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Horse Racing: Top 10 highlights of the 2011/2012 season

Black-Caviar wins Diamond Jubilee to earn greatness (AFP)
Expert
29th July, 2012
19

This Wednesday, August 1, is annual celebration known as the horse’s birthday. In horse racing, it is the day which marks the start of the new racing season as each galloper ages by one year.

As the 2011/2012 racing season comes to an end, it is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the highlights of the past 12 months.

In this article, I have compiled my top 10 moments for this racing season. As with every list, it is a subjective exercise – it is merely my opinion. I would love to hear your thoughts about your top moments for the racing season.

Here are my top 10 moments (and an honourable mention) for 2011/2012:

Honourable mention – Manighar improves out of sight

The tremendous autumn of OTI Racing’s Manighar just misses the top 10 in this list. From a battling, ungenuine plodder in the United Kingdom, Manighar became a fixture of the weight for age ranks in the autumn.

Trained by Melbourne Cup winning trainer Alain de Royer Dupre until early 2010, the grey gelding switched to the stables of Luca Cumani in a bid to end the Anglo-Italian’s drought in the race that stops the nation.

Incredibly, he did not win once for his new stable, although he did finish fourth and fifth in two Caulfield Cups and fifth and seventh in two Melbourne Cups. He also ran fourth in the Ascot Gold Cup.

After last year’s Melbourne Cup, it was decided he would stay with Peter Moody in Melbourne – a decision which paid off handsomely.

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After a first up win in the Group 3 Carlyon Cup (1600m), he progressed to win the Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m), the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes (2000m) and the Group 1 BMW (2400m), a treble which had never been achieved before.

Subsequent placings in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Doomben Cup demonstrated the remarkable transition of the once-maligned Manighar.

10. Ortensia wins in Dubai

For so long, it looked like Ortensia would not record a much-deserved Group 1 triumph after her initial success at the top level (The Galaxy, 2010) was stripped in controversial circumstances.

She lost any semblance of form and was transferred from Tony Noonan to Paul Messara as a final resort. She quickly proved she was back with a win over the Melbourne Cup Carnival before gaining that elusive Group 1 win in the Winterbottom Stakes in Perth.

However, it was her win in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint (1000m) in Dubai which will be remembered for years to come. In a truly international line up, the daughter of Testa Rossa came from last at the 300m mark to record a comfortable win. The chant of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi” could be heard for miles around as the Australian connections of the mare took over Meydan racecourse.

This was followed by a failure in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) at Royal Ascot before a defiant fourth in the Group 1 July Cup (1200m) at Newmarket.

She is scheduled to have one more run in Europe before the breeding barn beckons.

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9. Hay List gets his moment in the sun

Even in victory, the spectre of Black Caviar still haunted the connections of Hay List.

Moments after Hay List had recorded a last stride victory in the time-honoured Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m), trainer John McNair was asked by interviewers whether he was relieved Black Caviar wasn’t there.

He was quick to say this was not about Black Caviar at all, this was Hay List’s victory and Black Caviar shouldn’t even come into discussions.

At any other time in Australian racing history, Hay List would likely be lauded as one of the greatest sprinters we’ve ever seen. Maybe not in the class of Vain or Manikato, but definitely among the upper echelon.

And yet, the former West Australian is viewed through pitying eyes, for he is unlucky enough to be the bridesmaid to a once-in-a-generation champion in Black Caviar.

As much as McNair may believe he can one day beat her, if she’s not at her best, perhaps his chance has come and gone after the mighty mare’s sub-par performance at Royal Ascot.

And so, as much as Hay List’s win under the topweight of 58kg was a triumph for the gelding, it was also a reminder of how unlucky it is to race at this time in history. And, although it was Hay List’s victory, it was also an indication Black Caviar may be the best sprinter we’ve seen.

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Sadly, a freak incident on the operating table means he is unlikely to be seen again until the 2013 autumn at the earliest.

8. Craig Williams dominates the spring

There is no doubt that jockey Craig Williams was the man of the moment last spring.

In a seven day period in mid-October last year, he could do no wrong. Those seven days saw him take the Caulfield Cup on Southern Speed, the Geelong Cup on Dunaden and the Cox Plate on Pinker Pinker.

Arguably, his ride on the now-deceased Pinker Pinker was the ride of the season, with Williams saving precious ground on the mare before switching out at the top of the short Moonee Valley straight.

And yet, unfortunately, the biggest story was about the ride he missed.

A careless riding charge received in a minor race at Bendigo saw Williams miss the ride on Dunaden in the Melbourne Cup and the opportunity to become the first jockey to win the three spring majors in one year.

A last minute appeal was denied, leaving Frenchman Christophe Lemaire to partner Dunaden to the narrowest of victories in the race that stops the nation. A dejected Williams instead took his kids to the movies, refusing to consider what might have been.

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With Dunaden highly unlikely to return this year, Williams already has a number of mounts lined up in an attempt to avenge the ghosts of last year.

