Saturday's Andrew Ramsden Stakes at Flemington is a strategic manoeuvre to get Anzacs back into the Melbourne Cup in place of foreign raiders, while Outback Barbie, with owners wide of Dingo in North Queensland, will take on the might of Godolphin in the Kingsford-Smith Cup at Eagle Farm.
Perhaps Surprise Baby, one of the top contenders in the Ramsden, is New Zealand bred, but has a strong local influence being by Shocking, a Melbourne Cup winner, and trained by Paul Preusker at Horsham in Victoria, but Eastender, a $22,000 yearling from Tasmania, is true blue in the Aussie, and not Godolphin, sense.
The Ramsden this year is a $400,000 weight-for-age test run over 2800m and restricted to three, four and five-year-old stayers. The winner qualifies for the Big One, which has become more of an international race with the local influence diminishing.
Yes, seven acceptors were bred in the northern hemisphere, but they are prepared here and not the fly-in-without-racing-prior category that has played a major, if negative, role in recent years.
The upside with Surprise Baby, a four-year-old, is that from his seven starts he has notched four wins, including the 3200m Adelaide Cup on March 11.
At his first start for seven weeks recently Surprise Baby, handled by Dean Holland, was beaten under a half-length humping 60kg by Steel Prince (54kg), a rival today. However the gelding struck severe interference from a fallen horse. Holland is a flag waver regarding his potential.
“He’ll stay 3200m but he’ll quicken up at the 800 like a 1200m horse,” the jockey commented. “You don’t get stayers like that, and that’s why I think he’s something special.”
Surprise Baby has drawn 18 and the Irish-bred Steel Prince launches from three under Damian Oliver. With Eastender coming from nine with Craig Newitt aboard, a battle of tactics in the early stages is ensured in what promises to be a gripping contest.
Newitt is tipping improvement from Eastender on his last start mainland effort.
“When I saw him in the mounting yard, he had sweated up badly, which he doesn’t normally do and it will be interesting to see how he parades this week,” Newitt explained.
“He carried on going to the gates and raced the first half with his mouth open, which he never does, so he might not have travelled over that well last time.”
Of course Cross Counter, Godolphin’s northern hemisphere four-year-old, proved too good under only 51kg, regarded by some as a gift assessment, in the Melbourne Cup last year.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s blue army has three strong chances –Trekking, Home Of The Brave and Encryption – in a very competitive Kingsford-Smith Cup in which Outback Barbie brings a genuine home-grown flavour.
The filly is owned by Allan and Jennifer Acton of Wilpeena, a property near Dingo (population 100), 250km west of Rockhampton.
According to Jennifer, Outback Barbie honours the bygone generation of Wilpeena women who did so well in testing conditions for over a century.
“Outback Barbie’s determination is much similar to those women,” she declared on ABC News Radio’s Hoof On the Till.
The Barbie title came from seeing her granddaughter in a pink Akubra heading for a camp draft. Now they take Barbie dolls to the races for good luck.
A three-year-old filly, Outback Barbie should have ended closer when downed less than two lengths in the 1200m Doomben 10,000 last start.
Alas, she drew 16 today, but negatives don’t deter Jennifer Acton, who will make the trip by car and aircraft to Eagle Farm.
The Stradbroke looks a better target for Barbie Doll, and I can’t get her in front of The Bostonian, Trekking and I Am Excited, but the Kingsford-Smith is a demanding sprint where positive navigation, not luck in running, will win the day.
And Jennifer figures attributes of Outback Barbie, epitomised by our country and western warbler, Lee Kernaghan, will take her a long way: “Don’t back down and don’t give up."