Australian Roundup: Rain Dissolves Many Hopes

Caulfield Guineas Day promised great racing associated with one of the best on the Australian calendar. But in the end, rain dissolved many hopes.

There was still excitement: the rain dampened only a portion of the enthusiasm -- much of the crowd behind glass and untouched by the elements -- but it blunted the brilliance of some.

They included Universal Prince, who brought his freshly won Spring Champion (Aust-I) crown to Melbourne, his capacity reduced in a soggy Guineas edition. The long-striding Scenic colt didn't handle the slush, which ensured the racing favored front-runners. He finished ninth, leaving his owners to hope for firmer footing in the Victoria Derby (Aust-I) on Nov. 3.

The 120th Guineas went to Skalato, a grandson of Nodouble, and if the Semipalatinsk colt was aided by a slice of luck and a canny ride by Patrick Payne, he went in as the least-experienced of the 15 runners, and of at least the 50 previous winners. The colt sold for $15,000 (Australian funds) as a yearling in Queensland, where his sire has worked with consistent if moderate success since 1981.

Sydney trainer Clarry Conners found four owners, including Australia's best-known newspaper cartoonist, Ron Tandberg, and sent Skalato south to the satellite barn run by one of his sons, Heath.

In the light of his $750,000 Guineas success, the debut win in April out in the boondocks at Traralgon was a soft target. He then scrambled home at Caulfield, was rested, and earned his shot with a solid second at Flemington.

The 1,600-meters event was thrown more widely open by the weather; and Skalato was 10-1 after opening four points shorter. It looked generous when he turned for home at the rail with only four behind him.

Payne realized that his options were reduced to waiting for a miracle. On cue, every runner in his path gravitated to the right. A grateful jockey headed Skalato into a gap you normally associate with the Red Sea, and they drove for home to defeat those out wider, headed by a courageous Show a Heart. The margin was a decisive 2 1/4 lengths, Fubu finishing hard out wide for third, a neck farther back.

Third would have been about the best Payne could have hoped for had he tried that route, with Fubu and several others delayed in traffic.

The win was particularly joyous for Payne, who broke his collarbone at this meeting a year ago. Weight problems see him mostly based in Macau. Skalato now advances to the Derby. Show a Heart was trapped wide near the lead from gate 13 and there was irony in this Queensland 1-2 in that the second colt has been a source of pride to the drought-stricken northern state, the son of the deceased Brave Warrior also being the 3-1 favorite.

Shogun Lodge appeared the most disadvantaged of the Caulfield Stakes (Aust-I) field. Yet the best southern hemisphere son of Grand Lodge was able to run third, and move up another rung at the expense of Tie the Knot in the stewards' room. The weight-for-age contest was won by Sky Heights.

The soft track suited last year's Australian Derby and Caulfield Cup (both Aust-I) winner, but he achieved it in a manner that should see him challenge Sunline in the Cox Plate (Aust-I) on Oct. 28.

In an obvious rehearsal for Moonee Valley, Glen Boss rode Sky Heights hard to sit outside the leader, had enough petrol in the tank to gain a winning break, and collect his fourth group I by almost two lengths at the end of the 2,000 meters.

The Zabeel son ran third behind Sunline and Tie the Knot in last year's Cox Plate and was then benched for eight months from injuries received in the Melbourne Cup. Those three horses, and Shogun Lodge, should dominate the $2-million race this year.

The remaining group I of the weekend, the Toorak Handicap, produced an historical double to Miswaki grandson Umrum, one of the most honest milers in the land. The 6-year-old son of Umatilla won the race last year, but his effort to become the first in 36 years to repeat, had more authority. Jim Cassidy controlled the race from the front and they arrived more than four lengths clear.

This article was published in the Oct. 21 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine.