Grand final weekend in Sydney is not just about football. Racing takes centre stage at Randwick on Saturday before the carnival moves south.
For some horses it will be their grand final, for others a precursor to an assault on Melbourne riches.
For racegoers who need a football fix, Randwick will also host Sydney’s biggest AFL grand final live site.
The bumper weekend of sport continues on Sunday with the Turnbull Stakes meeting at Flemington and the NRL grand final in Sydney.
Saturday’s showcase event is the Epsom Handicap over the famous Randwick “mile”, supported by the Metropolitan Handicap (2400m) for stayers, the Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) for three-year-old colts and geldings and the Flight Stakes (1600m) for three-year-old fillies.
So who will be the major players:
EPSOM HANDICAP (1600m):
Named for the famous racecourse in England, the Epsom is the spring version of the Doncaster Handicap.
It is often said it takes a 2000-metre horse to win over the tough mile course at Randwick, a test of speed and stamina.
Gai Waterhouse is looking for her seventh win in the race, a feat only achieved by her father the late TJ Smith. She is represented by More Strawberries, King Lionheart and Light Brigade.
The Joe Pride-trained Sacred Choice can join a select group of horses to add the Epsom to her Doncaster win in the autumn.
But she and the other mares in the race have to overcome a 35-year drought for their sex since La Neige in 1976.
Wet weather enhances Sacred Choice’s bid but it won’t do the favourite Sincero any harm either. He has been the dominant force in betting and goes into the race off a victory in the George Main Stakes.
METROPOLITAN HANDICAP (2400m):
Another race that has been stamped by Gai Waterhouse who holds the record of seven wins jointly with her father TJ Smith.
Te Akau Nick’s win in 1992 was the first at Group One level for Waterhouse and Herculian Prince’s 2010 victory brought up number 100, the fastest century in Australian racing.
This year Waterhouse is relying on Herculian Prince to return to form and also has Brisbane Cup winner Tullamore engaged.
The race favourite is Trusting, an enigmatic galloper who has struck form with two recent wins in the hands of Singapore-based Brazilian jockey Jo Moreira who makes the flying visit again to ride for billionaire Nathan Tinkler.
Trusting took over at the top of the market from Lamasery with the weather to determine if the emerging stayer will take his place or head to Victoria in the hope of drier tracks next week.
SPRING CHAMPION STAKES (2000m):
The Spring Champion is a race that determines whether an early three-year-old can go on to the Derby distance.
Guy Walter saddles up Doctor Doom as he tries to add the 2011 running to Tie The Knot’s 1997 triumph while Bede Murray is looking to Darci Be Good to join Universal Prince (2000) as a winner for his stable.
Unfortunately for both Walter and Murray, their previous winners both found one better in the Victoria Derby (2500m) but the 2009 winner Monaco Consul proved the double was possible.
Favourite for the Spring Champion is Strike The Stars prepared by Anthony Cummings.
Strike The Stars is coming off a win over 1800 metres in the Gloaming Stakes in which Doctor Doom was second while Darci Be Good’s latest start resulted in victory over Saturday’s rivals Rekindled Alliance and Ambidexter in the Spring Stakes (1600m) at Newcastle.
FLIGHT STAKES (1600m):
The race is a fitting tribute to champion mare Flight, the winner of two Cox Plates in the 1940s.
The Flight Stakes has been won by the best fillies of their times, none better than 1998 winner Sunline who went on to emulate Flight by numbering two Cox Plates on her illustrious record.
So who will emerge this year. Pane In The Glass is favourite over Streama despite the score being two-one to the latter in their past three meetings.
Or will it the day for Hallowell Belle to step up after three consecutive seconds at home in Melbourne for trainer Peter Moody who has been forced to withdraw leading Epsom hope King’s Rose due to illness.