Boo Hoo Why Can’t We Win The Cup Anymore?

When Shocking retired from racing his record made for pretty impressive reading. 7 wins and 8 placings from 27 starts including a Melbourne Cup, a Group I Australian Cup at weight for age and a Makybe Diva Stakes at weight for age over 1600m and total prizemoney of close enough to $5 million.

Shocking is exceptionally well bred, being by Street Cry, winner of the Dubai World Cup and sire of world champion mare Zenyatta out of a Danehill mare.

You would think with a CV like that one of the studs in Australia would want to stand him but amazingly that wasn’t the case and he stands at NZ’s Rich Hill Stud.

Rebel Raider, winner of the VRC Derby in 2008 is a similar story.  By undefeated stallion Reset and therefore carrying the best staying sireline in Australasia through Sir Tristram and Zabeel.  Nobody wanted to stand him at stud either before he ended up at Wyndholm Park Stud via Carin Park in Hamilton, Victoria.

Presumably it’s because they didn’t win the Golden Slipper or Blue Diamond, in fact I don’t think either of them did much at all as 2 year olds.

Australian trainers will squeal like stuck pigs again this year when European horses fill three quarters of the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup fields and duly take at least one of, if not both of The Cups off shore.  The same trainers will rush to the sales next year and spend hundreds of thousands on yearlings by Stratum, Redoutes Choice and Sebring.

How many years did Helenus spend in WA?  He had to throw a BMW winner and an ATC derby winner before there was enough interest to bring him back east.  Refuse To Bend won’t shuttle back to Australia due to lack of interest, even the great Galileo, sire of the best horse in the world, has been described as a stud failure in Australia.

If Australia can breed the best sprinters in the world, there’s no reason why we can’t breed the best stayers as well.  It takes patience and foresight but it can and should be done.

Four Corners 6 August 2012

I hope I don’t come across as an apologist for corrupt participants in racing in this.  On the contrary I’d love to see some positive steps taken to ensure the integrity of the sport and I’d especially love to see police be able to share information more freely with racing authorities about the undesirables that are involved in racing and the jockeys, trainers and other licensed people that they associate with.

Four Corners on Monday night and The Age this week have made allegations that Dan Nikolic and Mark Zahra conspired to fix a race at Cranbourne.  The allegation in the program and the articles amount to:

  • Nikolic rode the winner;
  • The favourite didn’t win;
  • Zahra rode to get the favourite beaten; and
  • Nikolic’s family and friends backed the winner.

Nothing in the program or the articles since has said what Zahra is supposed to have done to get the favourite beaten, the program didn’t even show the race in full and point out who was where in the running, that would have allowed people to draw some conclusions of their own.  The only comment made about the running of the race by anyone who was supposed to know anything about racing was that Nikolic rode the perfect race.

If I was going to publicly accuse someone of race fixing, I’d want to be able to back it up with some information about what it is they are supposed to have done.

To further the argument that racing is inherently corrupt, the program trotted out the ‘jockey tapes’ scandal involving Jim Cassidy and some asides about his association with Tony Mokbel, as well as the Pillar of Hercules situation where the horse was owned by the Mokbel family but proxies were listed as the owners.  More evidence was that Horty Mokbel is not in gaol and goes to a TAB where he talks to other organised crime figures.

There have been rumours for years about Dan Nikolic not always riding to win, you would like to see those rumours properly tested in an investigation so that he can either be drummed out of the sport or left alone to get on with his career.  Mark Zahra has now lost a lucrative position with Darley

In the end, the program came across as Today Tonight style tabloid rubbish but if it’s a step towards a proper integrity regime for racing it will be worth it.  What is needed is a suite of appropriate powers such as the ability to intercept telephones and examine financial records and cooperation with police.

So You Think

The retirement of So You Think a few weeks ago gives pause to reflect on a career whose significance was lost, coming as it did between Makybe Diva and Black Caviar.

So You Think was good enough to win the Cox Plate as a three year old, becoming only the third horse since 1984 to achieve the feat.  In the spring of 2010 he demonstrated his true greatness with dominant wins in the Cox Plate and the McKinnon Stakes and a third in the Melbourne Cup.

His performances in the UK and Europe have been somewhat underestimated.  He won Group I races against small fields because other trainers avoided him in much the same way that they avoid Black Caviar here.  He ran fourth (first male horse across the line) in the Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe at Longchamp, a huge performance in the context of Australian racing.  The Arc is the race that the purists rate as the best bar none.

