“The Championships,” a two-day event held on consecutive Saturdays at Randwick in Australia.
The Sydney Autumn Carnival has undergone significant changes in the past decade, most notably the grouping in 2014 of some its most historic and prestigious races into “The Championships,” a two-day event held on consecutive Saturdays at Randwick.
The first day of the 2020 Championships this weekend (Friday evening for U.S. viewers) includes four Group 1s on a tremendous 10-race program. Not only are they exciting handicapping challenges to punters worldwide, but as stand-alone features have showcased many of the best horses Australia has had to offer.
T J Smith Stakes (G1)
Easily the youngest of the quartet is the T J Smith (G1), a weight-for-age sprint run over 1200 meters (~6 furlongs). Inaugurated in 1997, the race was renamed two years later in honor of the late Tommy Smith, the legendary Sydney-based trainer and father of Gai Waterhouse, a prominent trainer in her own right.
Elevated to Group 1 status in 2005, the T J Smith provided the brilliant mare Black Caviar with two of her 25 career victories in an unblemished career. In between her Smith wins in 2011 and 2013, Black Caviar traveled to England in 2012 and bravely maintained her undefeated mark in the Diamond Jubilee (G1) at Royal Ascot.
Another Aussie who conquered Royal Ascot, Takeover Target, captured the 2009 T J Smith, while Chautauqua pulled off a three-peat of the race from 2015-17.
The other three Group 1s all trace back to the 1860s, all of which make them older races than the Kentucky Derby (G1). Not only that, some of their winners have also made an impact on the American turf.
Sires Produce Stakes (G1)
Registered as the Sires Produce (G1) and currently sponsored by the Inglis bloodstock auctioneer is the 1400-meter (~7 furlongs) middle leg of Australia’s Triple Crown for 2-year-olds (the other races in the series are the Golden Slipper [G1] and Champagne [G1]). The series has been won six times, first by Baguette in 1970 and most recently by Pierro in 2012.
Other notable Sires Produce winners include Australian Hall of Famers Ajax, a star of the 1930s who once won 18 consecutive races; Tulloch, who Tommy Smith conditioned to 36 wins in 53 starts in the late 1950s and early 1960s; and Octagonal, a star of the mid-1990s.
Shannon, who won the 1944 Sires Produce, was later imported to the U.S. In 1948, Shannon won six stakes in California including the Hollywood Gold Cup and Golden Gate Handicap. He later stood at Spendthrift Farm, where he sired the prominent late 1950s performers Clem and Sea O Erin.
Doncaster Handicap (G1)
The Doncaster Handicap (G1), contested over the metric mile of 1600 meters, has the lofty distinction of having been run without interruption since 1866, and female winners have had an outsized influence on the race.
Wakeful, one of the legends of the Australian turf in the earliest years of the 20th century, captured the 1901 Doncaster. Of more recent vintage was the brilliant Sunline, a three-time Horse of the Year (2000-02) who also won two Cox Plates (G1) and the Hong Kong Mile (G1). Last but not least is the impeccable Winx, who counted the 2016 Doncaster as the ninth of 33 consecutive victories she concluded her career with and one of her record 25 Group 1 scores.
Another Doncaster victor of note is Hall of Famer Tobin Bronze, who won the 1967 edition as well as back-to-back editions of the Cox Plate. Later imported to the U.S., he placed in such top American stakes as the Washington D.C. International.
Australian Derby (G1)
The oldest of the four stakes this weekend is the Australian Derby (G1), run every year except one since 1861. Originally a highlight of the spring along with its Melbourne counterpart, the Victoria Derby (G1), the Australian Derby was moved to the autumn in 1979.
As can be expected, the 2400-meter (~1 1/2 miles) Derby has showcased many of the best runners of the classic generation in the country’s history, among them the aforementioned Tulloch and Octagonal. Also stamping himself in the Derby was Australia’s most famous horse Phar Lap (1929), who died in 1932 under mysterious circumstances in California soon after winning the Agua Caliente Handicap in Mexico.
Other notable winners include Peter Pan (1932), who later won two Melbourne Cups; Kingston Town (1980), who would win three Cox Plates; and the beloved New Zealand gelding Bonecrusher (1986).
American racing fans of long standing would surely recognize 1983 Australian Derby winner Strawberry Road, who later won Group 1s in France and Germany and placed second behind Pebbles in the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Aqueduct. He later sired the American champion fillies Escena and Ajina, as well as Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Fraise.