The King of the Spring

BIRTHDAY boy Steven King capped a stellar carnival when he partnered Valedictum to win yesterday's Emirates Stakes at Flemington.

King celebrated his 36th birthday with his 52nd Group 1 victory, his third Group 1 winner during the four-day VRC carnival.

Last Saturday, King won the Group 1 Salinger Stakes on Glamour Puss, who backed up with King in the saddle to win yesterday's Group 2 Classic. He also won the Oaks on Serenade Rose.

King teamed with Danny O'Brien, 35, for the Glamour Puss and Valedictum wins.

O'Brien described the VRC four-day carnival as the "Olympics of horse racing" and said to come away with two Group 1s and a Group 2 was a satisfying result.

"When a horse has 52kg on their back they just sprint and go that bit quicker for a bit longer," O'Brien said.

"We had a plan and Steven carried it out perfectly."

O'Brien rated King as "good if not the best rider in Australia", a jockey who was happy to go about his work without any fanfare.

"He's just not a lair. He doesn't blow his trumpet like some of the other blokes so he doesn't get the headlines as much," O'Brien said.

"He's won every big race. He's such a cool guy in big races, he always has a plan, and he never panics. He very rarely puts in a bad ride."

King, who won the Ron Hutchison Excellence Award for jockey of the carnival, was delighted with his run.

"I think I'm at the mature age and getting towards my peak and I'm going to hold it as long as I can," King said.

"I've been around the world, experienced interstate racing, competed at the top level. It's time to put myself with all the elite guys."

Valedictum, a drifter from $20 to $26, stormed home to grab the Emirates by  3/4 length from the unlucky Infinite Grace, backed from $20 to $15, who was held up for a run at the top of the straight.

Shania Dane, supported from $5.50 to $4.60 favourite, was given a dream run by Darren Beadman, but after hitting the front at 200m had no answer to the finishing bursts of the first two.

O'Brien said he would spell Valedictum, who more than doubled his prizemoney through his Emirates win, with the Doncaster Handicap his main aim in the autumn.

"This was his first try at a mile since his three-year-old days and he's run it out strongly," O'Brien said.

King admitted he had reservations that Valedictum would run out a strong 1600m, but he was persuaded by O'Brien that with a quiet ride, the gelding would run it out.

"To Danny's credit he was right," he said.

"I think Danny is a young, up-and-coming trainer. I ride work at Flemington every Tuesday and I'm keen to stick with trainers going places and Danny is one of those trainers."

O'Brien said he could not see how Niconero could have beaten Valedictum, given that he gave Niconero 5kg in the Aurie Star Handicap when he was beaten a head and was in receipt of 1kg from him in the Emirates.

"He probably wanted the run last Saturday. He went up to win and just peaked, he was at his best," O'Brien said.

Glen Boss said he had no doubts that Infinite Grace would have won if the mare had not been caught up in traffic at the top of the straight. Boss said Infinite Grace hit a flat spot momentarily, then he was forced to do "a Boston two-step" to extricate the mare.

"I had to pull her out sideways to get out. She should have won," Boss said.

Beadman said Shania Dane ran out the 1600m, but was not as "comfortable" the Melbourne way of going.

Luke Nolen said Calveen was another who hit a flat spot at a crucial time.

"I lost momentum and by the time I got her going again it was too late," Nolen said.

By ADRIAN DUNN - Sunday Herald-Sun

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