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Expectations of Zoustar are too high

Expert
18th February, 2014
28

Some of the things written about Zoustar over the past six months have been over the top and created too much expectation of the relatively untried colt.

Those listing Zoustar as the best horse in the country seem to have ignored the fact that he hasn’t even raced outside of his age group.

On Monday, fellow Roarer Justin Cinque listed Zoustar as “the horse to beat” in autumn. My esteemed colleague has also argued that the colt won “the title of the Australia’s best sprinter” on Derby Day.

He’s not alone either. Regular rider of Zoustar, Jim Cassidy, said the colt will start “odds-on” in the TJ Smith Stakes while trainer Chris Waller has labeled his colt as “the next big thing”.

There seems to be a common trend in Australian racing to get caught up in the excitement of three-year-olds, but Zoustar is yet to achieve much compared to the likes of Pierro or All Too Hard at the same point of their careers.

The hype around Zoustar has been catalysed by his sale price of $20 million to Widden Stud, where he will commence his stallion career at the end of the current season.

In comparison, Pierro was sold to Coolmore for $35million and All Too Hard to Vinery Stud for $25 million.

The major difference between Zoustar and last year’s major stallion prospects is the fact that Zoustar is yet to prove himself in open company. He supposedly has all this potential, but his sale price fails to reflect his achievements.

One of the major draws for Zoustar as a stallion is the fact that his successful sire, Northern Meteor, passed away last year. This effectively opens up Zoustar to immediately take over the role, though Zoustar’s maternal bloodline lacks the lustre of other stallion drawcards.

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Out of Zouzou, a Redoute’s Choice mare, Zoustar’s dam won her maiden but nothing else. Zoustar is only her second foal to hit the race track.

Her first was Drill Bit (by Starcraft), who had 14 starts for no wins.

Compare this to All Too Hard (who was out of Helsinge) or Pierro (who was out of Miss Right Note, a dual hemisphere winner), and the differences in breeding are worth noting.

Of course, bloodlines only make up a fraction of expectations when it comes to stallion prospects. The rest is formed by performance.

In spring, Zoustar claimed multiple Group 1s when he won the Golden Rose (1400m) and Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m), both against his own age group.

As a three-year-old yet to compete outside of his age group, it was surprising to see a stud deal get done so early in the season.

Zoustar had an impressive two-year-old season but failed to strike at Group 1 level. It wasn’t until his Golden Rose victory where he was an $8 chance that he was a serious contender on the three-year-old scene.

One of my frustrations in racing media is how loosely the term “stallion-making race” is bandied around. The term was used ad nauseam throughout the spring when discussing Zoustar’s two Group 1 victories.

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The Golden Rose is probably the more desirable of Zoustar’s two Group 1 wins based on the fact it is run over 1400m. This positions the race perfectly as an indication the winner can run a strong 1200m or 1600m – the two most profitable distances in Australian racing.

The field which Zoustar beat in the Golden Rose was very good but by the end of spring, none of the horses he beat had claimed a Group 1. To add some credibility to the race, he needs Bull Point, Prince Harada, Eurozone, Dissident, Sidestep, Fast ‘n’ Rocking or Cluster to win as many Group 1s as possible.

Zoustar’s Coolmore Stud Stakes win was much less impressive. He beat Notlistenin’tome, who remains largely unproven, and Lion Of Belfort, who had a crack at weight-for-age class but was uncompetitive in the Group 2 Rubiton Stakes where he finished six lengths behind Lankan Rupee.

Pierro and All Too Hard were placed in a Cox Plate and came from a bumper crop where the horses they beat came out with big wins. The strength of Zoustar’s opposition is bleak to date, which draws away from the dominance of his two-length Coolmore Club win.

The weight of expectation on Zoustar is significant, yet his win in the Coolmore Stud was more than a second slower than the previous year’s winner, Nechita.

When Chris Waller announced Zoustar would undergo a Royal Ascot campaign before retirement, it was just assumed the colt was the best sprinter in the country.

The bookies certainly think so. Zoustar has been installed as the $4.50 favourite for the $2.5 million TJ Smith Stakes anti-post markets. Run over 1200m under weight-for-age conditions during The Championships, it is now the premier sprint race in Australia.

It seems unfathomable that there are proven weight-for-age sprinters behind Zoustar in the market.

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Buffering ($8) is coming off three consecutive Group 1 victories, while Samaready ($9), Snitzerland ($11) and Moment Of Change ($17) have all won weight-for-age Group 1s in the past six months.

Zoustar will seek to open his account against older horses in the Group 1 Canterbury Stakes (1300m) before a crack at the TJ Smith (1200m) and possibly the All Aged Stakes (1400m) before heading to Royal Ascot.

Since the TJ Smith Stakes was upgraded to Group 1 in 2005, Melito is the only three-year-old to win.

Racing needs its darling and three-year-olds are often the first place we look. With Black Caviar and Atlantic Jewel gone, the mantle has supposedly dropped into Zoustar’s lap.

There’s still a chance that he’ll come out and blow us away next month. But when assessing his breeding, strength of beaten opposition and strength of future opposition, Zoustar is entering autumn a long way behind Pierro and All Too Hard.