City Racing in the Country

When I first heard that last Saturday’s race meeting was going to be a stand-alone at Bendigo, I thought the world, or maybe just the racing industry, had gone mad … again.  Why move the races to Bendigo on the weekend that Melbourne was full of tourists here for the Grand Prix?

I’ve always held the opinion that the city tracks are over used and a break from the weekly grind might help even out the various biases that beset them from time to time.  So I was not against the concept but thought the timing could have been better.

As it turned out, the meeting was a resounding success and the government and industry have combined to further bolster prize money for the meeting next year.  It may prove to be the perfect end to the Autumn carnival.  Maybe next year I’ll even back a winner.

Mosheen

The performances of Mosheen to take the Australian Guineas and Rosehill Guineas on top of her Oaks win last spring and second placing in the Golden Slipper last year place her in elite company among fillies.  She was dominant at Flemington and overcame difficulties last Saturday to get to the line first.  I’m happy to stick with her in any race against three year olds they decide to take on.  It will be fascinating to see how she goes as a four year old mare next year.  Will she be added to the list with Special Harmony, Serenade Rose, Shamrocker and others who were dominant three year old fillies and couldn’t reproduce that form as older mares.

Hay List

It was a great thrill to see Hay List win the Newmarket Handicap on the weekend and not just because I backed it.  While I could understand John McNair’s disappointment with the weight allocated, it would have been a tragedy if he had missed the opportunity to record what will probably turn out to be his greatest victory.  Full credit to the owners for talking sense into the trainer and realising that weights have been raised across the board so perhaps it wasn’t as harsh a weight as he thought initially.

It certainly took all of Hay List’s fighting qualities to reel in Buffering close to the line, I thought he had stolen a winning break 50 metres or so out but you’ve got to remember that if Black Caviar wasn’t around, this horse would be the one being acknowledged as the greatest sprinter of all time and horses of that quality generally win when they get into a winning position.

I was interested in comments attributed to the connections of NSW spruike horse Rain Affair.  The track was rated good (3) and he’d won twice before in those conditions yet trainer and jockey both said the horse found the track too hard.  Does that mean he goes from a horse with 10 wins and a second and unlimited potential from eleven starts to just a wet tracker or did they need to find an excuse after Joseph Pride’s assertion that he would be winning the Newmarket?

The performance of Manighar to win the Australian Cup was exceptional and the improvement he has shown since getting to Peter Moody’s stable has been incredible.  It’s hard to reconcile his three runs this campaign with the genuine but one-paced conveyance that has come out for the last two spring carnivals.   You really have to love a horse that can fight back and win after being headed in the straight

Great to see Shoot Out back on the winner’s list, he must have appreciated having a long spell after his hectic 2010/11 season.

Australian Cup and Newmarket Handicap

I noticed today that the early entries and weights are out for the Newmarket Handicap and Australian Cup at Flemington on March 10. The fields look spectacular at this early stage but of course they will thin down with attrition over the next month. The Newmarket field will dilute with trainers not liking the weights allocated to their charges, it’s pretty much certain Black Caviar won’t run with 61.5kg and the Hay List camp seem to be filthy with the 58.5kg allotted to him. Either way, there are 11 Group I winners among the entries so the race won’t be short of quality.

I was particularly taken with the Australian Cup nominations that include the European stayers that have stayed in Australia to be trained locally such as Americain, Drunken Sailor and Manighar. Add to this the proven weight for age winners like Glass Harmonium, Efficient, Southern Speed, Zavite and last Saturday’s impressive winner, Lucas Cranach as well as emerging three year old stayers like Zabeelionaire and the race could be a classic if the field holds together.

The Australian Cup has been a favourite race of mine since I saw Saintly romp away with it as a three year old, then Octagonal won it amid a sea of cerise the following year. I’ve also been on hand to see Northerly destroy some reasonable fields and break the track record in the process. I’m too young to remember the classics involving Vo Rogue and champions of that era and before but would love to hear people’s fondest memories of the day down the years.

There is often drama attached to the Australian Cup such as when Lonhro had to get up and get going again after nearly falling or when Shocking was going to miss due to slight injury, but when the races were called off because of the freak storm, he was able to take his place in the field the following week and win the race comfortably. I can’t believe there wasn’t an Australian stud that wanted to stand him and he had to be sold to New Zealand. No doubt we’ll keep complaining about internationals winning the Melbourne Cup as well.

For me there’s nothing better than weight for age racing over 2000m at Flemington … and always remember – weight for age horses win weight for age races!!! My favourite Newmarket was when Brawny Spirit beat Sequalo down the grandstand side for purely personal financial reasons, although Black Caviar was something special last year.

I was also on hand the year Wanted won the Newmarket. I was sure that Denman would win the Guineas that day and I was ready to have a handy collect on that race. All I got from the day was a bill for hail damage to my car.

What are your favourite memories of the three big races over the Labour Day weekend at Flemington?

