How do the current contenders stack up? And which horses should the remaining slot holders be looking at? Two of our choices (end of the article) may surprise you.
Early indications are that this year’s Everest is poised to eclipse the rating level of the inaugural running won by Redzel.
This calendar year, three Everest contenders have posted WFA Performance Ratings (WPR’s) of 108 or better; last year’s Everest was won in a 105 WPR. Given that depth at the top end, we have to make the assumption the field being assembled this year will run to a higher level.
So where does that leave the current slot holders and those looking to force their way into the field?
Here is our take on the contenders.
Starting with those that have already secured a slot, in market order:
TRAPEZE ARTIST ($4.50)
- 12 months peak: 108.3 WON T.J. Smith Stakes April 2018
- Next two best ratings: 105.5 (Golden Rose), 103.5 (All Aged Stakes)
The Gerald Ryan trained stallion has been the long-time Everest favourite. He was locked into his slot after taking the All Aged Stakes and thus ending speculation he would be retired at the end of his three-year-old career.
There is little doubt his TJ Smith rating, where he trounced Redzel, is good enough to win the Everest. It’s just a matter of whether he runs up to that mark on the big day.
His big spike ratings have come when there were several others more fancied in the market (even though he was ‘specked’ in both wins.) When he was expected to win, in the All Aged Stakes, he scrambled home in a 103.5 – well below the peak he established in the T.J.
We’d like to see him put another rating down in the 106.5 to 107 range to get more confidence that he can repeat that TJ Smith figure on grand final day.
That’s really the only question with him – will he ‘spike’ on the right day? Gerald Ryan is the right trainer to do that, especially when they’re kept on the fresh side, but $4.50 is certainly not a betting option at this stage.
VEGA MAGIC ($8.00)
- 12 months peak: 108 WON G3 Bletchingly Stakes last start
- Next two best ratings: 107 (Caulfield LR), 106.5 (G1 Memsie Stakes)
The unlucky runner from last year was back with a bang in the Bletchingly, tuned up to run a new career best and thus lock in an Everest start.
Given he also has a 107 and 106.5 in the locker, he’s the one runner with a bank of ratings that can be relied upon to produce a high mark on Everest day. His effort to run second last year was enormous after having no favours in the run.
He has kicked off this latest campaign three weeks earlier than last year, but the number of runs will be the same, so there should be no risk of him being over the top.
He did fail in the Goodwood, where David Hayes noted the wet track (he had won two previous goes on S6?), so that’s possibly a query if Randwick comes up wet on October 13.
- 12 months peak: 105.2 WON Darley Classic Nov 2017
- Next two best ratings: 105 – four times, including the 2017 Everest
His last start 100.6 rating at Doomben was his lowest rating in his last 14 starts. His prior 103.6 when beaten by Trapeze Artist was also below his previous consistent level of 105
Consistency was his forte in 2017, but he hasn’t been as dominant this calendar year. The reason for that could be two-fold.
One, he’s never produced truly ‘elite’ sprinting figures. He’s well-established at the 105 mark and found a series of races where that was good enough. That may not be the case this year.
Secondly, normal mere mortal horses (that is outside your Winx’s and Black Caviar’s) generally only have a limited time at their peak. He ran seven consecutive ratings in the 104 to 105.2 range, but declined in his last two runs last season.
Consistency means he can’t be fully ruled out, but with a few others having better ‘spikes’ than him, he looks some risk this year, especially at $6.00 in the market.
IN HER TIME ($11.00)
- 12 months peak: 106.5 WON The Galaxy March 2018
- Next two best ratings: 104.5 – twice
Had excuses in the TJ Smith and then pulled up with issues after the Doomben 10,000.
That meant she ended the season with 99 and 96.3 – her two lowest ratings of the entire season. Even with the excuses offered up, you can’t help but think she may well have reached the top of her own mountain.
Her Galaxy winning figure is super competitive in this race and her 104.5’s also put her in the game, but we want her see come back and post another big number before getting excited about her prospects.
US NAVY FLAG ($15.00)
The Aiden O’Brien trained Irish Sprinter (US Bred) is the first international to run in The Everest and certainly adds some interest after his G1 July Cup win at Newmarket last month.
