The 2007 Sydney spring carnival was cancelled when the outbreak of equine influenza closed all three training centres in Sydney and stopped racing for three months.
A furore then erupted over the papal visit as trainers were forced to relocate the 700 horses from Randwick to Warwick Farm.
Despite predictions the track would be ruined, Randwick is almost at its best for the big day. An added bonus to come from all the turmoil was the NSW government's granting of a 99-year lease at a peppercorn rent to the Australian Jockey Club, ensuring the famous landmark's future as Sydney's premier racetrack.
The Epsom and Metropolitan Handicaps are two of the oldest races in the country but as befits the AJC's marketing campaign aimed at princesses, a three-year-old filly will take the spotlight.
Samantha Miss has taken the first three legs of the Princess Series and needs just one more win in the Flight Stakes to become only the second filly to make a clean-sweep.
A couple of hours before Weekend Hussler goes round in the Turnbull Stakes in Melbourne on Saturday, the horse many see as his only Cox Plate rival will line up in the Flight Stakes at Randwick.
Samantha Miss has already claimed the first three legs of the four-race Princess Series and her trainer Kris Lees believes she is still on an upward spiral.
She is the $1.50 favourite for the 1600m Group One for fillies and a win would emulate the feat of Angst in 1993.
Nine other fillies will go to the barriers with Samantha Miss but Lees can't see any cause for concern.
"She has done extremely well since the Tea Rose and her work on Tuesday was really nice," Lees said.
"She is so adaptable it doesn't matter what barrier she has or what happens in the run. She seems to be able to make her own luck."
The Flight Stakes is named after the champion mare who won two Cox Plates in the 1940s and is the only other horse apart from Manikato to be currently honoured with a Group One race.
Named after the famous racecourse in England, the Epsom Handicap was first run in 1865 and boasts a list of winners that includes Amounis (1926, 1928) and Chatham (1932-33).
In the modern era Super Impose, winner in 1990 and again in 1991, stands out. "Super" also won two Doncasters in those years and carried 61kg to his second Epsom victory, the highest weight since Chatham in 1933. The mile at Randwick is regarded as the toughest in the country and a true indication of whether horses can step up to the weight-for-age championship, the Cox Plate (2040m).
Raheeb is the raging favourite for this year's Epsom and his trainer Anthony Cummings believes he deserves to be.
"He has done everything expected of him, he has the right barrier and I expect him to be the one they have to beat," Cummings said.
Raheeb was purchased by racing's newest player Nathan Tinkler as a potential stud prospect after sales firstly to Dubai then Hong Kong fell through.
Tinkler and Cummings have already combined for a Group One victory earlier this year with Casino Prince, who now stands at Tinkler's Patinack Farm.
A stepping-stone to the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, the Metropolitan is just a year younger than the Epsom. Three years ago Railings went on to capture the Caulfield feature but Melbourne Cup winners have been rare.
Tim Whiffler claimed the double in 1867 but it wasn't until 1951 that Delta emulated the feat. Dalray (1952), Straight Draw (1957) and Macdougal (1959) also won both races but no horse has done it since.
But once again Anthony Cummings holds the key and he believes Red Lord is the horse to break the hoodoo.
He is an even shorter priced favourite than Raheeb in the Epsom.
Last year, Red Lord was one of a handful of Sydney horses to contest the Melbourne spring races, part of an early shipment south before the borders closed as EI swept through NSW.
He missed qualifying for the Melbourne Cup but Cummings says that may have been a blessing because Red Lord has developed into a mature stayer who is ready to take on the best.
(2000m): The youngest of the four Group Ones, the Spring Champion Stakes was first run and won by Gay Icarus in 1971. It is a race that determines the future for many three-year-olds - do they go back in distance or do they go on to become classic contenders.
The trainer of race favorite Predatory Pricer, Paul Murray, has worked alongside his father Bede for many years and was instrumental in the care of Universal Prince, winner of the race for Bede in 2000.
Universal Prince went on to run second in the Victoria Derby and the following autumn took out the AJC Australian Derby.
Murray won't be rushing to Melbourne this spring, believing the 2500 metres is too taxing so early in a three-year-old's classic season but he has no doubts where he will be next April.
"He is a Derby horse in the making but not until next year," Murray said.
"I truly believe he is as good as Universal Prince and I had a lot to do with him."
Predatory Pricer is a half-brother to international sprint star Takeover Target and is by international stallion Street Cry, a Dubai World Cup winner who is also the sire of Caulfield Guineas favourite Whobegotyou.
By Caryl Williamson
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