Redkirk Warrior's quest for rare back-to-back Newmarkets
By Patrick Bartley9 March 2018 — 2:39pm
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Saturday’s $1.25 million Newmarket Handicap is known as the Melbourne Cup of sprint racing.
It’s one of the toughest and most-demanding sprint handicaps races in Australia. It’s known for those successful in it achieving blistering times, with the group 1 event attracting horses of differing ages, sexes, and distance backgrounds to Flemington.
It’s a handicap and, like our greatest handicap, it brings with it staying horses trying to win while fresh, weight-for-age sprinters hoping to defy big weights, and three-year-olds with the build and shape of a four-year-old trying to out-run older rivals. And, of course, the middle-of-the-road sprinters whose connections are optimistic that a hand full of kilos less than the better-performed gallopers can be enough for them to sneak a Newmarket win.
The race's history is deep and only serious short-course horses have been successful.
Only one horse in more than a century has won the race first-up and that was Redkirk Warrior, last year's winner who on Saturday will attempt to win back-to-back Newmarkets.
Only four horses – Razor Sharp (1982, 1983), Correct (1960, 1961), Gothic (1927, 1928) and Aspen (1880, 1881), have achieved back-to-back wins over the long history of the race.
Redkirk Warrior is indeed a revelation. Five years ago, purchased as a 2000-metre winner in England in a bid to win the Hong Kong Derby, the horse was destined for a career coping with the pressure and stress of distance racing.
After disappointments, injuries and operations, Redkirk Warrior had his career rejuvenated by David Hayes and his partners at Euroa.
“It’s an extraordinary story. To be through so many hands and he’s come back to Australia with a staying profile and yet he’s looking at back-to-back Newmarkets after winning a fortnight ago,'' Hayes said.
“You’ve got to laugh. He’s gone from a one-pace stayer to reeling off sectionals that are really extraordinary and that you only dream that your horse can achieve.”
Redkirk Warrior is a winner of three races up the straight and there’s no reason why he and jockey Regan Bayliss can’t exploit their outside barrier draw of 15. Jockeys have abandoned breaking up into two divisions one on the inside and the other on the outside, these days riders are preferring to stay in the middle of the track.
However David Hayes, ever the race tactician, has not tied his five jockeys down to specific instructions, knowing from as far back as his late father's times that straight races can be won and lost with a sudden change of tactics.
If Bayliss can get his mount to the outside rail first it could be a deciding tactical advantage.
Hayes has an assortment of runners in this year’s Newmarket outside of Redkirk Warrior.
He will saddle up high-class three-year-old Catchy, as well as the imported sprinter Fastnet Tempest, who was a Flemington winner in November.
He also has talented sprinter So Si Bon engaged and will saddle up Thronum.
While the huge Hayes stable is in a pivotal position, having one-third of the field, they are pitted against some outstanding gallopers including Brave Smash.
One of the horses to achieve back-to-back success was Correct in the early 1960s. He won his two Newmarkets by the same margin – a head.
The great Bart Cummings, who was successful in the Newmarket on numerous occasions, also had the distinction of preparing the longest-priced winner in the race with Better Beyond starting at 66-1.
With Kevin Mitchell aboard, Better Beyond was the least-fancied of Cummings’ team but under hands and heels, Better Beyond reined in the early leaders to win, leaving Flemington in silence.
There have been six odds-on favourites in the Newmarket, with five – Black Caviar, Weekend Hustler, Alinghi, Bernborough and Ajax – all winning.
The only unsuccessful one was Poodle, who was third in 1874.
Punters who are concerned with Redkirk Warrior's weight of 57.5 kilograms should spare a thought for the 1930 winner Greenline, who had to carry 65 kilos to victory.
In contrast, Lady Ellen scampered over the six furlongs in 1878 carrying just 40.5.
Another chapter of Newmarket history is bound to occur at Flemington after the field take under 70 seconds to run the race and no doubt there’ll be a story befitting the winner of Australia’s toughest sprint race.
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Patrick Bartley is racing writer for The Age.
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