Spring majors taking shape after first acceptances

The 2021 Spring Racing Carnival’s feature races are starting to take shape after first acceptances for the $5 million Carlton Draught Caulfield Cup (2400m), $5 million Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m) and $8 million Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m) all closed at 12 noon (AET) today (Tuesday, 7 September). 

As well as the three majors which form the pinnacle of the carnival, first acceptances also closed for two of the country’s most coveted three-year-old contests with 94 horses continuing to target the Group 1 Neds Caulfield Guineas (1600m) and 93 flying fillies hoping to land the Group 1 Schweppes Thousand Guineas (1600m). 

A total of 109 horses remain in contention to claim the Caulfield Cup, the world’s richest turf handicap over 2400m, at Caulfield on Saturday, 16 October; whilst 79 gallopers are still in the hunt to win the 101st edition of the Cox Plate, Australasia’s weight-for-age championship at The Valley on Saturday, 23 October.

The connections of 124 contenders are dreaming of victory in ‘the race that stops a nation’ at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November, the 161st edition of the Melbourne Cup. This is up from 94 first acceptances in 2020, albeit they closed three weeks later last year.

The list of acceptors is headlined by the three defending champions, with Chris Waller’s reigning Caulfield Cup heroine Verry Elleegant nominated for all three races; Sir Dragonet continuing his pursuit of a title defence in the Cox Plate; and Twilight Payment, who delivered a second Melbourne Cup victory for his Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien last year, a first acceptor for the 2021 edition. 

But the trio face a serious battle in their bid to go back-to-back from a host of top-class challengers. For Sir Dragonet, that includes Annabel Neasham’s emerging star Zaaki, who firmed as Cox Plate favourite after his arrogant return in last Saturday’s Group 2 Tramway Stakes (1400m). 

This Saturday’s $1 million Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) at Flemington could also impact the market for both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, with leading contender Incentivise set to make his keenly anticipated debut for his new trainer, Peter Moody. The former Queenslander is an acceptor for all three majors. 

Carlton Draught Caulfield Cup (2400m) – Caulfield, 16 October

Of the 109 horses that have accepted for the Caulfield Cup, only the Team Hawkes-trained Mount Popa is currently guaranteed a start in the $5 million showpiece courtesy of his win in the Listed Neds Mornington Cup (2400m) earlier this year.

The lightly raced import is one of the leading fancies according to bookmakers, along with Incentivise, Verry Elleegant, Queensland Oaks winner Duais and three-time Derby winner Explosive Jack whom all feature among the first acceptances.

Last-start Feehan Stakes winner Superstorm and Inspirational Girl, the Western Australian raiders who have been transferred into the care of Danny O’Brien, could deliver a second Caulfield Cup for their trainer, who also has the exciting Young Werther among his Caulfield Cup acceptors. 

Other leading acceptors include last-start winner Degraves, one of six acceptors owned by Lloyd Williams, and The Chosen One, a minor placegetter in last year’s Caulfield Cup who made an eye-catching return to Melbourne in the Feehan Stakes for his co-trainers, Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman.

Two internationally trained horses, Rodrigo Diaz (trained by David Simcock), who is part-owned by the Australian Bloodstock syndicate, and Ascot Gold Cup placegetter Spanish Mission (Andrew Balding), feature amongst the first acceptors, although their participation will be subject to suitable travel arrangements.  

Notable horses to have withdrawn at the first acceptances stage include Irish stablemates Twilight Payment and Master of Reality, New Zealand mare Amarelinha and comeback galloper Il Paradiso.   

Second acceptances for the Caulfield Cup will be taken at 12 noon (AET) on Tuesday, 21 September.


Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m) – The Valley, 23 October

As well as dominant local hopes Zaaki and Verry Elleegant, this year’s Cox Plate field could also feature a newcomer to the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace stable in the form of Gold Trip, who is set to arrive in Australia at month’s end. 

The northern hemisphere four-year-old, who has been purchased by Australian interests, was fourth in last year’s Arc De Triomphe in France. His arrival increases the chances of Maher and Eustace retaining the title they won in such style last year courtesy of Sir Dragonet, one of three first acceptors from Victoria’s leading stable.

State of Rest was one of three late entries for the Cox Plate and the last start Group 1 Saratoga Derby winner in the USA is the sole internationally trained first acceptor for Joseph O’Brien. He and import Fourhometwo, now a stablemate of Zaaki, are the two northern hemisphere three-year-olds among the first acceptors.