7. So You Think goes out a winner

So You Think was a phenomenon. Trained by Bart Cummings, he was Australia’s darling before the emergence of Black Caviar. And what a racehorse!

At just his fifth start, the Kiwi-bred won his first Cox Plate – and he technically wasn’t three years old until the following week! By his 10th start, he had won two Cox Plate and a further two Group 1s (the Underwood Stakes and the Yalumba Stakes).

And by the time he was sold to Coolmore 10 days after his second Cox Plate, he had won the Mackinnon Stakes and finished a very respectable third in the Melbourne Cup.

In Europe, he won six races, five of them at Group 1 level. But he was plagued by poor decisions by connections, including questionable choices to send him to the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs and the Dubai World Cup at Meydan – both run on unsuitable surfaces and under tough conditions.

Defeat as a short-priced favourite at last year’s Royal Ascot carnival also saw punters vilify trainer Aidan O’Brien for his use of pacemakers.

Come the Group 1 Prince of Wales Stakes (2000m) at Royal Ascot in June, So You Think was maligned by European punters. They dismissed the son of High Chaparral as an “over-rated Antipodean cat”, as one Racing Post reader commented. But it was at his final start that the English saw the real So You Think, when he steam-rolled a field which included last year’s Epsom Derby favourite Carlton House, Godolphin’s promising Farhh and potential Cox Plate candidate Planteur.

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At the time, it was thought he would have one more start in the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes (2000m) at Sandown, but an injury suffered in his box two days before the race saw So You Think retired.

Thankfully, the pride of Australia (and New Zealand) finished his racing career on a high.

6. I’ll Have Another wins but misses the chance to go for the Triple Crown

Anyone who doesn’t believe American racing is in dire straits is in denial. The industry in the United States has lurched from controversy to controversy, highlighted by a series of front page exposes in the New York Times relating to drug use and horse deaths. For a month, though, it looked as though I’ll Have Another could be the tonic to save the ailing industry.

The Triple Crown remains the pinnacle of American racing, receiving widespread mainstream coverage, and arguably it is still the most prestigious series in world racing. The colt, trained by Doug O’Neill, had been impressive in the first two legs of the series – the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes – despite being unfancied both times.

Suddenly, it looked as though I’ll Have Another would become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown. American racegoers were overjoyed that a short-term solution to their problems was just around the corner.

But 24 hours before the race, the dream was over. I’ll Have Another was injured and was retired to stud in Japan. And O’Neill has since been embroiled in numerous drug scandals, throwing the spotlight once more on the negative aspects of the American racing industry.

5. Helmet and Manawanui go stride for stride in the Caulfield Guineas

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In October last year, the Caulfield Guineas looked like being a vintage renewal, despite a small field of eight. AJC Sires Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes winner Helmet was taking on Manawanui, a winner of the Golden Rose, and Smart Missile, the only horse (at that stage) to defeat star juvenile Sepoy. Also considered to be highly promising was Bill Stutt Stakes winner Chase The Rainbow, who had defied a notable bias at Moonee Valley to win the Stutt Stakes in remarkable fashion.

In recent years, Caulfield Guineas day has emerged as a benefit for those who lead or those who are not far from the speed – and so it proved in last year’s Caulfield Guineas. Helmet led out at a very quick pace with Manawanui stalking him closely.

It looked like a suicidal pace for both horses, but as they entered the straight it became clear they wouldn’t be caught, with Smart Missile and Chase The Rainbow among the foundering bunch.

The battle royale between Helmet and Manawanui continued up the straight with the latter looking the likely winner for much of the straight. But in the end, Helmet was game, holding off Manawanui to record a victory in one of Australia’s premier three year old races.

The form, however, has not held up from the race.

Helmet started favourite in the Cox Plate but could only manage eighth, and was last seen running a distant sixth to Frankel in the Queen Anne Stakes. He has now been retired to stud, as has Smart Missile. In fact, not one horse who ran in last year’s Caulfield Guineas has won since (Manawanui was first past the post in the Hobartville Stakes, but lost the race to Wild and Proud on protest).

It remains to be seen if the form can hold up in the upcoming spring.

4. Pierro wins the juvenile Triple Crown

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Never has a more unnatural two year old been so dominant in some of the country’s best juvenile races. Gai Waterhouse’s unbeaten colt Pierro looks the epitome of a two year old who will be much better once he turns three.

That prospect is intimidating, with his owners already discussing the possibility of a Cox Plate tilt.

He was first seen at the races on Randwick’s Super Saturday last October, when he won the first black type race for two year olds – the Listed Breeders Plate (1000m). After the race, Waterhouse declared that we had seen the Golden Slipper winner, a massive statement – incredibly, she wasn’t far off.

He returned in February to win the Group 2 Silver Slipper (1100m), before recording a narrow victory in the Group 2 Todman Stakes (1200m). Two weeks later, he was dominant in the first leg of the juvenile triple crown, the Group 1 Golden Slipper (1200m), winning very comfortably in fulfilling Gai’s prophecy.

