Friday, January 12, 2018

What Remains of Edith Finch & Before The Storm

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Whiling away the time until the autumn racing carnival I have been playing a few new computer games.  I only mention on my blog the games that strike me as refreshingly original, and such a one is What Remains of Edith Finch by Indie Game developer Giant Sparrow.

Classified as a walking simulator, a genre I rarely play, it has the distinction of being much more than the usual run of the mill walking sims, with a startling approach to revealing the plot as the game progresses.

What Remains of Edith Finch tells the story of the seemingly cursed Finch family and Edith is the sole remaining survivior who returns to the family home seeking answers to the mystery of the family curse.

It sounds like a a horror story, but it’s not.

The rendering of  the house is astoundingly detailed. Every room is crammed with objects and the player can zoom in and read book titles, newspaper articles, look at pictures and objects etc, which hint towards the particular interests of the family member.

What makes this game unique is the way each of the 12 deaths are presented.

With most of the rooms in the house locked, Edith must find another way to gain access to them, armed with key given her by her late mother. In each room she finds clues to the personalities of her forebears and siblings,  and has access to their last day of life through diaries, letters, poems, photos, and even a comic book. Each one she opens launches a mini game, all of them diverse and completely different from each other,  unfolding like a series of short stories.

I can understand why What Remains of Edith Finch was deemed by the gaming community one of the top games for 2017.

Like chalk and cheese, prior to playing Edith Finch, I spent, not exactly an enjoyable, but certainly an interesting week, playing the prequel to Life Is Strange, titled Before The Storm.

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Life is Strange is one of the best games I’ve played over the years, so naturally I had to get Before The Storm.  Released in  three episodes, the game is set three years before the events in the original Life Is Strange and concentrates on Chloe Price and her relationship with Rachel Amber, who is the subject of Chloe and Max’s investigation in the original game.

It was fun playing as Chloe Price, a rebellious teenager, though I tended in my choices to make her a nicer person and tried to keep her out of trouble. Despite my efforts Chloe was a magnet for trouble, which led to some tense moments in the game with the frightening sociopath Damon Merrick.

The game also harks forwards to Life Is Strange, providing background information on several of the main characters and explains some of the ambiguities in the original game.

Though What Remains of Edith Finch and BeforeThe Storm were totally different to each other, it was fun and occasionally mind blowing playing them.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Welcome 2018

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B Kliban – Tree Party Hangover

World War III failed to eventuate in 2017, for which we can be thankful, but the odds of it happening in 2018 are much shorter, with Trump and Kim Jong Un causing Global anxiety with their belligerant exchanges of views.

Hopefully, sanity will prevail with 2018 featuring more good news than bad news. With any luck Trump will be impeached, Kim Jong Un will be overthrown, and peace will prevail.

2017 was an eventful year for the Cat Politics domicile, particulary the big move to another suburb and the raising of a new feline companion to fill the gap left by Willy’s death on Boxing Day 2016.

The feline in question is sitting on my knee as I write this post and is being good for change.


Cats – Talya in the cat bed with Bingo outside

Talya appears to have recovered from her stomach ailment, as she has not inappropriately voided her bowels inside for several weeks.  She has however abandoned her blanket on the chair and readopted the cat bed. I must say that the cat bed purchased in 2015 has been a great success as cats seem to love this particular model.

We had Christmas lunch at my brother’s place and I got to meet my new great niece Florence for the first time.


A baby photo! Florence in elf hat

She’s another Leo born into the family. That makes five of us in all.  My youngest nephew became a father this year in November with the birth of baby Tex.  I haven’t seen the nephew for several years as he lives and works in Queensland.

One of the joys of New Year’s Day is putting up a new calendar. I buy a calendar every year and have a huge collection (though I culled it before we moved) of calendars dating back to the 1970s.

This year I purchased the Mimi Vang Olsen cat calendar, which has 12 delightful portraits of cats.

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We had a quiet New Year’s Eve as usual and went to bed early, though were awoken briefly by the bang of fireworks nearby around midnight. 

I’ve started the New Year with a head cold, awaking with it yesterday morning. Who knows how I caught it, but it’s not that bad so far and my nose seems to have stopped dribbling.

