It's a Dundeel
collared pacesetter Carlton House
less than 200 meters out but had to dig in late to repel rapidly closing Sacred Falls
to win the AUS$4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Aus-I) April 19 at Royal Randwick.
The race—the world's richest turf event at 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles)—was the centerpiece of the second installment of The Championships, an initiative of Racing New South Wales to attract the best horses in training. It is hosted by the Australian Jockey Club.
The card included three other group I races. Trainer Gai Waterhouse and jockey Tommy Berry teamed for victories in two of those—the AUS$1 million Schweppes Sydney Cup with The Offer and the AUS$1 million Queen of the Turf Stakes with Diamond Drille. Trainer Donna Logan sent out Rising Romance to capture the AUS$1 million Australian Oaks under James McDonald, who also landed the marquee race with It's a Dundeel.
It's a Dundeel provided a touch of drama prior to the start as he slipped the tie-up stalls before the race and lacerated his near hind fetlock and pastern. Aftre an examination, he was deemed fit to start by the stewards.
Trained by Murray Baker for a partnership that includes Arrowfield Stud and breeders Murray and Jo Andersen, It's a Dundeel held on for a three-quarter-length triumph from runner-up Sacred Falls. The runner-up was making an impressive quick turnaround after taking last week's The Star Doncaster Mile (Aus-I) on the first day of The Championships. Queen Elizabeth II's Carlton House, fading from his front-running efforts, hung on for third, three lengths back in the 12-horse field.
Carlton House took up the running out of the gate with Berry astride and opened two-length lead, tracked by It's a Dundeel, with James McDonald sitting chilly in third. Scared Falls bided time toward the back to the strung-out field.
With a commanding lead entering the stretch, Carlton House looked set to cruise on but It's a Dundeel moved up and loomed menacingly from second 400 meters out. It's a Dundeel closed ground with powerful strides and hooked Carlton House just past the 200-meter mark, then shook off the leader.
Scared Falls, who picked up the pace along on the turn, was full of run into the stretch and charged between horses to enter contention. Uncoiling a powerful outside rally under right-handed urging from Zac Purton, he wore down Carlton House but could not get to the winner, who covered the distance in 2:03.72 on a course rated as dead.
It's a Dundeel won for the first time in four 2014 starts and made amends for his runner-up finish in last year's edition of the race. He joins Durbridge (1993-94) as the only other horse to run second in the Queen Elizabeth, then win the event the following year.
A 4-year-old by High Chaparral—Stareel, by Zabeel, It's a Dundeel entered this year's race off a runner-up finish to Silent Achiever in the BMW (Aus-I) April 5 at Rosehill Gardens. He was third to that rival and Carlton House in the Ranvet Rawson Stakes (Aus-I) March 22, also at Rosehill Gardens, after beginning the year as runner-up to Boban in the Chipping Norton (Aus-I) March 8 at Warwick Farm.
"He jumped well and we thought 2,000 meters was his go; that was the plan all along to only give him four races," trainer Murray Baker said. "He has always been half a race behind, but the BMW really topped him off; Carlton House made it for him and he got a good run. He is a stayer and he kicked home."
With his victory, It's a Dundeel earned an automatic starting berth, with fees paid, to the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) later this year at Santa Anita Park
via the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win & You're In" series.
His record improves to 10-4-1 from 18 career starts that include a sweep of last season's Triple Crown for 3-year-olds. The New Zealand-bred will stand at John Messara's Arrowfield Stud following his final race, which may have come in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Messara, a stalwart in Australian racing, was the principal architect of The Championships.
The Offer stamped himself a candidate for the Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) in November with his win in the Schweppes Sydney Cup at 3,200 meters (about two miles).
After settling midfield early, Berry peeled off on the home turn with The Offer, steadied the son of Montjeu, and then pushed his mount through for a dominating 3 3/4-length win from Opinion, with Sertorius in third.
"What a stayer... look at the rest of them," Waterhouse exclaimed.
"He just donkey-licked them and I love the way in a muddling-run race where he just couldn't quite get his rhythm, he picked up."
Two races earlier, Berry piloted Diamond Drille in a thrilling finish to the Queen of the Turf Stakes.
After relaxing his mount in midfield early, Berry brought the 4-year-old Al Maher
mare down the outside on the turn for home, getting up to beat runner-up Gypsy Diamond
and third-place finisher Red Tracer
In finishing the 1,600-meter test in 1:35.85, Diamond Drille scored at the group I level after earning a stakes breakthrough March 15 in a group III race at Randwick two starts back.
The victory was an emotional one for Berry, who blew a kiss to the heavens after the finish line before dedicating the victory to his late twin brother and jockey, Nathan.
"Nathan never got to ride a group 1 winner—that was his there," Berry said.
New Zealand Derby (gr. I) runner-up Rising Romance struck in the Australian Oaks, winning by a length from Zanbagh, with heavy favorite Lucia Valentina back in third.
McDonald had the Ekraar filly ideally positioned in fourth, just off the early pace and made the winning move soon after entering the stretch.
Rising Romance was timed in 2:31.72 for 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles) for her fourth win from 10 starts and first at the group I level.