The first two heats of the $1.2 million Sportsbet Future Stars at Sportsbet-Pakenham this Thursday night, 11 January will kick start the second edition of Australia’s richest maiden series.
Off the back of a highly successful inaugural series in 2023, which saw Lindsay Park’s Marble Arch crowned the overall winner, the Sportsbet Future Stars headlines racing under lights at Pakenham over the next eight Thursdays.
The format of the series remains unchanged for 2024, with 12 maiden heats of $75,000 each over 1200m or 1400m culminating in the grand finale, a $300,000 Class 3 Handicap (1400m) on Thursday night, 29 February.
The strong form lines have held up from last year’s Sportsbet Future Stars with a trio of finalists – Bel Air (trained by Anthony & Sam Freedman), Helix (Clinton McDonald) and El Soleado (Robbie Laing) – filling the trifecta in the George Watson Handicap (1400m) at Flemington on New Year’s Day.
The opening two heats, to be run over 1200m as Races 5 and 6 at 7.15pm and 7.45pm respectively on Thursday, feature entrants from 24 stables with premier jockeys Damian Lane, Mark Zahra and Michael Dee among those booked to ride.
Heat 1 is for the three-year-old colts and geldings where Zahra will pilot Laa De Sha, one seven debutants in the race, for defending champions Ben, Will and JD Hayes.
Heat 2 is for the three-year-old fillies with Mornington trainer Jerome Hunter set to figure prominently with two leading chances in Barby’s Doll (Lane) and Miss Cardannic (Daniel Stackhouse).
The Sportsbet Future Stars Jockey Contest will also return in 2024 with riders to compete for a lucrative $50,000 prize pool across the eight night meetings.
Jockey points will be awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis to the first five placegetters in each of the 12 heats, with double points on offer in the final.
The three highest point scorers will be rewarded for their riding consistency on conclusion of the series, with the winner receiving $30,000, the runner-up earning $15,000 and $5,000 awarded to the third-placed jockey.
To add further intrigue, riders will again be permitted to nominate one ‘Power Play’ across the heats, giving them the opportunity to earn double points in that race, which was an element closely followed by punters in 2023.
Riders are required to advise RV by 12pm (AEDT) on the day of the meeting whether they wish to use their Power Play. RV will announce any Power Plays in the afternoon prior to the meeting.
Ethan Brown took home first prize in the 2023 series courtesy of a trio of heat wins and a smart execution of his Power Play. Daniel Stackhouse, who piloted Marble Arch to the series win, finished second with Blaike McDougall third.
Matt Welsh, Racing Victoria (RV) Executive General Manager – Racing, said: “The inaugural Sportsbet Future Stars was a great success. It delivered highly competitive racing, terrific returns for owners and strong wagering turnover.
“Eight of the 12 finalists have since gone on to win another race, including four at metropolitan level. Having three finalists fill a trifecta at Flemington on New Year’s Day is testimony to the talent unearthed in the inaugural series.
“With the valued support of Sportsbet, we’re delighted to welcome the Sportsbet Future Stars back for a second year and eagerly await the first two heats at Pakenham this Thursday night.
“The Sportsbet Future Stars Jockey Contest features across the eight Thursday nights of the series and I’d encourage punters to keep a close on eye on the Power Plays when they are used by a rider.”
The conditions of the 2024 Sportsbet Future Stars are as follows:
- The series is open to three, four and five-year-old horses only;
- The heats and final will feature fields of 12, with the winner of each heat automatically qualifying for the final; and
- If qualified horses do not accept for the final, their spots will be offered to the highest-rated runners-up from the heats.