Steve Moran

Derby talk premature for Flemington winners

There may be little to be gained from raining on the mooted Victoria Derby parades of recent Flemington winners Alcyone (Teofilo) and Cherry Tortoni (Night Of Thunder).

In fact a multi-egg omelette on face is the more likely outcome as nobody will remember this cautionary tale if it proves accurate – it will only be recalled if one of the two horses happens to win the Classic. 

The James Cummings-trained Alcyone, of course, won last Saturday’s 1800-metre Byerley Handicap – a race instituted four years ago as something of a classic stepping stone to the first Derby of the following season. 

It was done so with noble intention, and ought to be persevered with in some guise, but alas – to date – it hasn’t worked out as the architects may have hoped. 

Last year’s Byerley winner Huntly Castle (Sebring) was beaten almost 20 lengths in the Derby and hasn’t won a race since. The runner-up was the filly Marndarra (Foxwedge) who has also failed to win a race since. 

It’s a recurring theme. The 2018 Byerley went to Visao (High Chaparral), who was eighth in the Derby; he has not won again and has since been banished to Darwin and Port Augusta. The runner-up Nero Chin Chin (Pierro) is winless since – actually, he is still a maiden – and is now going around at Carnarvon.

The inaugural Byerley winner was Anchor Bid (High Chaparral), who did have the distinction of beating the subsequent Oaks winner Pinot (Pierro) at her next start but, in a curtailed career, did not progress to any major race success before being retired to the breeding barn. 

Thus, while Alcyone and this year’s Byerley placegetters Johnny Get Angry (Tavistock) and Surprise Prey (Crackerjack King) look talented and progressive – as indeed is Cherry Tortoni, who beat Alcyone and Johnny Get Angry on July 4 – talk of the Derby is certainly premature. 

In fact, short of having some inside knowledge, you’d have to be a veritable genius to pick the Victoria Derby winner in July. There is a reason bookmakers are happy to offer futures betting. I well remember the fellow who used to offer 4/1 against picking a Melbourne Cup runner, just a runner, when the weights were released and he cleaned up year after year.

There is no guide when looking at the record of recent Derby winners as they stood in July of their juvenile season. Last year’s winner Warning (Declaration Of War) was a two-start maiden in July. Extra Brut (Domesday) hadn’t raced. Ace High (High Chaparral) had won a Kembla Grange maiden. Tarzino (Tavistock) had raced once, finishing third in a Pakenham synthetic maiden. Preferment (Zabeel) was a two-start maiden. Fiveandahalfstar (Hotel Grand) was an eight-start maiden and Sangster (Savabeel) had won a maiden at Hawera. 

No middle distance candidates for Horse Of The Year and no visitors welcome

The brilliant Nature Strip (Nicconi) should be crowned Horse of the Year. 

Never thought I’d say that about a horse whom I struggled to warm to for quite some time. But his three Group 1 wins including the major sprints of the spring and the autumn should be enough in a racing year devoid of a stand-out middle distance competitor. 

Overseas-trained horses took most of the spoils, and the money, in that category with five Group 1 wins going to Addeybb (Pivotal), Lys Gracieux (Heart’s Cry), Magic Wand (Galileo), Mer Der Glace (Rulership) plus another to first time out import Cape Of Good Hope (Galileo).

Still the irksome talk of frantic endeavours to have overseas-trained horses competing this spring continues.

Surely this is offensive to local participants enduring tough times, in many senses, and who have complied so well with protocols to sustain our racing through the Covid-19 crisis. 

Racing Australia chairman Greg Nichols surprisingly joined the chorus last week – saying he was ‘confident’ of achieving a ‘positive outcome’ that will see internationally trained horses compete at this year’s Spring Carnival.

“We are very keen to have international participation with the obvious reason that it makes our carnival even greater than it currently is,” Nichols said.

What is that obvious reason? I don’t see it. Unless the world changes very dramatically in the next couple of months, any overseas horses won’t be accompanied by 10,000 free spending tourists.

I’ve asked Racing Victoria if there is a net economic benefit to having a huge number of overseas trainees but have not had a response. 

What is not to look forward to in a 2020 spring with Colette, Russian Camelot, Master Of Wine, Arcadia Queen, Regal Power, Funstar, Probabeel, Alligator Blood, Melody Belle, Brandenburg, Nature Strip, Rubisaki, Surprise Baby, Vow And Declare, Mystic Journey, Quick Thinker, Zebrowski, Schabau, Django Freeman, Verry Elleegant and Dawn Passage? Not to mention the rising three-year-olds headed by King’s Legacy, Farnan and Rothfire. 

What’s not to look forward to about the opportunity for a bush trainer to get a runner in the Melbourne Cup or have Jungle Edge run in the Everest?

This is not an attack on Mr Nichols. He’s just the last in a long line of officials and media commentators to make similar observations which are, at the very least, untimely. 

This year is the year to dare to be different. 

If the fear is that the top class horses will now be split too much between Melbourne and a more aggressive Sydney then perhaps energies would be better devoted to some peace-making and a more coordinated spring program. 

No action yet on careless riding front in UK and Ireland

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) have apparently yet to respond in any meaningful way to racing writer Kevin Blake’s excellent article which highlighted the failure of the stewarding of interference rules in Britain and Ireland.

The story was accompanied by a damning video of race falls in England and Ireland which resulted in ridiculously lenient bans for the offending jockeys. It featured incidents which would have resulted in Australian jockeys likely incurring four to six-week bans and/or hefty fines. 

It not only drew widespread attention to this important issue but prompted many to consider other aspects of racing which lag behind in those jurisdictions compared to Australia and Hong Kong. 

While the charm of English and Irish racing, nor the standard of horses and horsemanship, has not diminished, there remain several issues which demand attention rather than lip service. What seems to be an overwhelming attitude of “oh, never mind” has to change.

First and foremost is prize-money. OK, I do not have the silver bullet. 

Support of world tote pools, which is gaining impetus in Ireland as well as England, is certainly a step in the right direction. The tote is key to the world’s most successful racing jurisdictions and the world pool push might need to be accompanied by educating the old school punters and soliciting politicians to counter the century-old power of the bookmaking lobby. 

I do not claim to know all the nuances of the political and betting environments in the UK and Ireland but this is one domain (prize-money) which appears to have had little more than lip service historically. I look at the prize-money won, by better than average horses there, and think, “How on earth could anybody contemplate ownership?”

I’m taken, now, with a horse called Art Power. He’s won four of his five starts. He won at Royal Ascot, then won a Group 3 at the Curragh and has now “amassed” – goodness me – around AUD$110,000. 

You can claim about that, with an industry and government backed bonus, if you win the opening race of the new season at Moonee Valley on August 1 – and that’s a modest three-year-olds only race at 1000 metres.

Moving on. Sectional times. I keep reading that I can get them at many English venues now … but generally not on my Google searches. Likewise for Ireland. 

Races rarely jump on time. No excuse for that. It’s simply unprofessional. 

It is also unprofessional that trainers are not compelled to advise of any significant tactics changes, which is now commonplace in Australia, and while I’m not necessarily opposed to the use of pacemakers it is patently absurd, in this era of transparency, that punters are left to guess which one of a stable’s three, four or five runners might be that pacemaker. 

Having the vision of every race, from every track, on the one site would also be a godsend and potentially a turnover driver – but I’ll concede that’s a problem which isn’t unique to the UK and Ireland.