the first race.