Aurie's Star. Source: Australian Racing Museum
For a few reasons, the Group 3 Aurie’s Star Handicap is an important race on the Victorian Racing Calendar. It more or less signifies the emergence of the spring horses; it is the first Group race of the new racing season and remembers one of the great horses to have raced at Flemington, Aurie’s Star, a Group 1 Newmarket Handicap winner and a former six furlong (1200 metre) track record holder at the course. His time of 1:08.25 was later converted to a pace-setter record of 1:07.8 post 1972 with metric conversion. This was equalled by Final Card in 1991 and broken in 1996 by Final Card’s half-brother Gold Ace (1:07.5). This was broken again by Iglesia in the 2001 Group 3 Standish Handicap, setting a new track record of 1:07.16.
Over the years the importance of the Aurie’s Star Handicap has shifted with changing training regimes and programming for spring horses. In the old days, it was the race that the great Bart Cummings would use to kick off a number of his stayers heading into a Melbourne Cup preparation. It gave trainers a good opportunity to let their horses sight Flemington in advance of future races and to do so on an excellent straight galloping surface. Hyperno, who won the Cup in 1979, started his long road to the Cup in the Aurie’s Star Handicap.
Nowadays horses start later, don’t have as many runs though the spring and can go into a race like the Group 1 Lexus Melbourne Cup with a relatively light campaign, with Vow and Declare a point in case.
Last year, Flemington trainer Danny O’Brien elected to start Vow and Declare in the Group 1 TAB Turnbull Stakes on Saturday 5 October following a strong winter campaign in Queensland. He next ran an impressive second in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup before heading to Flemington for the Lexus Melbourne Cup (G1) where he won narrowly from the wide draw of barrier 21.
Way back it would have been unheard of locally trained Melbourne Cup runners to only have two starts prior to Australia’s greatest horse race. If Vow and Declare was trained in the 1970s and 80s he probably would have started earlier, but then again racing deep into the Queensland winter forced the hand of O’Brien. He needed to give the 4YO a let up prior to coming to Melbourne.
So Si Bon after winning the Aurie's Star Handicap at Flemington on August 10, 2019. (Natasha Morello/Racing Photos)
The Aurie’s Star Handicap did get its recognition in recent years and was upgraded to Listed status in 2005 when Niconero won and has been a Group 3 since 2010. Prior to 2005, it was the most competitive 1200 metre race run in Victoria with no black type status.
Aurie’s Star, the horse, was a flying machine from Adelaide, who won 27 of 86 starts including the 1937 Group 1 Newmarket Handicap. He also won the VATC Oakleigh Plate (1937 & 39), VRC Railway Highweight as well as the VATC Christmas Handicap, Whittier Handicap and the Rosstown Plate. He was trained at Gawler, SA by Jack Doyle and ridden by Maurice McCarten in the 1937 Newmarket Handicap. McCarten would go on to train Delta to win the 1951 Melbourne Cup.