The Australian racing industry has had more drama than a daytime soap opera in 2016, from integrity officials being shot at in their homes to champion jockeys breaking the betting rules.
2016 had it all, but through the trying times came the incredible performances on the track which is what keeps the Australian racing industry on top.
Whether it was incredible juvenile performances from the likes of Extreme Choice and Yankee Rose, or the European dominance in the Melbourne Spring Carnival, not a month went by where there was not a big win and it has certainly changed the landscape of Australian racing.
One horse in particular captivated the racing public and attracted crowds of Black Caviar levels. The Chris Waller-trained Winx was the highlight performer of 2016 and, although fans around the world did not get a chance to see the great mare in action, there were more than enough highlights in Australia.
Winx Goes Unbeaten in 2016
Australian racing survives on the champion thoroughbred – and what a champion Winx became in 2016.
The now five-year-old mare by Street Cry kicked off its year with a win in the Group 2 Apollo Stakes before winning three consecutive Group 1 races which included a win in the Doncaster Handicap which is considered one of the toughest mile races in the world.
After a four month spell, the star mare was back in action at Randwick where she won the Group 2 Warwick Stakes by 3.5 lengths. That win came over Hartnell who went on to have a stellar year which included a placing in the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup.
Winx’s entire preparation was targeted at winning her second consecutive Cox Plate. The mare would easily win the Group 1 Colgate Optic White Stakes and the Group 1 Ladbrokes Stakes in the lead-up, which forced bookmakers to install Winx as the $1.80 favourite for the 2016 Cox Plate.
What punters and fans alike witnessed at Moonee Valley on 22 October was one of the most commanding performances ever seen on the turf. Winx destroyed a quality field by eight lengths with Hugh Bowman in the saddle and her champion legacy was secured.
Winx went through 2016 unbeaten from eight starts and, although she will not be heading to Royal Ascot in 2017, fans around the world will be able to bet on and watch Winx in action around Australia.
European Cups Dominance
It is no longer a secret that Australian staying races are easy to win as the European trainers came in force this year.
The likes of Charlie Appleby and Michael Bell came over with a strong team of runners and, although the Melbourne Cup was ultimately trained in Australia, it was just another of the many imports in the race.
Incredibly, there was only one Australian-bred runner in the 2016 Melbourne Cup (Jameka) and she ran well down the track in 15th position. This is due to prospective buyers not wanting to spend years trying to get their horse into one race, which has left the Australian staying ranks in disarray.
The key lead-up races to the Melbourne Cup were also taken out by Europeans. The Geelong Cup was taken out by the Charlie Appleby-trained Qewy and he was back winning again with Francis Of Assisi in the Bendigo Cup.
Appleby vowed to return to Australia in 2017 and with the prize money on offer, who could blame him?
Rise of the Juveniles
2016 was the year that saw the rise of the juveniles as there were many two and three-year-olds who dazzled around the country.
Extreme Choice is a Mick Price-trained three-year-old who has already won over $1.6 million in prize money. The Not A Single Doubt colt kicked off its season with a Group 3 Chairman’s Stakes win before taking out the Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes at Caulfield in February.
He had absolutely no luck in the Golden Slipper, the world’s richest two-year-old race, when finishing eighth, but rebounded perfectly with a win in the Group 1 Moir Stakes against the older horses.
Extreme Choice defeated Chautauqua, who was then rated as the world’s best sprinter, and although he did not follow that up with a win in the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes, his stablemate took the honours.
Flying Artie is another youngster who punters should keep an eye on. The enigmatic colt raced on five occasions in 2016, winning three and placing in the other two.
After back-to-back placings in the Blue Diamond Stakes and the Golden Slipper, he returned from a spell to win the Blue Sapphire Stakes and the Coolmore Stud Stakes.
Winning jockey Hugh Bowman advised punters to watch this runner in 2017 and we think he should have a big year before being sent to stud.
The third and final three-year-old who burst onto the scene was the Godolphin-owned Astern.
The John O’Shea-trained colt won three consecutive group races which culminated in a Group 1 Golden Rose win at Rosehill. The quality of horse in behind Astern on that occasion included a Group 1 Caulfield Guineas winner and it will be one of the form races for 2017.
Astern will likely have one more season before Godolphin stands it at stud, but he is a horse to follow, despite the controversy surrounding his regular rider, James McDonald.
McDonald Goes From Hero to Zero
James McDonald was in career best form in 2016, but news broke that McDonald placed a bet on Astern in a 2YO Plate at Randwick, which is against the rules in Australia.
McDonald promptly stood himself down from riding until the investigation was over. It is currently still in progress and it has been reported that McDonald could be part of a much larger betting syndicate which may, allegedly, involve other jockeys.
The news rocked the industry to the core as McDonald, a humble kid from New Zealand, was seen as the poster child for Australian racing. Racing in Australia has had to deal with many off-the-track mishaps in 2016 and the McDonald saga put an untimely cloud over the industry.
If McDonald is to be found guilty of betting on Astern, he is tipped to serve a minimum of two years on the sidelines which could threaten to derail his entire career. There could be more to this story as the new year approaches and we will keep our punters informed with the latest James McDonald news.
Peter Moody Gives It Up
Peter Moody was once riding high as the trainer of unbeaten mare Black Caviar, but a lengthy battle to clear his name of wrongdoing ended his training career.
Moody was among many Victorian-based trainers to be accused of using banned substance cobalt to enhance their horses performance, but Moody fought tooth and nail to clear his name and it left the industry divided.
Many believed that there was no way cobalt could enter the stable without any wrongdoing, whilst others believed he had no reason to cheat the sport he had loved since a little boy. We have no idea who is telling the truth and whether the stewards have something against Moody, but the lengthy saga ultimately left Moody in financial hardship.
This forced Moody to quit being a trainer and he now works at Rosemont Stud as a racing manager. Moody stays in the game with his wife as a prominent owner, but whether Moody will return to training is still up in the air.
The cobalt cases continue to run with no foreseeable end in sight.