Estijaab leaves Slipper rivals in her wake
THEY say Golden Slippers can be won or lost at the start. This is where Estijaab won it.
Estijaab showed blinding speed out of the barrier 14, crossing the Slipper field to find the inside rail within 300m. She was never headed.
This was a special win. Only the Slipper greats Todman, Vain, Manikato and Dance Hero have led all-the-way.
Estijaab, trained by Team Hawkes, became the first filly to achieve the feat, defying her chasing rivals to win the $3.5 million Longines Golden Slipper (1200m) before a bumper crowd of 21,628 at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.
Racing legend John Hawkes, now a four-time winner of the world's richest juvenile race, said he has never trained a faster horse out of the barriers.
"Her gate speed is unbelievable, it's her greatest asset,'' Hawkes said. "She is an absolutely brilliant filly.''
But even Hawkes, who trains in partnerships with his sons Wayne and Michael, could sense the irony.
The stable has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks as their champion sprinter Chautauqua became the sport's recalcitrant racehorse - simply refusing to leave the gates I four successive barrier trials.
"The next time through with Chautauqua we are going to put Estijaab and the grey together in the barriers to see if he can follow her out!'' Hawkes said.
"You get some highs and plenty of lows in racing and you just have to work through it. Today is one of those highs.''
For only the third time in Golden Slipper history, the fillies ran the trifecta with Estijaab ($8.50) holding off the late charge of Oohood ($17) to win by a long head with favourite Sunlight 9$5) one-and-a-quarter lengths away third. Written By was the first of the colts home in fourth position.
Hawkes, who won Golden Slippers with Guineas (1997) and Forensics (2007) before forming a training partnership with his sons and winning the race again with Mossfun (2014) and Estijaab (2018), said there was initial disappointment when the Slipper barrier draw came out last Tuesday.
"Once we knew she was going to come out of 14, it made her task that much harder,'' Hawkes said.
"'But when they are blessed with speed like this filly has got, you have to use it. We felt she could jump out running and cross them.
"Everyone else wanted to take a sit and Estijaab was able to get a little 'rest' mid-race. It was a great ride by Brenton (Avdulla) and a special moment for all of us.
"A lot of hard work goes into this because Slippers are not easy to win. A lot of people went off her the other day when she didn't win (Reisling Stakes) by a big margin.
"But you have to have them peak on the right day. It is no good winning the Golden Slipper two weeks before the race.''
For Avdulla, Sydney's leading jockey this season, it was his first win in one of Australian racing's majors.
"You dream of riding Golden Slipper winners and it is something I thought I would never do but I've just won it, I don't know what to say,'' Avdulla said.
"When I was 15 and starting apprentice school I was the biggest in the class and they said I had 12 months in the saddle and then I was going back to school."
Avdulla proved them wrong and the doubters who said Estijaab couldn't win from her wide barrier.
"Everyone was sort of potting her after the other day because she didn't win the Reisling Stakes by far but I rang John [Hawkes] last night and he said to me don't worry mate she is a five lengths better horse than you rode the other day,'' Avdulla said.
"But the gate speed she has is unbelievable. My first reaction when she drew 14 was I've got no hope but then the more I looked at the race, with others wanting to take a sit, I knew I could back her gate speed and ride her positive early. She got across and took control of the race.
"It's very emotional, I've put in a lot of hard work with the stable and they are very loyal John, Michael and Wayne.''
Estijaab, a daughter of Arrowfield Stud's super sire Snitzel and Group 1 winner Response, was the most expensive yearling purchase in the Slipper field having cost Emirates Park Stud $1.7 million at the Inglis Easter Yearling Sales last year.
"She didn't know her price tag but it good to see the expensive ones win the big races because everyone knocks the expensive ones,'' Hawkes said.
"But she was an outstanding filly as a yearling and from the moment she came into our stables, she has shown a lot of ability.
"Her speed is amazing but so is her attitude. She was asleep in the (raceday) stalls a couple of hours ago.''
ESTIJAAB DESERVES HER CROWN IN DASH FOR CASH
WHEN the winner, Estijaab, leads from barrier to post then it I difficult to argue there was any hardluck stories in the Golden Slipper.
Zac Purton, rider of runner-up Oohood, said as much after the race when his filly went down by a long head.
"I thought at the 100m Oohood was going to get there but the winner kicked a little bit as I was coming and held me at bay,'' Purton said.
Sunlight (third) and Written By (fourth) have been winning everything all season but met their match in Estijaab.
Luke Currie, rider of favourite Sunlight, gave the filly a perfect ride and had no excuses after the race.
"I thought when she straightened she was a chance,'' Currie said. "She just held her ground from there but was still gallant in defeat."
Trainer Tony McEvoy prepared the Golden Slipper minor placegetters conceded his fillies had their chance to win.
