Group 1 racing continues in Brisbane this Saturday with a tantalising rematch between Zaaki and Huetor headlining the 2023 Doomben Cup.
Zaaki won the 2021 edition of the Weight For Age staying feature by a mammoth seven-lengths and as a result was installed a $1.24 favourite to win last year. With the 2022 race moved to Eagle Farm due to inclement weather, Huetor caused a major upset to defeat Zaaki who could only manage a third placing.
Both horses are back this year with Zaaki the current popular elect despite a wide barrier. Only three other horses have won multiple Doomben Cups. Scenic Shot was the last horse to achieve the feat when partnered by champion Queensland jockey Shane Scriven in 2009 and 2011.
After missing a start in last Saturday’s Rough Habit Plate due to a hoof abscess, the talented Kovalica will be the only three-year-old in the field. Group 1 winners Duais, Atishu and No Compromise will also line up in this year’s Doomben Cup.
We’ve provided our thoughts on every runner in the $1 million Weight For Age feature below! (Prices current at time of publish)
1. Zaaki (11)
The 2021 Queensland Winter Racing Carnival is where the now eight-year-old announced himself as a superstar of the Australian turf. The Annabel Neasham-trained son of Leroidesanimaux won the Group 2 Hollindale Stakes that year before displaying one of the most impressive galloping displays witnessed in Queensland when winning the Doomben Cup by a whopping seven lengths.
Since then, he has amassed over $10 million in prize money and won a further three Group 1 titles, the 2021 Underwood Stakes and back-to-back Mackinnon Stakes in 2021 and 2022. He was also victorious in last year’s All-Star Mile and has performed admirably in many of our top races.
While getting on in age, he is showing no signs of slowing down. He started this preparation off with a second placing to the flying Giga Kick in the Group 1 All Aged Stakes before proving too classy when winning the Group 2 Hollindale Stakes for the third consecutive year.
He’ll be at peak fitness third-up. Drawing barrier 11 in the field of 13 isn’t ideal but he possesses the early speed to cross and lead or settle in a prominent position at worst. Having James McDonald in the saddle is a massive positive.
2. Numerian (9)
The second of Annabel Neasham’s runners in this year’s Doomben Cup is looking to break a winning drought of 48 weeks. That last win came for the seven-year-old gelding in last year’s Group 2 Q22 at Eagle Farm where he easily accounted for Huetor.
While he hasn’t won for almost a year, he has by no means run badly in that time. Last spring, he son of Holy Roman Emperor placed in the Group 2 Hill Stakes and Chelmsford Stakes and also ran a bold race to finish fifth by just over a length in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup.
He’s come back this preparation in good style. Two runs back he put up a strong fight leading over 2000m in the Group 1 Australian Cup, only to be run in the final 50m by Cascadian to finish second. It’s been six weeks since he finished sixth in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes so he’ll be on the fresh side. However, he did look good in a recent tick over trial. Jason Collett will go forward and if his fitness is up to the mark, he could prove hard to run down.
3. Huetor (7)
The 2022 Doomben Cup champion returns to Brisbane looking to win back-to-back titles. The Peter and Paul Snowden-trained former import caused a boil over last year when defeating the raging favourite Zaaki.
The six-year-old gelding has not won since then but is arguably in better form than he was this time last year. Two starts back in the Group 3 JRA Plate he found the line powerfully in the heavy conditions, clocking the fastest last 600m of the race to finish 1.15 lengths third. He backed that super effort up last start in the Hollindale Stakes where he charged home, again registering the fastest last 600m and 200m of the race, to finish 0.4 of a length behind Zaaki in second.
He’s at peak fitness and will love the rise to 2000m. The fact he was charging through the line and was hard to pull up in the Hollindale Stakes supports this. He’ll be charging to the line off the back of a likely tempo and is definitely one of the major players.
4. No Compromise (6)
The six-year-old is the roughest chance of champion trainer Chris Waller’s three entrants in this year’s Doomben Cup. It’s unfortunate for him that the heavy rain that fell earlier in the week in Brisbane didn’t come on Friday as this guy grows a leg when it’s wet.
This was never more evident when the son of Pins stormed home in the heavy 8 conditions to narrowly claim the Group 1 Metropolitan during the Sydney Spring Carnival.
He performed above expectations last start in the Hollindale Stakes when working home well for fourth. He was two months between runs so will strip fitter. While the track will likely be in the soft range come Saturday, he would need it a lot wetter to be competitive against this field.
5. Zeyrek (2)
The Team Hawkes six-year-old has never raced better than he has this preparation. He kicked off his campaign with a win over 1400m first-up before his racing manners cost him victory when a nostril second in the Group 3 Sky High Stakes.
The Sea The Stars gelding demonstrated a powerful turn of foot to come from well back and win the Group 3 Neville Sellwood Stakes over 2000m three starts back. He then looked to be outclassed in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes before bouncing back to form in the Hollindale Stakes last start where he was just 0.6 of a length behind Zaaki.
Noted frontrunning jockey Tim Clark can settle closer from barrier 2 and provide his mount with an economical run. He only needs to find another length and he’ll be fighting out the finish.
6. Diamil (4)
The market would suggest that the John O’Shea-trained five-year-old’s chances are limited. However, the son of Awtaad gets two key factors in his favour.
Firstly, he will appreciate racing over 2000m. It’s a distance he is undefeated over in two career starts. The most recent of these came just two starts ago when he finished off strongly to get the better of Bankers Choice and Huetor in the JRA Plate.
He also does his best racing on tracks with the sting out of them which he will get here. It should be a strongly run contest which gives him his chance from a nice gate. While I don’t think he can win, he could surprise many by finishing in the placings.
