Steve Moran

Europeans Continue To Dominate Staying Features

Well, perhaps not entirely complete given the handful of overseas-trained and bred stayers likely to contest either of the distance features this Saturday at Sandown Hillside; chiefly Beautiful Romance (New Approach) in the Zipping Classic (Gr 2, 2400m) and Francis Of Assisi’s stablemate Qewy (Street Cry) in the Sandown Cup (Listed) over 3200 metres.

Irrespective of Saturday’s outcomes, we’ve already watched the well selected but hardly select team of Charlie Appleby-trained stayers take a major slice of the significant spring prize money offered on races at 2400 metres and beyond.

Their performances are especially sobering when you consider that both the Geelong Cup winner and Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) fourth Qewy and Francis Of Assisi came to Australia with form cards that showed, with each, that their most recent wins in the UK had come in Novice Hurdle races of £4000. (Qewy, incidentally ridden in that Newbury Hurdle win by A P McCoy just two months before his retirement).

Even so, Cranbourne horseman and renowned trainers of stayers Michael Kent remains convinced that it’s not necessarily the case that the European staying horse is better but rather that they are better handled.

“You may go to the UK or Europe and get yourself a better horse but that’s not certain. What is virtually guaranteed is that you will get a better prepared one. In essence, you’re paying for two years of beautiful pre-training if you buy a four-year-old.

“They’ll have been in work for ten months of the year in each of their two and three-year-old seasons, doing lovely, slow strength work – rolling up Warren Hill or somewhere similar but not being punished on raceday. They might have a run as a late two-year-old or not at all and had perhaps a couple of runs midway through the next season. It’s the making of them.

“Here we’re pushing them along as young horses. Trialling and racing them at two, then giving them testing spring and autumn racing campaigns at three. It doesn’t work if you want to groom a good stayer at four or five,” Kent said.

Qewy and Francis Of Assisi have something else in common aside from Novice Hurdle wins. They raced raced just twice as late two-year-olds (not before September) and only three times at three. Exactly the same applies to Appleby’s other Melbourne spring winner Oceanographer (Sea The Stars).

This year’s Melbourne Cup winner Almandin (Monsun) did not race at two, nor did the 2013 winner Fiorente also by Monsun (Konigssthul). As to other recent Melbourne Cup winners bred overseas – Protectionist (also by Monsun), Green Moon (Montjeu) and Americain (Dynaformer) raced twice as two-year-olds; Dunaden (Nicobar) just the once.

“It doesn’t hurt to give them a little stimulus and late season raceday exposure at two, after all you can’t expect to take the lazy kid who’s sat on the couch through his teenage years and expect to turn him into an elite athlete… but you don’t want to tax the horse too soon,” Kent says.

As an aside, the horses mentioned above are not by dour winners of an Ascot Gold Cup (Gr 1, 2m5f) or a Melbourne Cup; more Derby winners or quality 2000 metres performers. The now much discussed Monsun was a Deutsches Derby (German) (Gr 1, 2400m) runner-up who did not win, indeed race, beyond 2400 metres.

So it may well be the likes of recently retired Australian Derby (Gr 1, 2400m) winners It’s A Dundeel (High Chaparral), Criterion (Sebring) and Mongolian Khan (Holy Roman Emperor) who might generate some future stayers as much as the well patronised Cup winners Americain and Fiorente. Provided, of course, they’re given time!

Cup Week – The Carnival And World Rankings
Melbourne Cup week wound-up with 22 individual trainers among the winners of the 39 races run over the four days and the Group One winners included Shane Nichols and Lee Curtis who have relatively small teams – all of which maintains a level of faith in the game.

Indeed, the 16 Group one races over the entire spring fell to 15 different trainers with only Chris Waller striking twice courtesy of the marvellous Winx (Street Cry) who will be in further competition come Thursday, when the next IFHA world racehorse rankings are released, with Almanzor (Wootton Bassett), California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) and now Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song).

California Chrome currently sits atop the rankings on 133 from A Shin Hikari (Deep Impact) and Arrogate on 129; then Almanzor and Winx 127; Frosted (Tapit) on 126 and Maurice (Screen Hero) on 124.

Since those figures were released, California Chrome has run second in the Breeders Cup Classic (Gr 1, 10f) – beaten a half length by the three-year-old Arrogate to whom he conceded four pounds.

I would argue that California Chrome should still be rated 133 but Arrogate has to be promoted to, at least, his equal.

A Shin Hikari must be demoted after his failure behind Maurice in the recent Tenno Sho Autumn (Gr 1, 2000m) but the winner, in my view, is entitled to only a very marginal increase as the form is just not strong enough around the Tenno Sho placegetters Real Steel and Staphanos (both by Deep Impact).

Frosted also goes down as he simply wasn’t competitive with California Chrome and Arrogate at Santa Anita.

So, we’re left to assess Winx and Almanzor. Almanzor had beaten Found (Galileo) by three quarters of a length in the Irish Champion Stakes (Gr 1, 1m2f) immediately before the previous rankings were released. He’s since beaten her by two lengths in the English Champion Stakes (Gr 1, 1m2f). Verdict for me is a slight increase to 128 or 129 at best.

Winx has, of course, since won the Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) by a stunning eight lengths and the 10.5 lengths vanquished Awesome Rock (Fastnet Rock) then won the Emirates Stakes (registered as Mackinnon Stakes) (Gr 1, 2000m).

The international panel of handicappers did react strongly to Arrogate’s big margin win in the Travers Stakes (Gr 1, 10f) (before the Breeders’ Cup Classic) – he was promoted from outside the top 50 to equal second – so will they do likewise with Winx?

Australia’s representative Greg Carpenter has hinted he’d have Winx at 132/133 but will he convince his colleagues? I doubt it. But I suspect she may be as high as 131/132 and therefore the highest rated turf performer.

It is all rather academic but a talking point at least and a matter of national pride. We know there’s not much between Arrogate and California Chrome, save for the former’s greater scope for improvement, and we (or, at least, I) suspect there’s not much between Winx and Almanzor. That is a race I’d like to see.