The Championships: Races deliver on the track, now to match that success off it

Top class: The races at this year’s Championships delivered. Photo: bradleyphotos老域名备案老域名 Punters having fun at The Championships Day 2 at Royal Randwick. Photo: Anna Kucera

After three years, The Championships have been established as the focus of the Autumn Carnival. But there is an impatience for them to become better still, to become the event in Sydney in April.

Racing is blessed to have a core of the best business minds in the country involved in it and an audience that stretches across all levels of society. How to make it better and grow the crowds to match the product on the track, which is as good as anything in Australia, has become a discussion point.

“They are the grand finals of racing but there are no semi-finals and finals,” says businessman John Singleton, who made his fortune in marketing.

“Don’t call the big race the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, make it something they will relate to, something to do with Sydney. They want to get people to come to the track again, don’t they, and not just the racing set, so they need make it easy for them to understand.”

Singleton also believes Randwick should have a birdcage, as Flemington does in Melbourne Cup week, and become a special event. “It is not just about the races, there is plenty of room there to have something like that and get everyone involved.”

The Championships have come a long way and “the build it and they will come” philosophy of $20 million in prizemoney was vindicated with the crowd of more than 25,000 for Saturday. It exceeded expectations and showed the public does appreciate what is the biggest day of the autumn.

Given last year’s wash-out, it was a substantial improvement on last year’s figures, which should continue, but the there is still work to be done by the Australian Turf Club operations team to polish what is a rough diamond.

Of concern is the Randwick track, which has been under microscope from all quarters for its performance. Premier trainer Chris Waller joined the critics on radio on Saturday. And chief steward Ray Murrihy has been frustrated by the way it plays for years. It is the stage of stars and it needs restoration.

Reports of high-end tickets with “whited-out dates” and troubles getting in and out of the track have also surfaced and should be part of any review.

McEvoy clinic headlines Sydney Cup

The best jockeys in the country put on a masterclass at Randwick on Saturday.

Hugh Bowman’s four winners were the entree, including the Australian Oaks on Sofia Rosa, before Kerrin McEvoy provided the main course with a brilliant front-running ride on Gallante in the Sydney Cup.

McEvoy took the sting out of his rivals before the turn in the two-miler, knowing he had the horse to do it. The fact that those riders chasing thought they were big hopes at the top of the straight showed how subtle the control of tempo was by the best distance rider in the country. He was also on the best stayer.

Damien Oliver provided the final course, allowing Azkadellia and Lucia Valentina to show their explosive turns of foot. Lucia Valentina’s win took Oliver to second on Australian group 1-winning jockeys with 109 victories, behind only George Moore.

The excitement of watching top horses accelerate away from rivals can’t be matched by many other sports. Oliver was part of it twice in 40 minutes, giving a remainder of his talent as well as that of the two very good mares.

Easter sales average declines

While the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale remains the place to buy the best bloodlines in the country, the Magic Millions has taken over as the preferred sale for most trainers and syndicators.

In a year when the averages at sales were significantly up, Easter’s average was down and there wasn’t the buzz around Newmarket last week.

The international buying bench remains strong at the Inglis and it is the place to find the best pedigrees in the country, but the Magic Millions attracts trainers from around the country for its January sales with the promise of a $10 million restricted raceday, and horses across all price ranges from thousands to millions.

Inglis had nine seven-figure lots, topped by Winx’s half-brother by Snitzel, and another dozen horse from $750,000 to $1 million, but it was soft around the middle of the sales, where trainers would spec horses. This might be because they have found their stock already but the trend looks to be away from taking on the big boys at Newmarket.

Pengilly wins tipping contest

Master tipster Adam Pengilly won the media’s The Championships tipping competition, which saw $5000 donated to charity beyondblue from the man who doubles as a Sydney Morning Herald racing writer. Pengilly found the outsider Tavago in the Australian Derby in the competition and although he could only find a couple of placegetters on the second day, he held on to his advantage to win.

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Kathy O’Hara in good spirits and likely to be released from hospital on Monday

On the mend: Kathy O’Hara. Photo: bradleyphotos老域名备案老域名Remarkably, jockey Kathy O’Hara could be released from St Vincent’s Hospital on Monday despite breaking her right collarbone, a couple of ribs and puncturing a lung in a fall in the Australian Oaks at Randwick.

O’Hara fell from Single Gaze, on which she won the Vinery Stud Stakes last start, when the filly clipped the heels of Happy Hannah at the top of the straight in Saturday’s group 1.

The filly appeared to roll on O’Hara and left the Randwick crowd stunned as Sofia Rosa crossed the line as the winner. O’Hara’s manager Craig Morrisey said O’Hara was in good spirits on Sunday. “She is very tough and her family and friends tell me she is doing really well,” Morrisey said.

“It was one of those falls that you thought the worst when you saw it, so she was very lucky.” An inquiry into the fall has been adjourned until O’Hara is fit enough to give evidence.

