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Tranquility before the battle on Sydney’s biggest stage

Success at Sydney's famous Autumn Carnival, packaged these days as The Championships, is the priority.
J A McGrath

Dawn at Osborne Park, Godolphin's Australian training headquarters, nestling on the edge of Agnes Banks, on the Hawkesbury River, 40 miles west of Sydney - a tranquil scene that gives no hint of the fierce competition to come at Randwick on April 1 and 8.

John O'Shea and his deputies supervise another busy work morning. The objective remains the same as last year, the year before that, and the year even before that.

Success at Sydney's famous Autumn Carnival, packaged these days as The Championships, is the priority.

Warm sunshine beats down on the horses and riders. It is idyllic.

All the stars are present for roll call. The gallant Hartnell, Godolphin stalwarts It's Somewhat and Hauraki, the untapped Astern, plus scores of young horses with impressive pedigrees, all working toward their first appearance in public.

O'Shea readily acknowledges this as an exciting, yet pressurised point in the Australian racing season.

"It's important to have winners at this meeting. The biggest races, with huge prizemoney, are what it is all about. We work towards these days all season," he pointed out.

O'Shea is greatly respectful of racing history. Mention Saturday's G1 Doncaster Mile, and he can reel off past winners, delivering their names with a reverence reserved only for real champions.

He saddles three runners - Hauraki, It's Somewhat and the exciting ex-French galloper Spectroscope.

"Hauraki was like Super Impose, the way he came from nowhere to win the G1 Epsom (Handicap) last Spring. He obviously loves the Randwick mile, though the heavy track this time is a negative for him," O'Shea points out.

Super Impose, incidentally, was one of the greatest milers in Australian racing history and excelled at Randwick. He is the only horse to have won two Doncasters and two Epsoms (1990-91).

The heavy ground has played havoc with the form of many horses this Autumn. But, more significantly, a lack of continuity with jockeys has made it difficult at Godolphin.

Following the lengthy ban imposed on James McDonald, then the injury to English replacement James Doyle, the stable found itself looking for the best available each week on an ad hoc basis.

"When you have a big team of horses, you are looking for consistency and continuity. You can't be switching jockeys all the time. You want riders, who know the horses and their characteristics. You are wanting feed-back that is accurate and reliable," O'Shea said.

Despite this being the most beautiful morning, with a blazing sun a few hours after daybreak, more rain is forecast on Friday and Saturday. Another heavy track looks a certainty.

This means that O'Shea and his team have much discussion ahead about whether the brilliant Astern takes his chance, with Doyle aboard, in the G1 Darley T J Smith Stakes. "It will be a late call," the trainer confirmed.