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.

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.

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.