There are a few things I’m looking forward to in 2018 - a Jason Isbell concert in late March, and seeing New York writer and wit, Fran Lebowizt, earlier the same month at the Athenaeum Theatre. I have an ancient copy of her first book, Metropolitan Life, which I enjoyed reading at the time, though it’s a bit dated now.

There are not many books I’m eagerly awaiting in 2018, other than the new Kate Atkinson novel Transcription, and William Gibson is purported to have the follow up to The Peripheral, called Agency out this year as well. No doubt there will be other books that will catch my fancy as the year progresses.

And - I didn’t think I would be writing this again - the 25th Anniversary Edition of John Crowley’s Little, Big, now awaited for 12 years, will hopefully be published this year. It was supposed to come out last year, and must be close to being sent to the printers, according to the latest news on the Little, Big website.  God, I hope it arrives before I die!

Anyway on this first day of a brand new year I’m mostly optimistic that we will all survive to live a few more.

PS The phone and Internet are now working after a technician came and fixed the wiring in the street just after Christmas.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Mercury Retrograde, Cats & Books

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Having trouble communicating?

Is your phone on the blink?

Is your internet connection unreliable and slow, even if you’re not on the NBN?

At the Cat  Politics domicile our landline phone hasn’t worked for several days due to faulty wiring either on the property or outside in the street.  This in turn has affected our internet access, which goes off when the phone - which we can’t answer - rings.

Wouldn’t you know it - Mercury has been retrograde since 3 December and won’t be direct again until 23 December, just in time for Christmas.

As the phone connection is through my ISP we can’t just ring Telstra and complain, but need to have the internal wiring checked out by an electrician before contacting IINET.  An electrician is coming sometime next week, so hopefully the fault will be resolved soon.

This time last year we had a very sick cat, the still lamented Willy the Tonkinese, who died in the early hours of Boxing Day.

We’re not spared this year, with Talya having a problem with her gut,  though it is not life threatening. She appears quite healthy and has not lost her appetite.

For several months she has been shitting inappropriately on various rugs in the night or early morning, not all the time, but enough to cause concern.  Of course it could be an expression of displeasure at the relocation, but as the evacuation was diarrhoetic, with evidence of blood and mucous, we took her to the vet to have her checked out the other day.  We’d previously taken her to the Ivanhoe Vet, but weren’t that happy with the vet we saw, so took her to the East Ivanhoe Vet this time – an older guy who seemed to know his stuff.

He prescribed an antibiotic and advised us to not feed her for 24 hours, then feed her small amounts of food for several days.

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Talya lounging on the outdoor table

She was puzzled and stressed by the enforced fast the first night and took it apon herself to hunt her own dinner, catching a small rat, which was promptly stolen by Bingo who played it to death.  The next night she got another rat and probably ate it.

Anyway, the antibiotics appear to be working as she hasn’t shat inside since the visit to the second vet. She has always been an anxious cat, which in fact probably has affected her guts.

We have a cat door installed, so the cats have access to the outdoors all the time, though they both spend most of the day and night indoors. So Talya can get out if she wants.

Bingo, unlike Willy, is not a wanderer and, with no other cats in the vicinity, feels no need to defend his territory.

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Feline ornament on window sill above the sink

It is impossible for us to place ornaments on shelves due to the wickedness of Bingo the cat, he’d knock them off and smash them in the blink of an eye, but he does look handsome being ornamental himself.

He’s not wicked all the time, in fact he’s sweet and smoochy often and adores attention and pats. And he’s a smart cat, picking out his particular toy unerringly from a cluttered drawer. He still retrieves too, and is quite insistent that you play along with him.

As for the 19 boxes of books I still had to unpack, I’ve managed to accommodate all but one box on new bookcases.  I purchased four of the Billy Series from Ikea – good solid shelves that look alright and were cheap to buy.

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Bookcase in computer room

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Bookcase in hallway

I like having a bookcase in the computer room as I can lean over and select a book I think might be of value and check it out on ABE Books. A surprising number of my long ago acquired books are worth quite a lot of money, first editions of Jack Kerouac (bought second hand) for instance are worth up to $200 US.

