He's Our Rokkii (Image: Racing Photos)
Walker hunting Melbourne feature
The life and times of Michael Walker will make a good book someday. He's had every injury under the sun, but he's now back fit again and eyeing his first Melbourne Group-level win since his Derby Day victory on Comin' Through last year. For a jockey of his calibre, that seems an anomaly - but factor in he's had a fair bit of time off, missing about five months of racing this year alone. On Saturday, he partners Tavago in the Group 2 Dato' Tan Chin Nam Stakes (1600m), looking to get Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young's ATC Derby winner direct entry into the Cox Plate. He's Our Rokkii is the early favourite to secure the golden ticket, and has come up with barrier one for Dwayne Dunn. Interestingly, he's only had one race start at The Valley - running sixth in the 2015 Stutt Stakes - but that was the night trainer David Hayes declared he knew he had a good horse on his hands, and He's Our Rokkii has gone on to win six races since, including the Group 1 Toorak Handicap.
El Divino goes the ol' El Diverto
Nominated in each of the Group 2 McEwen Stakes and the Listed Strathmore Community Bendigo Bank Stakes, trainer Darren Weir opted for the easier option for Winx's half-brother.
Smash and grab for Everest hopeful
While the Listed race is technically easier than the McEwen, it's still got some talented sprinters in there, including none other than Japanese import Brave Smash. After his first-up performance behind Vega Magic was franked by the latter's strong Memsie win, the Australian Bloodstock-owned, Weir-trained galloper is looking to launch his bid for the ATC's Everest spot with a win on Saturday.
Big day for Australian Bloodstock
Outside their sprinter, the Melbourne Cup-winning syndicators - with Protectionist in 2014 - have several of their talented horses eyeing Cup glory stepping out on Saturday, including Big Duke and Raw Impulse in the Powerflo Solutions Craig Opie Cup (1600m), as well as Articus in the Dato'.
Short and sweet McEwen field
El Divino and Lady Esprit were the only two of the nine nominees not to accept in the McEwen. The seven-horse race will have to be pretty damn good to deliver on the hype, but with Houtzen, Russian Revolution and Hellbent resuming, Supido and Missrock last-start winners, and Heatherly (second to Missrock) and wildcard mare Unique Lovely involved, it surely will.
Jewel in the crown
The Listed Atlantic Jewel Stakes (1200m) looks a ripper too, with seven last-start winners in the field of 14. Phillip Stokes was quick to scratch unbeaten filly Counterplay to run in Adelaide, giving the Mick Price-trained lone emergency Royal Disguise a run. Stokes did leave stablemate Broadband in, though, despite also getting a visitor's draw in 15. Counterplay had drawn 14. But with the likes of Roomooz, Shoals, I'll Have A Bit, Blondie, Banish all involved... it will be a fascinating race.
Another week, another Macedon Lodge army
Trainer Robert Hickmott has five of his horses accepted for on Saturday, including Gallante and Sir Isaac Newton down to run first-up in the feature Dato' Tan Chin Nam Stakes. The barrier gods dealt them the widest marbles, but they'll both be looking for further than the mile trip regardless, so a few extra miles in the legs won't hurt them in regards to the long-term view. Running in the LF Sign Group Handicap over the Cox Plate trip are Amralah, Foundry and Hans Holbein. If any tactics changes are required, expect them to lob sometime Friday morning.