Despite the presence of the top three finishers from last year’s inaugural running of The Everest, Friday night’s renewal of the world’s richest turf race – worth A$13 million – is shaping up as an open-looking affair at Royal Randwick.

The state of the Everest is reflected by an indecisive betting scene. Not only is the antepost market split among four joint favorites, but they’re as high as $7, with two others nipping at their heels in the upper single digits.

While the lack of a clear favorite is largely due to prep losses by a couple of the principals, an Aidan O’Brien shipper is arriving as an unknown quantity versus the Australian speedsters, and the rain-softened ground is having an effect as well. The Sydney weather has been unkind, leaving the course heavy at last report and unlikely to dry out appreciably before Saturday. It’s just a question now of whether it will be soft enough to dent the chances of good-ground lovers, and how much the wet-track aficionados might move up.

Thus those variables are adding further intrigue to the about six-furlong dash, which already had plenty in advance. Modeled upon Gulfstream Park’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), the Everest features 12 “slots” bought in advance by stakeholders. The slot owners can run a horse of their own (e.g., Coolmore) or team up with connections of a leading sprinter to use their spot.

So without further ado, here are the current market leaders for the Everest (post time Friday night 12:30 a.m. EDT):

DEFENDING CHAMPION REDZEL

The Peter and Paul Snowden-trained Redzel deserves first mention as the reigning titleholder, and one of the co-favorites, after drawing the rail in his title defense.

At this time last year, the Snitzel gelding brought a four-race winning streak comprising the Hall Mark (G2) (at this course and distance on heavy going), the Doomben 10,000 (G1) (on soft), the Concorde (G3), and The Shorts (G2). And he was two narrow losses away from a seven-race skein, having beaten Terravista in the Mumm and just missed to English in the Challenge (G2) and to Russian Revolution in the Galaxy (G1) before going on his tear.

In the Everest, Redzel’s early speed proved decisive as he pressed the pace and got the jump on poorly drawn favorite Vega Magic.

After extending his sequence to five in last November’s Darley Classic (G1), over Terravista, Redzel was mugged by Redkirk Warrior on the line back at Flemington in the Black Caviar Lightning (G1). He then bounced back with a vengeance in the Challenge at his beloved Randwick. Although beaten in his final two starts of the Australian season, overturned by sophomore star Trapeze Artist in the T.J. Smith (G1) and fourth when attempting to repeat in the Doomben 10,000, Redzel had done enough to earn Australian champion sprinter honors.

Redzel kicked off the new season with a blistering performance to repeat in the September 1 Concorde. But his plan to use the same final prep, The Shorts, was scrapped after he reportedly got cast in his stall. Scratched with muscle soreness, he responded to chiropractic treatment.

The Snowdens had the option of giving Redzel a barrier trial, or racing him, and they chose the racing path in the September 29 Premiere (G2). Billed as a “mini-Everest” in light of the star-studded field competing over the same track and trip, it was no easy spot. And entering as a Plan B made it all the tougher. Thus Redzel’s tiring to fifth behind Santa Ana Lane, Shoals, In Her Time, and Trapeze Artist is understandable in the circumstances, especially since he set so fast a pace as to cue up a track record.

Jockey Kerrin McEvoy, who felt that Redzel was too fresh early, said immediately afterward that he would come on for the Everest. Yet is he dominant enough in this deep division to prevail again, over a cast that appears well-matched on paper?

2017 RUNNER-UP VEGA MAGIC

Part of the evaluation of Redzel revolves around one’s opinion of whether Vega Magic was an unlucky second last year. Favored in the inaugural Everest, the Hayes/Dabernig pupil was restrained off the pace in light of drawing toward the outside in post 10, and by the time he started motoring from well back, Redzel had flown. Vega Magic’s late thrust fell three-quarters of a length short of the winner while outfinishing Brave Smash (third) and now-retired Chautauqua (fourth).

Interestingly, the stakeholder in whose slot Redzel ran last year, James Harron Bloodstock, has instead teamed up with Vega Magic this time. (Redzel is using the spot bought by Yulong Investments).

A gelded son of Lope de Vega, Vega Magic emerged onto the sprint scene on the opposite side of Australia, in Perth, before transferring yards. In his debut for Hayes/Dabernig, Vega Magic famously landed last year’s Goodwood (G1) first up, and prepped for the Everest with a pair of wins in the Regal Roller (on soft) and Memsie (G1). But after his tough Everest beat, Vega Magic was a troubled fifth in the Manikato (G1), seventh behind Redzel in the Darley Classic, and eighth behind Santa Ana Lane as the defending champion in the Goodwood.