These days I buy first editions as they are published and recently received four new first edition hardcovers of favourite authors, one signed. They were the new John Crowley novel KA: Dar Oakley in the Ruins of Ymr, Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman and Gnomon by Nick Harkaway.

I’ve read The Book of Dust and Ka so far and loved them both.  Philip Pullman and John Crowley being masters of exquisite prose, are always a joy to read. Both books coincidently feature talking animals. In Philip Pullman’s alternate world each person is born with a Daemon, an animal familiar of some kind or another that represents their soul.

Ka is about a Crow named Dar Oakley, an immortal creature who relates the story of his long life to the unnamed narrator, who dying of some unspecified illness, is living in the end days of this planet, which has been destroyed by humankind’s heedlessness and wastefulness as witnessed over the millennia by Dar Oakley.

Still on the subject of books and animals, last night we went to a Christmas gathering at an old friend’s house. I gave the lady of the house a copy of KA for Christmas, and she gave me a wonderful calendar created by local Melbourne artist Elise Hurst, of whom I had previously never heard.  Flipping through the pictures I was astonished by the inclusion of a picture of a crow…

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Elise Hurst illustration

…a curious coincidence that was repeated when I studied the cover of the calendar more closely and noticed the fox incorporated into the hair of the girl. Shades of KA again, as one of the characters who has the ability to communicate with Dar Oakley is a girl he calls Fox Cap.

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Fire by Elise Hurst

The other illustrations in the calendar all have an animal theme, and are heart tuggingly nostalgic.  They are endearingly whimsical and I’m delighted to have discovered the artist. I shall enjoy turning over the pages each month in 2018.

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Elise Hurst illustration

You can purchase a copy of the calendar from the artist’s website. She also has books and prints for sale, which are mighty tempting to buy – gorgeous stuff.

With Christmas day only a week away I wish readers of this blog a happy festive season and many delightful surprises in 2018.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ravens & Doves – Cat Politics Update

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Raven in the Jacaranda Tree next door

Back when we lived in Northcote, the predominant sounds were the South Morang train screeching around the corner to the Rushall Station, and a hum of traffic from High Street, along with the usual barking of dogs, shrieks of lorikeets and buzz of lawn mowers.

Here in Ivanhoe, in the background there are coos and caws from the local pigeon and raven tribes, but apart from the weekend, when house and garden proud neighbours fire up their mowers and leaf blowers, it’s pretty quiet.

We have now been in the new house for two and a half months and have pretty well settled in, though I still have 19 boxes of books to unpack, having not got around to organising new shelving as yet.

As for the cats, they are both used to their new kingdom, though Talya took longer than Bingo to acclimatise.

The first night we spent here, I woke the next morning sandwiched between two cats under the covers. This was something Talya had never done before, and has repeated at various times when there is disruption in the form of workmen installing security doors, alarms etc.  And Bingo still irritates her intensely, though they have been observed (and photographed) snuggled together on Talya’s bed several times when the weather has been nippy.

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Cats snuggled together

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Talya on the brick wall surrounding the decking outside the back door

Bingo didn’t seem stressed at all. As long as his human slaves were willing to feed him, he was happy. He loves food with a passion, but doesn’t beg for it during the day, a snack of some kind involving zucchini staves off the hunger pangs.

He is a few days shy of his first birthday and is almost full grown. A small cat, he’s perfectly formed and a stunner to look at.

But he’s bad to the bone when he’s bored or hungry. We still have to lock him away when we’re eating or cooking, or else he’ll try and steal what he can while our backs are turned. And he’s a terrible distraction if you’re on the computer, running across the keyboard and executing keyboard shortcuts you never knew existed.

Typical of Siamese cats, he’s very vocal with a range of different meows – squeaks, chirrups, trills and yowls. You can have a conversation with him, though heaven knows what he’s saying. It reminds me of a story by Spencer Holst called The Language of Cats, wherein a guy learns to speak cat language from his Siamese Cat, with disastrous consequences.


Bingo in the living room

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Bingo on fence trying to figure out how to jump on the roof of the house

There don’t appear to be any neighbouring cats in the street, so the cats are spared the trauma of staking a claim on their territory from a prior claimant. I’ve only seen one other cat, a street away, a friendly British short hair who greets you as you pass by its place.

