THE ATLANTIC JEWEL MYSTERY
The late scratching of champion mare and short priced pre-post favourite Atlantic Jewel literally minutes after final declarations were taken on Tuesday morning has opened a virtual pandora’s box of questions which the Victorian governing body Racing Victoria must answer from an integrity perspective.
Punters and commentators alike have broken every imaginable land speed record to vent their frustrations and concerns about some of the unanswered questions and weirdly coincidental circumstances surrounding the scratching.
Take the betting drift from $2.40 to $3.60m overnight before the scratching. All Betfair punters wanted to do was to lay the great champion mare on the betting exchange and try as they did, it was difficult to get a bite.
Do the bookies ever get it wrong when they take on the fancied runners?
And when her trainer Mark Kavanagh threw a further curve ball into the equation on Monday warning any punter who had his hearing aid turned on that he would not run Atlantic Jewel if the Moonee Valley surface deteriorated to anything near a heavy rating, the alarm bells started to peal louder.
Kav’s concerns about her welfare were completely understandable. Risking the champion mare and her record on a possibly dodgy track would clearly have been not in her best interests.
It was yet another potent sling shot at the delusional Moonee Valley Race Club and their ill-founded experiment to run back to back meetings at the Valley during Cox Plate weekend and their moment of madness and stupidity in shifting the Cox Plate to the last race on the program – Race 18 to be precise on the back to back program.
The delusional Race Club is clearly playing hari kari with this iconic race. “Bleak City” can switch the flick on without notice and is well known for its four seasons in a day weather patterns.
Imagine the fallout if weather conditions force connections to scratch horses due to track downgrades, or worse still, horses are injured owing to the track conditions? There will be hell to pay.
Putting this very obvious and completely unnecessary road block aside, it is clear from the two day race program that the support card to both the Cox Plate and Manikato Stakes on Friday night has suffered very badly from a quality perspective.
Some of the support races are of a quality befitting a mid-week or Sunday ratings grade. And the domino effect is starting to bite with both the size and quality of mid week and country cups fields and programs going southwards.
The back wash is being felt in the all important wagering areas, where despite the “spin” directed at creating a false dawn about spikes in wagering when the feature race is programmed as the last race, it just has not materialized on the overall wagering revenue figures for the entire race day.
It appears that while last race revenue is trending upwards, it is at the expense of wagering revenue on races programmed earlier.
Thankfully the VRC has avoided these half baked experiments and stood their ground with the programming of their feature races.
The Melbourne Race Clubs and their cheer squads in the media need to take a very cold shower and forget their adulterated spin about “doing things differently”.
That’s all well and good, but let’s take calculated risks that have been well researched and strategized.
The racing industry has a very poor history when it resorts to knee jerk experimentation that generally blows up in its face and makes it look like the amateur and not the professional that it professes to be.
JOCKEY PENALTIES STIR UP DEBATE
The spate of suspensions handed out to jockeys in Melbourne has again stoked the debate about their financial impact on punters, jockeys, owners and trainers.
The financial impact on punters who have taken long range fixed odds can be severe, especially when jockeys who have long range bookings to ride them have been suspended and at the eleventh hour are replaced sometimes by jockeys of lesser quality.
From a jockeys perspective, it can have a very serious whack to their earnings during the spring and autumn carnivals from potential winning percentages when prize money levels are at their highest, and which can often accumulate exponentially to very juicy five or six figure amounts.
To Owners and Trainers, having to replace their first choice of booked jockeys at short notice can often be the difference between winning and losing – a very high price to pay for a jockey’s indiscretion or momentary madness.
For these owners and trainers,it so often means that the opportunity does not coming knocking twice, and not only are they out of pocket from the substantial winning prize money and percentages, but for owners in particular it can permanently wipe substantial amounts off the residual studs value of potential stallions and broodmares.
There can be no argument that the safety of jockeys and horses is paramount. And there is also the impact of the interference that can put an end to a horse’s chance in a race, and potentially through a chain reaction, to others as well.
A horse or horses can be injured as well through interference, and if the injuries are severe enough, they can prematurely end the career of horses.
The argument that many jockeys put forward about impacting on their earning capacities during the lucrative carnivals, quite frankly does not stack up.
Most of the serial offenders who are also the usual suspects when it comes to whingeing about the hit to their wallets, are extremely in the top earning bracket, and are very well-off financially.
They should also know better and ride within the rules and not demonstrate their flagrant disrespect for the rules and for the safety of their fellow riders.
It can though be a game changer for punters and owners and trainers
What the governing bodies should consider is taking a leaf out of the Hong Kong system where a mix of race day suspensions and financial penalties apply and enable jockeys to fulfil riding engagements that are proven to have been made prior to the suspensions and penalties being issued.
The penalty system in Hong Kong is much fairer to the owners, trainers and punters.
The severity of the fines and suspensions, which given the much smaller racing calendar, hurts jockeys where it really hurts – in their hip pockets.
A three of four meeting suspension and $5,000-10,000 fine is a double whammy putting them out of action for at least a fortnight depriving them of an income from winning percentages for a fortnight and dipping into their bank balances to pay the fines.
It’s a penalty system the Aussie governing bodies should give more than lip service to introducing in Australia despite the posturing and loud noises of protest that will almost certainly emanate from the shrill voices of the Jockeys Association hierarchy.
LLOYD DOES IT AGAIN
He no doubt has been in the sights of those who take aim at every tall poppy that can be found in the Australian racing industry, but septuagenarian owner and multi several times over, Lloyd Williams is one of the most resilient and successful owners in recent Australian racing history.
Lloyd only does it one way – in life, in business and in racing – his way. Like Sinatra he has always done it “My Way”.
By his own admission, he is an interventionist racehorse owner. Let’s cut to the chase – Lloyd is more than a racehorse trainer. He is the classic owner trainer. He sets the rule for his staff under him and it is their responsibility to follow them to the letter, with the omnipresent Lloyd looking over their shoulder.
He has given new meaning to the having a hands on involvement in the training of his team of racehorses.
From his Macedon Lodge complex just outside the Melbourne metropolitan boundary, Lloyd gives his largely English and European bred team of stayers as close a European training environment and preparation as possible.
Macedon Lodge is a showpiece with its peaceful idyllic environment so conducive to training horses the English or European way.
Lloyd is obsessed with training and winning the elite staying races in Australia and particularly in his home town of Melbourne with his team. And the success is telling.
It comes at considerable expense as he stalks every available European stayer that fits the blueprint for his assault on the big three – the Melbourne and Caulfield Cups and Cox plate. And along the way there are races like the Sandown Classic and Sydney Cup and Metropolitan.
He’s won them all and sometimes over and over again, with one or two exceptions. He dealt with the first one comprehensively last Saturday when, with six of his high profile stablemates home in their boxes at Macedon Lodge, Fawkner produced a career best effort winning the Caulfield Cup at his first try at the 2400 metres with plenty in hand, and aided by a brilliant ride by Lloyd’s godson Nick Hall. It was a race that had eluded Lloyd.
That done, it’s on to the Cox Plate this weekend where Lloyd will saddle up three of the lesser fancied hopes – last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Green Moon, this year’s Metropolitan winner Seville and the sleeper Masked Marvel, highly rated by many knowledgeable racing people as possibly the best hope in Tuesday week’s Melbourne Cup.
The Cox Plate is the race that has so far eluded Lloyd Williams.
Come Saturday evening his son Nick could well be holding the Cox Plate trophy aloft.
It’s a big ask, but Lloyd thrives on challenges and make the impossible a reality.