By Ray Hickson
The Group 3 Concorde Stakes has had a few iterations but since 2013 it has been run over 1000m at Royal Randwick and more recently has become the first major pointer towards the TAB Everest.
And with the presence of ruling TAB Everest favourite Nature Strip and star South Australian sprinter Gytrash, both with slots confirmed in the nation’s $15m pinnacle sprint race, this Saturday’s edition is set to again serve as an entrée for what’s to come.
The Concorde really came of age as a pathway to the Everest last year when Redzel, the dual Everest champ, won the race for the third straight year and in the process downed three other horses who would take their place in the Everest six weeks later.
In a thrilling finish Redzel, starting $7, held off Pierata, Nature Strip was 2.7 lengths behind in fourth and Sunlight finished a further length back in fifth.
There’s no Redzel this year but there will be one other previous runner, away from Nature Strip, in the 2020 edition when 10-year-old Ball Of Muscle makes his first Concorde appearance since he ran third in 2015 behind Shiraz.
First run in 1989, and gaining Group 3 status in 1997, the Concorde had been conducted at Canterbury over 1000m, Rosehill and Warwick Farm at 1100m prior to landing in its current format.
Redzel wins the 2019 Concorde Stakes
Who are the major contenders in the 2020 edition?
Nature Strip (Chris Waller) – The reigning TJ Smith Stakes winner doesn’t need a lot of introduction given he’s been TAB Everest favourite for most of the year. He’s one of those high cruisers, a horse that likes to dominate, but he hasn’t had it all his own way at his past couple of first-up attempts where he missed a place in this race last year (after being slowly away) and in the Lightning Stakes in the autumn. What can be said is that he’s trialled very much like nothing is being left to chance to see him return a winner and the market tells you he’s the horse to beat.
Gytrash (Gordon Richards) – With a super consistent record, unplaced just once in 19 starts, and the scalp of Nature Strip at 1000m, this South Australian visitor adds plenty of interest not only to the Concorde but to the TAB Everest later in the spring. He defeated Redzel, Loving Gaby and Nature Strip in the Lightning back in February then placed in the Newmarket and William Reid before downing Sunlight and finishing a close second to Trekking in the Goodwood back in May. He warmed up for his Sydney debut with a pleasing effort in a Warwick Farm trial and all eyes are on him.
Ball Of Muscle (Joe Pride) – He may be ten years old but try telling this tough gelding that! Last spring he finished not far off Gytrash at his first run for the preparation and was run down by Trekking in the Schillaci Stakes where the winner scored an Everest slot and went on to run third. He didn’t come up in two runs in the autumn but gave a reminder of what he’s all about – speed – in his two barrier trial wins in August. He rarely runs a bad race first-up and if Nature Strip steps away slowly Ball Of Muscle might pounce on the lead and give a bit of a sight.
Splintex (Mark Newnham) – The new kid on the block who just kept climbing the ladder as a three-year-old culminating in a Group 2 Arrowfield Sprint win in April. He boasts a win over Exceedance as a two-year-old and had excuses with heavy rain preceding his only unplaced run at Caulfield. He has tactical speed and is generally in the first few in the run and he’s had three barrier trials in just over a month to be as wound up as possible for his biggest test to date.
Dirty Work (Team Hawkes) – This race represents the deep end for the promising four-year-old who started to put it all together with a hat-trick in the late autumn that realised a Listed win at Rosehill in May. He posted a Group 3 placing, though a distant one, behind Bivouac last spring and is a recent trial winner but this is a different league to what he’s used to.
Fiesta (Chris Waller) – A talented mare with a solid first-up record but she’s well and truly out of her depth given her form in mares company during the Brisbane winter. Her last win was over Estijaab in the Inglis Sprint in February 2019 but her only placings since then have been her two Listed seconds in Queensland this year. She’d be an unlikely runner given she hasn’t raced at 1000m since her first two starts and there’s a more suitable mares option next week.
Early TAB betting (as at 2.20pm Monday)
$1.40 Nature Strip
$15 Dirty Work, Splintex
$26 Ball Of Muscle
Favourites – 8 wins (Joanne $1.50 in 1991 the only odds-on winner)
Longest priced winner – $91 Friday Creek (2009)
Race record: 56.09 (Decision Time 2013)
Current trainers: Peter & Paul Snowden 3, John Hawkes 3, Clarry Conners 2, Joe Pride 2, Gai Waterhouse 2.
Current jockeys: Kerrin McEvoy 3, Hugh Bowman 2, Nash Rawiller 1, Jason Collett 1.