The neighbours on one side are bird lovers and feed the pigeons every evening. Other birds obviously get in on the act, the raven family for instance. There are four of them – two adults and their grown up chicks. I’d be more inclined to feed ravens than pigeons myself.

These particular neighbours also keep chooks, a source of fascination for young Bingo, who registered his first kill a couple of weeks ago. Not a chook, but unfortunately a fledgling lorikeet. Luckily the neighbours didn’t see this atrocity and we certainly didn’t tell them about it.

We are quite close to the Ivanhoe Shopping Village, but it took me some time to get used to the walk down there, it being much farther than I was accustomed to in Northcote. Your brain and body adjust after a time and it doesn’t seem as onerous these days as it was originally, though the words “it’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll”, still run through my head as I plod up and down the three long streets to Ivanhoe Village.

The Ivanhoe house is a comfortable dwelling with ample storage in every room, cupboards that go up to the ceiling being part of the decor.  There are also picture rails everywhere so that all the old framed pictures I’ve been hoarding for years can now be hung in view.

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Pictures on the wall in the computer room – Ryan Adams concert poster from 2007,  John Crowley Little, Big print test and a Springer Spaniel drawing inherited from my deceased older brother.

I needed to get a few frames mended– one to replace the frame backing, the other to replace the glass that broke during the move, so I took them both to Ivanhoe Picture Framing,who fixed them both in a day for a reasonable price. The husband and wife team who run Ivanhoe Picture Framing are lovely people and certainly know their profession, as well as being interesting to talk to.

It made me want to take more stuff to be framed, so yesterday I went back and got some digital prints of three of my Winx Cox Plate photos (2015,2016 &2017). They were excellent prints and only cost a $1.00 each.  I’ll now get them framed with a Winx flag, to complement the Sunline signed photo I have hanging on the right hand side of the window, and take along a signed print of Black Caviar to be framed as well.

So my impressions of Ivanhoe Village are positive and I enjoy exploring the many shops and services it offers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Melbourne Spring Racing Finale–Emirates Stakes Day Review

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Emirates Stakes finish – Damian Lane celebrates Tosen Stardom’s win

For a change, the weather in Melbourne last Saturday was more Summer than capricious Spring, with blue skies and sunshine the whole day – hot in fact.

Arriving at Flemington around 1.45pm I headed directly to the stalls area to get some photos of the leading runners in the two Group 1 events.

The first horse I came across was none other than old Living Legend Might and Power, having a day out at the races. A crowd of admirers surrounded him outside his  stall, feeding him carroty treats and giving him a pat.

He seemed to be enjoying himself enormously, and looked remarkably well for his age. He’s now 24 years old.

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Might and Power

Also present was the grey flash Chautauqua

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Chautauqua in his stall

and his great rival Terravista.

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Terravista

New sprinters on the block, Everest winner Redzel, as well as Redkirk Warrior and Impending were also out and about

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Redzel

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Redkirk Warrior

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The handsome Impending

Considering the drama that occurred when the field for the feature Emirates Stakes was headiing out to the starting gates, with Gingernuts unfortunately suffering an injury in transit, I’m glad I got a nice photo of him in the stalls area early in the afternoon. He reportedly suffered a pastern fracture, which his jockey Michael Dee felt as it happened. He pulled Gingernuts up and dismounted instantly. The injury is not considered life threatening, but Gingernuts will be out of action for a very long time.

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Gingernuts

The crowds were not half as bad as Derby Day, so it wasn’t all that tedious to walk to the access gate east of the winning post – the favourite spot for Rebecca & I to snap photos.

From there we watched race 5, the Group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a consolation prize for stayers who missed running in the Melbourne Cup.  It had a good field  that included 2016 Geelong Cup  & 2017 Bendigo Cup winner Qewy and Vengeur Masque who won the 2017 Geelong Cup and finished a close second to Cismontane in the Lexus Stakes.

After winning $100.00 on Vengeur Masque in the Geelong Cup, he’s now promoted to a personal favourite, so I was pleased that he proved his credentials as a fine stayer in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, leading from the start ot the finish. Grey Lion challenged in the straight, but Vengeur Masque stuck to his guns and prevailed by ¾ lengths. Wheal Leisure finished third.

