Pierro downed and now is he out?
Jockey Dwayne Dunn celebrates riding the Hawkes trained All Too Hard to victory ahead of the pre-race favourite Pierro in the Caulfield Guineas at Caulfield Racecourse in Melbourne, Oct. 13, 2012. (AAP: Julian Smith)
I heard Hall of Fame trainer Lee Freedman say recently that the key period for a Melbourne Cup winner is the 17 days between the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.
It is in the final two-week period before the Cup that a contender puts itself into a winning position by improving physically and at trackwork.
The five-time Melbourne Cup winner notes that if a horse stagnates or goes backwards in that time, their November dreams quickly fade away.
I suggest the same thing applies for Cox Plate (2040m, Group One, weight-for-age) candidates. And with the Moonee Valley feature only 12 days away, this is the key period for championship contenders.
If that’s the case, Gai Waterhouse must be feeling some pressure right now.
On Saturday morning she sent Pierro, a $1.8 Cox Plate favourite, to Caulfield for his final Moonee Valley lead-up in the Caulfield Guineas (1600m, Group One, three-year olds).
As a $1.22 favourite in his ninth start, Pierro was for defeated the first time – gunned down in the last 50m by Black Caviar’s half-brother All Too Hard.
Less than an hour earlier, Tulloch Lodge’s other star, More Joyous – third favourite for the Cox Plate – suffered a heavy defeat when fourth behind Solzhenitsyn in the Toorak Handicap (1600m, Group One).
The eight-time Group One-winning mare struggled against the physically-stronger sex, with a massive 60kgs on her back.
On Saturday night, this was a more than salvageable situation. After all, Pierro and More Joyous had excuses in defeat. They both worked up Caulfield’s notorious back-straight hill and were left exposed at the finish.
Their runs – especially that of the colt – were better than they first appeared.
But it’s not so rosy now. Not for Pierro anyway.
A whirlwind Sunday culminated with Cox Plate markets being momentarily suspended. Rumours suggested Pierro wouldn’t take his place in the Cox Plate.
Pierro was a $2.8 chance for the championship on Sunday morning. By the time markets were suspended in the evening, he was out to as much as $6 with Betfair.
Betting re-opened with Pierro the $3.5 TAB favourite, after Gai Waterhouse told Sky Racing’s Andrew Bensley the three-year old colt would still contest the championship.
More than most sports, the betting market is a telling guide in horse racing.
For reasons I’ll detail below, I still thought Pierro warranted favouritism for the Cox Plate after Saturday’s run. Yet, on Sunday, he accounted for only five per cent of the TAB’s takings on the Cox Plate – equivalent to the support a 20/1 shot would ordinarily enjoy.
There is no official reason for the betting drift but it’s safe to say Pierro didn’t pull up in outstanding order.
On Sunday morning, Fairfax papers embroiled champion hoop Damien Oliver in a betting scandal. Later in the morning, Sky Racing reported Oliver had been relieved of the mount on Cox Plate second favourite Green Moon.
Craig Williams, who was booked to ride Pierro, was announced shortly afterwards as the new rider of Green Moon in the Cox Plate.
Williams is managed by one of the better form analysts in the business in Mark Guest, and I doubt either Williams or Guest would’ve made the quick decision to jump off Pierro solely because of his narrow defeat in Saturday’s Guineas.
It is possible that on Sunday morning when the ride on Green Moon became available, Waterhouse – with a good reason – gave Williams the option to relinquish his obligation to Pierro.
And this is the most interesting part of the whole story – why would Gai give a jockey of the ilk of Williams the chance to jump off the Cox Plate favourite when it is so difficult to find a quality hoop that can ride at Pierro’s weight of 49.5kgs?
I suggest the reason is Pierro – understandably after a hard run – didn’t pull up in the best fashion on Sunday morning, triggering the rumours, subsequent betting drift and jockey change.
Williams has refuted the claims. Late last night he told news.com.au, “Gai was very fair. The key things were Green Moon has 59kgs and Pierro has 49.5kgs. I could have made Pierro’s weight, but it was going to be tough.
“I thought Pierro’s Caulfield Guineas effort was a good run but I was very impressed with Green Moon’s win in the Turnbull Stakes,” he said.
The 2012 Caulfield Guineas may not be remembered as the greatest of all time but it ranks highly.
Pierro’s chances in the Guineas were dealt a significant blow when he began slowly. From his outside alley, jockey Nash Rawiller made what I believe was a poor decision and pushed on to sit outside the leader.
This may’ve have been the pre-race plan but it should’ve been binned when Pierro was last on landing.
Rawiller could’ve easily snuck-in behind the speed brigade after the start and enjoyed a soft run in midfield. Only in Melbourne has Pierro been ridden so aggressively.
Rawiller’s decision to roll forward backfired. When the five jockeys inside Pierro realised the unbeaten colt would push-on after his slow start, they didn’t budge. The $1.22 favourite was forced to do a stack of work before finding the ‘death seat’ outside the leader.
Caller Greg Miles summed up a few people’s thoughts, “And Pierro’s four deep! Four deep climbing up the hill! He’s doing some work, the fav, here… We’ll find out how good he is today, I’ll tell ya.”
Obviously Pierro (perhaps quite correctly) hadn’t earned the respect of the jockey’s room. Black Caviar, for example – even when slowly away – never received the treatment Gai Waterhouse’s previously-unbeaten colt got on Saturday.
With all the pressure that was on up-front, All Too Hard and Dwayne Dunn enjoyed the nicest run at the back of the field.
For the first time since his two-year old campaign, the Patinack Farm star was in a race with speed and he looked comfortable. With a combination of poor barriers manners and unfavourable tactics playing a part in each of his four defeats to date, All Too Hard finally had his chance to shine.
Quite cruelly for Rawiller, the sustained high pressure saw leader Ashokan fold on the home corner and Pierro was left in front at the 400m. For a horse that hadn’t stopped working – after missing the start, working up the hill, and in the breeze – Pierro was exposed very early in the run home.
The Triple Crown winner dashed three lengths clear at the 200 but – understandably – his run ended quickly.
All Too Hard, the fresh horse on the scene, bloused the favourite in the last 50m of the race. In doing so, he took his Melbourne (or left-handed racing direction) record to three from three. Right-handed, in Sydney, he is only one from five.
All Too Hard has always promised to win a significant Group One race. He was the favourite for the Golden Slipper on the Sunday before the two-year feature but didn’t take his part.
Perhaps proving the true worth of the Guineas, All Too Hard didn’t accept for the $3.5m Slipper because, as a future sire, Saturday’s Group One (worth $1m) was his long-term aim.
Trainer John Hawkes claimed the pressure and physicality of a Slipper wasn’t worth the risk for a future stallion on the Guineas path.
In the end, he was proven correct. All Too Hard won his grand final and will push on to the Cox Plate as a winning chance.
Meanwhile, Golden Slipper winner Pierro, perhaps more gifted than his regally-related rival, was the vanquished at his stiffest test and now is in doubt for a Cox Plate that was seemingly his to lose only a few days ago.