Comment by Ray Hickson
The Everest might still be 70-odd days away but Saturday’s Group 2 Missile Stakes (1200m) at Royal Randwick is shaping as make or break for several ‘contenders’.
The $200,000 prizemoney pales when compared to the $6 million first prize in this year’s Everest but what's really at stake is a shot at that $6 million.
While there’s probably six or seven horses out there that could lay claim to having slot holder appeal the problem for connections of those horses is that only three slots remain.
That number was two until Wednesday when the door opened slightly with the news Menari is out of the spring with a potentially career-ending tendon injury, forcing Max Whitby to go back to the marketplace.
Whitby raced Vega Magic, the eventual runner-up, in the inaugural Everest so he’s not afraid to look far and wide for his contender.
The Australian Turf Club, who secured third-placed Brave Smash last year, have yet to move after exhausting international options. While the ATC raced an interstate horse in 2017 it had an international connection and that presence is already assured through Coolmore’s U S Navy Flag.
You’d think at this stage they’re looking locally.
The other remaining slot holder is Greg Ingham's GPI Racing. Chautauqua, part owned by GPI, would be a shoo-in for the spot if he could get out of the gates but he’s basically on his last chance when he next steps out to trial.
GPI is in the ownership of Missile Stakes runner Showtime so his performance will be closely watched if Ingham wants to bring one off the reserve bench.
That brings us to the Missile Stakes. Always a quality race but, like the Bletchingly last weekend, it has taken on heightened significance because of The Everest.
Among the list of six or seven Everest potentials we’ll see the clash of four of them in Kementari, Pierata, She Will Reign and Showtime. Add Group 1 winners Music Magnate and Takedown to the race and it’s a strong pointer to whoever comes out on top’s Everest hopes.
Let’s start with Kementari, he’s a short-priced favourite to win the Missile and he’s the third favourite in The Everest All-in TAB market – so there’s a bit on the line.
Some commentators have expressed surprise he’s not already among the nine horses confirmed, especially since Godolphin has made its interest in tackling the race known.
Perhaps it’s just a matter of making that statement on Saturday and we’ll again have 10 locked in.
Pierata proved he’s competitive with Kementari through his second placings in the Hobartville and Randwick Guineas in the autumn. While The Everest has never been ‘Plan A’ for trainer Greg Hickman, taking the scalp of Kementari would be no better advertisement.
It’s fair to say both She Will Reign and Showtime need to make statements of their own if they’re to be considered realistic chances of forcing their way into the field.
Of course, Showtime is virtually half way there and he did run third in the Group 1 All Aged Stakes behind Trapeze Artist back in April.
She Will Reign was one of the first horses secured for the inaugural Everest and we didn’t get to see her at her best on the day. Unplaced in three starts in the autumn following a first-up win in a restricted Inglis sprint, the Missile is most crucial for her than just about any other.
WOW, JUST WOW. Nature Strip, genuinely stunning... pic.twitter.com/N2x2g6ykJJ
— Racing.com (@Racing) July 28, 2018
Waiting in the wings is Nature Strip.
Would this boom Victorian have beaten Vega Magic had the pair clashed in the Bletchingly Stakes? We’ll never know but it would have settled once and for all the class credentials of a horse we already know is fast.
He’s on the fourth line of TAB betting at $9 and the loss of Menari could be the break the Nature Strip camp needed.