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First time past the post in the QE Stakes – Vengeur Masque leads with Grey Lion tailing him

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QE Stakes finish – Vengeur Masque wins from Grey Lion

Qewy started as favourite but finished sixth. He has since been retired.

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Vengeur Masque returns to scale

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Grey Lion

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Qewy returns to scale

First Lady of Racing, Gai Waterhouse had a wonderful Melbourne Spring Carnival, training five Group winners, Pinot in the Group 1 Oaks being her top result. So it looks as if we shall have to take Gai’s runners seriously again.

Savapinkski enhanced Gai’s reputation by winning the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes, race 6 on the program on Saturday, leading all the way in 2000 metre race to win by almost three lengths from Payroll with Token of Love running third another length behind.

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Savapinski wins the Matriarch Stakes

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Savapinski on her way to the barriers

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Payroll returns to scale

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Token of Love on her way to the barriers

It was too hot to stay on the public lawn between races, and it got boring watching the Winning Post patrons on the opposite side of the track, to and froing from one side of the track to the other, so Bec and I headed for one of the scarce shaded areas behind us. I’d never been to the Boags Deck, so we decided to investigate. There were a couple of guys providing musical entertainment up there and a shaded area, so we lingered there until it was time for the first of the Group 1 events.

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Musicians

As the horses paraded in the mounting yard prior to the running of the Darley Classic sprint, the official photographers clustered in front of us to get a good vantage point for horses running along the outside rail. Flemington sprints are problematical for photographers due to the tendency of the field to split into two sections, one lot on the inside rail and the rest on the grandstand side.

Along with the photographers on the rail, the security guards also plonked themselves in such a way as to block the view of the finish.

So it’s no wonder that my photos of the Darley Classic finish are pathetic, and don’t picture the winner Redzel, who raced along the outer rail. Terravista ran second and Impending was third. Chautauqua ended up running fourth.

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Darley Classic finish

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Redzel returns to scale

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Terravista returns to scale

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Impending returns to scale

It was getting on to 5.00 pm when the feature Group 1 Emirates Stakes was run. The pesky security guys were again blocking the view…

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So Si Bon in the background & security guy

But by shooting between the gaps I managed to get photos of the main contenders, including Gingernuts before his unfortunate break down.

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Gingernuts on his way to the barriers, shortly before his injury

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Gingernuts breaks down – Clerks of Course attend the stricken horse

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On course Vet bandages Gingernuts leg

It’s very fortunate that jockey Michael Dee realised that something was wrong, and that the injury happened before the race start and not during the race. Gingernuts was eventually led into a veterinary ambulance and taken off to horse hospital at Werribee.  The latest on his condition has him recovering well from surgery to have screws inserted in the fractured area.

This incident delayed the start of the Emirates Stakes by 10 minutes, but eventually they were off and running.

Gailo Chop lead the field for most of the race with Cliff’s Edge and Folkswood on the pace as well, but as the field turned for home it was anyone’s guess who the winner would be. Tosen Stardom was blocked for a run, but found a gap close to finish line and stormed to victory, winning by 1½ lengths from Happy Clapper, also swooping from the back of the field, with It’s Somewhat running third.

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Tosen Stardom on his way to the barriers

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Happy Clapper on his way to the barriers

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It’s Somewhat on his way to the barriers

And so ended the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival for this year.

Overall the racing action has been quite interesting this year as compared to last year, even though there were many long odds winners upsetting the favourites.

Highlights of the season:

Winx  - in every one of her starts this Spring she has been astounding and kept her winning sequence intact through thick and thin,  and has now at 22 straight wins and is drawing closer to Black Caviar’s record of 25. She also created history by matching Kingston Town’s Cox Plate Treble and I’m glad I was there to witness it.

Bonneval – looked to be a potential star of the spring in her first two runs in Melbourne, winning the Group 2  Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes and  Group 1 Underwood Stakes, the first mare to win either of these races in many years. Unfortunately she fell under an injury cloud before the Caulfield Cup, which probably accounts for her poor performance in that race.

