The Underwood Stakes has a history of being a good guide to the Caulfield Cup with Southern Speed coming through the race last year and before her Viewed in 2009. The last Cox Plate winner to come through the race was So You Think in 2010 while the last Melbourne Cup winner Viewed in 2008.
Moody has had five previous runners in the Underwood, the closest he came to winning was ironically with another import Annenkov who finished fifth behind 40-1 shot Rubiscent in 2007.
The transformation of Manighar since coming under Moody's care, from a dour euro stayer into a top weight for age performer in Australia has been nothing short of spectacular. In eight starts for Moody, Manighar has never missed the frame, taking his Timeform rating from 119 to 126 comprising three group one victories, Australian Cup, Ranvet Stakes and BMW Stakes.
Today Manighar comes into the Underwood Stakes at just his second run this campaign on the back of an unlucky narrow defeat behind Caulfield Cup winner Southern Speed in the G2 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) at Flemington a fortnight back. The scary part of the Makybe Diva second was a fresh up Manighar ran to his master Timeform rating of 126, clearly indicating the flashy grey had scope for more to give this time in.
Even Manighar's most ardent supporter could not have envisaged such a scenario, especially following his stellar run under Moody during his first campaign with the horse. There was a lot to like about Manighar's Makybe Diva run. Clearly on the burly side, rider Luke Nolen settled the grey behind the speed. Travelling comfortably turning for home and only needing clear running, Nolen found himself held up for some distance behind the eventual winner.
This undoubtedly cost him a winning opportunity but the turn of foot Manighar showed when clear was sensational, just a bob of the head costing him victory. Back on his home track, added fitness and stepping up in distance are all positives for his chances this afternoon. Despite an awkward barrier a similar run to the Makybe Diva will make Manighar hard to hold out.
If successful Manighar will join an elite group of Underwood Stakes winners to have won the Australian Cup in the Autumn prior. Only Gay Icarus in 1971 and the great Northerly in 2001 have achieved the feat in the last 60 years.
The chances most likely faced with the daunting task of preventing Moody capturing his first Underwood Stakes are Memsie Stakes winner Sincero, Southern Speed and kiwi Ocean Park.
The rapidly improving Sincero looks set for a great campaign. The dual group one winner resumed three weeks back in the G2 Memsie Stakes over 1400m at Caulfield with a decisive win over Happy Trails who has since franked the form with a win in last Saturday's G2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes. Sincero ran to a Timeform rating of 125 in the Memsie, just a pound behind Manighar's best, but he will need luck from a near outside barrier draw of 12.
Sincero may find it hard to get cover from there and be forced to go back in the field thereby spotting Manighar a sizeable start. That said, like Manighar Sincero is a quality galloper under these conditions and does have a dazzling turn of foot as we saw in the last 300m of the Memsie Stakes victory, an attribute that allowed him to put the race in safe keeping after a few strides.
Sincero is yet to win past 1600m but last preparation had two unplaced 2000m runs at the end of a long campaign that does cast some doubt over the 1800m this afternoon. However I am prepared to overlook those efforts and judge him on what he shows today as this performance will be instrumental in deciding whether to push onto the Cox Plate in a few weeks time. The last horse to complete the Memsie Stakes - Underwood Stakes double was So You Think in 2010.
Caulfield Cup winner Southern Speed will renew her rivalry with Manighar but she is another who has not fared that well in the barrier draw starting from 11 right between Sincero and Manighar. However Southern Speed who trails two to four in head to head match ups with Manighar has enough tactical speed to roll forward much the same way as she did in the Makybe Diva Stakes, a decision by Craig Williams that undoubtedly was a winning one.
Timeform rated 121 off the Makybe Diva and again racing under the weight for age scale, the mare does line up very well against her opposition. Add to that she will still have a slight residual fitness edge over her rivals, there is little doubt Southern Speed should be right in the finish once more.
Interestingly Southern Speed was runner up in last year's Underwood Stakes also at her fourth run back from a spell, her trainer Leon MacDonald clearly following a similar path in the defence of her 2011 Caulfield Cup crown. A win for Southern Speed would see her as the first mare to win the Underwood Stakes since another Caulfield Cup winning mare How Now back in 1976. The last horse to take the Makybe Diva Stakes and Underwood Stakes double was Weekend Hussler in 2008.
The new kid on the block is New Zealand galloper Ocean Park who we saw in Sydney during the Autumn. Timeform rated 120p, a lightly raced galloper with four wins from only eight career runs, Ocean Park showed enough in his three-year-old campaign to indicate he would blossom this spring.
After winning the G3 Wellington Stakes at Trentham Ocean Park was narrowly beaten by champion NZ filly and subsequent NZ Derby winner Silent Achiever in the G3 Waikato Guineas over 2000m before coming to Australia for the ATC Derby. A luckless run in the G1 Randwick Guineas was followed by an equally luckless run in the G1 Rosehill Guineas beaten a head by Laser Hawk.
Unfortunately he went amiss on race morning and did not line up in the ATC Derby for which he was favourite. Ocean Park resumed with a most impressive win in the G1 Challenge Stakes over 1400m at Hastings three weeks back and comes into this afternoon's feature with plenty of upside and he could be the value in the race.
Another bound for the Cox Plate, Glen Boss renews his association with Ocean Park who has to find another five pounds in rating performance to be competitive this afternoon, however he has the profile to do just that.
As always the Underwood Stakes will shape several spring campaigns towards the Cups and Cox Plate. Enjoy another fascinating renewal.
Back Manighar @ [$2.8] in the Underwood Stakes
4 Timeform top-rated winners at Rosehill last week included - in the Golden Rose - Epaulette Won 11.49 BSP. Visit timeform.com to get your FREE Timeform card for Saturday's meeting at Caulfield.