Australia Preview: The Gong takes center stage at Kembla Grange

Profile Picture: Alastair Bull

November 18th, 2022

Another weekend, another A$1 million race in New South Wales. For the ninth weekend in a row, there’s a seven-figure race in Australia’s most populous state; this time it’s The Gong, a handicap over about a mile at Kembla Grange, near Wollongong, south of Sydney.

TwinSpires’ Rest of the World Bet Back offer, where those who opt in can get up to $10 of their win bets refunded in races with six or more runners, applies to the entire card at Kembla Grange, adding to the appeal of wagering on The Gong.

Let’s have a look at some wagering opportunities.

Race 7, 12:00 a.m. ET: The Warra, 1,000 meters (about 5 furlongs), 3-year-olds and up

A decent field, currently made up of 15 runners, is set for this sprint. Wide barrier draws have hindered some chances here, most notably the intriguing #2 Bruckner. He was one of the better sprinting three-year-olds last spring, finishing second to Home Affairs in the Coolmore Stud S. (G1), but he hasn’t raced since. A trial victory Oct. 17 showed he was getting back on track, but gate 14 won’t help.

#1 Malkovich is the likely favorite after a strong run for second under a big weight Nov. 1. From barrier three he should be on the speed from the start for jockey Josh Parr, and he will be hard to peg back.

The one to beat him may be Godolphin’s #3 Athelric. He won four on end in autumn and then came back with a good effort for second behind Eduardo in the Shorts (G3). Two modest efforts followed, but he then returned to this distance for a decent fifth-place finish in the Listed Century S. at Flemington Nov. 3. With in-form apprentice Zac Lloyd getting a 3kg claim, Athelric looks a great chance from gate four.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #3 Athelric ($40)
  • $4 exacta: box 1, 2, 3 ($24)

Race 8, 12:40 a.m. ET: The Gong, 1,600 meters (about one mile), 3-year-olds and up

An overflow, 16-horse field is set for The Gong, which at A$1 million is the equal-richest race in New South Wales outside Sydney. The field is good and very even, and again barrier draws could well be an important factor.

Two horses fresh from big efforts in even richer events in the past few weeks take my eye here. #4 Rustic Steel returns just under three weeks after winning the A$2 million Big Dance at Randwick Nov. 1, while #12 Hope In Your Heart has had a similar break since finishing fourth in the world’s fourth-richest race, the A$10 million Golden Eagle at Rosehill Oct. 29.

Hope In Your Heart had won her previous three starts and finished strongly in the Golden Eagle, which is half a furlong shorter than this event, and she should appreciate the extra distance. She doesn’t look badly off at the weights, but rider Jason Collett will have a tough job from barrier 15.

Rustic Steel was impressive in the Big Dance, producing a stout turn of foot to seize the advantage a furlong out. He is up in the weights but doesn’t look too badly off with 58.5kg (about 129 pounds), and most importantly has an inside draw of five. Jockey Brenton Avdulla should find a position just off the fence in midfield and pounce in the stretch.

#8 Old Flame deserves respect after winning the Linlithgow (G2) at Flemington Oct. 29, but his draw of 19 could make things very difficult, as does the 17 draw for the in-form #1 Just Folk. One that may improve is Big Dance fourth-place finisher #6 Surf Dancer, who possibly hit the front a little soon that day and who has less weight to carry this time. Surf Dancer’s stablemate #16 Riodini has run well at the highest level previously and could be one for exotics.

  • $10 win/$20 show: #4 Rustic Steel
  • $1 trifecta: 4, 12 with 4, 12 with 1, 6, 8, 16

Bonus Play – New Zealand

Pukekohe Park, Race 9, Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes (G2)

  • $10 win/$30 show, #1 Darci La Bella: In outstanding form and won’t be bothered by the likely wet track.