Victoria Derby day heralds the beginning of the four-day Melbourne Cup carnival at Flemington, the biggest few days of racing in Australia.
Tradition on Derby Day is paramount with top hats and tails for the men and classical black and white for the women to denote the Classic race.
Run over 2500 metres, the Derby is a test of endurance for three-year-olds, 100 metres longer than most Derbys due to the configuration of the track.
At the other end of the scale, the sprinting three-year-olds contest one of three other Group One races on the program, the Coolmore Stud Stakes over 1200 metres on the only metropolitan track that still has straight racing.
The Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) has been a useful guide to the Melbourne Cup in the past while the final Group One, the Myer Classic (1600m), pits the best fillies and mares against each other at weight-for-age.
The support program includes the Lexus Stakes (2500m) – the last chance for a horse to force its way into the Melbourne Cup – while the Wakeful Stakes (2000m) is the final tune-up for fillies headed towards the Oaks the following Thursday.
The Salinger, a dash down the straight over 1200 metres under handicap conditions, is a lead-up to the Group One Patinack Farm Classic at weight-for-age a week later.
Here is a look at the four Group One events on Saturday:-
VICTORIA DERBY: The Victoria Derby was first run in 1855, six years before the inaugural Melbourne Cup. Its honour roll includes some of the greats – Phar Lap (1929), Comic Court (1948), Tulloch (1957), Tobin Bronze (1965), Dulcify (1978), Grosvenor (1982), Red Anchor (1984), Mahogany (1993), Nothin’ Leica Dane (1995) and Elvstroem (2003) – are but a few.
A full field of 16 has been paid up for this year’s race along with two emergencies.
Bart Cummings has trained five Derby winners, his most recent Omnicorp in 1987, and he has Rapidus engaged.
Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley team will be represented by up and comer Induna. The sheikh had to pay a late entry fee to put him in the field with his Geelong Classic win signalling it was worth the risk.
Raging favourite Manawanui is trained by Ron Leemon who prepares a small team alongside Darley’s Peter Snowden at Warwick Farm.
So far, Manawanui has ticked all the boxes and thrust Leemon into an unaccustomed role in the spotlight.
Like all the runners, the question is whether Manawanui can sustain his form over 2500 metres, uncharted waters for the young three-year-olds, and write a happy ending to his spring fairytale.
MACKINNON STAKES: Traditionally used as the final Melbourne Cup tune-up, particularly by Bart Cummings, the Mackinnon has grown in prestige as a race in its own right.
Seven of the 14 Mackinnon runners are entered for the Cup including the Cummings-trained Precedence.
Only three horses have claimed the Mackinnon Stakes-Melbourne Cup double in the past couple of decades and Cummings has trained two of them – Rogan Josh in 1999 and Let’s Elope eight years earlier. The other was New Zealand mare Empire Rose in 1988 who had previously been trained by Cummings before being sent back across the Tasman.
Caulfield Cup winner Southern Speed will be trying to add the $1 million weight-for-age event to her resume after connections opted to bypass the Cox Plate.
COOLMORE STUD STAKES: Last season’s champion two-year-old Sepoy is the star attraction for the public and his owner Sheikh Mohammed who will be trackside to watch him race for the first time.
The winner of the Blue Diamond Stakes-Golden Slipper double at two, Sepoy added a third Group One victory to his record when he beat older horses to win the Manikato Stakes last month.
He will face nine rivals his own age in the Coolmore, and while some say he is not as effective down the Flemington straight, most agree his class will carry him through.
MYER CLASSIC: The 1600-metre fillies and mares race was run for the first time in 1988 and upgraded to Group One in 2004 when won by New Zealander Miss Potential.
Glamour mare More Joyous headlines the field and the betting as she attempts to win her sixth Group One race for trainer Gai Waterhouse and owner John Singleton.
But as 2010 showed when Horse of the Year Typhoon Tracy was the raging favourite, there is always the chance of an upset.
The rain came and Sacred Choice came into her own. The Joe Pride-trained mare went on to win the Doncaster in the autumn and is back at Flemington to defend her Myer title.
If it rains and the race is run on a slow track, her chances improve greatly and More Joyous is at a disadvantage.
Few fillies have taken on the older mares and none have won with Alinghi the closest of seconds to Miss Potential after winning the Thousand Guineas. This year’s Thousand Guineas runner-up Mosheen will fly the flag for her age group with in-form jockey Craig Williams aboard.