Finals Week 1 – Sal’s Preview: Taking it up a notch

Greetings All,


Trust everyone is refreshed for the final seven games of the season or perhaps looking forward to 2021 when your team plays again!  In the interim the carnage has started with players and coaches making way for the next generation.  It is a tough time in footy with little room for sentiment or loyalty.  The Giants parted ways with Heath Shaw and the Blues let go a Silvagni just to name a couple.  Would be nice if there was some wriggle room but understandable that it can’t be given the manner in which clubs have exploited the academy system and further compromised the draft.  But enough about that. There a four finals to play and a ripping card at headquarters.


Going Bananas ($1.80) vs Blackout ($2.24)


Neither the Power nor the Adelaide Oval hold any fears for Geelong – they have won three from five against them at the venue.  Port have had only one other win over Geelong since they won the flag in 2004!  They have a long way back from the 10-goal drubbing during the year.  They were simply unable to break through the Cats defence, cutting some slack for missing Connor Rozee who may have added another dimension to the forward apart from Charlie.  Todd Marshall has the class but lacks the size and strength to deal with the big Cats so is better suited being third banana. Port will try and use Ladhams as B2, just don’t think he has the class to be a threat.


So we need to look at the rest of the ground.  Port’s defence has looked undersized all year but performed well. They conceded their highest score against Geelong, including 6 majors to Tomahawk, his partner in crime Gary Rohan booted three and there is a chap called Ablett back in the team.  The dam burst at ¾ time, conceding 7 goals in the last quarter.  So Port look in a spot of bother at each end of the ground so will need to supply much more ball into the forward line.  They certainly have the advantage in the ruck with Lycett and Ladhams, the Geelong rucks though do make the big boys work.  Boak, Wines, Rockliff and Gray make up an experienced and talented midfield who on their day can run with the best.  In order for Port to win they have all got to be at their best as even with all those names Geelong will raise you Dangerfield, Selwood, Guthrie, Duncan, Ablett, Menegola….  Port have the home deck and if everything goes right they can win – a more likely scenario is for the Cats to progress by 37 points.


An Exorcism ($2.20) vs Lynched ($1.82)


This is another game where the home team needs to overcome the dominance of the visitor.  Chris Fagan has channeled a bit of Lethal with ‘I’m not sure they are supernatural. They are just human beings like we are’ similar to the famous ‘if it bleeds, we can kill it’.  The Tigers sure do have a spell over the Lions with their last win at the Gabba back in 2004 and only one other victory elsewhere since.  Has Fagan found the key to exorcise their demons?


There are a pair of keys to help with the return of Harris Andrews and Tom Lynch still injured.  Certainly makes the tall match-ups easier for the Lions, however it is on the ground up forward where the Tigers run rampant.  Birchall and Rich are smart defenders and incredible distributors but they are not quick.  The Lions need to inject some speed into their defence to counter that run.  At the other end Brisbane need to find a way through the Tiger defence.  Anything in the air will get cleaned up by Balta, Grimes, Vlastuin and Astbury.  Reckon their best chance is to play on the ground and that Cameron, Rayner and the other Brisbane smalls can match it with Baker and Houli.  Not sure it is a Tiger weakness but they have been impregnable in the air.


In the middle there is no distinct advantage in the ruck.  The Lions have a solid midfield – Neale is a star, McCluggage and Berry will be up against Dusty, Cotchin, Prestia, … one of those two need to play a break-out game that makes them an A Grader in the competition.  They will need lots of other stuff to go right including the exorcism.  More likely to see the Tigers win by 28 points.


Holler for a Marshall ($2.22) vs Speaking English ($1.80)


From a club perspective the Doggies have the finals experience that shades the Saints, however don’t forget the targeting of players.  Bradley Hill, Dan Butler and Dan Hannebery all have premiership notches on their belt so should provide their teammates good grounding leading up to a final.  The ruck battleground could be significant in this game. Tim English has used his athleticism to stretch his opponents of late.  The Saints are double barreled with Ryder and Marshall who should be able to offset that work and also dominate the contests given the Dogs will use anyone to act as the back-up.  The Bulldog midfield is adept at playing to a losing ruckman so that advantage could be nullified and their inside team of Macrae, Libba, Dunkley and the Bont is the equal of anyone.


Both forward lines have the ability to test their respective opponents but they are also hit or miss.  A player at each end swings this for the Bulldogs.  The attacking defender and defensive attacker.  Caleb Daniel sets the Bulldogs up with his great vision and superb disposal while at the other end Mitch Wallis puts a hard edge on the efforts to keep the ball in the forward line.  He is also a great target as third or fourth banana and tough to match up.  The Saints have good ‘uns at each end also and a potential match-winner in Max King.  Just don’t think they have the consistency.  Saints not without a chance and could go down to the wire and the Bullies progressing by 13 points.


