The Spring is officially in the air with the group one Makybe Stakes meeting at Flemington on Saturday.
On the first Golden Slipper day in The Championships era, the brightest star was undoubtedly Silent Achiever, who won The BMW (2400m, Group 1, weight-for-age).
Against some of the best horses in Australasia, the Kiwi showed she has blossomed into an outstanding mare.
Her trainer Roger James had thought for a long time that Silent Achiever, the winner of the 2012 New Zealand Derby (2400m, Group 1, three-year-olds), was too immature to race in a pair of blinkers.
Blinkers aim to focus a horse’s mind-set on racing but there is always a risk that their application will have a horse waste energy by pulling for extra rein during the middle stages of a race.
According to James, Silent Achiever was ready to race in the hood in the 2013 Melbourne spring. But because the mare rose in distance each spring start, he feared blinkers would have her racing too keen.
Some horses can struggle to settle when they rise in distance (as a rule, mid-race pace decreases as distances increase) so James kept the gear change up his sleeve.
Between her emphatic 2012 Derby victory and the start of the 2014 autumn, Silent Achiever won once in 14 starts. The last eight of those 14 starts were at Group 1 level in Australia, where her best results were a slashing second in the 2013 BMW and two fourths.
Autumn has transformed Silent Achiever into a super racehorse. The addition of the hood was always intended to flick a mental switch but it has had the added benefit of helping the mare settle closer to the lead in her races.
Silent Achiever has now claimed four wins on the trot; the last three at Group 1 level since wearing blinkers. She is now a four-time Group 1 winner and the ultimate professional.
Pre-race on Saturday she was so easy to watch. In the race-day stalls she was half asleep, waiting patiently for her turn. In the mounting yard, she paraded in outstanding health. Whatever sun peaked through the cloud cover beamed off her brown coat.
Thinking of the Silent Achiever I saw on Saturday, it’s incredible she was too immature for a pair of blinkers 12 months ago.
During the race, she travelled easily for jockey Nash Rawiller. She showed enough early speed to race close to the lead before settling sweetly in a midfield position down the back straight.
But the most impressive part of her performance was the last 400m of her race. Not only did she give It’s A Dundeel – perhaps the most decorated horse in the Southern Hemisphere – a hammering between the 350 and 250m marks, but she more than held her advantage over the chasing pack in the final furlong.
Atlantic Jewel’s Memsie (1400m, Group 1, weight-for-age) annihilation aside, this was the most complete weight-for-age performance in Australia this season.
Silent Achiever beat a similar field in the Ranvet (2000m, Group 1, weight-for-age) two weeks ago, but she wasn’t as nearly as impressive as Saturday. She has improved with each run this preparation.
James is on the record as saying the $1m Sydney Cup (3200m, Group 1, handicap) is Silent Achiever’s Championships aim. A strong performance would see her in good stead for a Melbourne Cup (3200m, Group 1, handicap) campaign later in the year.
But the Silent Achiever camp would be crazy not to run in the $4m Queen Elizabeth (2000m, Group 1, weight-for-age) on the same day.
Not only would she be incredibly hard to beat in the richer Queen Elizabeth, but a dominant victory would open plenty of doors. Silent Achiever would surely have to be the April favourite for October’s Cox Plate (2040m, Group 1, weight-for-age).
Of the beaten brigade in The BMW, It’s A Dundeel was at a campaign-best level in second place. He was completely destroyed by Silent Achiever in the straight – and it shouldn’t be forgotten he was bludging out the back when the mare was racing in midfield in the middle stages – but he showed his class in the final furlong by getting into the runner-up position.
He’ll need to find two lengths before he can even think about beating the mare at Randwick but he does have an outstanding record at headquarters – three victories (two at Group 1 level) and a second from four starts. Will the Queen Elizabeth be the four-year-old Kiwi stallion’s last race?
Fiorente, in third place, was pretty disappointing. He was under pressure at the 600m mark, got himself into the fight at the 300m, and then was passed easily by It’s A Dundeel at the death. This is not the same horse who assaulted the finish line each time we saw him race in 2013.
Fiorente’s loss of form can be attributed to one of two reasons – either the six-year-old reached his career peak in the spring and is now on a downward spiral, or he isn’t happy at the moment.
If the truth lies in the latter, is Fiorente being bothered by a minor niggling injury? Until the Ranvet, he had never disappointed in any of his Australian runs. On face value, his sudden drop in form is a mystery. Gai Waterhouse should run the Melbourne Cup winner in the Sydney Cup. Even an out-of-form Fiorente would be expected to claim the time-honoured prize.
Of the rest, the Group 1-winning Irish import Voleuse De Coeurs was a tad disappointing in fifth. She needs more ground. Sertorius was outstanding by his standards in fourth and Brigantin scored good marks at the unsuitable weight-for-age scale in sixth.
Multiple Group 1 winner Foreteller was again woeful in a long last-place finish. Is he crying out for retirement? Chris Waller will give the French import a long spell.