His performances overseas also have to be considered against the background of the admissions by Aidan O’Brien that he trained So You Think wrongly by trying to turn him into a dour stayer rather than taking advantage of his devastating speed.

So You Think will now have the opportunity for greatness as a stallion in the coming years.  With the resources of Coolmore at his disposal he will have every opportunity to succeed and he seems to have the attributes for a successful stallion, racetrack success, breeding and stunning looks.

To me, he’s our best middle distance horse since Makybe Diva and second only to Black Caviar in the last few years.  I would have loved to see Bart given the chance to give him a proper Melbourne Cup preparation, rather than taking the race on as an after thought having won another Cox Plate.  Having seen the Cox Plate field last year I believe he could have annexed that race on the way through, anyway.  I also would have loved to see So You Think race against Frankel over 2000m.  I doubt he could beat Frankel but I think he’s one of very few that could make a race of it.

The Cup – Last Year’s Internationals

Traditionally, horses preparing for the Melbourne Cup would start their preparation in the first week of June.  You have to wonder about the relevance of the traditional cup preparation given the strong likelihood that this year’s winner has already had a race start in the UK or Europe or at least will in the next few weeks.

Last year’s winner and runner up, Dunaden and Red Cadeaux have both opened their campaigns with solid runs.  I would expect Dunaden to have a weight this year approaching the 58kg that Americain had last year although Americain’s win was more dominant than Dunaden’s.  Still it will probably be the sort of weight that will mean that even the slightest hiccup in the race will cost him victory.

Red Cadeaux will be interesting.  He has to get more weight than he had last year but presumably not as much more as Dunaden even though the margin between them was barely a lip.  On weights and measures he won’t need much of a swing to finish ahead of Dunaden this time.  The trouble with him is that horses having their second and subsequent attempt at the cup have a terrible record when they don’t win at their first attempt but that may be changing with the influx of foreigners.

There are a handful of European horses that ran last year that are now trained in Australia.  Leading the pack is Manighar who seems to have found about ten lengths under Peter Moody’s guidance.  He has had a torrid Autumn so it remains to be seen if he comes up again in the Spring, if he does he is a second to none chance.  He may of course stick to the weight for age racing that he has proven so successful in.  Saptapadi who ran 16th last year is now with Jim Conlan and ran last at his first start this time around, Drunken Sailor is with Mike Moroney and has had a profitable season but both would need to find a few lengths with their new stables to come into contention.

Maybe if Americain comes back he will get a lighter weight than last year and will improve.

Who have I missed from last year’s overseas runners that might head back this year?

Next time I’ll have a look at some locals who ran last year and see if any of them are capable of improving.

Why Horse Racing

In about 1993 I went to Moonee Valley with a friend for the William Reid stakes meeting.  At the time I had no interest in racing but was happy to go along and see what goes on and have a few beers.

In the first race that was run after we walked in, there was a horse called Don’t Cry.  This was too good to ignore for a young Guns n Roses fan so I had $5 place only on it.  It came second at any old price and of course I was thrilled.  I knew it was just a fluke but it certainly caught my attention.  Everyone we spoke to that day told us that a horse called Wrap Around would be winning the main race and she did at a suitably short quote.

The same day a horse called Dr Grace was pointed out to me and I thought he was the most incredible looking animal I had ever seen.

After that day I took a passing interest in horse racing for the next couple of years.  I was a regular weekend punter but took no real interest in anything other than what was in the form guide from week to week.

Around 1995 there began to be racing on TV regularly, at least that was the first time that I noticed it.  That year, Octagonal ran 2nd in the Golden Slipper, unleashing an incredible finishing burst but just failing to catch Flying Spur.  The following spring he won the Cox Plate, becoming the first three year old since Red Anchor 11 years earlier to win the race.  It is history now that Octagonal took all before him as an autumn three year old, winning four Group I’s in succession.

It was with the emergence of Octagonal that I began to realize that the great horses had something that even very good horses didn’t.  It was as if he knew where the finish line was and that his job was to get there first.  Once you see that, you’re looking for it everywhere but you see it only rarely.  I’ve seen it again with Northerly and Sunline but not many others.  Makybe Diva and Black Caviar just seem to be a class above their opposition so it’s unfair to compare them.