7. Nonconformist (8)
The Grahame Begg-trained six-year-old gelding broke a long run of outs when he stormed home first-up this preparation for an overdue win in the Group 2 Blamey Stakes in March. The son of Rebel Raider’s last win prior to that came in the Group 3 Naturalism Stakes way back in September 2021.
Since the Blamey win, he was easily accounted for in the Australian Stakes by a number of horses like Numerian that he meets here. Last start he was held up for a vital stage of the Listed Mornington Cup but I’d suggest that once clear he didn’t show enough to suggest he’s up to threatening in this year’s Doomben Cup.
He looks priced on his best performances not how he’s racing at present and for that reason I’m happy for him to go around without me.
8. Bankers Choice (12)
The 2022 Ballarat Cup winner looks outclassed here. That feature win is the only race the former kiwi has won since arriving in Australia in January 2022.
The Michael Moroney-trained five-year-old ran on well but was overpowered late by Diamil when finishing second in the JRA Plate. Last start he loomed upon straightening in the Hollindale Stakes but weakened late to finish fifth. He’d need to improve several lengths to play a role in the finish.
9. Palmetto (5)
The John Sargent-trained four-year-old has taken his racing to a new level this preparation. Two starts back the Ghibellines gelding won a Benchmark 88 Handicap by just over two lengths. Last start he raced away from his rivals to win The Coast over 1600m at Gosford.
While he is racing in great form, he is out of his depth here. He is poorly weighted given his rating and will carry 5.5kg more than he did last start against Group 1 opposition. He’s a horse to follow, just not here.
10. Esti Feny (3)
The former Hungarian galloper did something last start that he hadn’t experienced since October 2018…win. The Matthew Smith-trained eight-year-old settled at the tail of the field before saving ground on the turn and sprinting hard and fast to easily win the Gosford Cup.
While it was a great story him breaking his long drought, it’s hard to see him racing at a level that will be competitive here.
11. Duais (1)
The five-year-old returns to Queensland for the first time since winning the 2021 Group 1 Queensland Oaks.
There is no doubting the talent the Edward Cummings-trained mare possesses. That was on show during the 2022 autumn where she won the Group 1 Australian Cup and Tancred Stakes. However, things didn’t go to plan during the Spring Carnival last year when she failed to feature in five runs. It was found that she had chipped her fetlock which explained her below par performances.
She returns from a long spell in the Doomben Cup with the benefit of three trials where she’s found the line well. Whether she has the required fitness first-up to take on this level of opposition over 2000m remains to be seen. However, she oozes class and will enjoy an economical run from the inside gate so you cannot discount her chances.
12. Atishu (10)
The Chris Waller-trained five-year-old mare has taken some time to mature but she’s certainly hitting her straps now. The daughter of Savabeel had always raced well for Waller after arriving from New Zealand in 2021 but her win in the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes during the Melbourne Spring Carnival seems to have propelled her career.
She has gone to another level this preparation. She demolished her rivals in the Queen Of The Turf to claim her maiden Group 1 title. It was the type of run that only special horses can produce. Last start she settled a long last after drawing the outside gate in the Hollindale Stakes before working to the line strongly to finish sixth and 2.6 lengths behind Zaaki.
The rise to 2000m looks ideal. She boasts a terrific record over the distance and will strip fitter given she was a month between runs last start. The wide gate is the only negative facing her in this race. If she isn’t too far back, then watch for her charging late to potentially deliver the knockout blow.
13. Kovalica (13)
The third and final runner for Chris Waller will need to overcome several negatives to win this year’s Doomben Cup. The first of these is that the last three-year-old to win the staying feature was Akhenaton in 2000.
The Ocean Park gelding impressed during the Queensland summer with wins in the Group 3 Grand Prix Stakes and The Eagle Way before returning to Eagle Farm a few weeks ago to win the Group 2 Queensland Guineas. There is no doubting his talent, but the Doomben Cup isn’t the path Waller wanted to take, it was forced upon him due to Kovalica suffering a hoof abscess and missing last week’s Rough Habit Plate. He needs to run him here so that he’s not jumping from 1600m to the 2400m in the Queensland Derby next week.
Add on top of the fact he needs to overcome the outside gate and it doesn’t look good for the winner of five from seven starts. However, his trainer is named Chris Waller so it would be a brave person to write the chances of any horse he puts the saddle on. Especially one with the ability of Kovalica.
The sight of Zaaki blowing the opposition away by seven lengths in the 2021 Doomben Cup is forever etched in my mind. It was one of the most impressive things I have ever witnessed on a racetrack. Since that day, he has never run a bad race with his “worst” result being fourth place in last year’s Cox Plate! He may be eight years old but he is racing as well as ever. He had a lot go wrong last start in the Hollindale Stakes. Despite working early to find a forward position and at no stage was it going to plan for James McDonald, he was too strong for many of the opposition he faces here. He’ll strip fitter third-up and should prove awfully hard to run down.
If there is a horse to beat Zaaki, in my opinion it is clearly Huetor. He’s been building beautifully throughout this preparation. He was strong through the line when second in the Hollindale Stakes last start and will love the rise to 2000m.
Atishu was unbelievably good when winning the Queen Of The Turf two starts back. She is a serious horse that can be even better stepping out to 2000m. She was doing her best work late in the Hollindale Stakes and will strip fitter given she was a month between runs. She looks the big improver out of the Hollindale.
I’ve struggled with what to do with Duais given she’s first-up following an injury. However, I have to include her as a legitimate winning chance and one for exotics based on what she has done at Group 1 level.