Caviar at the peak of powers

Peter Moody wants luck on his side again with Black Caviar in the T.J. Smith Stakes at Randwick on Saturday.

The big Queenslander believes he has the unbeaten superstar near the best she has been in the two years since she won the race in 2011, when she ran down Hay List in one of the more glorious moments of her career.

”It’s scary to think that [she can be her best as a six-year-old]. I dare not say she’s going any better than she ever has, but she’s going every bit as good as she ever has,” Moody said. ”I’m always respectful of the opposition. Facts and figures suggest there’s not a horse probably on the planet that can beat her under these conditions at this distance.

”The biggest worry is misfortune, and 24 times we’ve been pretty lucky.”

Moody was again at his cheeky best when it was suggested Sydney jockeys might try to get the better of her from barrier one.

”I think plenty of them have ridden against her before and they’re probably still using Vaseline to cover up the wind burn,” he said.

Black Caviar is making what has been called a farewell tour of Australia after her career looked to be finished because of injuries she suffered winning the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot last June.

But her owners were keen to see Black Caviar back on the track and a record-breaking win in the Lightning Stakes in February and another stroll to victory in the William Reid Stakes three weeks ago have her on 14 group 1 wins, equalling Kingston Town.

Black Caviar arrived in Sydney in the early hours of Thursday morning and took in her new surroundings at Rosehill for much of the day.

Victory will give her the Australian record for wins at the highest level and take her within one win of the world mark for consecutive group 1 wins, held by England’s unbeaten great Frankel with nine.

Moody is well aware of her standing in the sporting psyche. ”We consider her an Australian horse; she’s put Australian racing at the forefront of world racing and the owners are happy to share the goodwill around Australia,” he said.

”She’s terrific for our industry. She’s terrific for sport in general. She’s on the front and back pages for all the right reasons.”

Meanwhile, the Sydney Easter Yearling Sale failed to produce a 10th million-dollar or more yearling on the final day on Thursday. The top lot was a Redoute’s Choice-Vormista filly, which brought $900,000 from James Harron.

The sale grossed more than $82.1 million. The average price rose nearly 35 per cent to $293,000, with a median of $200,000.

”I could not be happier with those figures, which we achieved on fewer horses than last year,” Inglis general manager Mark Webster said.

”The increase in average is pretty good in one year.”

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Fantasia exits Dogs for Hawks

Having lost its own football manager to the AFL on the eve of the season, Hawthorn has responded by poaching the Western Bulldogs’ football boss two rounds into the new year.

Hawthorn on Thursday announced it had found a replacement for Mark Evans, who departed to head football operations for the AFL, by hiring the Dogs’ football manager, James Fantasia.

The move leaves the Dogs in search of a replacement two rounds into the year.

Bulldogs chief executive Simon Garlick said that while it was not ideal to be losing a key football person with the season under way, the club was better positioned now than at any time in the past to deal with the disruption.

The Bulldogs hired former Geelong captain and NFL punter Ben Graham to the role of strategic football operations manager – answering to Fantasia – in the off-season, and had also recently appointed a high-performance manager in Graham Lowe. The Dogs had also only 18 months ago appointed Jason McCartney as the club’s first list manager.

All three of Graham, Lowe and McCartney’s positions were newly created roles at the club, so Garlick reasoned they were better resourced now to cope with the departure of Fantasia. He also said that given the club had made those recent appointments, it was in a position to re-evaluate the type of role and person required in its football department.

Fantasia’s duties will be shared by Graham, Lowe and McCartney until an appointment is made. Fantasia headed the Bulldogs’ football department for six years after working in recruiting at Adelaide.

Not unhelpfully as the Hawks seek to re-sign Lance Franklin, Fantasia has a close relationship with Franklin’s manager Liam Pickering.

Coincidentally, at the recent AFL conference on equalisation, smaller clubs such as the Bulldogs raised the issue of wealthier clubs being able to poach staff.

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Defensive Dockers put Dons to test

The Bombers will be truly tested in Perth on Friday night. Season-opening wins over the cocky Crows and demoralised Demons have been good for confidence and percentage, but now they face Fremantle, which is the real deal – and the past few days of media scrutiny has not been ideal. If Essendon can win or get within a couple of goals, it should be well pleased.

James Hird’s boys teased last year, winning eight of their first nine games. The Windy Hill faithful got excited, some even dreamt of a premiership, but it quickly turned into a nightmare as injuries mounted and confidence crashed. They lost their last seven games, had huge scores kicked against them and tumbled out of the eight.

But lessons are learnt in adversity. The Bombers had to become faster, stronger, build midfield depth and improve their defensive mindset. In 2013, the signs are good. Playing three ruckmen (David Hille, Tom Bellchambers and Paddy Ryder) doesn’t work; it’s too top-heavy. With Bellchambers’ improvement as a forward, and Ryder’s development as a ruckman, Hille loses out.

