Sydney Championships Preview: Day 1 Spot Plays

March 31st, 2022

Sydney’s autumn racing carnival has traditionally been the city’s most notable, and it culminates in the next two weekends with The Championships.

Day 1 is on Friday night, April 1 (Saturday afternoon, April 2, Australian Eastern Time). The 10-race, A$10.1 million (about $7.6 million) card includes four Group 1 races, one Group 2, four Group 3s, and the $500,000 Country Championships Final.

The carnival has quite often been on turf courses affected in some way by rain, but this autumn has been unlike almost any other. Heavy rain, which has brought flooding in some country areas of Australia’s eastern seaboard, hasn’t missed Sydney, and most of the racing has been on tracks rated a Heavy 10 — in other words, very wet. Day 1 of the Championships will be no exception, so be very careful with any horses that might be new to the carnival and assess if they can handle the wet.

Check to see what promotions are in play. With that said, let’s have a look at some of the races.

Race 4, 10:55 p.m. ET: Chairman’s Quality (G2), 2,600 meters (about 1 5/8 miles), three-year-olds and up

A lead-up to next week’s two-mile Sydney Cup (G1), early betting has seen a lot of interest in Queen Elizabeth II’s import #12 Chalk Stream, third in the Queen's Cup (G3) last start. However, stablemate #2 Great House may be the one to beat; the Hotham Handicap (G2) winner has been coming into form nicely and isn’t too badly off at the weights. Tancred Stakes (G1) runner-up #1 Stockman should also be considered, but weight and the short back-up may be against him.

  • $10 win/$30 place: #2 Great House

Race 5, 11:35 p.m. ET: Country Championships Final, 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs), three-year-olds and up, special conditions

A highly competitive race for country horses, with a lot of chances, #2 Far Too Easy will be well-supported with James McDonald aboard; he was fourth in the Magic Millions Three-Year-Old Guineas in January. However, the potential hot speed in front could suit a swooper like #6 Edit, provided he finds a path through the 16-horse field.

  • $10 win/$30 place: #6 Edit

Race 6, 12:15 a.m. ET, Saturday: Sires’ Produce Stakes (G1), 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs), two-year-olds

Golden Slipper winner #12 Fireburn attempts here to keep alive her chance of winning Sydney’s two-year-old Triple Crown, which wraps up with the Champagne Stakes (G1) in two weeks. Only fourth-placed #1 Daumier and seventh-placed #13 She’s Extreme returns from the Golden Slipper to oppose her; her toughest opponents among the new horses look to be Victorian Sires’ Produce (G2) winner #3 Let’srollthedice; he will stay the seven furlongs, and the wet surface will be his biggest challenge.

  • $10 win/$40 place: #12 Fireburn
  • $10 place: #3 Let’srollthedice

Race 7, 12:55 a.m. ET: Australian Derby (G1), 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles), three-year-olds

The field is dominated by #1 Hitotsu. The son of champion Japanese miler Maurice was a clear winner of the Victoria Derby (G1) Oct. 30 and then returned to win the Australian Guineas (G1) March 5. This is his first race on very heavy ground and his first race in Sydney, but he deserves to be favorite.

However, lurking in the background is Australian Derby king Murray Baker, who is retiring this year. From his New Zealand base, he has won this race five times in the last 14 years, and he has another live chance in New Zealand Derby third #5 Regal Lion. He handled the wet well when second in one of Baker’s favorite lead-ups, the Tulloch Stakes (G2), March 28, and is proven at the trip. If Hitotsu isn’t on his game, Regal Lion could be the one to trip him up.

  • $10 win/$30 place: #5 Regal Lion
  • $1 box quinella: 1, 3, 5, 8

Race 8, 1:35 a.m. ET: T J Smith Stakes (G1), 1,200 meters (about six furlongs), three-year-olds and up

Australia’s greatest sprint race (at least until the advent of The Everest, and arguably still stronger in depth), this sees the world’s top-ranked sprinter #1 Nature Strip seek to match Chautauqua and win for the third straight year. He again faces his old adversary #2 Eduardo, who beat him home in the Challenge Stakes (G2) in March, but who normally finds Nature Strip too good at 1,200 meters when the big money is up. Improving New Zealand mare #8 Roch ‘N’ Horse could be one to watch after her Newmarket Handicap (G1) victory in Melbourne, as could the every-week country sensation #6 Shelby Sixtysix, who went close to winning the Challenge Stakes. But if Nature Strip is at his best, he's hard to go past.

  • $20 win: #1 Nature Strip
  • $1 trifecta: 1 with 2, 6 with all

Race 9, 2:15 a.m. ET: Doncaster Mile (G1), 1,600 meters (about one mile), three-year-olds and up

U.S. mare #5 Lighthouse is back in action in this A$3 million race, Australia’s biggest handicap mile. She’s in great form, having won the Coolmore Classic (G1) on March 12 against her own sex, but she faces a much tougher task here. It’s not so much her quality that’s in question, but her position at the weights carrying 53kg (about 117 pounds); she would be better off against nearly every horse in the race at weight-for-age. Drawing the outside gate doesn’t help much either.

The one to beat looks like #16 Forbidden Love. The All Too Hard mare has been outstanding this autumn, beating Lighthouse in the Canterbury Stakes (G1) and then winning the George Ryder (G1) March 19. Both were at weight-for-age, carrying 57kg (about 126 pounds), and she drops to 50kg (about 110 pounds) here. She looks a special at the weights.

One for odds could be #8 Inspirational Girl; she is very good on her day and beat Zaaki two starts back. She handles soft ground and looks well placed at 51.5kg (about 114 pounds).

  • $10 win/$30 place: #16 Forbidden Love
  • $10 place: #8 Inspirational Girl