FIX YOUR OWN BACKYARD UP FIRST? HMMMMM?
Under the headline “Southern Comfort”, the Tele’s Nic Ashman gave the Victorians (“our poor southern cousins”, as he called them), a decent serve on the composition of this weekend’s Caulfield Cup field, inferring that the exclusion of winners of major Sydney staying races from the final field was discriminatory.
Putting aside the inferences of bias and discrimination, at face value, Ashman makes some valid points. The Group One Metropolitan, for instance, is well on the way to resurrecting itself as a staying race of some quality. Not that long ago, it was in grave danger of losing its Group One status, but there are swings and roundabouts with most staying features in Australia, thanks to half a century or more of neglect for staying races in nearly every State as the NSW/Hunter Valley based love affair with two year old speed races flourished.
Staying races could well have gone the way of jumps races to the point of extinction if not for the internationalization of the Melbourne Cup and the astute strategies of the likes of Chris Waller and the Victorian based OTI syndicate. They produced the blueprint for other trainers and owners to scour the northern hemisphere and purchase stayers in the UK and later in France and Germany, and import them to race in Australia and target races like the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup.
In Waller’s case, his strategy has seen him win just about every staying race programmed each week in Sydney with his imported stayers. However, the imports are hardly the northern hemisphere “A” graders, and while even Godolphin are following the trend and buying staying horses to plunder prize money in Oz, the very best of the northern hemisphere stayers remain in their own backyard. And given the costs involved in travelling down under and the major adjustments that are necessary to train and set horses for Australia’s carnival features, it is not surprising that the connections of these horses ensure that they are qualified and high enough placed in the ballot to guarantee a start.
Look at many of the rides on favourites at Gosford yesterday. If @dirtycowboys on Twitter let the hook, lines and stinkers get away without a mention, we’d be very surprised.
The ballot clauses, qualifying races and exemptions from the ballot and automatic entry clauses, and controversy are best friends. The same controversies, complaints and outage claim their familiar place in the sun around carnival time each year. Striking a balance and choosing the right races above others for fast tracking entry into the final field will always leave a “woe is me” feeling among connections whose horses have failed to gain a start. It won’t change. What must change is the paranoia and xenophobic protests directed at preserving the Australian identity of the feature cups races to the extent of granting just a token presence for international horses. To do so would be to set Australian racing back to the early times of the last century. Racing is a global sport and should be treated as such. Global competition creates a “wow factor” for racing be it in Australia, Asia, Europe, the Middle East or wherever. There is and should not be any turning back.
What the racing administrators need to do is to keep reviewing and refreshing the entire raft of clauses associated with the spring features and ensure that the Cups reflect world best competition when the process of assembling fields for these races take shape. However, there is no avoiding recurring theme of protest and controversy with the usual examples of horses who have qualified, but whose current form does not warrant an automatic entry ahead of a horse who whilst qualified falls short of a start, despite having more impressive current form in qualifying races. The solution of leaving the composition of the final field to the discretion of a Race Club Committee in conjunction with representatives of the Governing Body is not a solution at all. For all the obvious reasons, it creates more problems than offering up solutions.
Curiously, Peter Vlundies, strangely silent with his lips glued up in recent times, broke his silence. Nic Ashman quoted the Racing NSW Field Marshall stating that “he’s prepared to work in the spirit of cooperation with Racing Victoria to ensure the best horses line up in the major races in the two States”. To say that it was greeted with howls of laughter and derision would be a gross understatement.
Please, Pete, put down the meds. Spirit of cooperation with Racing Victoria? It’s like the US and its allies working with ISIS to put an end to terrorism in the Middle East.
An outbreak of peace between the two protagonists? Not likely. If they could not broker a deal over the Autumn carnival clashes between the two States and find separate dates for their respective Guineas, Visionary Vlundies’ statements appear little more than yet another example of posturing spin. Remember the war over vision rights and the demise of TVN? We do, Pete. And we still ask, Where is Bruce Mann?
Before NSW racing administrators take to the lectern to deliver lectures on racing issues, they should get the shovel out and dig out the noxious weeds in their own backyard. Only then will NSW racing be taken seriously by the rest of the racing world.
THE TRACK PREPARATION CIRCUS
It must be the time of year when El Nino strikes, and with it, the UV factor crashing through the ozone layer and frazzling the grey matter of the Australian racing community.
Like no other sport, racing knows how to turn the blow torch on itself. It has turned it into a fine art. The latest evidence arrived courtesy of a mindless cacophony of negativity driven by the usual suspects in the Melbourne media – tabloid and the “dead people’s” radio station RSN about the state of the Caulfield track for one of their feature race meetings – Caulfield Guineas day.
What looked like and ultimately produced one of the best days of racing in Australia this year, was turned on its head by a constant barrage of questions and commentary by the racing media giving the hoary old chestnut of track preparation yet another run for its money.