When we transfer his overseas performances to our scale it puts him around the 106 mark, which is obviously a super competitive figure for this.
The big challenge though is to turn up in Australia and run to his absolute peak.
SANTA ANA LANE ($15.00)
- 12 months peak: 104.8 WON G1 Stradbroke Hcp June 2018
- Next two best ratings: 103 (Goodwood), 98.5 (Sir Rupert Clarke)
An enigma who transformed into a genuine Group 1 sprinter at the end of last season.
We doubted he could run up to his Goodwood rating in the Stradbroke, but instead, he rated even higher!
Obviously that’s a rung below what the top ones have run up to, but it would appear the stable has found the ‘key’ to him as he’s got older. His Stradbroke figures suggest he’s capable of being a Group 1 WFA sprinter this year.
He needs to rate higher still, but his profile may still be on the up and that means you can’t rule him out. On balance he may need a couple of others to rate below their best in order to win, but it wouldn’t surprise if he ran into a placing.
- 12 months peak: 102 WON Sangster Classic May 2018
- Next two best ratings: 101.8 2nd 3yo F G2, 101.2 2nd G1 Thousand Guineas
She was beautifully placed to win three Group 1 races last season, but did not have to go higher than 102 to win any of them. Notably, all of them came against her own sex.
We’ve seen the Freedman stable lift Santa Ana Lane to new heights this season and perhaps there’s more in the locker given she’s only had the 10 starts, especially with a record of 7 wins and 2 second placings from 10 starts. On exposed figures though she’s approximately 3 lengths from where she needs to be to win this race.
BRAVE SMASH ($26.00)
- 12 months peak: 103.8 2nd G1 Newmarket March 2018
- Next two best ratings: 102.7 3rd Everest; 101.7 WON G1 Futurity
Ran third last year in this race and was mostly consistent before the wheels fell off at final two Sydney runs in the autumn.
You get the feeling this is a miler being trained as a sprinter predominantly because of the lure of this race. We would love to see him extend beyond the sprint trips here in Australia, but this is the aim again.
At a peak of 103.8, he’s well off the mark required to win this and he’s fairly well exposed here in Australia now.
- 12 months peak: 104.1 2nd Rosehill The Galaxy March 2018
- Next two best ratings: 104 Premiere Stakes, 102 Doomben 10,000
She’s been around the traps for a few seasons now and can still pull the odd big performance out of the fire, but even those ones are not likely to be enough to win this race.
Those not in yet …
NATURE STRIP ($9.00)
- 12 months peak: 108.5 WON Adelaide LR last start
- Next two best ratings: 108 Flemington 3YO; 104 Sandown 3YO Benchmark 70
The X-factor. We documented his Adelaide win in detail in Blinkers Off last week as the single best sprint performance of the season.
When you throw in his 108 rating Flemington win and a 104 at Sandown earlier in his career, it’s clear he has the capabilities of running the rating needed to win this. There is no horse racing at the moment that has smashed the clock like Nature Strip.
But can he do it at 1200m going the opposite way? What if there is some early pressure in the race? They are both relevant questions.
In between his monster 108 runs was just a 101 up the straight at Flemington over 1200m (he did lead into a massive headwind though) and prior to that he went 97.7 over 1200m in Adelaide.
The main issue seems to be that he races a little too keenly and can’t relax enough to be as dynamic at 1200m. That may be a limiting factor for his credentials in the Everest, but Darren Weir is certainly working on it and IF Nature Strip can improve that part of his make up he could go even higher than a 108 and develop into a world class Sprinter.
That’s a big “if” of course, but that untapped potential makes him in our opinion a horse well and truly worth a slot.
- 12 months peak: 104.7 3rd George Ryder March 2018
- Next two best ratings: 104 twice (Randwick Guineas, Hobartville Stakes)
He was expected to put his hand up for a slot and win the Missile Stakes last Saturday, but struck some traffic and went under narrowly rating 101.5, around 1.5L below his peak.
Regardless of where you sit in regards to whether he should have won that race, the run highlighted the task he faces in an Everest.
