The serious part of the spring carnival started pretty much as everyone expected. There were some messy scenes in the tunnel that leads from the track to Caulfield’s corporate marquees – known here as The Vomitorium – and Whobegotyou won the Yalumba Stakes.Impressively enough to stamp him a clear-cut Cox Plate favourite? It depended whether you thought Damien Oliver’s brilliant thread-the-needle ride had flattered the four-year-old cult figure or merely enhanced his not quite imposing three-quarters-of-a-length victory.But as the connections of runner-up Heart Of Dreams and third-placed Vision And Power made it known Whobegotyou would be easier to hunt down than he is to pronounce at Moonee Valley, trainer Mark Kavanagh could enjoy the warm glow that comes with having a horse which will have the chance to prove he is either very good or an out-and-out champion.”It’s great to have a headline act,” said Kavanagh, who once seemed likely to be remembered as the trainer who endured that harrowing Caulfield Cup when the bloodied Maldivian returned to the mounting yard after being injured in the barriers. Two years later, with Maldivian to run in this week’s Caulfield Cup before trying for back-to-back Cox Plates against his stablemate, that day seems a distant memory.If Kavanagh and Whobegotyou moved towards the elite, Oliver’s ride would set the trend for a day that would be as much about the riders as the horses. And not, as the confusing pre-spring arguments had suggested, the number of times they flogged a live horse.Oliver’s 2000th victory – his first was on Mr Gudbud at Bunbury in 1988 – was about nerve, not sheer force. ”I took a punt,” he said of his decision to wait for the shaft of light that finally appeared. ”Sometimes you’ve got to put your head on the chopping block and hope the guillotine doesn’t come down.”With his 86th group 1 trophy on the mantlepiece, Oliver knows better than most how to keep his head. Michelle Payne, the youngest of 10 children and the eighth jockey from a legendary Ballarat racing family, has not had many opportunities to show she could avoid the sharpest blade.Her moment of truth would come as Allez Wonder turned for home in the Toorak Handicap with momentum, and the exquisite timing of Bart Cummings, on her side. About 400 metres later, Payne had coasted to her first group 1 victory, enjoyed the prospect of riding a genuine Caulfield Cup contender and would be the subject of the funniest line of the spring so far.”She’s a pretty little thing and she rides all right,” said the 81-year-old Cummings when asked about Payne’s performance.From anyone else’s lips, that might have inspired the feminist version of the blackface skit outrage. But given Cummings trained the winner of the same race in 1966, he enjoys the same leeway with politically incorrect language that senior citizens get with tricky gadgets and highway speed limits.For those who did not see Allez Wonder’s blistering midweek gallop – the type of gallop you hear about only after a $41 shot has won – Cummings’s big moment was supposed to have been in the Caulfield Guineas with So You Think, alongside fellow Sydney stars Denman and Manhattan Rain.Instead, as jubilant connections turned the mounting yard into a post-race mosh pit, Starspangledbanner, trained by Cummings’s long-time foreman Leon Corstens, did more than Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize to restore America’s international reputation.Starspangledbanner’s victory was a defining moment for the long-overshadowed Corstens, who backed himself to get a horse that had been misfiring ready to take on the nation’s best three year-olds. It was also a nice earner – from both the $600,000 prizemoney and the now greatly enhanced stud value – for the many, including Makybe Diva’s renowned owner Tony Santic, who own anything from a hoof to a strand of mane.The jockey was again at the centre of the story, although Danny Nikolic, who is re-establishing himself after a stint in Mauritius, was lost in a heaving pile of celebrating owners.Which might have brought an eventful day to a riotous conclusion. But then came a barnstorming run in the Herbert Power Handicap of a Melbourne Cup bolter, Alcopop, which was ridden by a once down-and-out bush jockey with a name (Dom Tourneur) like a more affordable version of the French bubbly and owned and bred and trained by restaurateur Jake Stephens.It shapes as the perfect story for the first Tuesday in November.And, as you made your way back past the Vomitorium, Alcopop might also be the first missed omen of a taxing month.
Nanjing Night Net

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