When did you first get the racing bug?

Northerly

Before Makybe Diva came along, I considered Northerly, who died this week after a colic attack, to be the best race horse I ever saw in the flesh.

I can remember when he first came to Melbourne with huge raps on him for his performances in Perth.  I can remember the commentators talking about his appearance in the mounting yard which was less than complimentary and according to them, his manners pre-race meant that he was ruled out as a winning chance.

But win he did, over and over again against all comers.  The first time I saw him was at Caulfield in the Underwood Stakes where he took the lead early in the straight and looked a sitting duck for the VRC Oaks winner Magical Miss and the AJC Derby winner Don Eduardo.  It sounds ridiculous but I’m quite sure Northerly saw Magical Miss coming at him and raised another effort to win.  I reckon my theory was proved right when Old Comrade beat him in the Australian Cup, coming with one late run out wide on the track where Northerly couldn’t see him.

In my opinion, Northerly’s equal greatest performances were the 2002 Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate beating Fields of Omagh.  I thought he’d win the Caulfield Cup after his performances leading in but I didn’t think he’d be able to drop back to the Cox Plate Distance in a week.  In the end he won pretty comfortably and stamped his greatness as a dual Cox Plate winner.  Only two horses had been able to win the Caulfield Cup/Cox Plate double before Northerly and none have done it since.

Vo Rogue died this week as well and there has been some discussion about his absence from the Hall of Fame.  I never saw him race other than on video but his record is quite amazing.  The unwritten ‘grand slam’ of Australian racing is the Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup, Doncaster and BMW (Tancred) and the absence of one of those on Vo Rogue’s resume is probably what keeps him out of the Hall of Fame.

Nothin’ for Nothin’

Until around the time of last year’s Melbourne Spring Carnival, I had a pretty simple, effective and importantly for me, cheap method of studying the racing form.

Each week I would get myself a form guide, The Sportsman was a favourite because as well as being a cracking read with the sort of minutiae I love about breeding and everything else to do with racing, for each run of form it identified the race number.

Armed with my guide, I would log on to the Best Bets site, which for a free subscription enabled me to view a fairly extensive library of race replays.  The search menus were a touch clunky, which is why having the race number for each run, was handy.  Basically I could watch a video replay of almost any race that was relevant to that Saturday’s Melbourne and Sydney racing.

In this way I could largely ignore the assessments and tips of the various newspaper and radio commentators and make up my own mind.  If I’m going to do my dough, I’m much happier doing it based on my own assessment than somebody else’s.   The thing is that for the six months or so that I used the Best Bets web site to watch race replays I actually showed a reasonable profit on my small bets.

Around mid-November 2011, the ‘race replays’ button became a link to BigPond racing where for an annual fee of around $500 I could enjoy the privilege of what I used to be able to do for the price of a form guide and my internet connection.  I can see race replays but they’re only accessible for 48 hours after the race before you have to pay to see them.

Am I just being tight in expecting to be able to see race replays whenever I want?

Has anybody else managed to find a way to view race replays free?

Is there another service that gives access to race replays for a more reasonable price than the BigPond, TVN or Sky sites?

Form Guides

There are plenty of them out there so how do you decide which one is best for you?

My personal favourite is The Sportsman but at $6.50 per week and more at carnival time it becomes a bit of a luxury item considering the relatively small amounts that I bet.

The Sportsman suits me because I’ll only do the form for a few races, usually six or less, but I like to do them in as much detail as I can.  I’m not particularly interested in tips, although there are plenty of them in the Sportsman if that’s what you’re after, but if you choose to, you can ignore them altogether or, like me, only give them a look when you’re completely bamboozled.

In some contexts this next statement would be a clear lie but … I also get it for the articles.

I have mates who swear by BestBets because it basically tells them what to back without them having to do a great deal of analysis.  I often hear the cry after a series of losing bets, “What does ,The Man, say?”  This is in reference to one of the tipsters in BestBets who is considered especially reliable, when you’re struggling follow ‘The Man’.

I have another mate who swears by Winning Post and I must admit I get the edition with the calendar each year.   Others will pay for no more than the Herald-Sun or The Age weekend lift-out.  I’ve even been known to pinch the form guide out of the Herald-Sun on a Friday from one of the cafes near my office.  Yesterday they ran the Doncaster and the ‘Currant Bun’ coverage of the Randwick meeting ran to two runs of form for each race and three runs for the Doncaster and didn’t even include the table with the track/distance/first up etc information summarised.

