Blind faith comes up trumps for Gai Waterhouse with Vancouver


There was a great relief in the Waterhouse household with Vancouver coming through with flying colours, winning Saturday’s group 3 Canonbury in barnstorming style.

I know Gai was caught by total surprise at how poorly the entire trialled at Randwick, less than two weeks ago. That trial was, on any view, dismal. The betting ring took great liberties with the Breeders’ Plate winner, taking him from $3 in the betting at opening to $5.50 “begging” at the jump and finding no customers. The ring was very aware that he was giving three kilos, being a Saturday winner, to some superbly bred and highly boomed newcomers, apart from his poor trial. In common with some great horses (and, no doubt, lots of slow ones), Vancouver only does what he feels he has to. Evidently, Pierro was a “relaxed” trackworker.
Twelve days of Gai’s concentration on him and the addition of blinkers has made the big difference. Blinkers can have a real effect. In doing the form, I always bonus a runner a kilo or kilo-and-a-half for the “shades”. That translates to about a length. The betting market does about the same. No doubt, blinkers made many lengths’ difference to Vancouver. Having a spring campaign is of huge value to a two-year-old.

When I do the “numbers” today, I am sure I will have marked him forward three or four kilos from his Breeders’ Plate figures. Interestingly, the one disadvantage, starting in the traditional “first race” for two-year-olds, the listed Breeders’ Plate, Vancouver actually earns less prizemoney than a standard two-year-old Saturday handicap, if you include the Bobs Bonus, which is denied in black-type events. Peculiar.

Gai was pleasantly pleased as she had sold, after the Breeders’ Plate win, her own 10 per cent interest based on a $4m value for the horse. She had total faith in Vancouver, but bowed to the pressure of her overdraft. I know she is delighted the new purchasers have got great value and a horse they can be proud of.

Vancouver would be highly desirable for any stud. Sadler’s Wells, and his line, has dominated European racing for 25 years, but, to date, has been disappointing in Australia. His son Galileo is champion sire in the UK but underperformed here. The Galileos of this world don’t seem to have the zip needed in this part of the world. But great-grandson Vancouver most certainly does and he will be an extraordinarily desired out-cross to our breeding lines. No prospective stallion will be more wanted by broodmare owners.
Gai relished telling the story at dinner on Saturday night how a prominent agent and one-time trainer had teased her and her group last week, when they were at the New Zealand yearling sales, calling to her: “Ahh, the blind leading the blind.” A little bit of joshing and frivolity at the sales is very common. After Vancouver’s win, Gai asked him: “Any alms for the blind, any alms for the blind?” Full credit to chicken-king John Camilleri for breeding both the Canonbury and Widden winners. He must be very proud.

Of the two-year-old fillies in the group 3 Widden, I thought Lake Geneva’s second was an impressive debut. Lake Geneva was always three wide, on a limb, facing the breeze, but kept coming to be a narrow second. She, to me, is the best filly in that race, notwithstanding the finish seemed a bit bunched, therefore a shade suspect.
I’ll be following her.

Hard to run down

Please forgive me mentioning the same topic three weeks in a row, but Mardi, being well-ridden at a strong tempo in the lead, won her the “fillies and mares” on Saturday. From before the turn, I thought she was certain to be run down, but Mardi just kept battling away, defying challengers. I was wrong. Gai’s are hard to get past. Well done to Mardi’s rider, Winona.

Getting a problem in hand

By contrast, in the run, I always thought Sarajevo, in the three-year-old was too well-placed and had too much turn of foot for his opponents. The interesting issue is that his rider, James McDonald, was fined $500 for using his padded whip in a “forehand manner” and too many times. Few racegoers would know the difference between a “forehand” and a “backhand” action, they would assume it is as in tennis usage.

In fact, it simply refers to the padded whip being held so it comes out upwards between the thumb and the forefinger (forehand) or comes out downwards under the little finger (backhand). Backhand is kinder to horses. At any rate, while I don’t believe there should be any restriction on the padded whips, rules are rules. Rule breaches would dry up if horses whose jockeys transgressed were disqualified. Jockeys would be fastidious in observing the letter of the rule.

Tough way to make a living

The bride and I took a day off in Melbourne on Thursday. Well, Gai did trackwork in Melbourne and I spent a few hours on form! We spent part of the day at the Australian Open. We enjoyed it thoroughly. I was told by a tennis authority that only 1.2 per cent of male players on the world circuit (and 3.2 per cent of females) actually earn enough to pay their expenses. Thank goodness the odds of racehorse ownership are a lot better than that.

The right weight

I see Racing NSW is for looking ways to increase the attractiveness of fields. Returning to the suggested 10-kilo spread of weights would be terrific. It would be easily done. Instead of the standard 59-kilogram top weight, simply make the statutory top weight 64 kilograms and ignore the connections’ squeals. Or, more palatably, 61-kilogram top weight, 51-kilogram limit but the entitlement for bottom weights to declare up to three kilograms over.

There is no doubt in my mind and, for lots of reasons, we should return to three distinct circuits: metropolitan, provincial and country, with different styles of races. I am suspicious of the notion of matching the programming to the population. That seems to always result in the “dumbing down” of classes. We need open-class racing on Saturdays in Sydney, as it was and is largely in Melbourne.

It’s all relative

Sistonic, who won her second race on Friday night at Moonee Valley, is the talking horse of the moment. Her four-and-half-length, eased-up, first-up win was breathtaking and very fast (the official time was later corrected to be half a second slower – but still fast). An extraordinary debut. Friday night’s win was hard to judge. She was throttled down but won easily. It was a shame not to let her do her stuff. Nonetheless, she could be a champion.

She is described as a “three-quarter-sister-in-blood” to Black Caviar. Both Black Caviar and Sistonic are by Bel Esprit and share grand dams. “Three-quarter-sister-in-blood” is an interesting expression. I remember asking, as a boy, my uncle, the late Jack Waterhouse, what it meant. He said (imperfectly): “It means very closely related, but makes you seem smart saying it!” An actual three-quarter-sister would mean: same mother, father a full-brother. The “in-blood” means “not quite”. Sistonic is worth a fortune today.

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