Ladies in Racing

The Wakeful Club announced their Lady of Racing award this week, recognizing the contribution of women in racing.  My favourite racing ladies, in no particular order are:

Michelle Payne

Her comeback from horrendous injuries was amazing and it can be no accident and there can be no suggestion of tokenism when you look at her Group I record aboard Allez Wonder and Yosei.  I have a measure of jockeys that says if they are good enough for Bart Cummings they are good enough for me, and Bart has never had a problem putting her on.  I love backing horses that have M. Payne in the saddle and I reckon they still come up over the odds because of the ridiculous bias some people have against female jockeys.  I believe Michelle Payne along with Lisa Cropp, Claire Lindop and Katelyn Mallyon will be the reason that the insulting Ms title will be removed from form guides in the not too distant future.  Seriously, if you know so little about the sport that you have to have your jockey’s sex spelt out, what are you doing wasting your money betting?

Cindy Alderson

I admit I’m biased here because I have a horse with the C & C Alderson team but there’s no doubting the family business is on an upward trajectory with a couple of potential top liners, That’s The One and Sea Galleon starting to show their true ability.  The stable also has a handy support cast of city class horses to keep the winners ticking over.  I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with Cindy at the races and jump-outs and found her to be modest and lively company with the sort of hard working, down to earth sensibility that the consistently successful practitioners in this caper display.

Special Mention

I had to cringe when Claire Lindop won the Victoria Derby on Rebel Raider.  She had been the premier jockey in South Australia for years and had already ridden in Melbourne Cups, but Bruce McAvaney found it necessary to say something ridiculous after the race like, “Claire Lindop has won the Victoria Derby on Rebel Raider … and she’s a girl …”  Then went on to state over and over again that Lindop was in fact female in case anybody was still unaware.

You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Gai Waterhouse.  She spends enough time promoting herself without any help from the likes of me.  I will only say that promotion of Gai Waterhouse is promotion of horse racing which is a good thing in my book and her enthusiasm is somewhat infectious.  To hear her tip all three of her runners to win the same race takes the enthusiasm and optimism thing a touch too far.  Her record speaks for itself, though so good luck to her.

Do you have a favourite female jockey or trainer or are you in the ‘won’t back a female’ camp?

The Phenomenon

I was intending not to write about this topic because all you read or hear about horse racing in the mainstream press at the moment tends to be the record breaking exploits of Black Caviar.  That’s a good thing because usually if there are articles about racing in the papers they are to do with positive drug tests or the links of some participants in the sport to organized crime, so to have racing news reported because of the excellence of a horse is a positive step.  Even my partner who has very little interest in horse racing is excited by her unbeaten streak and would be genuinely disappointed if she got cleaned up.

On Saturday Black Caviar had significant obstacles to overcome.  She was back in distance from 1400m to 1000m and was up against her closest rival, perhaps her only rival in Australia, Hay List.  Buffering, a genuine speed machine was also in the race to make sure there would be no cheap sectionals.  The time recorded speaks for itself, it was basically a track record, certainly the quickest since Flemington was renovated in 2006/07.  Between the 600m and 400m she ran 9.98 seconds, which just does not happen.  This is basically as fast as a horse can go.

After Black Caviar won the Orr Stakes I said to a friend that I thought she could win the Cox Plate if that was what Peter Moody set her for.  She shares the trait that Cox Plate winners have of being able to sustain high speed over more than 600m, as well as being relaxed.

Black Caviar’s performance in the Newmarket Handicap last year under a big weight for a mare was incredible and that was the race that saw her rated the best in the world.  She won effortlessly with a Golden Slipper winner three lengths astern, a blue diamond winner back in midfield and two other Group I winners among the beaten brigade.

So what can the great mare achieve?

It’s been proven beyond doubt in recent years that the best sprinters from Australia are better than any in the world.  So the best Australian sprinter that anybody has ever seen should be unbeatable anywhere in the world up to 1200m.  The ultimate test for Black Caviar would be a testing mile on an undulating course in England against Frankel.  I’m sure she could beat him anywhere in the world at 1400m but if she could beat him at a mile in his own back yard there could be no doubting her status as the best in the world.

Will she handle travel?  She has a super smart trainer overseeing her preparation, she’s a relaxed mare and judging by her sheer size it would appear that she’s a good doer but travel from Australia to Europe is gruelling for a horse.

Beyond that, the 2013 Cox Plate is hers if connections want it.  The main thing in Black Caviar’s favour in seeking to keep her unbeaten record intact is Peter Moody.  He seems intent on keeping her in races she can’t be beaten in so if she turns up, you can assume she’s there to win and the contingencies have been taken care of.

Why Don’t More People Go To The Races?

The simple answer is that while it costs at least $10 to get yourself on a racecourse, you can go to a pub for no charge at all and watch the races on TV.  At the pub, the beer and food will be better and cheaper than what you can get at the races and these days you can even get a fixed odds bet on at the pub.