Old North looking for win  

John O’Shea will look to finish the autumn campaign of Old North on a high in Saturday’s Frank Packer Plate with an eye to the biggest prizes of the spring.

Godolphin opted not to run Old North in the Australian Derby, despite a commanding win in the Tulloch Stakes by the developing son of Lonhro.

“I’m really glad we didn’t push him into the Derby because he is only going to get better this bloke,” O’Shea said.

“He can hopefully come out on Saturday and get a positive finish to his campaign and we will have a serious horse late on.”

Asinara, which was second emergency for the Queen of the Turf, will also run in the Packer Plate, while two year-old Obscura is likely to be the boys’ in blue only group 1 runner of the day in the Champagne Stakes.

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Bowman, Oliver and Lees give us a turf treat

Punters and boozers alike were well satisfied by Royal Randwick on Saturday, with outstanding features, including the performance of Kris Lees from Broadmeadow.

Strangely, 25,195 attended, more than the previous week, 22,615, which had a better program, including the outstanding mare Winx in the Doncaster, plus Ronan Keating warbling after the final event.

However, racegoers had a turf treat on Day 2 of The Championships, with Hugh Bowman in the saddle maintaining his George Moore touch and Damien Oliver confirming his champion qualities.

Still the effort of Lees sustained the reputation of Coalfield greats, like Beauford, Luskin Star and Choisir, and those that made them, rated highly.

Also, mastermind Lloyd Williams continued his magnificent record with two milers, taking the Sydney Cup with Gallante under Kerrin McEvoy’s superb judgment of pace in distance races.

Earlier in the day, Williams declared on Sky Sports radio that John Messara should control the racing industry, which was surprising considering he is already chairman of Racing NSW and the Australian Racing Board.

Messara is a driving force behind the Championships and the overvalued $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes, chasing overseas interest. Surely the same horses on Saturday would have raced for $2m and less-than-top internationals would hardly have lifted the profile or betting turnover.

While The Championships this year have been strong, they have been no better than the traditional Golden Slipper program nor the previous autumn carnivals at Randwick, when the Doncaster and AJC Derby were on Easter Saturday.

Yes, the attendance for the 2016 Queen Elizabeth  was satisfying, particularly with the 35,000-plus at the late afternoon Swans match at the nearby Sydney Cricket Ground.

With queues at the ladies’ dunny, the crowd was genuine, although not in the numbers of Easters past when females, out of necessity, have had to crash the gents.

Perhaps the awareness of racing due to Winx influenced many to head to the venue that was really swinging in brilliant sunshine.

On course, the action was superb apart from the Kathy O’Hara Oaks spill in which Bowman again got the best out of what could have been a difficult mount, New Zealand filly Sofia Rosa, one of his four successes.

Ollie notched three winners, including Lucia Valentina, another Kiwi but in latter campaigns prepared by Lees, who tuned her perfectly for the big prize.

Lees is no newcomer to group majors but his effort in the Provincial Championships, better value for the industry at $400,000 than the Queen Elizabeth, was exceptional.

Since Chris Waller came to Sydney, big numbers for the one stable in a race is hardly a remarkable thing but Lees produced eight starters, who had to qualify in the Provincial Championships.

Before the race, the team lookedin top order, and Lees produced three of the first four placings: Danish Twist first, with Powerline in second place and Zestful finishing fourth.

Thus the Lees effort produced recollections of Beauford, from the 1920s, who gave champions their comeuppance. Beauford was beaten at his Maitland debut but went on to clash with Gloaming, the best of his era, four times for a two-all result. He also held a decision over Eurythmic, described as “truly great”.

No doubt Luskin Star, trained by Max Lees, father of Kris, as a two-year-old, held the same title winning eight out of nine and being one of the greatest Golden Slipper winners.

And no Broadmeadow flashback would be complete without Choisirwho, under Paul Perry, trail-blazed to Royal Ascot, opening a horizon for Australian sprinters. And we drink to them with the same gusto as those filling up after the last at Randwick on Saturday.

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Man arrested after siege

UPDATE, 8am:A WARRNAMBOOL man will soon be interviewed by detectives after a siege at west Warrnambool overnight.

Warrnambool police Acting Sergeant Tom Morris said the man surrendered himself to Victoria PoliceCritical Incident Response team members at about 5.15am.

CIR team members arrived at about midnightafter police were called to an incident near Morriss Road at 6.20pm.

Warrnambool police crime investigation unit detectives have now taken over the case, will interview the man and he’s expected to appear in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court later today.

Acting Sergeant Morris said initially the man wasn’t speaking to police during the siege.

“Tactical options were initiated to prompt contact. The CIRmembersused a siren toannoy him. The last siren I heard was about 4am,” he said.

“There were a few grumpyneighboursthis morning and we would like to thank thosepeople for their patience in what was a very trying situation.”

Acting Sergeant Morris said contact was able to be established with the man, he dropped out of contact a couple of times but CIR members persisted and at 5.15am the man surrendered himself to police after coming out of the home.

He said the man had been armed with a machete while in the house, but he was “more or less” alone inside.

