Rarely does a horse race live up to its fullest potential but the 2020 C.S. Hayes Stakes (1400m) at Flemington went well beyond all expectations as Alligator Blood prevailed after an unforgettable stoush with the Kiwi star Catalyst.
The Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m) in two weeks at Flemington will see the rematch of the pair of remarkable three-year-olds who turned on a toe-to-toe fight from the moments the barriers crashed open to the desperate dash to the line.
Standing in the winner’s stall was trainer David Vandyke, who could barely believe what he saw after his horse covered the 1400-metre trip in 1:22.61 – the last 400 metres in just 33.31 seconds – in worsening soft (5) conditions at Flemington.
Alligator Blood and Ryan Maloney inside with Catalyst (NZ) and James McDonald outside, picture Quentinjlang.com
"They were two top class horses," Vandyke said searching for breath.
"The time they ran for the last 400 was incredible. They were going stride for stride and when he just got the edge that last 50, and he showed his class, I thought ‘wow, that’s his best performance’."
"I don’t think he’ll eat up tonight after that."
After the absorbing 1400-metre battle, Alligator Blood ($1.80) had a margin of a few centimetres over Catalyst ($3) with Chenier ($19) also catching the eye first-up a length further away.
Soul Patch, who was placed as favourite in last spring’s Victoria Derby, was outsprinted but was noticeably making up ground late in the race to finish fourth ahead of a disappointing Dalasan.
Alligator Blood has now won nine of his 10 races with his only defeat coming in last spring’s Caulfield Guineas when he was nosed out by Super Seth.
For Catalyst, it was just his second defeat in eight starts, but trainer Clayton Chipperfield could not wipe the smile off his face after the race.
"That was some sort of dogfight, but I was very happy with that," Chipperfield said.
"He gave the winner a kilo and got beaten a nose," he said. "Obviously, the weight was an advantage for the other boy, but we cant be disappointed with that.
"It wasn’t a must-win race but we needed to know he was competitive and he certainly answered that question.
"His best sectionals have been over a mile. He’ll relish the mile of the Guineas."
Jockey James McDonald pulled a big surprise in the race when he took the backmarker Catalyst to a position outside Alligator Blood shortly after the start.
Chipperfield explained that he felt they would be giving the race away to Alligator Blood if they dropped their gelding back to his usual position near the tail of the field.
"I think if we pulled him out the back and tried for a bit of luck and swooped late, we may have ended in a bit of trouble and ended up giving him too much of a gap," Chipperfield said.
"We’ve got two weeks for the main race. The Guineas is the one we want. It’s a group one and then if he pulls up 100 per cent after the Guineas he’ll go to the All-Star."
Alligator Blood is on the same program and Vandyke could not hide his excitement at the return clash in the Guineas in two weeks.
"Full credit to the second horse, but ‘wow’, my horse, he is something really special," Vandyke said.
"When Catalyst got to him, I thought we were going to run second but the little Queenslander picked himself up off the canvas.
‘’We’ve never seen him go head to head with another horse. The day Super Seth beat him, he was switching off a bit."
Catalyst and Alligator Blood, picture Quentinjlang.com
ALLIGATOR BLOOD!— 7HorseRacing 🐎 (@7horseracing) February 15, 2020
Went stride for stride with the NZ sensation, Catalyst. pic.twitter.com/Skn8MnlMGC