The Michael Hurley experiment is over. Good. Leave him as a rampaging forward who will put the wind up opponents. With the ever-improving Stewart Crameri, and the eventual inclusion of star recruit Joe Daniher, it means there will be plenty of strong marking options up forward.

And time is up for either Leroy Jetta or Alwyn Davey. Neither can help in the midfield, so the days of two permanent small forwards are gone. Young Jackson Merrett, who can play in the midfield and forward, will replace one, giving far more flexibility.

The Essendon midfield is steadily improving. Jobe Watson and Brent Stanton are the stars, with Dyson Heppell about to join them. Heath Hocking is a tough, determined tagger who can close down the opposition’s best. David Zaharakis gives classy outside run and finish, and David Myers is big-bodied, a thumping kick and strong in contest situations. Veteran Jason Winderlich will be handy if he overcomes injury problems, and youngsters Jake Melksham and Travis Colyer can only improve. The huge bonus, of course, is having former Saint Brendon Goddard now wearing red and black. He wanted to play in the midfield for the Saints, but was needed elsewhere. Now he will have a chance to thrive.

Another bonus is the amazing development of Ben Howlett. Now into his fourth season, Howlett finished top five in last year’s best and fairest. He looks ready to become a gun.

The Essendon back line is still built around ”Grandfather” Dustin Fletcher. But he is getting much-needed big-man support from 200-centimetre Jake Carlisle, 21, who could be anything.

Courtenay Dempsey is given licence to break the lines with his speed and dare, Kyle Hardingham is learning to play defence. What is needed is for one or both of Tayte Pears and Cale Hooker to stand up and be reliable defenders. Both have been at Bomberland for five years and time is running out.

So what can the Bombers expect as they venture west? Relentless pressure, that’s what. The Dockers under Ross Lyon are a super defensive team, and it starts up forward where the Dockers will press to keep the ball locked in their front half. Hayden Ballantyne, Matt de Boer, Chris Mayne and Tendai Mzungu will be ferocious in their attack on the opposition.

Last week against the worst defensive team in the land, the Bombers banged on 28 goals. They won’t here. In the space of six days, they will go from playing the worst defensive team to one of the best. There will be panic and pain on their faces as the Dockers strangle and choke them.

It will be interesting to see if Essendon wilts or stands firm.

The midfield battle will be intriguing. With Aaron Sandilands out, Bellchambers and Ryder should have the edge in the ruck. At ground level, it will be on for young and old. The Dockers have quality in Stephen Hill, Nat Fyfe, David Mundy and Michael Barlow. Danyle Pearce has settled in well to his new club, and the former Port Adelaide winger now appreciates not being the one who is always tagged. His outside run is just what the Dockers needed. Ryan Crowley won last year’s best and fairest and arguably is the best lock-down player in the game. Will he get Watson or Stanton? Nick Suban had a great pre-season. As such he’s been promoted to midfield/forward roles, where his long left-foot kicks cause damage.

Up forward, captain Matthew Pavlich has yet to hit his straps. But the goals are being shared by plenty – in particular look out for the elusive Michael Walters. He is another Docker who has taken his fitness and form to another level. Not fleet of foot, but super quick with brain and reflexes, he is getting close to being the best small forward in the game, even though he has only player 23 senior games.

Down back, three talls – Luke McPharlin, Zac Dawson and Michael Johnson – can usually account for the opposition’s working forwards. Paul Duffield and Clancee Pearce have grown under Lyon’s coaching and their long, precise kicking sets up quality rebounds.

Predictability is what the Dockers are all about. They are drilled continually to know what’s required in all kinds of situations. Both teams are works in progress with premiership aspirations but, for me, the Dockers are further advanced.

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Very fast train wouldn’t go in to Newcastle 

NOT TO CBD: Nor even to Broadmeadow, according to a federal government study, any very fast train would stop at Cameron Park in the Hunter. A HIGH speed train would probably stop in the Hunter near Cameron Park because it would be too expensive to put the rail line into central Newcastle, a study done for the federal government concluded.

The second phase of the $20 million study, completed by a consortium of consultancy firms, recommends a Newcastle stop on the east coast network west of Cameron Park, to the south of the F3 freeway and close to the Hunter Expressway and Newcastle Link Road.

The study, released on Thursday, put the overall cost of the link from Brisbane to Melbourne at $114 billion, with the Newcastle to Sydney section to cost $18.9 billion.

The Newcastle to Sydney section would take 39 minutes to travel.

It would be the third stage of the project and would not be operational until 2045, after track from Sydney to Canberra then to Melbourne was completed.

The route through the Hunter would pass west of Raymond Terrace between Thornton and East Maitland.