Vega Magic regained his form in his first start back in the July 28 Bletchingly (G3), where the addition of blinkers contributed to an imperious performance on the engine.

Taking blinkers off and reverting to cheekpieces for his Memsie title defense, he struck the front in the stretch only to be swamped late and relegated to fourth. That loss was no disgrace, considering the caliber of the horses who ran him down over a seven-furlong trip more suitable to them – Humidor (who ran Winx to a half-length in the 2017 Cox Plate [G1]), Kementari, and Kings Will Dreams (most recently third to Winx in the Turnbull [G1]).

The training team will put the blinkers back on for the Everest, forecasting that Vega Magic will be a more focused competitor all the way to the line.

“We’re hoping he can travel like the day he won with the blinkers on,” Dabernig said. “At the finish of that race it was like he would have gone through a brick wall.’

“I think Vega is better than he was this time last year.”

The draw was kinder, with Vega Magic more in the middle in post 7, and he’s among the quartet vying for favoritism.  The question mark is the ground. While he’s won two of three on soft, he’s not encountered heavy, and David Hayes notes he’s “brilliant” on a good course.

TRAPEZE ARTIST

Last year’s Australian champion three-year-old colt, Trapeze Artist was not that long ago the antepost favorite for the Everest. He was also the first to secure his Everest spot all the way back in April, with Aquis signing on to host the blueblood son of Snitzel (Redzel’s sire), a red-hot stallion prospect. Thankfully his stud career has been postponed so he can pad his resume, with such international targets as Hong Kong in December, and Royal Ascot next summer, already under discussion.

The Gerald Ryan trainee remains prominent in the market as a joint favorite. Better ground, and a better performance last time in the Premiere, would have seen his odds lower, but neither caveat may be so significant upon closer inspection.

Trapeze Artist was a promising juvenile, stamping his class in the Black Opal (G3) before finishing sixth in the Golden Slipper (G1) (on heavy) and placing third in the AJC Sires’ Produce (G1) (over seven furlongs on a heavy Randwick course). But he took a giant leap forward early in his sophomore campaign to upset the Golden Rose (G1) at 40-1. Rolling out wide from post 14 to win by daylight, his tour de force clearly proved the odds a mockery. Next came a forgettable trip to Melbourne, resulting in a 15th in Flemington’s Coolmore Stud (G1) behind future Royal Ascot hero Merchant Navy. The Sydneysider was happier to return home.

Resuming in the February 3 Expressway (G2) at Rosehill, Trapeze Artist coped with the soft going to win convincingly. After a fourth to Kementari in the seven-furlong Hobartville (G2), and outstayed by the same foe when third in the Randwick Guineas (G1), he reverted to sprinting and became a star.

Trapeze Artist ran down a Redzel in full flight in the April 7 T.J. Smith over this track and trip, and for good measure, clocked 1:08.29 to break Black Caviar’s stakes record.

Up a panel for the April 21 All Aged S. (G1), also at Randwick, Trapeze Artist wore down the high-class veteran Le Romain in a course-record 1:20.33.

As implied by the times of both of those victories, Trapeze Artist finds his top gear in quicker conditions. Yet his record suggests he can navigate soft passably, and even his seasonal reappearance on heavy ground, a staying-on third in the September 8 Theo Marks (G2), was sneakily good.

“Saturday’s run was just enormous,” Ryan told Racenet following the Marks. “He ran the second fastest last 600m of the day and some of the quickest sectionals from the 600m to the 400m and the 400m to the 200m.

“His condition gave out the last 200m but I thought the horse ran super.”

Although Trapeze Artist didn’t advance his claims when fourth in the Premiere, Ryan was unfazed because the colt has never found much in his second start off the bench. His historical pattern is to run well on debut, take a step back, then fire on all cylinders in the third start of his form cycle.

With his ability to travel strongly in range of the pace, lengthen stride, and kick on strongly in deep stretch, Trapeze Artist could work out the best trip in the Everest from post 6. If a wet track blunts the full effect of his finishing speed, a hot pace and ensuing stamina test may benefit a horse who stays seven. It might be worth giving him benefit of the doubt on the ground.

Continued in Everest Vol. 2