28 Days ($1.45) vs Here we Goey ($3.20)


The quiet confidence exuded by the Pies is almost deafening.  They are healthy and while Howe and Sidebottom are in their best 22, they are not losing too much with their replacements.  Their exploitation of the loophole to clinch Qauynor really paying off as he defends so well and provides great dash.  He and his cohorts will have their hands full with the Eagles attack. It is at the other end where the Pies are vulnerable.  Barrass and McGovern should be able to rule the skies despite the improving presence of big Cox, leaving De Goey as the main threat. He is a tough match but West Coast do have a couple of options.


Ultimately will come down to supply and both of these midfields bat deep with ruckmen that are adept also at ground level.  Interesting to see where Hutchings goes if selected – reckon it needs to be Pendlebury.  As deep as the Pies midfield is, Pendlebury is the conductor getting them all to play in tune.  On the other side, if Tim Kelly gets off the chain it is game over, the Pies rarely use a dedicated tag but they might go to Greenwood if selected.  Won’t have the wheels to go with Kelly but has plenty of other tricks in his tag bag.  Travel has never bothered Collingwood so their confidence is not surprising but just think they will find it hard to kick a winning score and of course for the Eagles there is the punishment of 28 straight days in quarantine if they lose.  With that West Coast to get home by 23 points.


Track Time


It’s back to Flemington for Turnbull Stakes Day and a ripping day of racing coupled with Epsom Day at Randwick.  The weather gods have delivered rain midweek and dry for the remainder of the week predicted giving the track manager ideal conditions to deliver a fair surface.  The limiting factor being the rail out 7 metres which could see the on-pacers having an advantage.  A little Melbourne-Sydney banter is always interesting and this week we had Hugh Bowman saying he grew up wanting to win The Melbourne Cup not The Everest.  Probably because he didn’t rate his Everest ride really ’cause he said this a couple of years ago – “I tell you what, I honestly reckon within five years The Everest could be the biggest sporting event in Australia”.


My banter though is on the rating of races. The Metropolitan is a Group One event worth $750K.  Two of the favoured runners are scratched in preference to The Bart Cummings, a Group Three race worth $500K.  The Bart has the extra carrot of a place in the Melbourne Cup.  The Metropolitan has had the B-Graders running for a while now and the genuine A graders are not in the Bart either.  At least not A Graders yet Surprise Baby won it last year and is a favourite for the big one.  Reckon the Metrop needs a downgrade and Bart an upgrade so they are both Group Two events.


Now let’s see if we can find a winner and spend the quaddie money from last week!  As is typical at this time of year, we have plenty of open affairs.


The babies need to start racing some time and the first is for them.  Unless you know something, they are raffle at this time of year.  Maher-Eustace place them well so perhaps a nibble at Fake Love (R1, #11) or any of GSOB’s three might be forward.  They will need to be good to beat General Beau (R1, #1) who was outstanding in winning his first start.  Probably smarter to enjoy a sandwich.  September Run (R2, #8) got the gun ride to win last start and it could happen again. I doubt Dan Stackhouse will let it happen again on Minaaj (R2, #7) who looks a better punting proposition.  The two at the top also appeal.  Tough one in the third with a few Group One performers who win at their best.  Not so sure about their form but loved the finish of Legionnaire (R3, #12) last start and has a win over this journey.


Race 4 – Gilgai Stakes (G2, 1200m, SWP)


What a great renewal this, with a collision of form lines and a couple getting warmed up for the Everest.  More than happy to plonk for Santa Ana Lane (6)  here after initial reluctance.  Has not carried 57kg or less since winning the 2018 Stradbroke and if he is forward enough he can win. Tofane (4) has the big weight but deservedly so for her performances and expect her to turn it around on Zoutori (2) who has copped an extra 3kg from their last meeting.  The Inevitable (5) is a tiny horse with a big motor and should improve second up but for value I am filling the last hole with Kemalpasa (3) with an outside draw down the straight.


Selections – 6-4-2-3


Race 5 – Edward Manifold Stakes (G2, 100m, Fillies SW)


The second level of fillies contest while the top raters aim for the Thousand Guineas next week.  The exception being a couple of these on an Oaks trail and leads to a tricky affair.  Settled on Miss Guggenheim (11) only her third start but beat Pensato who was an impressive winner here last week.  Thermosphere (1) has been running solidly against the best in Sydney – if that form is as it seems then she will give this a shake.  Succeed Indeed (5) was a last to first winner at Sandown and Queen of Rocks (3) was unlucky last start at Caulfield.  Blinkers going onto Starelle (16) and is of note she ran well in the race referred to at Sandown.


