Best of the best on show at The Valley in season 2022/23

Greatness has been on display at The Valley in season 2022/23 from Anamoe’s successful second shot at the Ladbrokes Cox Plate, to Mr Brightside stamping himself as a 1600m specialist in The Sharp EIT All-Star Mile.

After a two-year absence, crowds were back on track for the spring, with the Charter Keck Cramer Moir Stakes the first of the Group 1s at The Valley for the season. It was speedy filly Coolangatta from the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace yard who clung on for a narrow win over stablemate Bella Nipotina in the 1000m scamper. 

The Ladbrokes Cox Plate Carnival was unforgettable on multiple fronts, starting with a drama-filled Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes night. A wild storm swept through Melbourne midway through the meeting, resulting in the final three races – including the Group 1 sprint – being abandoned for the evening. The feature sprint would instead form part of a bumper 11-race card on Ladbrokes Cox Plate Day. 

The undercard to the main event on Ladbrokes Cox Plate Day produced some stunning performances. Annabel Neasham unleashed My Oberon in the Schweppes Crystal Mile and the Irish gelding made a sweeping run around the field to score easily. Chris Waller’s import Francesco Guardi was even more dominant in the McCafé Moonee Valley Gold Cup, proving his place in the top handful of Australian-trained stayers with a 3 ¾ length win in the Group 2. 

A field of 12 lined up for the Ladbrokes Cox Plate, with Anamoe, who had gone agonisingly close to winning the race a year earlier when finishing runner-up to State Of Rest, jumping as favourite. Given a beautiful steer by James McDonald, Anamoe pounced at the top of the straight, before going on to defeat I’m Thunderstruck by just under half-a-length. El Bodegon, first-up in Australia, finished third. It was a star-studded field that the James Cummings-trained galloper defeated, with Zaaki, Alligator Blood, Mr Brightside, and Gold Trip – who less than a fortnight later would claim the Melbourne Cup – among the other names to feature in the beaten brigade.

Bella Nipotina rounded out the day with a thumping victory in the Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes. Heavily backed in the wet conditions, the Maher/Eustace mare’s 4 ¾ length win, her first at Group 1 level having gone close twice before at The Valley, proving a popular conclusion to a stirring carnival. 

The summer period provides a stacked schedule of racing at The Valley and a couple of speedsters shone brightly. In early December, Enver Jusufovic’s sprinter Mutinous scorched the track in a heat of the Ladbrokes 55 Second Challenge, stopping the clock at 54.93 for the 955m, a time that wouldn’t be bettered for the remainder of the season. It earned Jusufovic a big payday, with the trainer pocketing $55,000 for the feat.  The Christmas Eve meeting saw another blistering run, this time from the Mick Price and Michael Kent Jnr-trained Inundation. The promising four-year-old broke the 1000m track record at The Valley in his return run from a spell. 

In March, The Valley hosted The Sharp EIT All-Star Mile for the second time in the race’s short history. On a hot autumn’s day, Mr Brightside for Ben and JD Hayes declared himself a star miler, defeating Cascadian by half-a-length with The Inevitable in third. Mr Brightside’s legion of owners were in raptures, as was the owner ambassador of the five-year-old who collected $250,000. 

It was a quick back-up of feature racing at The Valley with the 3 Point Motors William Reid Stakes bringing the curtain down on the night racing season the following Friday. Kiwi mare Imperatriz, who already had four Group 1 wins to her name back in New Zealand, displayed to the Australian audience why she should be considered among the very best sprinters in Australasia, defeating track specialist Bella Nipotina by a length. Another notable performance on the card was by Sirileo Miss, with Symon Wilde’s mare in the form of her life as she put 5 ½ lengths on her nearest rival in the BMD Group Sunline Stakes at Group 2 level. 

The popular highlight of the Ladbrokes Friday Night Lights Season Finale was the Thoroughbred Industry Careers Pony Exhibition Race, which saw 12 passionate young riders take centre stage with their beloved mounts in front of a big crowd. Pedro for Clara Greenwood streaked away for an impressive win, posting some lightning late sectionals to beat the brave Prancer with Maia Boorn on board. The race was again called to perfection by racecaller Matt Hill and the concept received great feedback both on course and online.

It has been a competitive race in The Valley’s Catanach’s Jewellers Jockey Premiership, with Jamie Kah sitting on top with 75 points from Damien Oliver (69), Blake Shinn (66) and Craig Williams (58). Another jockey making waves has been apprentice Celine Gaudray who has collected eights wins at The Valley for the season striking at 20.51%. In the training ranks, James Cummings has enjoyed plenty of success from limited chances, picking up seven wins from just 29 starters at a strike rate of 24.14%. Other high achievers have been Peter Moody (12 at 22.64%), Ben & JD Hayes (12 at 18.75%) and Ciaron Maher and David Eustace (19 at 17.59%). 

Racing will return at The Valley in July before gearing up for the 2023/24 racing season and the 103rd running of the Ladbrokes Cox Plate.