Hotel Grand ensured the potentially monumental switch in Australia's Triple Crown seem a smooth transition with a grand success in the first edition of the Randwick Guineas (Aust-I) March 18.
At 6-1, the Grand Lodge colt grabbed his second group I at Randwick with an impressive wire-to-wire victory by three-quarters of a length from Flying Pegasus (17-2) and Primus. The judge was required to separate the minors, the Fusaichi Pegasus son gaining the nod by a nose from the 13-8 elect, Primus (by Flying Spur). It was all over well before the official 1:35.83 elapsed.
Randwick's brand-new Guineas at 1,600 meters around Randwick escaped the usual steps to group I status as it replaces the Canterbury Guineas (Aust-I), which ceased last year after 71 years of service as the Triple Crown lead-off. Canterbury's oval is extremely tight and the 1,900 meters on the way to the Rosehill Guineas (Aust-1 and 2,000 meters) had a degree of difficulty which yielded just four Triple Crown winners, the last champion colt Octagonal in 1996.
Racing administrators may have missed a golden opportunity to extend the Triple Crown beyond Sydney and install Melbourne's Australian Guineas (Aust-I) as the first leg. Flemington's top mile for 3-year-olds was decided March 11 -- Apache Cat upsetting favorites Darci Brahma and God's Own.
Interstate rivalry was the reason tagged as most likely for the historically missed chance. It's a little more complicated; the third leg, the Australian Derby (Aust-I), is somewhat farcically tied to Easter Saturday and, with Easter shackled to phases of the moon, the Australian Jockey Club's major event and 4-day meeting often puts it wildly out of sync with the fall carnivals in Melbourne and elsewhere.
Here was a chance for the AJC to end all the uncertainty and peg its Derby to the second or third Saturday in April. Instead, the AJC put $400,000 (Australian funds) into it's Randwick Guineas and is almost certainly delighted with edition No. 1.
Last spring's Champion Stakes (Aust-I, 2,000 meters) hero, Hotel Grand, made the running -- and the race -- with his display. Crews of the dozen to finish behind him could not look with any confidence toward the Rosehill Guineas April 1. And whatever happens there, Hotel Grand goes into the Derby with a two-for-two record in Randwick group Is.
Raced by his breeders, the Bangaloe Stud Syndicate and several partners, Hotel Grand has won three races and almost $600,000 from eight starts. Bangaloe Stud is owned by Patricia Ritchie and her daughter, Julia, an AJC board member.
Hotel Grand is the fifth foal of the Star Watch mare Terrestial, a winner of two minor Sydney races to 1,600 meters from 20 attempts. Her dam did a little better with a 3-18 record to 1,820 meters. The family traces to Lynchris, the Sayajiroa filly to collect the 1960 Irish Oaks and St Leger (both Ire-I) and the Yorkshire Oak (Eng-I).
Grand Lodge commuted from Coolmore eight times to Woodlands, base for the also prematurely-deceased Star Watch (by Bletchingly). The predominantly Ingham-owned Danzig son died two days before Christmas, 2003, after a long battle with a severe leg injury.
From his seventh southern generation, Hotel Grand is conditioned by Anthony Cummings, a son of living legend Bart. The group I success completed a big day, the barn supplying three of the eight Randwick winners, two with siblings Casino Prince (by Flying Spur) and Lord of the Land (Timber Country).
FOOTNOTE: The David Hayes barn provided the Flemington meeting highlight with a 1-2-3 result with its three runners in the VRC Sires' Produce Stakes (Aust-II). A nose separated Encosta de Lago fillies De Lago Mist and Ulfah in the 2-year-old event which enjoyed group I status until 2004. Favorite bettors greeted the result with less enthusiasm, the winner 9-1 and Ulfah a 32-10 elect.