If you’ve watched the movie Phar Lap, which you should have, you’d have seen Lauchlan Mackinnon was portrayed as a bit of a bad guy.
The Victoria Racing Club chairman tried to have geldings banned from the VRC Derby (they weren’t, and the free and unbaggaged Phar Lap duly beat the Mackinnon-owned colt Carradale home in the Classic). What’s more, Mackinnon smirked, in an evil way, two years later when Phar Lap was handicapped out of his attempt to win a second Melbourne Cup, with a weight ranking somewhere between “the grandstand” and “Plugger Lockett”.
Dooooh, that Mackinnon!
But what he’s given us, or what’s been named after him at least, is a beauty of a horse race: the LKS Mackinnon Stakes. (Aside from the fact he hated Phar Lap, and probably Santa Clause, and couldn’t spell Lachlan, and didn’t know when a capital K would come in handy, his middle names were Kenneth and Scobie).
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The Mackinnon Stakes was run as the Melbourne Stakes from 1869 to 1936, when it thenceforth was named after the by-then deceased LKS. Run on the first day of the Flemington carnival, it was a 2000m lead-up to the 3200m Melbourne Cup three days later. It was a worthy and coveted race, won by many of the all time greats, but over the decades it also developed another kind of reputation. For it became known as a race trainers would use to give their horse a last little fitten-up run before the big one, without (you might say if there were no stewards listening) being pushed out too hard, so soon before the Tuesday. It also became known, without being too indelicate, as the Dead Meat Stakes, for the relative lack of competitiveness of some of the entrants.
But that’s all in the dim and dodgy past.
The Mackinnon was moved back a week a few year ago, and it’s now the showpiece of the last day of the Flemington carnival, and thus it’s on again this Saturday. The carnival used to peter out a little, but now there’s a $2 million weight-for-age highlight, run over perhaps the “best” distance in racing – 2000m – to end Flemington’s biggest week with a bang.
There’s a strong, quality-packed 10-horse field to mull over, highlighted by the outstanding mares Arcadia Queen and Melody Belle.
And Stakes Day, as “The Carnival is Over Day” has long been known, also boasts a second Group 1 in the Darley Sprint Classic, a 1200m dash up the straight featuring several of the nation’s top speedsters, amid a nine-race card set to get the blood pumping.
It’s essentially the last big hurrah of the year for eastern states racing for the year, so let’s feast on it.
WHAT IS IT?
The Mackinnon Stakes, a time-honoured, weight-for-age Group 1, run over perhaps the most testing distance racing offers, of 2000m – or a mile and quarter in the old.
WHAT’S IT WORTH
Two million bucks, with the winner taking $1.2 mill, and money paid to the eighth horse home, or third-last.
WHEN’S IT ON?
Race 8 on the card, at 6.00pm, Saturday.
It’s at Flemington, the nation’s greatest racecourse, the little track on the sandy banks of the Maribyrnong River where they started racing in 1840.
You can’t get into the course, because there’s a microscopic particle blocking your way known as the coronavirus, but you can see it on Channel 10, Racing.com or Sky Racing. Foxsports.com.au will have live news and updates, including video soon after the race.
It looks a battle of the great mares: Can Arcadia Queen, the darling of WA, atone for her wet track Cox Plate misfortune? Or will it be wet again and play right into the hoofs of Melody Belle, the darling of New Zealand, even more adored than Jacinda Ardern, who’s won 12 Group 1s (pressing up towards Kingston Town’s 14) on either side of the Tasman?
Or will Sydney horse Mugatoo show his Cox Plate fourth was no fluke, and spoil the girls’ party?
Or will something like nine-year-old Harlem – a surprising dual winner of the autumn Australian Cup over this course and distance at odds of $61 and $31 – piss everyone off again?
Give us two minutes, on Saturday evening, and we’ll find out.
Glencoe, in 1869, who also won the Melbourne Cup the year before.
Magic Wand, from the stable of master Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien.
Quite a lot, but for space reasons we’ll pick a best ** from the older days and nowadays: OLDEN: Carbine (1890), Wakeful (1901-02-03), Phar Lap (1930-31), Peter Pan (1930-32), Rising Fast (1954-55); NOWA: Dulcify (1979), Better Loosen Up (1990), Let’s Elope (1991), Lonhro (2002), So You Think (2010).
OTHER RACES ON THE UNDERCARD
Race 3: The Chatham Stakes (1400m), a Group 3 for some handy sprinters of all ages.
