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Does entitlement exist in horse racing?

Sea Moon. (Image: UK Racing)
Expert
25th March, 2014
16

Success in racing is measured by Group 1 victories. Close enough is not quite good enough. A horse is only as successful as its achievements, so every now and then we need to see stories which emanate successes of those most determined and deserved.

First there was Buffering, and now Spirit Of Boom. Grit, determination, tenacity and persistence. It all pays off eventually and when it does, a smile can be brought to the face of losing punters and connections.

Friday night saw a story unravel that should comfort all racehorse owners. Spirit Of Boom held on for grim life to claim his maiden Group 1 victory in the William Reid Stakes.

But even when they passed the post, trainer Tony Gollan and connections had to do it tough. Celebrations turned to despair seconds after the race when Gollan’s fists were left stranded mid-pump. The replay showed the finish tighter than first met the eye and once again, he thought his star sprinter had run second at Group 1 level.

A late burst by Fontelina on Spirit Of Boom’s inside left Gollan speechless – not the good kind of speechless either.

“That’s us? That’s got to be us,” quipped one of the owners, unconvincingly, as the replay flashed on the big screen.

No response from Gollan. He wasn’t convinced and could only shake his head in disbelief as the feeling of disappointment began creeping in. Walking away from the cameras and loosening his top button, bullets dripped down his neck as he prepared himself to face grim reality or another narrow defeat.

Finally, the still photo showed on the big screen and Spirit Of Boom had held on by the narrowest of margins.

Prior to his breakthrough win at the elite level, the six-year-old had run in 14 Group 1 races – most recently claiming back-to-back runner-ups behind Lankan Rupee in the Oakleigh Plate and Newmarket Handicap. He had accrued more than $1.4 million in prize money heading into the William Reid.

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With Spirit Of Boom’s retirement already pencilled in for the end of the current season, time was running out, but the Sequalo stallion was flying better than ever before. While punters may have lost by backing more fancied runners like Samaready and Shamexpress, the gritty win of Spirit Of Boom and stellar performance by small-town trainer Tony Gollan were a win for all.

Friday nights at the Valley are building a reputation of delivering deserved victories at the highest level. In October last year, another Queenslander, Buffering, broke his Group 1 duck in the Manikato Stakes.

No one disputes the existence of luck in racing, but when a horse, trainer or jockey falls on the wrong side of luck one too many times, should there be a sense of entitlement in our sport? If so, what is the measure?

Dean Yendall does hard yards driving around Victoria’s country racing circuit day after day, and rarely goes a day without punching home a winner. He is one of the sport’s most honest professionals, but gets too few Group rides for a jockey of his consistency.

Perhaps the measure could be prize money, because very few horses can break the $1 million mark without claiming at least one Group 1 win. The issue with this is the uneven distribution of prize money where a Melbourne Cup or Golden Slipper place-getter can surpass the barrier with a rare effort.

It’s why Maluckyday ($1.3 million), Sweet Idea ($1.7 million) and Driefontein ($1.8 million) have all been great servants for connections, but it is difficult to argue that they deserve a Group 1 win.

And then there is Sea Moon, who has surpassed the $1million barrier, has scalps over Dunaden, Red Cadeux, Jakkalberry, Fiorente and Al Kazeem, but can’t quite make the final leap.

So if there is such a thing as ‘deserving a Group 1′, who is worthy?

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