Having grown up in an era when the Cups, Plates and Classic races were the pinnacle events on the calendar, Mark Newnham remains a racing purist at heart.
He had his sights on last weekend’s ATC Australian Derby with Shadow Hero but the horse’s chances were thwarted by a heavy track.
This Saturday, Newnham is hoping to capture an elusive win in the fillies’ blue riband, the Group One Australian Oaks (2400m) at Randwick with Quintessa.
The Oaks no longer carries a significant purse – the field will race for $500,000, the same prize money offered in the Arrowfield Sprint and Percy Sykes Stakes, both Group Two races.
But it has two things money cannot buy, history and prestige.
“I’m a racing traditionalist so I still enjoy these types of races. They’re important,” Newnham said.
“It would be nice to win one. I’ve had two runners in an Oaks and they’ve both run second.”
Greysful Glamour was runner-up to Aristia in the 2018 Victorian Oaks while Scarlet Dream finished second to Verry Elleegant in the Sydney version 12 months ago.
Newnham can see similarities between Scarlet Dream and Quintessa, both fillies starting their careers in lesser grade and improving as they were stepped up in distance.
Quintessa earned her spot in Saturday’s field with a third to Godolphin filly and Oaks favourite Colette in last weekend’s Adrian Knox Stakes (2000m) when she shot to the front on the turn and was run down late.
“The leaders stopped at the corner and left her exposed a long way from home,” Newnham said.
“I actually think she’s a good filly and I’ve had in mind to run her in the Oaks all the way through.
“Her last two starts she just hasn’t had things go her way so hopefully she gets a nice run in behind the pace.
“I’m not giving up on her being a winning chance.”
Significantly, the three placegetters in the Derby – Quick Thinker, Zebrowski and Eric The Eel, were all on a seven-day backup into the Classic.
Four of the first five to finish in the Adrian Knox head to the Oaks off a quick turnaround, including Quintessa, and Newnham says that could prove telling, particularly if the track stays rain-affected.
“Into wet tracks, I think it works well,” Newnham said.
“The first three placegetters in the Derby all raced the week before. When you’re getting to a mile-and-a-half and the horses have to be very fit, it does make a difference.”
Randwick remained in the soft range on Wednesday.