Three-year-old Fiveandahalfstar emphatically rebounded from a trio of close runner-up finishes as he led all the way and defeated older horses in the $2.5 million The BMW (Aus-I) April 6 at Rosehill Gardens.
The Hotel Grand gelding's tour de force performance--with ears pricked--set him up for an exciting faceoff with It's a Dundeel in the Australian Derby (Aus-I) April 13 at Randwick.
Favored Fiveandahalfstar sprinted to the early lead in The BMW and just held on to win by a head from New Zealand stayer Silent Achiever, with Sangster finishing a length back in third in the 12-horse field.
Winner of the Victoria Derby (Aus-I) in November at Flemington, Fiveandahalfstar was withdrawn from last week's Rosehill Guineas (Aus-I), won by It's a Dundeel, to prepare instead for The BMW, which is run at the Derby distance of 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles).
Ridden by Hugh Bowman, Fiveandahalfstar covered the distance in 2:33.79 on slow turf and provided his jockey a second group I win of the day. Bowman won the Vinery Stakes (Aus-I) earlier on the card with Norzita.
Fiveandahalfstar came into The BMW with three close seconds, most recently in the Ranvet Rawson Stakes (Aus-I) March 23 at Rosehill Gardens, where Foreteller collared him in the final 100 meters for a half-length win. Prior to that, he finished a nose second to Super Cool in the Australian Cup (Aus-I) March 9 at Flemington and a length second to that rival in the BMW Caulfield Autumn Classic (Aus-II) Feb. 23 at Caulfield. He would not be caught in The BMW.
Trainer, breeder, and co-owner Anthony Cummings said he is looking forward to the Derby showdown with It's a Dundeel.
"They are the two dominant three-year-olds over ground here, and I just hope we finish in front next week,'' Cummings told Fox Sports.
Fiveandahalfstar has four wins, six seconds, and a third from 20 career starts. He is out of the winning Snippets mare Cryptic Miss, a half sister to group I winner Cross Swords from the family of 1985 New Zealand Oaks (NZ-I) winner Solveig. He is the top performer of deceased sire Hotel Grand, a son of late sire Grand Lodge. Hotel Grand died in January 2012 of peritonitis after covering only five books of mares in Queensland.
The BMW was among four group I races on the undercard for $3.5 million Tooheys Golden Slipper Stakes (Aus-I), the world's richest race for 2-year-olds.
Cummings' father, master trainer Bart Cummings, won his 266th group I race when Norzita captured the $400,000 Vinery Stakes, a prep for the Australian Oaks (Aus-I), by a neck from Longport while New Zealand Derby (NZ-I) winner Habibi finished 2 3/4 lengths back in third.
Norzita, a New Zealand-bred Thorn Park filly out of the Quest For Fame mare Visique, will bypass the Oaks, however. She will point for the Doncaster Mile (Aus-I) April 20 at Royal Randwick, in which she will meet last season's Australian 2-year-old champion, Pierro, who his eyeing the 3-year-old title.
In perhaps the standout performance of the day, fan favorite Pierro struck for his fifth group I victory in the $400,000 George Ryder Stakes (Aus-I), capping an elite double on the Golden Slipper card for trainer Gai Waterhouse, who won the marquee event with filly Overreach one race earlier.
In a gutsy show of determination, the son of Darley's Central Kentucky-based sire Lonhro out of the Daylami mare Miss Right Note accelerated from well back under Nash Rawiller to beat King Mufhasa by a neck. He covered 1,500 meters (about 7 1/2 furlongs) in 1:31.08 as the favorite in the 12-horse field.
Pierro entered off wins in the Cellarbrations Canterbury Stakes (Aus-I) March 23 and Hobartville Stakes (Aus-II) March 2, both at Rosehill. Overall, he has 11 wins, a second, and a third from 12 lifetime starts.
"It turned into a bit of a dogfight at the furlong, but there's no other horse in Australia that you'd want to be on, so I was pretty confident that he'd come out on top," Rawiller told the Sydney Morning Herald.
In the $400,000 Inglis Queen of the Turf Stakes (Aus-I), Sheikh Mohammed's Appearance denied favorite More Joyous a third straight win in the race and also will be aimed for the Doncaster Mile.
Jockey Kerrin McEvoy brought Appearance, a daughter of Darley's Australian sire Commands, wide off the home turn and she finished forcefully to win by a half-length from Red Tracer in a repeat of their one-two finish in the Coolmore Classic (Aus-I) two weeks ago.
More Joyous, who was caught in traffic in the stretch and checked at least twice, finished fifth. Appearance, who covered 1,500 meters in 1:30.73, cemented her credentials as one of Australia's best distaffers this season with her third group I win from her five most recent starts. Overall, she has six wins, two seconds and a third from 13 career starts.
"We will head towards the Doncaster Mile now and the way this mare is racing, she will be hard to beat again," trainer Guy Walter told the Daily Telegraph.
Commands, currently fourth on Australia's general sire list, has nine group I winners among 55 stakes winners. Bred by Darley, Appearance is out of the Grand Lodge mare Disguise.