Regan Bayliss celebrates winning the Newmarket Handicap on Redkirk Warrior (Image: Racing Photos)

Festival fever builds with high-profile nominations

The countdown to the Festival of Racing has begun in earnest today with an exciting list of nominations – including the 2017 Melbourne Cup winner Rekindling – announced for three of its biggest Group 1 races, the Australian Guineas (1600m), the Lexus Newmarket Handicap (1200m) and the TAB Australian Cup (2000m). The Flemington features are just three of the many highlights during the Festival of Racing, which features six weeks of world-class thoroughbred action across Victoria starting with Saturday week’s C.F.Orr Stakes Family Day at Caulfield.

The Lloyd Williams-owned Rekindling, who was trained to Melbourne Cup glory by Joseph O’Brien but is now under the care of Liam Howley, is amongst the 53 nominations for the $1.5 million TAB Australian Cup, which will be run on Super Saturday (10 March).

His stablemate Johannes Vermeer, who fought out a pulsating finish with Rekindling in ‘the race that stops a nation’ last November, is also included in the TAB Australian Cup nominations, as is another horse owned by Williams and trained by Howley, the 2016 Melbourne Cup winner Almandin.

Other notable entries in the weight-for-age contest include last year’s winner Humidor, who came within a neck of delivering a first Cox Plate triumph for Darren Weir last October; his stablemates Gailo Chop and Tosen Stardom, who both secured Group 1 success during the 2017 Spring Racing Carnival; New Zealand mare Bonneval, who has three wins from five Group 1 starts; and Group 1-winner Ventura Storm, one of 13 nominations for the Lindsay Park trio of David Hayes, his son Ben and nephew Tom Dabernig.

A total of 14 three-year-olds have been nominated for the TAB Australian Cup including five from the Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young stable headed up by 2017 AAMI Victoria Derby runner-up Sully and Main Stage, part-owned by Dustin Martin.

Click here to view Australian Cup nominations

Lindsay Park holds a strong hand of nominations for the $1.25 million Lexus Newmarket Handicap to be run on Super Saturday, March 10. The stable won the race last year with Redkirk Warrior, who became the first horse in 100 years to win the nation’s oldest sprint first-up from a spell, landing the spoils under jockey Regan Bayliss.

Redkirk Warrior could this year become the first horse since Razor Sharp in 1983 to win back-to-back Lexus Newmarket Handicaps but may face some stiff competition from his Group 1-winning stablemates Catchy and Sheidel.

Redzel, who laid claim to the title of the nation’s best sprinter after winning The Everest and Flemington’s Group 1 Darley Classic last spring, headlines the nominations. Peter and Paul Snowden’s stable star has won his last six starts – five of them at Group level – to take his earnings past the $7 million mark and he is joined in the entries by stablemates Russian Revolution and 2017 Ladbrokes Blue Diamond (1200m) runner-up Pariah.

Weir is again well-represented in the Lexus Newmarket Handicap, which has attracted a total of 56 nominations.

Japanese import Brave Smash and Group 1 placegetter Hellbent are amongst his five-strong list of nominations, whilst Tony McEvoy’s multiple Group 1 winner Hey Doc and the Aaron Purcell-trained Merchant Navy, who was recently acquired for a huge sum by global breeding powerhouse Coolmore on the back of his stunning win in the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) at Flemington last November, have also been nominated.

Other notable nominees include Robert Hickmott’s highly-progressive sprinter Nature Strip, a winner of four of his five starts including most recently the Inglis Dash at Flemington; Rich Charm, who provided one of the highlights of the 2017 Spring Racing Carnival when he won at Group 2 level over the track and distance for popular trainer Udyta Clarke; and New Zealand mare Volpe Veloce, a winner of 10 of her 14 career starts including the Group 1 Railway Stakes.

Click here to view the Newmarket Handicap nominations

The Mick Price-trained Mighty Boss could bid for a coveted Guineas double after he was amongst the 112 nominations for the feature race on Australian Guineas Day presented by 3AW on Saturday, 3 March at Flemington.

Mighty Boss was a 100-1 winner of the Ladbrokes Caulfield Guineas (1600m) last October, but would start at a much shorter place if he takes his place in the Australian Guineas for which prizemoney has been lifted by $250,000 this year to $1 million.

Schweppes Thousand Guineas (1600m) winner Aloisia, trained by Aaron Purcell, will also be hoping to carry her 2017 form into this year after she was nominated for the Australian Guineas; as will another Group 1-winning filly, Shoals, who has been entered by the Anthony Freedman stable.

The powerful Lindsay Park and Weir stables again dominate the Australian Guineas nominations, with 15 and eight respectively.

Last year’s Ladbrokes Blue Diamond winner Catchy headlines the Lindsay Park nominations, whilst Weir’s team of gallopers includes Group 3 winner Cliff’s Edge. Other notable entries include talented Kiwi Embellish, who won the Group 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas last November; last start Group 3 Carbine Club Stakes (1600m) winner Levendi; reigning Sandown Guineas (1600m) champion Villermont; and Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott’s $1.2 million colt Siege of Quebec.

Click here to view the Australian Guineas Nominations

First acceptances for all three Group 1 races will close at 12 noon on Tuesday, 20 February.