Selections – 11-1-5-3


Race 6 – The Bart Cumminngs (G3, 2500m, HCP)


One of my favourite races of the Spring with the lure a of a run in the Melbourne Cup attracting a great field.  Almandin did the double in 2017 and Flemington heaved last year when Matt Hill called “Here comes the baby” as the son of Shocking steamed down the straight to claim his ticket.  So many chances this year and some bias with me as there is some investment in a couple of these to repeat the feat of Almandin.  Winning is a good habit and Lord Belvedere (5) has it at the moment and rates a great chance.  CJW has pulled the reign to run Shared Ambition (2) in this over the Metropolitan – probably a lot to do with the barrier draw in Sydney, opened his Australian account here on Cup Day last year.  Schabau (12) never runs a bad race but has the opposite habit of Lord Belvedere (5).  Makybe Diva was 444 into her first Cup. The German needs to get a win to secure his slot.  Steel Prince (4) got a free ticket last year from the Andrew Ramsden but didn’t really fire in the Spring till a good run in the Cup to finish in the top 10.  Looks to be going better this year but tough draw.  Persan (15) has forced the hand of his trainers to have a crack through sheer consistency – he has been up for quite a while.  Can win this and well weighted in the Cup, a drop off would not surprise either as he has been up most of Winter, has already clocked up 13km of racing since June.  Credence (8) has got a winning habit since transferring to Archie Alexander and has run well here and who can solve the riddle of Kinane (18) who might be suited by the spacious Flemington track.


Selections – 5-2-12-15


Race 7 – Turnbull Stakes (G1, 2000m, SWP)


The Bart was the entrée, the main course is a beauty as well loaded with Cox Plate and Cup aspirants.  Often a race that shapes the Spring and to be watched closely for the future.  Verry Elleegant (9) is a beauty and can win here, she needs to be taken on trust four tries here and yet to win – all of them on a good surface.  Reckon she needs some rain and none expected.  I expect to hear the cry of “Here comes the baby” at some stage as Surprise Baby (3) steams home. He probably needs to in justification of his position in the Melbourne Cup market with a number of other contenders in this race.   One of them is Master of Wine (6) who looks on track for a tilt at the Cup and ran well in the Makybe Diva as did Dalasan (5).  Plenty of other contenders, one of interest being the current Cup holder, Vow and Declare (1) who was just getting warm and closed in the fastest sectional in the Makybe Diva and will appreciate the extra 400m.  Ignore Harlem (11) at your peril, a two-time Quaddie Killer over this journey.  The other German Django Freeman (13) is well worth consideration having significant weight relief from its three starts in Australia.


Selections – 3-6-9-5


Race 8 – Rose of Kingston Stakes (G2, 1400m, Mares SWP)


Will have Rubisaki (2) dessert trusting that the first up fail was just a pipe opener.  She will need to be at her best to beat Pretty Brazen (3) coming off a placing in a Group One race and Perfect Jewel (6) who will appreciate the return to Flemington.  Sierra Sue (17) gets a run and has a very good strike rate – way up in class but gets the weight relief to make up.  Scared leaving out Madam Rouge (5) who finished strongly in the Rupert Clarke.


Selections – 2-3-6-17


Young Werther (R9, #14) was outstanding winning his only start at Geelong and a repeat of that performance will go close here in a wide race.  Also like GSOB’s Alcyone (R9, #3) a winner over this journey a couple of starts ago.




It’s Flemington and it’s a tough one.  We will try and stay in as long as we can and tighten up the last leg even though it is a race of many chances.


Leg 1 – 2, 4, 5, 8, 12, 15

Leg 2 – 3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13

Leg 3 – 2, 3, 5, 6, 17

Leg 4 – 3, 14


Go Baby Go,


Cheers, Sal


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  1. Really enjoyed your AFL finals analysis Sal. Such is my disillusionment with the ugly AFL game I only pay attention to other sides when they play my Eagles. Your logic is impeccable. Let’s see if it translates to the games. I’m very divided about tonight as Port are dad’s side and I have a soft spot for my old home town. But Port at Adelaide Oval makes a lot softer place to fall for my Eagles next week. (I haven’t been so confident since the 2016 Elimination Final – oops). Carna Cats.

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