Mighty New Zealand mare Probabeel returned to action in Australia with a hard-fought Group 3 win at Caulfield last month and her trainer Jamie Richards has kept the five-year-old in contention for consecutive appearances in the Cox Plate, along with stablemate Amarelinha.  

Probabeel is one of 32 Group 1 winners among the Cox Plate first acceptors, whilst 17 southern hemisphere three-year-olds remain in contention to claim the crown of Australia’s weight-for-age star. They include exciting Queensland galloper Alpine Edge, along with Group 1-winning juveniles Anamoe, Artorious and Converge. 

Crack Kiwi contender Elephant, whose run of five straight victories was narrowly halted by Superstorm at The Valley last Saturday, remains in the acceptance list of 79 alongside Superstorm, Inspirational Girl, Behemoth and boom four-year-old Ayrton. 

The notable withdrawals today were Alligator Blood and the Group 1-winning mares Avantage and Mystic Journey.

Second acceptances for the Cox Plate will be taken at 12 noon (AET) on Tuesday, 21 September.


Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m) – Flemington, 2 November

Defending champion Twilight Payment is one of six internationally trained horses that feature among the 124 first acceptors for the Melbourne Cup, in addition to high profile imports Gold Trip (Ciaron Maher and Dave Eustace) and Sir Lucan (Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott) who are yet to join their new Australian stables.

The other internationals among the first acceptances are Twilight Payment’s stablemate and two-time Melbourne Cup starter Master of Reality, Rodrigo Diaz (David Simcock), Spanish Mission (Andrew Balding), Away He Goes (Ismail Mohammed) and Sonnyboyliston (Johnny Murtagh).

Of the local contingent, Chris Waller is very well represented with 13 horses bidding to deliver a first Melbourne Cup victory for Australia’s leading trainer.   

They include last year’s Queensland Derby (2400m) winner Kukeracha, two-time Group 1 winner Hungry Heart and of course Verry Elleegant, arguably Australia’s leading horse with no fewer than eight wins at racing’s highest level to her name. 

The 2019 Melbourne Cup hero Vow And Declare is one of five first acceptances from Danny O’Brien’s stable, whilst fellow Flemington trainer Denis Pagan is still pursuing his dream of adding Australian racing’s most famous trophy to the Derby he won last year with Johnny Get Angry.

Realm of Flowers, who is exempt from the ballot courtesy of her win in May’s Andrew Ramsden, is among the other notable local acceptors, along with Cup favourite Incentivise and leading Victorian country hope Tralee Rose.

The most notable non-acceptors are the retiring Prince of Arran, 2019 placegetter Il Paradiso and promising local stayer Nonconformist.  

Second acceptances for the Melbourne Cup will be taken at 12 noon (AET) on Tuesday, 28 September.


Neds Caulfield Guineas (1600m) – Caulfield, 9 October

The $2 million Neds Caulfield Guineas is Australia’s premier three-year-old mile and the headline among three Group 1 races on the opening day of the 2021 Caulfield Cup Carnival.

A total of 94 horses feature among today’s first acceptances with the Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young stable leading all-comers with 10 acceptors, with Chris Waller and Team Hawkes next with eight acceptors each.

Group 1 winning juveniles Anamoe, Artorious, Converge and Stay Inside headline acceptors, with other leading fancies to accept including Magic Millions winner Shaquero, Ingratiating, Tiger of Malay, In The Congo and the filly Argentia.

The notable withdrawals include Kiwi entrant Sword of State and horses likely being kept to sprint distances in Finance Tycoon, General Beau and Paulele.

Second acceptances for the Caulfield Guineas will be taken at 12 noon (AET) on Tuesday, 21 September.


Schweppes Thousand Guineas (1600m) – Caulfield, 13 October

The $1 million Schweppes Thousand Guineas is Australia’s richest mile race for three-year-old fillies and returns to its traditional home on the Wednesday of the Caulfield Cup Carnival.

It has attracted 93 first acceptors with the Busuttin/Young and Waller stables leading the way with seven acceptors apiece. 

The Anthony and Sam Freedman stable have five acceptors including glamour pair Argentia and Zouzarella who top early betting markets. 

Other prominent first acceptors include Godolphin filly Heresy for James Cummings and the Waller-trained Magic Millions placegetter She’s All Class.  

Today’s notable withdrawals from the Thousand Guineas were Sydney fillies Jamea and Four Moves Ahead, along with the Peter Moody-trained Gimmie Par.

Second acceptances for the Thousand Guineas will be taken at 12 noon (AET) on Tuesday, 21 September.