TIPS: 1. Sansom, 2. Morrissy, 3. Bold Star, 4. Riddle Me That.
Race 5: The Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m), a G3 for stayers. Keep an eye on this one, for it often sets in stone plans for the Melbourne Cup a year later. In 2002 this was won by a skinny young thing called Makybe Diva. This year, you’ve got stayers like Haky, Pondus, and Le Don De Vie in the mix.
TIPS: 1. Haky, 2. Shared Ambition, 3. Pondus, 4. Le Don De Vie.
Race 6: The Darley Sprint Classic (1200m), a G1 worth $1.5 million featuring some of the best springs in the land, including a few that went round in The Everest, such as Bivouac, Libertini, Santa Ana Lane, and the dreaded Nature Strip, who was somehow this country’s horse of the year, having won a few races while also putting millions of punters in straight jackets. Plus there’s Hey Doc, the seven-year-old who turned back the clock last start to win the G1 Manikato Stakes.
TIPS: 1. Bivouac, 2. Libertini, 3. Zoutori, 4. Nature Strip.
Race 7: The Matriarch Stakes (2000m), a G2 for mares, featuring such worthies as Chaillot, Toffee Tongue, Greysful Glamour and Vanna Girl.
TIPS: 1. Chaillot, 2. Toffee Tongue, 3. In Good Health, 4. Paradee.
RACE 8: THE MACKINNON STAKES 2000m
1. HARLEM (Barrier 1) Approx win / place odds $17 / $4.40.
FOR: He’s a bit like an annoying neighbour. He shows up when you least expect him to, or want him to. He’s a nine-year-old now but likes this course and distance, having won the prestigious G1 Australian Cup over it twice – in 2018 at odds of $61, and 2019 at $31. Hasn’t quite been at his peak this campaign but warmed up with a much-improved second, to he handy Noncomformist, in the 2000m Coongy Handicap at Caulfield. Good barrier, great jockey in Craig Williams, and top stable in Dabernig-Hayes. AGAINST: Hasn’t won since that second Aust Cup 20 stars ago, and has managed just two placings in 15 runs since in that time. Nonconformist dudded in his subsequent start to the Coongy, so that form line doesn’t look strong. Record only fair on damp tracks if it rains, with one win from six on soft and nothing from three on heavy. Hard to recommend too confidently, but he does bob up.
2. FIFTY STARS (8) $10 / $3.
FOR: Is a quality 6yo who likes Flemington, where he’s won four from nine, including taking over from Harlem to win this year’s Australian Cup over this course and distance. Has been in fairly promising form, with a third, beaten 2.6len, in a 1600m G1 at Caulfield followed by a little-bit-closer fifth (1.6len) here last Saturday over 1600m in the Cantala Stakes. Decent jockey who won Australian Cup on him in John Allen and again, the Hayes-Dabernig touch. Goes well on dry but possibly better in wet. AGAINST: Steps up to the testing 2000m for the first time this preparation, which can be tough. (You might prefer second go at 2000m, for fitness purposes). That was a G1 last start but meets better rivals here.
3. MR QUICKIE (3) $11 / $3.2.
FOR: Has ability, as shown in G1 Queensland Derby (2400m) and Toorak Handicap (1600m) wins. Blitzed them two starts back in the latter at Caulfield, hitting the lead at the top of the straight and powering way to win by two lengths. Top jockey in Luke Nolen and good inside draw should help him to a good spot in running. AGAINST: Like the two above, can be hard to know when he’s on song. Recent form has been much better at Caulfield (last four runs there have yielded that win and two seconds) whereas he’s been 10th and 13th his past two here. The latest was his last start, following that Caulfield win with a poor 13th in the Cantala last Saturday. Prefer others, rain or shine.
4. MIRAGE DANCER (7) $31 / $7.
FOR: Imported from England last year after showing promise, and two starts back he won a 2400m G1 at Randwick, and in strong style, beating Mugatoo (see below). He’s a tough campaign and his dad was Frankel, possibly the best horse at these sort of trips the world has seen in a few decades. AGAINST: That was his first win in 10 races since transferring to Australia, and having finally broken through he went and spoiled things at his only run since – a dreadful 17th in the Caulfield Cup. You can forgive a fifth, or and eighth, or even a 10th in some circumstances, but it takes a leap of faith to look past a 17th. And he’s worse if it’s wet.