Results don’t lie and excuses are just that, but the roll call of winners vindicated Glen Boss’s observation that the Caulfield track on the whole played fair with the best horses filling the places. Yet, all the noise was about how hard and firm the track was, how many horses needed ice packs when they cooled down and it went on and on and on.
Hell, after hearing the whingeing and whining about the state of the track for the best part of the week, one can certainly make a strong case for race meetings to be cancelled whenever the track becomes too firm! Better still, why not put a red line through racing from late spring to early autumn?
Does anyone realize that Australia is one of the driest and hottest continents in the world, where the summers are long, dry and hot with parched brown landscapes for four or five months of the year in the eastern states? And that does not even factor in the impact of climate change. It is hard to imagine how difficult, if not near impossible, it would be for a track manager or track curator to prepare a track according to some textbook definition without even the obvious variables of weather, or drainage which can vary from one track to another. Ultimately it also boils down to backing one’s own judgement and making a call on how much and when to water a track to satisfy the textbook.
Quite obviously, Track Managers get it wrong, and frequently. And some are better than others at minimizing the frequency of their mistakes. To make the task even more challenging, they are then exposed to the barrage of criticism directed towards them by Trainers, Jockeys, Punters and the Racing Media, with much of it activated solely out of self-interest. And as we know, none of these groups are ever capable of agreeing on anything.
It would so much easier if there was a foolproof formula to prepare tracks to provide a perfect surface for racing. But there isn’t. And even if there was, the Trainers, Jockeys, Punters and racing media would still find a reason to criticize it.
GET THAT MONKEY OFF MY BACK!
When will John O’Shea break his Melbourne voodoo? Melbourne has not been a happy hunting ground for the Godolphin head trainer, but, with the might of the Godolphin “royal blue” behind him, the “no more excuses” sign will be hanging prominently. He has plenty of chances to get the monkey off his back with his “A” team headed by Exosphere, and backed up by Magic Hurricane, Complacent, Hauraki, the disappointing Contributer, and up and coming horses like Ambience and a numerically strong support cast ready to strike.
Likewise, it’s been a an OUTSTANDINGLY lean spring for racing’s first lady – the FABULOUSLY positive Gai Waterhouse. But Lady GaiGai is an experienced mountain climber and will no doubt leave her own indelible mark on Melbourne’s spring carnival as she always does. She appears to have plenty of ammunition in her SPLENDID Tulloch lodge arsenal- and will be happy to spread this good news to anyone within earshot. It’s all a bit Patsy and Edina, but, hell, it’s fabulously entertaining stuff despite the onslaught of superlative codswallop of adjectives.
WHERE’S THE MAGIC MAN HEADING WITH HIS FLYING VISITS?
A notable absentee from this weekend’s Caulfield Cup program is the “magic man” Joao Moreira. Might have something to do with the availability of rides from the Godolphin yard. Pity, Moreira freelancing last year was a highlight of the spring. That will all change when Derby day comes around, but, in the meantime, will there be a Godolphin exchange programme involving the two magical packets of M&Ms- McDonald and Moreira?
The extremely successful and “financially solvent” Magic Man isn’t making flying visits on his magic carpet to Oz to ride no-hopers because he doesn’t have better things to do. He’s way too savvy for that. Moreira eventually riding in Oz and James McDonald riding in Europe? Never say never.
WHO’S MINDING THE ENGLISH BROADCASTING STORE IN HK?
Is it just us but is the quality- and we use the word with great restraint and reticence- of the English broadcasting content emanating outta Hong Kong these days something undeserving of the most successful and forward looking racing club in the world? The new boys are woefully inept hires, the weekly auditions for all to hear are a showcase for shamateurism with the production chores seemingly handed over to a Muppet thinking no one will notice. Oh, but they do. And when they do, they do what anyone does when too embarrassed to watch and listen to cringeworthy banter: They switch off, walk away and leave it up to the Muppets.
Which Melbourne self-styled “multi-media guru” has been tapped on the shoulder by his employer and told to toe the party line? No guessing who he is, but let’s just say, that his fellow members of the racing media pack, are not displeased. What goes around comes around, doesn’t it?
TAKE A BREAK
Why will we stop listening to Perth’s excellent radio show “The Big Breakfast”? Because the show’s producer who made it more than just hardcore racing drivel has been asked to leave the building along with Elvis. Gawd knows, we’re so close to joining her. If not for Hong Kong, we ask, what horse racing industry?
TAKE A BREAK
Best getting-to-know-you place for low flying and extremely friendly International stewardesses on a, well, layover, in Hong Kong: Feather Boa also well known for their Chocolate Daiquiris.
The new meeting place in Melbourne for the racing crowd: The Spanish-Italian restaurant Oscar’s Table at Docklands and now run by our very good friend in Hong Kong, Karki who runs the Guru in Lower Elgin Street.
THE LOST AND FOUND AND LOST DEPARTMENT
Remember one of our most inspirational stories- how Christian Reith turned his one-time upside down world around, going back to his dark days in Macau? But where is Bro Christian today? Nowhere it seems.