The Ex Factor with Nathan Exelby 07-05-2021

Well known QLD media man NATHAN EXELBY is a constant at the track and has all the inside information as we head into another big weekend of racing in the ‘sunshine state’.


THERE has been plenty of discussion this week on where Saturday’s Hollindale Stakes fits into the mix of the best races run in Queensland in recent times.

In short, it has to be right up there.

I doubt there’s ever been a field assembled in these parts with combined earnings of $27.5million.

Now, it’s fair to say the bulk of the Hollindale field this week are perhaps on the other side of their career ‘Everest’.

When BLACK CAVIAR and HAY LIST clashed in the 2011 BTC Cup, both were at the absolute peak of their powers, so as a contest and event, that one is hard to top.

But as a collective, this Hollindale brings together a field that has enjoyed some stellar moments in G1 races on both sides of the Tasman.

MELODY BELLE (pictured) of course will be the focus of much attention over the next fortnight as she heads to this race, then the Doomben Cup and finally the Magic Millions sales ring to be sold following a career that has made her revered in her homeland with 14 G1 wins.

Then you’ve got the likes of AVILIUS, HUMIDOR, FIFTY STARS and HOMESMAN, who at various stages have been ranked among the top handful of weight-for-age horses in the country.

Throw in an exciting import like ZAAKI, dual G1 winner NETTOYER, seasoned campaigners MISTER SEA WOLF and SHARED AMBITION, a couple more G1 winners in TOFFEE TONGUE and TIPTRONIC and the G1 and G2 performed mares PARADEE, VANNA GIRL and TWO ILLICIT and you have yourself one hell of a race.

To think SIR DRAGONET and MUGATOO will be thrown into the mix in a fortnight, sets up a Doomben Cup for the ages as well.


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SO how to dissect the Hollindale?

You can attack it from many different angles.

Even though some of these mightn’t have won for some time and may not be the force they once were, there’s still some exceptional lead-up form to digest.

Avilius has been in sparkling touch this prep, almost nudging out VERRY ELLEEGANT in the Chipping Norton before his barnstorming run in the Ryder.

He wasn’t as dynamic in the Doncaster, but on Saturday he gets an extra 200m and a likely soft track, both of which look to be in his favour.

Fifty Stars disappointed as favourite in the Australian Cup when he got into an ugly spot bunched up among horses.

I like that he’s had a good break since to be aimed at Queensland.

It was hard to miss his run in the All Aged. He was just so powerful through the line and we’ve seen that race used as a leap to this via METAL BENDER in the past.

Zaaki was a real eye-catcher in the Doncaster (replay above) at his Australian debut. He then went out well-fancied up to 2000m but was just anchored the last little bit. No doubt he will be better for that and Queensland has long been the aim.

James McDonald sticks and I suspect he will be close to his peak on Saturday.

Melody Belle is better suited back to 1800m from 2400m, but you wonder how much start she gives away from the outside gate.

Paradee, Homesman and Humidor each have runs this season to make them a threat here, but you can’t have them all and I’m going to put them in the “need a run” basket before they get to Doomben.

All in all, I’ve got Zaaki on top, just, from Fifty Stars and Avilius. The value is there at the moment to box the trio in a quinella.


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THE Gold Coast traditionally throws up tough races on both Magic Millions and Hollindale Stakes days.

This weekend is no exception.

It’s difficult to pinpoint a horse that’s going to start short on the day.

At this stage, RANCH HAND is the shortest priced favourite on the card, marked at $3.10 with TAB in the Ken Russell Memorial.

That means punters who find a winner or two will be well rewarded.



THE Ken Russell Memorial is generally the starting point for Sydney two-year-olds in the Queensland carnival, but traditionally hasn’t been the strongest guide to the big winter juvenile features.

You have to go back to SIZZLING (2012) to find a winner that went on to claim the J.J. Atkins. Before him, HOT SNITZEL took out the BRC Sires a couple of starts later.

The last eight winners have failed to make much of a dent for the rest of the carnival.

Only time will tell if it’s the same story again this year, but the race does look to boast some depth.

Ranch Hand always gave the impression in his debut prep he would be far better this time around. He won easily on debut, then threw away the race at Eagle Farm, before running respectably in the Magic Millions.

He has been scratched from Gosford to head for the G3 on the Coast. He looked to do it pretty comfortably in the recent trial and if he’s taken the expected improvement, is going to take a power of beating in this race.

But there’s some handy types opposed to him.

MISTER LARABEE arrives with a big boom after improving out of sight at start number two with the blinkers going on.

DEBUSSY and DOVETAIL DIVA are other local hopes with a good reputation following debut wins.



WILLIAM Pike has attracted plenty of headlines this week as he heads to the Gold Coast in his first winter carnival appearance.

He rides Fifty Stars in the Hollindale and NOTHINSWEETABOUTME for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott in the Bracelet. Both look to have solid chances.

He also has another chance for stakes success on MAUI GIRL for Annabel Neasham. His other rides are PLAGUE STONE, MACEWEN and LE FORCE.

But could he be upstaged by James McDonald, who returns for another carnival tilt, a neat decade on from his first Australian G1 success on SCARLETT LADY in the Queensland Oaks?

McDonald rides Zaaki in the Hollindale and Ranch Hand in the Ken Russell, in addition to ROCKETING BY (Guineas) and GRACE AND HARMONY (Bracelet).

His chances of an early strike hinge on track conditions, as SUGAR BOOM (Bat out of Hell) has proven herself hopeless on wet ground.

I fancy McDonald’s chances of riding a couple of winners.

In the last three calendar years, McDonald’s strike rate in Queensland has been 18 per cent, 30 per cent and 20 per cent.

And it hasn’t mattered too much whether his rides have been in the market or not.

He signed off on Magic Millions day by landing AIM, a $31 winner of the MM Guineas.



CHRIS Waller has stacked the decks in the Gold Coast Bracelet, accepting with six fillies, now back to five with the scratching of FIFTEEN ARIA.

EASIFAR is the one coming off a stakes-winning lead-up, but I prefer two others coming from different ends of their campaigns in Sydney.

SIGNORA NERA has been terrific in her past two runs. She didn’t enjoy the best of luck in the Adrian Knox, then stuck on really well when probably not seeing out the 2400m in the Oaks.

That’s clearly superior form to what Easifar brought north and I just hope to see her get a fair run off a tricky draw. If that’s the case, she should be very hard to hold out. The early price appeals.

Grace And Harmony is the one on the up. She steps out to a trip for the first time now after two solid wins this prep. She was strong at the end of 1550m last start and seems to be emerging at the right time.



Race 1: I Could Do Better is screaming out for this trip.

Race 4: Baller was luckless last prep. Draws softly after encouraging recent trial.

Race 5: Ranch Hand has plenty of upside.

Race 6: The aforementioned Signora Nera ($8) and Grace And Harmony ($6.50) are at backable odds.

Race 7: J-Mac to get the best out of Rocketing By. Want Lord Olympus onside too.

Race 8: Zaaki on top of Fifty Stars and including Avilius in quinellas.

Race 9: Sofie’s Gold Class to get a sweet run and be strong at the end of 1400m.


Catch Nathan Exelby on The Playbook every Thursday night on Sky Thoroughbred Central (Ch528). Nathan also appears on Sky Thoroughbred Central’s weekday coverage, RadioTAB’s Saturday morning preview of Queensland’s feature meeting and the Brisbane Racing Club website and social media platforms.

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