5. MUGATOO (9) $5.50 / $2.
FOR: Clearly has ability, as seen in winning six of his first eight starts around Sydney, from 1600m to 2400m, since being imported from Britain. Jockey Hugh Bowman rides well, and the horse warmed up well with a 4th in Australia’s premiere 2000m(ish) race, the Cox Plate. Good on wet and dry. AGAINST: A bit worrying that the start before that he got beaten by Mirage Dancer, who subsequently disgraced himself in the Caulfield Cup. He’s never seen Flemington before and in fact has only gone anti-clockwise a couple of times in his life, with that Cox Plate 4th his best return. And of all those Sydney wins, the best was a G3, so can he win one at the top level, as decent as that Cox Plate run was?
6. SKYWARD (4) $26 / $5.50.
FOR: French import who won four from seven there, including a 2500m G3 there three runs back. Has big race man Glen Boss on his back, a strong stable behind him in Busuttin-Young, and a perfect barrier. Has had an Australian run now to fitten him up, with a fifth in the Geelong Cup, and drops back from 2400m to 2000m here, which should suit. AGAINST: That Geelong Cup fifth wasn’t all that impressive, since it was a weak field this year and there were only nine in it. If it rains, remember two of his three failures in France were on soft going. Best efforts in France have been in weaker class than this, Group 3s and the like.
7. DALASAN (2) $14 / $4.
FOR: Classy type who has a good record here, with two wins from seven starts and some worthy other runs. Go on his run two starts back, when a very narrow fourth – beaten only a neck – in Verry Eleegant’s 2000m Turnbull Stakes. That was steady progression after his fifth here in the 1600m Makybe Diva Stakes. Ran second in the SA Derby last autumn, beaten only by the very good Russian Camelot. Was only 11th in the Caulfield Cup (2400m) last start but was desperately unlucky, having to race wide throughout after jumping from gate 10. Jamie Kah goes back on today, has a good inside gate, and works in the wet or the dry. AGAINST: Could be perceived as the type who under-delivers, with no wins in his past six, despite three placings, a fourth and a fifth. Strong place chance though.
8. MELODY BELLE (6) $5 / $1.80.
FOR: This Kiwi mare is just about deserving of the much-overused title of “champion”. That’s much over-used but she’s won 12 G1s for heaven’s sake, 10 in NZ but also one over 1600m here at Flemington, where she was second in this race last year to the very good Irish mare Magic Wand. Has Jye McNeil on board, who’s on the crest of a wave following his masterful Melbourne Cup triumph. Has won two big NZ G1s past two starts, over 1600m and 2040m, the latter by three lengths. Likes wet and dry and hard to go past. AGAINST: Pretty hard to knock her actually. Is she as good as Arcadia Queen? Does the recent NZ form stack up? It probably does really, a she beat the same horse both times, a mare called Advantage whose four previous runs included a two wins and a third at G1 level, and a G2 win. Really hard to knock.
9. ACADIA QUEEN (5) $3.20 / $1.40.
FOR: Outstanding mare from WA who’s won seven of 14. Broke through for her second G1 win over this distance at Caulfield two runs back, when she turned the tables on young star Russian Camelot with a 1.25len win. Then came out in the Cox Plate but may have had chances dashed by rain, which she doesn’t like, being from Perth. Good jockey in Luke Currie. AGAINST: Regular rider William Pike (5 wins from 9 rides) can’t be aboard today as he’s gone home to Perth. If the going’s soft or worse you can count her out, as evidence by her insipid Cox Plate fifth. If it’s not, she’s right in this.
10. SHOUT THE BAR (10) $16 / $4.20.
FOR: From the top Waterhouse-Bott stable and has the great Damien Oliver aboard, who’s in form after winning the Oaks on Thursday. Tuned up well with a narrow win in the 1600m Empire Rose (G1) last Saturday, in Oliver’s first ride on her. Goes in soft or dry. AGAINST: Awkward barrier, since she likes to go forward, steps up to the 2000m for the first time this trip (though she handled that admirably last prep with a G1 win at Rosehill). Also steps up in class since she beat only mares last time and this is an open weight-for-age race. May have had her grand final last Saturday.
TIPS: 1. Melody Belle, 2. Arcadia Queen, 3. Dalasan, 4. Harlem.
Trevor Marshallsea is the best-selling author of Makybe Diva and Winx – Biography of a Champion. Click on the links to purchase yours.