"I wish we could have been a spot closer on Sunlight," McEvoy said. "But she's done an amazing job and she's run her heart out. She will go for a break now.
"With Oohood, it just proves our point that she's been running in those races without luck."
Grahame Begg, trainer of Written By, said his colt had "run super".
"We beat all the other colts home and with the weight situation, it was hard to give 2kg to the three fillies,'' Begg said.
Seabrook ran on strongly to finish fifth her rider, Damien Oliver, lamenting the lack of pressure mid-race. "The winner got over pretty cheaply and had pretty easy sectionals in the middle,'' Oliver said. "It made it difficult for the horses back in the field to make ground but I thought she went really well."
The previously unbeaten Aylmerton struggled in the rain-affected conditions and ran only 10th.
"I don't think he handled the ground very well,'' Aylmerton's trainer Jean Dubois said. "He wasn't as fluid as he was last start and he didn't jump very well. The rail was not really the place to be and he didn't kick the way he should have. He's done it all in one preparation and he'll come back a better three-year-old."
Trainer Chris Waller was proud of filly Fiesta's seventh and said Performer is better than his well-beaten 14th might suggest.
"Performer just never really got into the race,'' Waller said. "I told the owners he's a very good colt and that he's one of the best I've ever trained and I can't wait for the spring. We'll give him a good break now and he'll fly the flag for us."
Gai Waterhouse will have to wait another year to try and win a record seventh Golden Slipper after Santos ran 13th, beaten more than five lengths.
"I just think Santos is still emotionally a little bit young,'' Waterhouse said. "He's a very talented colt though and we saw that in his two wins this preparation and we'll bring him back as a three-year-old to target the Guineas."
WHAT THE JOCKEYS SAID
ESTIJAAB: Brenton Avdulla (1st)
"Just the gate speed she has got is unbelievable, my first reaction when she drew 14 was I've got no hope ... I knew I could back her gate speed and ride her positive early and she could get across and control. That's what she did.
OOHOOD: Zac Purton (2nd)
"It was a great effort. I thought at the 100m when I was coming I was going to get there but the winner kicked a little bit as I was coming and held me at bay."
SUNLIGHT: Luke Currie (3rd)
"I thought when she straightened she was a chance. She just held her ground from there but was still gallant in defeat."
WRITTEN BY: Jordan Childs (4th)
"He ran super. He jumped out of the gates well. He wanted to race a little bit fresh through the early and middle stages. He has done a great job this campaign. Bring on the spring."
SEABROOK: Damien Oliver (5th)
"The speed there appeared to be on the inside before the race didn't eventuate. The winner got over pretty cheaply. They had pretty easy sectionals in the middle. It made it difficult for the horses back in the field to make ground but I thought she went really well."
LONG LEAF: Blake Shinn (6th)
"Long Leaf went amazing. He drew wide and we had to go back. The pace wasn't as quick as we all anticipated. He had to come wide and followed Performer who didn't drag me into the race as I had hoped. He sprinted really well from the back of the field. He is an outstanding horse."
FIESTA: Kerrin McEvoy (7th)
"It was a brave run. We were stuck there and out on a limb. When they steadied I moved into the race to be closer on the corner. She still gave a kick and battled on to be beaten not far. It was a super effort."
SANDBAR: Christian Reith (8th)
"He tried his heart out. From the corner I thought he was going to loom into it. All credit goes to Brad (Widdup) and his staff. They've done a fantastic job with this horse."
SIZZLING BELLE: Kathy O'Hara (9th)
"I was really pleased with her run. I think she is a really progressive type of filly. She was a little bit green in the going and a little bit green in amongst them. She's got plenty of upside and I think she is going to make a really nice filly next prep."
AYLMERTON: Tommy Berry (10th)
"I really like him. He gave me a great feel. I think the pace of the Slipper was a bit quick for him, especially when they sprinted. His last 150m he was coming at them again. If he pulls up well I think the Sires' and Champagne are good races for him."
SECRET LADY: Ben Melham (11th)
"She ran as well as she could go."
EF TROOP: Jason Collett (12th)
"He got in behind them and got pushed around quite a bit which wasn't ideal for him." SANTOS: Tim Clark (13th)
"I was pretty happy with how he travelled in the run. Although he was a bit wide they weren't going that quick. He was found wanting from the top of the straight."
PERFORMER: Hugh Bowman (14th)
"I don't think we saw the best of him today. I make no excuses. We had a decent enough of a run. We probably couldn't have won from where we were but I thought he could have run a little better if he was on his game. He's certainly a nice horse for the future."
QAFILA: Craig Williams (15th)
"She was able to get onto the back of the eventual second horse but she really failed to respond today under the conditions."
PRAIRIE FIRE: Mark Zahra (16th)
"He might have just been a bit over the top. He was a bit fresh and didn't finish off."