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Autumn glory awaits Australian team

Mike Hedge

Australia’s two highest-rate racehorses will on Saturday announce the beginning of eagerly anticipated Autumn campaigns that seems certain to leave Australia with the world’s best racehorse.

Winx and Hartnell, the former bred by Darley, the latter raced by Godolphin, weighed in third and eighth respectively in the year-ending world rankings and will face off for the fifth time in their careers in the G2 Apollo Stakes at Randwick.

Winx shouldn’t be beaten – but far stranger things have happened in racing, and if the daughter of Street Cry has a day off Hartnell will be ready to step up.

“Realistically, we hope that Winx goes on holidays,” said Godolphin’s Australian managing director Henry Plumptre.

“They meet on Saturday in a race that is certainly short of Hartnell’s best, but it will whet the appetite for the main event. He’s on track, as he was when he won three very good races in the Spring.

“Winx is a superstar, but we’re happy to be taking her on. We just hope they both come through their preliminaries in good order.”

The ultimate goal for both horses is the G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes run over 2000m at Randwick on April 8, with both to have three lead-up runs.

The six-year-old Hartnell is the flag-bearer of Godolphin’s Australian team, although that position could pass to Asterninfo-icon should he race up to his potential in an Autumn campaign scheduled to begin in Saturday week’s G1 Lightning Stakes at Flemington

Trainer John O’Shea is convinced Astern should be kept to sprint trips and has mapped out a three-race program that also takes in the G1 Newmarket Handicap and the G1 TJ Smith Stakes, both at 1200m.

Astern trialled well at Warwick Farm on Monday, satisfying both his jockey James Doyle and O’Shea.

Also at Randwick on Saturday, the stakes-winning three-year-old Impending resumes in the G3 Southern Cross Stakes, a race to be followed by the G1 Randwick Guineas on March 4.

Impending is one of at least three Guineas aspirants, along with Bezel and Morton’s Fork.

While most interest on Saturday is in Hartnell, the two-year-olds Jorda and Marsupial run in important lead-ups to Melbourne’s premier juvenile race, G1 Blue Diamond Stakesat Caulfield.

At this stage, O’Shea has identified last Saturday’s Randwick winner Veranillo and the unraced Alizee as likely G1 Golden Slipper Stakes aspirants, with the picture to become clearer in traditional lead-ups in coming weeks.

O’Shea also plans to give the G1 winner Hauraki his chance to add the G1 Doncaster Handicap to his G1 Epsom success. Hauraki is set to resume in the G1 Canterbury Stakes on March 4 and follow up with the G1 George Ryder Stakes before his major target.