“The situation came about as a result of family dispute. It’sunderstoodthe man and his partneror ex-partner had been having a few difficulties over a couple of days,” he said.

“It’s alleged there was an assault which was reported to police on Sunday and then the situation developed,” he said.

It’s expected the man will beinterviewed in relation to assault-related offences.

UPDATE, 7.30am: A Warrnambool man is in custody and about to be interviewed by police after asiegesituation in west Warrnambool.

SUNDAY:A man, who was believed to be armed, barricaded himself inside a house in West Warrnambool, police said on Sunday night.

The Critical Incident Response team was on its way to the scene late on Sunday, a Police Media Liaison spokeswoman said.

Police were called to an incident near Morris Road about 6.20pm.

The police spokeswoman said the man was believed to have been alone in the house.Ross andMorris roads were blocked-off.

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Western Sydney Wanderers have it all to play for as Sydney FC deny Perth home final

Good away win: Ben Sigmund of the Phoenix defends against Dario Vidosic of the Wanderers. Photo: Hagen Hopkins Singing proud: Wanderers fans show their support in Wellington. Photo: Hagen Hopkins

Your ball: Dario Vidosic of the Wanderers passes under pressure from Tom Doyle of the Phoenix. Photo: Hagen Hopkins

Wanderers take the points in WellingtonSydney FC romp home against Perth

The Western Sydney Wanderers are only 90 minutes away from their third grand final in four years, grabbing a much-coveted top-two berth ahead of Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City on the final day of the regular season.

A 2-0 win over Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium enabled Tony Popovic’s side to seal their place in the A-League’s quinella, finishing behind Adelaide United who clinched the Premiers’ Plate when Brisbane failed to defeat Melbourne Victory on Saturday night.

Usual super-sub Brendon Santalab proved again he is much more than bit-part player, bagging his second brace in as many weeks to give the Wanderers a huge shot at their maiden championship, having finishing runners-up in their first two seasons.

Critically, history is now on their side – no team has ever come from outside the top-two to win the A-League and only twice (Central Coast in 2005-06 and Perth Glory in 2012-13) has a team come from third to make the grand final.

They are also rewarded with a week off and will be given a home final against the highest-ranked winner from the first week of the finals, while Adelaide will get the lowest-ranked winner. The two losing teams will be directly eliminated, with all finals matches sudden-death affairs.

But while Western Sydney were good enough to seize their own destiny on the final day of the regular season, the same couldn’t be said of Perth Glory, who succumbed to a 4-0 defeat against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium.

Perth had the opportunity to clinch their first home final since April 2012 going into the fixture, and needed only to defeat the Sky Blues – already out of finals calculations by the penultimate round of the season – to reward their fans.

But the pressure appeared to tell on the Glory, who looked a shadow of the side who, heading into round 27, had won 10 of their previous 11 matches – one of the best streaks of any team in A-League history.

While Sydney FC finished the match with only 10 men on the park, they broke away to a 2-0 lead thanks to first-half goals from David Carney and Filip Holosko – before substitutes Ali Abbas and Milos Ninkovic added two more as Perth, without the rested Diego Castro, desperately threw men forward.

​It formed a minor consolation for the paltry crowd who turned up to farewell a forgettable season, which appears to have at least found a silver lining in the Asian Champions League, where they next face Urawa Red Diamonds on April 20.

Kenny Lowe’s side will now travel to AAMI Park on Sunday to face to Melbourne City, who themselves finished the season in less-than-impressive fashion.

Regarded by many as the league’s most dynamic team – boasting an A-League record 63 goals in 27 games, 14 more than any other side this season – the City Football Group-owned club suffered stage fright in the final two rounds to slip from first to fourth.

Indeed, it was the Glory who tripped City up in a round 26 thriller that ended 3-2, although that match was played in Western Australia. In their only meeting in Victoria, in November, City dolled out a 5-1 thrashing – the equal biggest defeat inflicted on the Glory all season.

City had a faint chance of claiming a top-berth on the final weekend but their hopes were dashed just minutes into the clash against Adelaide United at home when Isaias curled home a superb opener, with Bruce Djite clinching the result from the spot.

While Brisbane slipped from first to third following their 0-0 draw with Melbourne Victory on Saturday night, the Roar will feel far more confident about defeating the reigning champions this Friday at home, having smashed Kevin Muscat’s side 5-0 at Suncorp Stadium barely a month ago.


Friday 15 April, 7:35pm

AEST Brisbane Roar (3) v Melbourne Victory (6), Suncorp Stadium

Sunday 17 April, 5pm

Melbourne City (4) v Perth Glory (5), AAMI Park Team P W D L GF GA GD Pts Adelaide United 27147645281749Western Sydney Wanderers 27146744331148Brisbane Roar 2714674940948Melbourne City 27135963441944Perth Glory 27134104942743Melbourne Victory 2711884033741Sydney FC 2781093636034Newcastle Jets 2786132841-1330Wellington Phoenix 2774163454-2025Central Coast Mariners 2734203370-3713

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