Orr Stakes highlight as Caulfield kicks off Festival of Racing

We've had the off-season and the dress rehearsals, the odd group or listed race at Flemington, Moonee Valley and Caulfield as summer stretched through January into early February.

But this weekend the Australian racing scene really kicks into gear with the first group 1 contest of 2018, the CF Orr Stakes which launches Melbourne's late-summer Festival of Racing.

Punters are sure to look to Black Heart Bart in the Orr Stakes. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

The upcoming Caulfield meeting, with a host of strong group races for all age groups to support the Orr, is always eagerly anticipated as punters and racegoers look for the established stars to confirm their wellbeing, those whoburst onto the scene in spring to show they truly belong at the top, and those who are looking to become headliners.

Pride of place in the Orr Stakes field will surely go to Darren Weir's grand old galloper Black Heart Bart, who has strong claims over the Caulfield 1400-metre distance having won this race and the group 1 Futurity Stakes over the same course and distance in 2017.

Michael Walker rides Mighty Boss (right) to victory in the Caulfield Guineas.
Michael Walker rides Mighty Boss (right) to victory in the Caulfield Guineas. Photo: AAP

Also in the field is Hartnell, the Godolphin galloper who has had to play second fiddle to the mighty Winx so often that his connections cannot be blamed for re-routing him south once more to avoid his nemesis.

Hartnell is on something of a retrieval mission as his spring ended on a disappointing note with down-the-field efforts in the Caulfield Stakes and the Melbourne Cup.

Weir so often has a strong hand in Victoria's biggest races, and the Orr is no different. As well as Black Heart Bart he will be saddling up Japanese imports Tosen Stardom and Brave Smash.

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Tosen Stardom, who has been the subject of some strong market support to make a winning reappearance, won twice at group 1 level in the spring, taking out the Toorak Handicap over 1600 metres at Caulfield, and the Emirates Stakes over the same trip at Flemington.

Brave Smash ran a slashing third in the inaugural running of The Everest last October, but disappointed when he resumed in the group 2 Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley when only fifth of six to one of Saturday's rivals, the improving sprinter from the Hayes/Dabernig/Hayes camp, Thronum.

One of the more intriguing runners will be the Caulfield Guineas hero Mighty Boss, trained at the track by Mick Price. The son of Not A Single Doubt sprang one of the shocks of this or any other season when he landed the spring classic at odds of $101 under Michael Walker.

Mighty Boss has not been seen since, although he did win a trial at Geelong in late January. He could have contested the group 2 Autumn Stakes against his own age group, but Price has opted to throw him in the deep end reasoning that he could not add much to his value by beating his contemporaries in a lower-graded race.

Caulfield's Saturday fixture is the first headline meeting ushering in a six-week period of top-shelf action which will be played out across Melbourne's metropolitan tracks.

The $750,000 Black Caviar Lightning (1000m) at Flemington on 17 February, and Victoria’s premier two-year-old race, the $1.5 million Blue Diamond Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield one week later, ensure the spotlight will be on the top sprinters and two-year-olds through February.

The Australian Guineas (1600m), for which prizemoney has been raised by $250,000 to $1 million this year, and the $1.5 million Australian Cup (2000m) take centre stage at Flemington on the first two Saturdays in March, before Moonee Valley rounds off its night racing season with the group 1 William Reid Stakes (1200m) on Friday, March 23.

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