Friday night’s and Saturday’s meetings at Moonee Valley are going to be fascinating. I’m so looking forward to fielding at the Valley.
The Moonee Valley track itself is excitingly different, even quirky: a tight circuit, velodrome banking, a very short straight (173 metres) and the StrathAyr surface (a clever, layered system involving some plastic meshing).
Yet this does not make it harder to back a winner – form students just have to think “Moonee Valley-wise”, or “Money Valley” as my 93-year-old dad fondly calls it.
Top-class horses always win Cox Plates. This year none of the locals quite appeal to me – Criterion, on his Queen Elizabeth form would be a clear favourite, but his recent win in the Caulfield Stakes is just a bit suspect to me.
I like the way the Qatari runner Arod’s form reads. In my view, he is the best of the imports (Timeform 126 compared to Highland Reel 120 and Gailo Chop 120) and arguably superior to last year’s winner Adelaide, whom at the time rated 116+ (+ showing anticipation of some improvement).
Arod is a classy, 2000-metre horse and races on the speed, which of course will suit him down to the ground at the Valley. It will be a wide-betting affair and Arod will be a very backable price. He’ll carry my support.
In tomorrow’s Moonee Valley Gold Cup, I think the Lloyd Williams-owned The United States will be too good. This stallion is a Moonee Valley specialist and while he was beaten in the JRA Cup at the Valley, he really should have won. The United States has that all-important turn of foot for Moonee Valley.
I regard trainer changes of the utmost importance when I do my form. It is a very powerful factor as a different training style can often bring out some extra undiscovered zeal in the horse.
When Alpha Miss moved from a NSW stable to the astute Robert Smerdon before last start, she leapt forward more than a stone (6.5 kilograms) in ratings. If she does the same again, she’ll win tonight’s Manikato pretty easily.
An added delight of the Cox Plate is that connections can choose their own barrier position – in the order pulled out of a hat. Quite delicious and it doesn’t happen in any other Australian race.
Three years ago I wrote to my good wife, Gai and her Cox Plate owners, explaining how I thought a double-figure barrier was best for her horses because of the race pressure and the velodrome banking. Gai took those reasons on board and fatefully chose barrier 11 for champion mare More Joyous.
As we all know, Singo was not happy (he had missed the email!) and that started the huge public spat between Singo and Gai. Happily, they’ve now reconciled, even naming a horse they have together Kiss And Make Up. But I sure caused some havoc.
My views on Cox Plate barriers are not so oddball. Interestingly, at Tuesday’s Cox Plate barrier draw, barrier one was not selected by the first seven connections to be offered a choice.
It was only taken at the eighth draw. Gai, a woman not to be deterred from her convictions – chose barrier 11 for Pornichet. I hope for her sake it pays off this time round.
Gai has a secret mentor – Lloyd Williams, who has raced an extraordinarily successful large team of racehorses for nearly half a century. Uniquely, he has won the Melbourne Cup four times. He is a very wise racing man who has been a great and kind help to Gai.
But on Tuesday night at dinner at Melbourne’s Cecconi’s, having read my piece on these pages “on good tracks being better”, he immediately went on the attack.
He excoriated me saying: “Perhaps you should come and see my horses after racing on these good tracks and the damage done. You are ill-informed!”
It cut no slack with him when I pointed out that as recently as the day before Racing Victoria said that part of the reason for profit and prizemoney increases were the “better racing surfaces”.
His retort: “Of course punters prefer firmer tracks, that doesn’t help horses, does it!” I felt even Susie, Lloyd’s loyal and charming wife, felt sorry for me.
I fear this is not the end as he has told Gai he needs to see me next week for some more counselling.
I do believe European stayers (which Lloyd specialises in), are much faster distance horses than our Australian breds but they are also soft boned and soft hooved and so have a shorter racing life expectancy.
The Sydney Morning Herald: October 22nd 2015