Quite simply, he doesn’t profile as a 1200m specialist. He won in slick time over the trip fresh last prep, against modest opposition to rate 103.5, but that’s well below the standard needed to win the 2018 Everest. He appeals as a 1400m to 1600m horse and that has been the distance range of his peak ratings so far.
He runs next in the Memsie against Vega Magic, which will be a fascinating clash and probably needs to win there to secure a slot.
Taking into account his exposed ratings and the fact that he’s best at 1400m to 1600m, Kementari has to be a risk at this stage and is definitely too short in the market at $6.00.
- 12 months peak: 102 WON Missile Stakes last start.
- Next two best ratings: 102 (2nd Hobartville Stakes), 101.4 (2nd Randwick Guineas)
He dethroned Kementari with a tidy performance in the Missile, living up to the promise he showed in the big races last season.
He’s a good way off the ratings needed to be a genuine contender for The Everest though and to be honest, his connections would probably be best served by him missing out on a spot, because he’s going to be super competitive in races like the Epsom and then the mile Group 1 races in Melbourne.
Even testing him beyond a mile wouldn’t be the silliest thing to see.
HAPPY CLAPPER ($26.00)
- 12 months peak: 106.8 WON Doncaster Mile April 2018
- Next two best ratings: 106.3 (2nd George Ryder), 105.5 (Won Canterbury Stakes)
He entered the elite status last autumn with three runs that all bettered his previous career peak. In terms of ratings, there are few better credentialed than this fellow.
But what of him at 1200m? He has not raced at 1200m since winning a Benchmark 85 in October 2015!
Clearly the mile is his best trip, but he did run fast time when a dominant winner of the 1300m Canterbury Stakes at Randwick first up in the autumn with a 105.5 rating, which would certainly be competitive in The Everest.
That figure stacks up superior to the likes of Kementari and Pierata who are being touted as potential slot holders. Happy Clapper also beat Kementari home by 1L at WFA over 1500m last preparation in the George Ryder.
The likelihood is that he would find the race a shade sharp, but it’s also probable he will finish in front of more than will beat him home.
He would be a popular (and not the worst) choice should a slot holder roll the dice. We’d certainly prefer him in front of a couple that have already secured slots.
INVINCIBLE STAR ($51.00)
- 12 months peak: 103 WON Caulfield G3 3YO F
- Next two best ratings: 101.8 2nd G1 Coolmore Stud Stakes; 89.5 unplaced MV G3
She hasn’t been seen since last year’s Coolmore Stud Stakes, where we thought she was unlucky to be run down by Merchant Navy after leading on a very hot early speed.
Her recent trial looked first class and she looks ready to explode with a big rating on her return.
While obviously not there yet, she is one of the few in this list that have scope to genuinely improve and it’s not out of the question that she could progress to a competitive 105-106 level this preparation.
Our best chance at this stage….
We can’t go past Vega Magic ($8.00). That 108 rating return in the Bletchingly over 1200m is right up to what we think it will take to win The Everest and the fact that he also has a previous 107 and 106.5 rating really confirms his talent at that elite level. Trapeze Artist’s 108.3 from the TJ Smith can certainly match or beat Vega Magic, but his next best is 105.5 followed by 103.5.
Who would we give the remaining slots to?
- NATURE STRIP – A pressure 1200m is certainly a query at the moment, but two performances this preparation of 108.5 & 108 and enormous measures on the clock says he has serioous top class talent. We’d rather have his X Factor on our side than be with a horse that is well exposed and needs to improve significantly to win.
- HAPPY CLAPPER – That 105.5 rating over 1300m in the Canterbury Stakes last preparation says he can run well in The Everest. Notably that 105.5 rating is better than Pierata’s 102 career peak and Kementari’s 104 to 104.7 peak’s, which have come over the longer distances 1400m to 1600m. It’s hard to see why he’s not being spoken about at least as enthusiastically for a slot as Kementari and Pierata.
- INVINCIBLE STAR – Her 103 best is well below Everest Standard but she’s a genuine sprinter and has potential to improve. The chance that she could reach a new peak this preparation combined with the prospect that she could control The Everest in front makes her a good speculative choice for a slot holder that might have limited options.