This would ‘‘impact’’ on existing urban areas, the planned Thornton North housing area, the proposed Stony Pinch freight hub earmarked for east of Maitland, and the Wyong employment zone.

The route would be $400 million cheaper than an alignment to the east of Raymond Terrace.

An alignment providing closer access to Newcastle would require ‘‘long lengths of tunnels’’ or the acquisition of many homes and businesses, which would come at such a great expense as to outweigh the benefits of a closer stop, the study said.

A station at Hexham was also considered, but the study said Cameron Park would better serve the population to the south-west of Newcastle’s centre and the Lower Hunter, once the expressway opened.

Ourimbah is the recommended station on the Central Coast, with the alignment to Sydney to follow the freeway.

The plan includes long lengths of tunnel, one 6.5 kilometres long, and a high level crossing at the Hawkesbury River, making the Newcastle to Sydney section the most expensive on the network.

High speed rail services would operate 18 hours a day.

Under a proposed service pattern, all trains would stop at Newcastle, except for some express services from Brisbane to Sydney and Melbourne.

By 2050, when the network was in place between Newcastle and Melbourne, 39.2 million passengers would use it a year, and 28 trains would run a day each way between Newcastle and Sydney, the report said.

By 2065, 47 per cent of passengers out of Newcastle would be travelling to Sydney and 25 per cent to Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

The study said the high-speed rail link would create economic activity and enable regions to accommodate some of the significant population growth forecast for major cities.

It would also bring residential areas closer to employment centres through reduced journey times, creating employment productivity gains.

For Newcastle, such gains could increase average wages by $720 a year, the study said.

The presence of a university augmented by high-speed rail created ‘‘magnet infrastructure’’ – pulling people and information to a place that may be outside of the normal bounds of communication.

There could also be new jobs in rail maintenance sheds.

Users face long wait for fast train service

SLASHING the rail journey from Newcastle to Sydney to less than 40 minutes would create vast opportunities for the Hunter and boost wages, but passengers should not have to wait three decades for trains to go faster, community figures say.

Regional Development Australia Hunter chief executive Todd Williams said a station proposed near Cameron Park made sense, rather than a city station.

He said there would be huge opportunities in ‘‘planning around a business park or some level of economic driver where the stop is, as we see in other countries’’.

‘‘Why wouldn’t we have some businesses out there located near the station and turn it into a hub?’’ Mr Williams said.

Property Council of Australia Hunter director Andrew Fletcher said it was important that the corridor was preserved so it could not be built out.

‘‘That’s the strategic planning job to be done – to actually preserve the corridor for future generations,’’ he said.

Newcastle federal Labor candidate Sharon Claydon said the ‘‘nation-building project’’ would open up ‘‘enormous potential’’ for regional Australia.

But she said the long timeframe and $114billion for its completion meant people may doubt it would ever be built, making it important that the corridor was preserved.

Newcastle federal Liberal candidate Jaimie Abbott said the project sounded exciting but the government had to make sure it was viable before promising ‘‘another grand plan it cannot deliver’’.

Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Kristen Keegan said there needed to be improvements to existing infrastructure and services.

‘‘The immediate question arises of does this [report] mean that commuters between Sydney and the Hunter region will be stuck with the same travel times for the next 24 years?’’ Ms Keegan said.

‘‘Or is there something tangible we can do now to get a faster system on the existing infrastructure?’’

NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said the state government supported a fast train network but that the federal government had to supply the money.

‘‘If the government is serious about fast rail, it needs to show a commitment to the process but also a financial commitment,’’ she said.

Asked if passengers could expect improvements to Newcastle to Sydney journey times soon, Ms Berejiklian said the issue was part of work on the new CityRail timetable that would be released later this year.

Stable talk: Fillies to face big test

PROMISING: Gold Epona, left, will race at Randwick tomorrow. Picture: Jenny EvansKRIS Lees could have two chances of adding to his impressive Oaks record after racing at Randwick tomorrow.

Gold Epona and Express Power will represent Lees in the $125,000 group 3 Adrian Knox Stakes over 2000 metres.

The race for the promising staying three-year-old fillies is the stepping stone to the group 1 $550,000 Australian Oaks (2400m) on April 20.

Lees has already tasted Oaks success with Samantha Miss in the VRC version and Vitesse Dane in the Queensland race.

Lees has also gone close with Flora Danica, which ran second to Serenade Rose in both the VRC and AJC Oaks.

“I am really pleased with both fillies and Saturday is their moment of truth to see if they are up to Oaks class,” Lees said. “This is the second level of staying filly so far.

“Realistically a filly would need to win or be very competitive in this group 3 race to warrant going to the Oaks. Gold Epona has the stronger form line but Express Power is getting better with every run, she is on the way up.”