For my money, you can’t beat the nine runs of form for every runner, the information from training tracks and barrier trials and interviews with trainers and jockeys.  Added to that, the breeding lift-out means you’ve still got hours of reading after the races are over.

What’s your favourite guide?

The Jumps

Every year the debate rages about the ethics, safety and value in general of hurdle and steeple chase racing.

My memories may be somewhat romanticised by the passage of time but my recollections of my early days watching jumps racing from the mid 90’s were of races with fairly regular falls, but horse fatalities weren’t that common. Please keep in mind, this is from memory, I have no statistics to back this up.

Jumps races were longer and the jumps were bigger, the horses were a different type and it would have been very rare indeed for a steeple chaser to win a flat race. Occasionally a hurdler would get up in a flat race but that was by no means common either. The big races like Grand Nationals and Grand Annuals were spectacular, thrilling events won by horses that could stay all day and stay on their feet for the duration of the races. The horses competing in the feature races were older horses in their second or subsequent seasons of jumping following a sometimes moderate, but usually extensive career in flat racing.

Then followed a period of good natured but flawed attempts to make jumping safer. The measures put in place included reducing the distance of races and changing the configuration of the obstacles so that they were smaller and softer. The old slow stayers and clever jumpers who could win a Grand National Steeple like my old favourite Crafty Dancer could no longer keep up with four or five year olds straight out of flat racing brushing through the new jumps over shorter distances. Unfortunately, the effect of a horse making a mistake at a jump at high speed, even a smaller jump, could be devastating.

My recollection of this period was of carnage. I remember the Grand National Hurdle at Flemington in 2008 when only 4 of the 13 runners completed the course. Falls became more common and they were more often deadly.

I can’t help thinking that if the changes made in this period were made with greater consultation with the racing fraternity rather than the apparent appeasement of the animal liberationists, many horses could have been saved.

More recently, stocks of jumping horses became depleted as fewer owners and trainers wanted to commit to a long jumping preparation when there were so many fewer jumps races and at any time the sport could have been outlawed. Again this weakened races and meant that unseasoned jumpers progressed to the Nationals and other endurance events before they were ready with obvious consequences.

The support from Government and the racing industry starting last season were a great boost for the sport. The current jumps seem to be doing the trick and the horses appear to be showing them much more respect. The benefits will be seen in the flow on effect this season with a larger pool of horses eligible to race over the sticks and jockeys with more jumps rides under their belts. There are some genuine stars emerging in the jumping ranks, horses, jockeys and trainers alike who can take the sport to a new level.

I’m hoping for a successful and safe jumping season, it hasn’t been a great start with a death in the first steeple chase in Melbourne this year and two deaths in the Grand National at Aintree. Let’s hope they can turn it around and the Warrnambool carnival can strike back after last year’s events.

Are the ‘up and overs’ worth keeping?

One of Those Days

Warning:  Punting hard luck story follows.

I was moving house last week, which is why I haven’t posted anything on here for a little while.  It has also meant I haven’t had a great deal of time or energy for form study.  I haven’t even had internet access for more than a week.

Last Saturday was Golden Slipper/BMW day and there was a pretty nice program of racing at Caulfield as well.  As I browsed the form over breakfast on Saturday morning, my partner threw in, “I like the sound of Red Typhoon.”  She has always considered red lucky and we latched on to a winning streak by old Red Buttons a few years ago for the same reason.  I said, “That’s nice.”  Or something equally lame, and dismissed it from my thoughts.

We spent a large part of the day shopping to catch up after the move and the Good Friday public holiday.

The was-up of the day was that I didn’t have a single collect from my bets and didn’t have a cracker on Red Typhoon who won at something like $68 on the tote.  Moon Dog Ivan and The Mysterious El Barto will be familiar with this scenario from, “I like Scarrrrrrrredee Cat” before the Ascot Vale Stakes of about 2003.

If you’re a punter there’s always an upside and for me there might be a couple.  The house I have just moved into has Foxtel so I’ve been reacquainting myself with Snowy Clarke and his cohorts and I’ll be able to see all of the races every week if I want to and time permits.  The second thing is that Red Typhoon is a three year old filly with in-form trainer Robert Smerdon who might prove to be one of those horses that you can follow until she reaches her level.  Fingers crossed.