Zaaki. Steve Hart photo.

Zaaki to Star on Stradbroke Day

By Michael Wrona, International Racing Expert

The Stradbroke Handicap and J.J. Atkins Stakes stood like beacons last year, as the only Group 1 races held during a pandemic-shortened Queensland “Winter Racing Carnival.” This Friday night, at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm racecourse, their thunder might be stolen by a new race boasting the sport’s biggest new name – Zaaki (GB). Tune-in to TVG or stream on the new Sky Racing World App (First Post: 9:29pm ET / 6:29pm PT).

Zaaki rendered racing fans breathless when pulverizing the G1 Doomben Cup field in stakes record time three weeks ago. Zaaki’s star is ascendant on a similar arc to that of 30-year-old Annabel Neasham, who celebrated her second Group 1 winner in her first year of training. Neasham’s original plan was to rest Zaaki after the Doomben Cup, while targeting Melbourne’s prestigious W.S. Cox Plate in October. However, the lure of a $1.2 million purse for the Q22 – under the same weight-for-age conditions and at the same distance (1-3/8 miles) as the Doomben Cup ­– has proven irresistible. And, in an ominous warning for Zaaki’s opposition, Neasham declared “He pulled up superb and certainly hasn’t taken a backward step since. I can’t see why he’s not going to turn up in the same form.” 

It is somewhat surprising – but a big boost for the new Q22 – that fifteen horses will take their chances against Zaaki, who was installed a prohibitive 1-2 favorite. Just as his multitude of opponents might be competing for worthwhile minor paychecks, wagering might be heavily slanted towards the exacta pool. Toffee Tongue (NZ) (10-1) completed the Doomben Cup exacta and is the “favorite” to again finish closest to Zaaki. Spirit Ridge (GB) (16-1) brings a recent Group 3 victory into the equation. Paths of Glory (GB) (30-1) finished a sound third behind Spirit Ridge and has the distinction of being the last horse to defeat Zaaki – by a head in April at Randwick, when carrying 13 pounds less; they meet at level weights in the Q22. Vanna Girl (AUS) (also 30-1) gives the impression she will appreciate her first assignment beyond 1-1/4 miles.  

If the race for second in the Q22 is wide open, there are candidates galore for the Stradbroke Handicap (G1)winner’s circle. Vega One (AUS) was a close, unlucky fourth in last year’s race and is 5-1 favorite to make amends this Friday night. Supporters will hope he didn’t use up a year’s worth of luck when winning the G1 Kingsford Smith Cup two weeks ago. Melbourne’s leading rider, Jamie Kah (yellow silks – watch replay), produced a miraculous “steer” to navigate a passage. Kah is stuck in Melbourne, which has entered another lockdown, and Vega One will be ridden by another of Australia’s star female jockeys, Sydney’s Rachel King.  

Wild Planet (AUS) (6-1) and The Harrovian (AUS) (8-1) filled the minor placings in the G1 Doomben 10,000. Mr Quickie (AUS) (9-1), who won the 2019 Queensland Derby at 1-1/2 miles, has become most effective as a late closer in races from seven furlongs to a mile. He has been kept fresh for the Stradbroke’s seven furlongs, and will be ridden for the first time by James McDonald – two hours after Sydney’s leading jockey pilots Zaaki in the Q22. Regardless of his Stradbroke result, Melbourne-based Mr Quickie will spend some time relaxing in Queensland’s perfect mid-year weather. Even if not competing, many southern horses benefit from “wintering’ in Australia’s north-east. Mr Quickie’s trainer, Phillip Stokes, summed up the Sunshine State’s broad appeal: “It’s the place to be at this time of year.” 

Friday night’s other Group 1 race is the J.J. Atkins Stakes, for 2-year-olds at a mile. Hugh Bowman rides Port Louis (AUS) (7-2) and is currently one win away from becoming just the fourth Australia-based jockey to register a hundred Group 1 triumphs. Apart from the significant contribution by Winx (AUS) (25), Bowman’s total includes four Group 1 races in Hong Kong and one in Japan. The 40-year-old reached 99 Group 1 wins by producing a peach of a ride, from a wide gate, in last week’s Queensland Oaks on Duais. Port Louis has been luckless in consecutive races beneath Bowman from wide draws. “Surely I’m due for a better marble in a big race,” said Bowman early this week … before being dealt gate 13 of 14! Favoritism for the J.J. Atkins rests with Converge at 5-2.

Eagle Farm’s card boasts an average field size of 12, with several favorites above 4-1. Last week on TVG, I recommended a six-horse Exacta box on an Eagle Farm race. A 5-2 winner over a 15-1 runner-up yielded $56.25 for a $30 investment. I will be on the lookout for similar opportunities this week. 

The Eagle Farm card will be broadcast live on TVG this Friday night (First Post: 9:29pm ET / 6:29pm PT) alongside cards from Randwick, Newcastle and Gold Coast. All races will be live-streamed in HD on the new Sky Racing World Appskyracingworld.com and major ADW platforms such as TVGTwinSpiresXpressbet, NYRABetsWatchandWagerHPIbet, and AmWager. Wagering is also available via these ADW platforms. Fans can get free access to live-streaming, past performances and expert picks on all races at skyracingworld.com. 

-ENDS-

About Michael Wrona 

A native of Brisbane, Australia, Michael Wrona has called races in six countries. Michael’s vast U.S. experience includes; race calling at Los Alamitos, Hollywood Park, Arlington and Santa Anita, calling the 2000 Preakness on a national radio network and the 2016 Breeders’ Cup on the International simulcast network. Michael also performed a race call voiceover for a Seinfeld episode called The Subway.