Lees will also be hoping that he has a true Sydney Cup hope emerge today. His imported stayer Hathras is getting ready for the 3200m group 1 Sydney Cup, which is worth $500,000 and will be run on April 27.

Hathras runs in the $175,000 group 2 Chairman’s Handicap over 2600m tomorrow.

He had a good effort when beaten just 2.4 lengths in the group 1 BMW over 2400m at Rosehill last Saturday.

“His effort last week was great and he has licked the feed bin out since,” Lees said.

“He never backed up in Europe, which is not their go, but if ever a horse gives me the indication he will cope with week-to-week racing, then it is Hathras.

■ Newcastle trainer Darren Smith is not worried as Atomic Force gets set to chase mighty mare Black Caviar.

“We will be seeing her backside like the rest of them,” Smith said.

“But there is a million dollars on offer and you just have to take a crack at a race like this – Black Caviar or no Black Caviar, stranger things have happened.”

■ Welkom Gold, which was rushed to the Newcastle Equine Centre last Saturday with a high temperature, left hospital yesterday.

“He will be given a couple of quiet weeks in a paddock before any decision about the future is made,” Darren Smith said.

“He just went downhill so quick, one moment he is getting ready to go to the races and the next I had to get him to hospital as quickly as possible.”

■ It did not take long for the new board of directors at the Newcastle Jockey Club to suffer a casualty.

The board met for the first time last week but only six were in attendance. It seems one member had another business meeting to attend.

■ A link to Newcastle’s great racing and business heritage has been lost with the death of Ron Tange.

Tange died aged 89 this week and will be remembered for his role as a successful businessman and for his love of racing through his long career as a trainer. He ran Newcastle Abattoirs for 20 years and his meat businesses employed more than 400 locals and exported to 59 countries around the world.

Tange took up training on the advice of his wife Mary as a hobby and had many good horses.

Among them was Navaho Brave, which won the group 3 Tramway handicap in 1974 at Randwick.

There is another story regarding Navaho Brave that might make old-time Newcastle punters still cringe.

Tange had entered Navaho Brave for a Sydney Saturday meeting and was confident.

They say punters from the area headed to the big smoke in large numbers with plenty of cold hard cash to back Navaho Brave.

They got to racing headquarters ready to bet – but the horse never made it.

The float carrying Navaho Brave caught on fire and the horses had to be rushed off the truck.

The gallopers were still stranded on the roadside when the race was run and won.

■ Greg Ryan can top off a memorable week today.

Ryan will be out to win the $55,000 Orange Gold Cup over 1600m on Ideal Position.

In his long and illustrious riding career star country jockey Ryan has had some big days. However Tuesday’s meeting at Tamworth would be hard to top.

He had a winning double in Akamas and Double Halo.

Those victories bought up 100 wins for the season and 3000 career successes for Ryan.

Ryan, 47, was a late starter in racing having been a motor mechanic for eight years.

He switched to a different type of horse power when 26 and has been a prolific winner in the bush ever since.

■ Group 1 Doomben Cup winner Mawingo is to be switched to Singapore.

The former German galloper will be trained by Michael Freedman in Singapore.

Mawingo was bought Down Under by Newcastle syndicators Australian Bloodstock.

“There are some nice races for him over there including the Singapore Cup,” Australian Bloodstock principal Jamie Lovett said.

■ Long-serving Newcastle Jockey Club employee Di Wade is taking on a new role with the club.

“Di Wade has accepted a new appointment with the NJC as Racing Administration Manager,” NJC chief executive officer Cameron Williams said.

Wade joined the NJC in 1999.

■ Scone mare Ortensia, which has won group 1 races around the world, will attempt to win her own race next start.

Trainer Paul Messara said he bypassed the T.J. Smith Stakes at Randwick tomorrow with Ortensia because of a minor worry.

He hopes to have her right for the listed $140,000 Quality Ortensia Stakes over 1100m on Saturday May 18 over the Scone Cup two-day carnival.

Messara said that he would then take Ortensia to Brisbane for the winter carnival where she will try to add to her group 1 wins in Australia, Dubai and England.

■ Owner David Walker didn’t have a decision on where he will be racing tomorrow despite having runners at Randwick and Newcastle.

Walker has Madame Fly in the Kindergarten Stakes at Randwick and his Quirindi Cup winner Sandrio runs over 1200m at Newcastle.

“David wanted Madame Fly to run so he could get the tickets so all his mates could watch Black Caviar,” trainer Robert “Pud” Davies said.

“The only trouble with that plan was that his filly is in the first and the great mare is in the last.

“I can only hope David and his friends are true stayers, as it will be a long day.”

Davies said that Sandrio was being aimed at the Tamworth and Gunnedah Cups.

■ Champion Cessnock jockey Robert Thompson will ride at Rockhampton tomorrow in a feature event for two-year-olds.