This is the month - August - when punters should begin looking for the early clues to discovering which horses will win major spring races like the Caulfield Cup, Melbourne Cup and W.S. Cox Plate.

I believe the most reliable pointer races are the important weight-forage races that kick off in late August and continue through until mid-October. And my advice is to take serious note of the early weight-for-age races, like the J. J. Liston Stakes (1400 m) at Sandown, and the Warwick Stakes (1400 m) at Warwick Farm.

Usually, you can gain an insight into potential Cup and Cox Plate winners by examining closely the runners in these two races. Just take last year as an example. The Caulfield Cup winner, Tristarc, was in the Liston field, while the Cox Plate winner, Rising Prince, was a 2nd placegetter behind Castanillia in the Warwick Stakes (beaten only a 1/2 head). These results indicate that horses with aims to taking a hand in the finish of the Cups or the big Plate at the Valley should be racing and firming in condition by late August.

Tristarc had her first run of the new 8586 season in the Liston, and was unfancied at 40-1, finishing 8th of 11 behind King Delamere, who also ended up a strong Caulfield Cup prospect, although he could finish only 16th - perhaps evidence that a horse doesn't need to be too far advanced in condition by Liston day, because his form could tend to taper off by Cup time, two months later.

Moss Kingdom, highly regarded in August last year, as an '85 Melbourne Cup contender, finished just ahead of Tristarc in the Liston, but a little later he broke down. He is likely to be trying for the Melbourne Cup again this year and if he remains sound and fit he will be a major prospect.

The next major weight-for-age race to watch out for is the Sterling Manikato Stakes (1200 m) at Moonee Valley.

This is usually run in the final week of August. Last year, one of the unplaced runners was Our Sophia (7th of 14 to Touch Of Genius) and this fine mare went on to finish 2nd to Tristarc at 5-1 in the Caulfield Cup.

Your plan, then, is to look for stayers who are given warm-up runs in these weight-for-age sprints. Mark them down - even if they lose, which is likely because they could be the ones who will shortly start to fire in preparation for the big races. Races like the Manikato invariably are won by out and out sprinters the stayers are in there for the conditioning and the competition and they will be running on late.

A race which had enormous bearing on the Melbourne Cup last year was the Herald Cup. This is not a weight-forage race, by the way, but it can contain stayers who are being projected at the Cups, and last year What A Nuisance, the eventual Melbourne Cup winner, finished 3rd in the 1600m Herald Cup behind Erato and Jika Jika. He was sent out favourite at 6-4 and was beaten 21/4 lengths. Who would have guessed that here was the horse who on the first Tuesday in November was going to turn in such a fabulous staying effort to win the famous two-miler at Flemington?

The Memsie Stakes (1400 m) at Caulfield is the next weight-for-age race in which likely big race prospects will emerge. Last year's race had little bearing on the Cups, but previous years have proved accurate pointers. On the corresponding day in Sydney, the race to watch for is the Chelmsford Stakes (1600 m) at Randwick. Last year, it had Late Show, Rising Prince, Bounty Hawk and Hayai among its runners. Rising Prince, as I have stated, went on to win the Cox Plate, while the others were rated strong Melbourne Cup hopes, though none fired.

On we move then to the Craiglee Stakes (1600m) at Flemington in mid September and by now the Cup chances are beginning to sort themselves out. Tristarc ran 2nd in the Craiglee last year (beaten 11/2 lengths by the Colin Hayes' trained five-year-old entire Fine Offer), while Foxseal, a Melbourne Cup prospect, was in 4th position. So we can see that the Craiglee is an important lead-up race for the Caulfield Cup.

Around this time - mid to late September - it's also worth keeping your eye on some of the 1600m Welter races in Melbourne. Sometimes you can spot really smart Cup trials.

The John F. Feehan Stakes (1600 m) comes along at Moonee Valley in the third week of September and invariably contains a number of stayers working up for the Cups. Last year, Foxseal, Black Knight, Our Sophia and Tripsacum were among the runners. Now, Foxseal ran 3rd to King Delamere and Fine Offer, while Black Knight finished 7th, Our Sophia 8th and Tripsacum 9th.

It is significant to note now that Tripsacum finished a magnificent 3rd in the Melbourne Cup behind What A Nuisance and Koiro Corrie May. He was priced at 33-1 and paid more than 14-1 fora place on the Victorian TAB. The message then is to think positively about any horse who has a run in the Feehan and then takes its place in the Caulfield Cup or Melbourne Cup fields.

In Sydney on the corresponding day, the race with Cups interest is the Hill Stakes (1750 m) at Rosehill. In last year's race the winner was Greatness (later refused its chance to race in the Cups), with Drawn 2nd, Handy Proverb 3rd and Rising Prince 4th. The Hill Stakes can be a very good Cups pointer event.

Now we have reached the end of September and the arrival of the important Underwood Stakes (2000 m) at Cau lfield. This is one of the final testing grounds for the Caulfield Cup aspirants. In last year's race, we saw Tristarc win from Lacka Reason and King Delamere. The message from this race is crystal clear -Tristarc was already nailing the Caulfield Cup colours to her owner's flag. Lacka Reason, you'll no doubt remember, ran 3rd in the Caulfield Cup at 14-1. So the Underwood is a most vital race.

A few days later, it's well worth examining the R.V. Moon Handicap (2020m) at Moonee Valley, because it's the type of race that can attract major Cup fancies-lastyear, What A Nuisance ran 2nd to Black Knight!

At Randwick on the same day, note any improving runs from the stayers who contest the George Main Stakes (1600 m). Rising Prince ran 4th in the'85 race.

October has now come around and we are only 3 weeks away from the running of the Caulfield Cup. Using the races I have noted, you would be well on your way to backing Tristarc in the big 2400 m race. She certainly had the most impressive lead-up form! And taking a line through her, you would have put in Lacka Reason as a prospect.

In the first week of October, however, you will be closely looking at a race like the Turnbull Stakes for further Cups pointers. This is a 2000m race at set weights with penalties, run at Flemington. It is historically a good Cups and Cox Plate guide.

Needless to say, last year's event saw a win by Lacka Reason, who downed Our Sophia by a long neck. These two horses went on into 3rd and 2nd placings in the Caulfield Cup, thereby underlining the importance of the Turnbul as a Caulfield Cup marker race.

The final, and probably most important, lead-up weight-for-age race is the Caulfield Stakes (2000 m) run at Caulfield the week before the Caulfield Cup. Take seriously everything that happens in this race. It can usually tell you a great deal about what might happen in the 2400 m classic the following week.

Last year, guess who won the Caulfield Stakes? Right - Tristarc. And who did the mare beat? Right - Lacka Reason! In 5th spot, and not all that far away, was Our Sophia! And who finished on the heels of Our Sophia in 6th place?
Right - What A Nuisance!

I think the facts and figures I have presented here paint a clear picture for anyone chasing the two Cups winners. You really must look closely at the lead-up weight-for-age, races, for therein lies the clues which can rip the mystery away from the Cups.

Good luck to you all - and happy searching!


By Brian Blackwell