You can also watch the races in the comfort and privacy of your own home if you have pay TV (I find the endless cross-promotion and interviews with ‘celebrities’ that you see on free-to-air TV at carnival times unbearable) and a betting account.

It has been my long held view that there is no reason to charge admission for any race meeting that does not include a Group I race.  The reason for this is simple.  Whatever money you take on to a racecourse is generally money that you are happy to spend.  Whatever you don’t lose on the punt, you will probably spend on the exorbitantly priced food and drink; you might even buy a race book.  Unless I’m mistaken the race club gets a share of the loot from the food and drink and the whole industry benefits from any increase in gambling turnover.

I have no problem with race clubs charging admission for their major race days.  It is one of the few mechanisms they have for controlling the numbers that come on course and if they’re getting very large crowds there’s no reason why they shouldn’t charge a high premium like the VRC do during the spring carnival.  The rest of the year they should be doing everything in their power to attract people to the races and to encourage regular racegoers to keep fronting up.

Racing clubs are also prone to underestimating their attendances so that even in a moderate crowd some days you can find yourself in a queue for beer or food or to get a bet on.  Moonee Valley for the Australia Stakes meeting was a prime example.  MVRC estimated a crowd of 7000 on the night that Black Caviar was shooting for her 17th consecutive win.  It was reported that 15,000 to 20,000 people turned up, the caterers ran out of food and there were queues at every bar and tote window.  We’ll never know the exact attendance because the turnstiles had to be thrown open before the great mare’s race to let in the people that had been stranded outside.  I have seen the same thing happen at Caulfield although the MRC has done better in this regard in recent years and they are to be applauded for the free race days they put on.

Personally I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than a race meeting but while I like to look at the horses close up and generally enjoy the ambience of the track, it doesn’t hold the same attraction for everyone.

To my way of thinking, carnival time is a write-off unless you have a members’ ticket at the very least but preferably a ticket to a marquee.  The hordes of drunks who have no interest in racing do my head in and I can’t see the point in paying to be in a place where you can’t get to the toilet, bar or tote.

I would, however like to see more people on course outside of carnival time when they can take full advantage of the entertainment on offer and I see this as the way that clubs can attract new people to the races.

What would get you or your friends to the track more often?

 

Some Things I Love About Racing

A Day at the Races (1)

A few mates, a few beers and a few bets – Life doesn’t get any better.  Especially if you make time to wander around the tie up stalls and watch the horses parade before the races.  To my eye a race fit thoroughbred is a thing of rare beauty.

If you can win enough on the punt to pay for a few beers and a pie and chips the day has been a raging success.

A Day at the Races (2)

Take the Missus and kids, a picnic blanket and cut lunch.  Let the kids go nuts on the face painting, jumping castles, mini golf, handball target, soccer games and pony rides.  Check on the little ones between races but city or country it’s a pretty stress free family day out.

A Day at the Races (3)

Your potential star is an acceptor at a city track and your owner’s tickets pretty much give you the run of the joint including the mounting yard before your race, the owners’ bar and most of the members area.  The other syndicate members are a terrific bunch to be in a horse with and your trainer is a born storyteller.  If your charge runs well, you can watch the replay of the race 500 times on the TVs in the owners’ bar before the next race is run.  If it runs down the track, just turn your back on the TV and enjoy the party pies and sausage rolls.

The Cranbourne jump outs on a sunny morning

Especially if your horse shows a bit in its trial or you learn the name of one that looks like it can win a race somewhere.  Of course, when the weather turns nasty, there aren’t many places to hide down there but in the right conditions, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures.

When breeding is right!

Octagonal was by a champion stallion from a champion producer, the ‘Joy’ family Sunday Joy, Tuesday Joy, More Joyous etc. It’s even more pronounced in two year old ranks with More Than Ready and Redoutes Choice and his sons throwing a disproportionate number of Slipper winners.

I think it was His Highness the Aga Khan who said in racing you need to breed the best with the best and hope for the best.  That was Ok for him with his unlimited funds and expansive broodmare band, the rest of us need to rely on …

The Takeover Target Principal

Even the cheapest horse can win a race and occasionally they turn out to be champions, you’ve all seen the lists featuring horses like Better Loosen Up and others who won millions after being bought for a few thousand dollars.

There’s plenty more I love about racing but this is enough for today.

What keeps you coming back to the track?

Why a Blog?

Recently I wanted to do some research on form analysis and related matters and decided to search for blogs on the subject.

All of the blogs I found on horse racing gave me the impression that they had a vested interest.   They were either selling tips or betting systems, or were from the usual TV, newspaper and radio hacks attached to the various racing clubs.  Some were attached to bookmaker’s sites and one even required that you open an account with the particular company before you could contribute to the forum.

So I figured I might start my own blog and see if I could generate some interest.  I have no affiliation with any bookmaker, publication or racing club so I can speak freely and call it how I see it.