Weekend’s racing highlights Australia’s staying problem
Can Americain win the 2012 Caulfield Cup? Slattery Images.
After a long off-season, Saturday’s racing headlined the dawn of the Spring Carnival. History suggested Cup hopefuls would emerge on the season’s first day of weight-for-age racing.
And while it was again the case, it was quite unusual. If anything, Saturday was a stark reminder of the current Australia racing set-up.
The highlight of Saturday’s card was the Group Two PB Lawrence Stakes at Caulfield.
Despite being over the relatively short trip of 1400 metres, the race formerly known as the JJ Liston has produced several Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup winners in the last 25 years.
Running a place in the Lawrence is often points to a fruitful preparation.
In 2008, Maldivian finished third in the Lawrence before going on win the Cox Plate.
In 1999, Sky Heights was runner-up in this race before winning the Caulfield Cup two months later.
And in 1989, Lee Freedman used Tawriffic’s third-place finish in the Lawrence as the starting point for his successful Melbourne Cup campaign.
But this year’s renewal was lacklustre. The 2012 Lawrence field had combined for only one Group One win since October 2009 and that came via Luckygray’s controversial victory in Perth’s Railway Stakes last November.
In the build-up, the race didn’t appear to be a massive preview for the Carnival ahead and post-race that seems to be a fair appraisal. As it panned out, Second Effort won the Lawrence – recording his first Group victory and his eighth win from nine starts on wet tracks.
If anything, Second Effort’s win – which comes three months after his nose victory in the listed grade Wangoom at Warrnambool – is a reminder of the strength of Warrnambool’s three-day Carnival as opposed to being any indication of upcoming spring glory.
The place-getters in the Lawrence, Zamorar and Ready To Rip, are honest performers limited to off-season or lower-level feature sprints. And of the rest, Luckygray and Heart of Dreams performed soundly on unsuitable wet ground.
In a race like the Lawrence you’d expect to see more. The heavy track would’ve kept some big names at home but there’s a deeper issue here.
Where are all the high-quality stayers in Australia racing? We are a month into the new season and hardly any have emerged from off-season spells.
The harsh reality is that we don’t have many to call upon.
The best of them perhaps is Lucas Cranach – an imported German who finished third in last year’s Melbourne Cup – but he’s out injured for the spring.
I hoped Atlantic Jewel – more adept at the mile and middle distances – could claim a Cup but she too has tragically succumbed to an injury that may put an end to her unbounded, undefeated and untapped career.
That leaves the door open for other imported gallopers like Green Moon (second 2011 Caulfield Cup) who is high placed in this year’s Cup calculations.
Of the locally-bred brigade there’s eight-year old Niwot (seventh 2011 Melbourne Cup, first 2012 Sydney Cup) and the injury-prone nine-year old Efficient (2007 Melbourne Cup winner, second 2012 Sydney Cup). It’s hardly inspiring stuff.
The Australian breeding industry is doing very well but the demand for stayers is down. Rather than buying well-bred yearlings with staying pedigrees as has been done with sprinters (Black Caviar is just one), many prospective owners are choosing instead to purchase and import tried European stayers.
And while this is proving to be more successful for some, it has helped highlight a massive hole in the current Australian staying ranks. For every successful import like three-time Group One winner Manighar, there are dozens that fail to add anything to the bare local landscape.
The importation of stayers is a band-aid solution to a wider problem.
Quite honestly, Australia has next to no chance of winning this year’s Melbourne Cup. And even if one of our trainers was good enough to prepare the winner (which is definitely the case), the horse would almost certainly be brought here from overseas.
And that – overseas – was where all the focus was at the weekend. While Saturday’s racing in Melbourne didn’t do much to inspire confidence for the upcoming Cups, there was plenty of interest in European and American racing.
On Saturday, a horse I pointed Roarers into as a Melbourne Cup chance last month shot to the head of Cup betting.
Mount Athos won a weight-for-age Group Three event over 2600 metres by two lengths in commanding fashion. He destroyed Brown Panther, who was seventh in July’s vintage King George.
Mount Athos is now certain to gain entry into the Cup with a middle-weight and trainer Luca Cumani will have him on a plane for Melbourne in the next month. It’s only August but Mount Athos appears the horse to beat at this early stage.
On Sunday morning, Jakkalberry, who is now owned in Australian interests, won the newly-conceived American St Leger (2700 metres) in similarly dominant fashion to Mount Athos. The time was fast and a big impression was made.
Jakkalberry looks like being a good Melbourne Cup hope for Italian trainer Marco Botti.
And this morning, Americain lined up in the Prix Kergolay in France. The 2010 Melbourne Cup winner, who was fourth in the Cup last year, featured in this race last August, as did the horses that placed first, second and fifth in the 2011 Melbourne Cup some three months later.
Americain is quite symbolic of the current Australian racing landscape. He was purchased by Australian interests last season and like many of the other Australian-owned gallopers who will run in the Cup this year, is a foreigner.
But at the end of the season Americain will stand at stud in Australia. And at a time where Australian racing desperately needs new staying blood, Americain provides hope.
Australian racing has never been so desperate for an influential staying sire.
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