Ace High – a promising young stayer who took home two Group 1 trophys this season, the Spring Champion Stakes and Victoria Derby.

Rekindling – although I thought the Melbourne Cup field was boring, I was very pleased that Rekindling won the race. Technically only three years of age, he became the first 3yo to win the big race since Skipton in 1941.

Disappointments:

Royal Symphony – a beautiful looking colt, Royal Symphony started his Spring campaign early in July winning his first four starts. Bad luck dogged him thereafter and he ran fourth in his other three starts in the Spring, the last being the Cox Plate, where he had a torrid run monstered by Happy Clapper all the way.

Russian Revolution – looked as if he would be a force to be reckoned with in his first race this spring where he impressively won the Group 2 McEwen Stakes at Moonee Valley, then failed to place in the Group 1 Moir Stakes, whereupon he was sent for spell.

Chautauqua – competed in four races this Spring, but failed to place in any of them. Is he a spent force?

I hardly had a bet this Spring,  and except for Caulfield Cup day where I had my money on Bonneval and Jon Snow, my other two wagers were very successful and my Sportsbet Account ended up with more funds than it started with.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Oaks & Emirates

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Aloisia – favourite for the Oaks

As we head into the last two days of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival at Flemington, it’s timely to preview the Oaks, run tomorrow over 2500 metres, and the Emirates Stakes meeting on Saturday.

Last year the Victorian Oaks was won by 100/1 shot Lasqueti Spirit, who surprised everyone with her tearaway victory, leading from the start to the finish. The year before Jameka zoomed down the straight on a heavy track to win by two lengths.

Prior to winning the Oaks, Jameka beat the boys in the Vase on Cox Plate Day, and current Oaks favourite Aloisia accomplished the same feat this year, and at her prior start won the Group 1 Thousand Guineas.

So Aloisia is understandably the one to beat.

Her main rival is the Gai Waterhouse trained Pinot who won the Ethereal Stakes at her last start and will likely set the pace and take some catching.

The winner of the Wakeful Stakes run on Derby Day often  goes on to win the Oaks, so you can’t really preclude this year’s winner, Luvaluva, from being a serious contender.

Emirate Stakes Day is generally a very pleasant race meeting and not half as crowded as Derby Day, and features two Group 1 events – Darley Classic and Emirates Stakes – as well as several interesting Group 2 and Group 3 races.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the grey flash, Chautauqua again. He was sensationally scratched at the barriers before the Manikato Stakes, so we’ll never know if he would have won it.  The underrated Hey Doc was the victor on that occasion, with In Her Time running second and Malaguerra third.

Chautauqua hasn’t raced in Melbourne since February this year, and will be competing in the Group 1 Darley Classic, a sprint over 1200 metres. He ran second in this race to Delectation in 2015 and hopefully will go one better this year.

A  classy field has been assembled for the Darley Classic and Chautauqua’s main rivals are Everest winner Redzel, Everest runner up Vega Magic and other Group 1 sprinters such as Redkirk Warrior, Malaguerra, Terravista and Manikato Stakes runner up In Her Time.

We’ll finally get to see New Zealand Derby and Rosehill Guineas winner, Gingernuts in Melbourne for the first time in the Group 1 Emirates Stakes. He’s had a delayed start to his spring campaign  due to various setbacks, so it will be interesting to see how he goes in the Emirates Stakes on Saturday.

Run over 2000 metres, the Emirates used to be the Mackinnon Stakes and run on Derby Day and the former Emirates Stakes was run over 1600 metres and is now called  something else and run on Derby Day.

This year’s edition has a good field of 15 contenders that include BMW winner Happy Clapper, Doncaster winner It’s Somewhat,  Folkswood, and the usual suspects Gailo Chop, Tosen Stardom etc. all vying to get a Group 1 race on their CVs.  But perhaps the older runners will be upstaged again by the three year old Cliff’s Edge with his weight advantage giving him a good chance.

I’ll probably go along to the Oaks tomorrow, but plan to get there later in the afternoon as the feature race is not run until 5.00pm

And I’ll be at Flemington again next Saturday and will also take my time getting there aiming for 1.30 to 2.00 pm, so I’m in plenty of time to watch the Group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

It will be my last outing to the races for a while.