Over the next three weeks, he added the Group 1 ATC Sires Produce Stakes (1400m) and the Group 1 Champagne Stakes (1600m) to his tally, becoming the first horse since Dance Hero in 2004 to win the juvenile Triple Crown.

In the Sires Produce Stakes, he saw off the highly touted three quarter brother to Black Caviar, All Too Hard – the galloper most likely to be his rival again in the coming months.

3. Dunaden and Red Cadeaux hit the line locked together in the Melbourne Cup

It is a special racing season when the Melbourne Cup only ranks as the third-best moment of the past 12 months, especially when it was as epic a Melbourne Cup as we experienced last year.

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It took judge Bill Quin almost three minutes to be satisfied there was a margin at the line, leaving Australians on the edge of their seats. The race that stops the nation had truly left us breathless.

It was a competitive Melbourne Cup, with a number of chances spread across the track inside the final 200 metres.

In the end, Dunaden and Red Cadeaux fought all the way to the line. At the 100 metres, it looked like Red Cadeaux was set for victory. A few strides later, it was going to be Dunaden. And at the line, it was too close to call.

It was a typical battle, France against England – except the battlefield was 11000 miles from the English Channel.

After three agonising minutes, when most on track at Flemington had resigned themselves to a dead heat, the number was semaphored – Dunaden was the winner! Throughout the subsequent months, the form has continued to hold up with both the winner and runner-up competitive against top company in Europe.

Notably, only two Australian-breds ran in the race – Niwot, 8th, and Older Than Time, 17th – and only nine Australian trainers were represented. Of the first ten across the line, only Niwot had begun his racing career in Australia.

It is a trend likely to be seen again this year with even more imported horses and a large contingent of internationals expected to target the Melbourne Cup.

2. Frankel stuns with a Timeform rating of 147

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There has been much debate about Timeform’s ratings with conjecture over their accuracy. However, the 11 length victory of Frankel in the opening race of Royal Ascot, the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes (1600m), deserves its billing as the greatest triumph of all time.

That day, Frankel was no equine mortal – he was Pegasus.

With his free-flowing stride, he had always looked like he had the potential to record victories of the highest calibre.

However, as a three year old, his one negative trait was his inability to settle. While it didn’t seem to overly affect him – for example, he won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket by eight lengths – it was the one barrier standing between him and a record rating.

Upon his return in 2012, he quickly demonstrated he now has the ability to relax. A five length victory in the Lockinge Stakes set him up for his record breaking tilt at Royal Ascot.

Although he took on the same horses – the likes of Coolmore’s Excelebration, as well as Australian Group 1 winner Helmet – it was the manner in which he won which electrified audiences.

After settling in behind the leader, his half-brother Bullet Train, jockey Tom Queally pulled him out with about 600 metres to travel. He moved up to the leaders with consummate ease, quickly waving his opposition goodbye. At the post, he was in a world of his own.

Analysis of his final five furlongs showed he would have destroyed the field in the following event, the King’s Stand Stakes over 1000m. It was truly a phenomenal performance, one which saw him become the highest-rated horse of all time on a mark of 147.

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The previous highest mark, 145, was recorded by Sea Bird in 1965 when he easily won the Epsom Derby and Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe.

1. Black Caviar remains unbeaten at Royal Ascot after a stellar season

The hype leading up to the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) at Royal Ascot was massive. There have not been too many international races which have attracted as much attention within Australia as this six furlong sprint, with the only real comparison the Agua Caliente Handicap in Mexico in 1932.

This was, of course, the race which Phar Lap won a mere two weeks before his untimely death in California. The mainstream coverage was akin to that which is experienced at Melbourne Cup time every year.

In the end, there was hardly any cheering as the mare returned to scale at Royal Ascot. There weren’t too many smiles. The overriding emotion was one of ashen-faced relief. She was still unbeaten, 22 from 22, despite racing well below her best. She had just managed to hold off French mare Moonlight Cloud, who lunged on the line. Luke Nolen, still shell-shocked after dropping his hands on Black Caviar in the final stages, answered media questions with a beer in hand.

It was a most unusual end to one of racing’s great stories.

In the 2011/2012 season, Black Caviar raced nine times for nine wins, six of these at Group 1 level. These were the Patinack Farm Classic (1200m) and Lightning Stakes (1000m) at Flemington, the C F Orr Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield, the Robert Sangster Stakes (1200m) and The Goodwood (1200m) at Morphettville and that final, desperate victory in the Diamond Jubilee. Interest in racing exploded, with sell-out crowds accompanying her wherever she raced.

But in the end, one poor race almost blighted her entire career.

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In hindsight, her win at Royal Ascot is likely to be considered favourably. She had travelled halfway around the world, didn’t look well in the yard, raced clearly below her best and still won! If anything, it proved her champion qualities much more than her wins against small, inferior fields.

A decision on her racing future will be made within the next two weeks, with speculation continuing as to whether we have seen the last of the best sprinter this country has seen.

What are your top moments for the racing season? Comment below.