The inaugural Championships begin on Saturday at Randwick. The name alone suggests the racing will be great.
Day 1 is highlighted by the richest sprint in the world, the $2.5m TJ Smith Stakes (1200m, Group 1, weight-for-age), and the richest mile – the $3m Doncaster Mile (1600m, Group 1, handicap).
Day 2 on April 19 will see the running of the world’s richest turf 2000m race, the $4m Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Group 1, weight-for-age).
In 2014, The Championships could be described as the Australian championships of thoroughbred horse racing.
Only two international raiders are present – last month’s George Ryder (1500m, Group 1, weight-for-age) winner Gordon Lord Byron from Ireland who will be running in the TJ Smith and Hana’s Goal from Japan who is set to line-up in the Doncaster.
Gordon Lord Byron is a very good horse, as he showed at Rosehill, and Hana’s Goal has decent Japanese form, but they are hardly the cream of world racing.
The local contingent, on the other hand, is the best Australian racing has to offer. And the horse I’m looking forward to seeing most is the one I believe is currently the best in the country – four-year-old sprinter Lankan Rupee.
I expect Lankan Rupee to set The Championships alight.
Lankan Rupee only has to win the TJ Smith on Saturday with the same dominance he won both the Newmarket Handicap (1200m, Group 1) and Oakleigh Plate (1100m, Group 1, handicap) earlier this year to be widely regarded as the best sprinter in the world.
Officially, Lankan Rupee already holds the title. When the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities released their March nine rankings, Lankan Rupee attained an overall global ranking of six in the world and the number one position for sprinters with a rating of 121.
By way of comparison, Black Caviar sat in the overall world number one position at the same time of last year with a ranking of 130 which was attained in her own race – the Black Caviar Lightning (1000m, Group 1, weight-for-age) in February 2013.
Lankan Rupee is no Black Caviar but he has great potential. At a time when the world lacks a sprinting superstar, fresh after the retirements of Black Caviar and Japanese sprinter Lord Kanaloa, Lankan Rupee is in best position to fill the vacancy.
He has won eight times in 15 starts but since being gelded at the start of the season, the Mick Price-trained Caulfield galloper has raced eight times for seven wins and a third.
Prior to the dreaded operation, Lankan Rupee was a decent horse with Stakes-grade ability. He has been transformed into a gun performer.
This autumn especially, six months into life as a gelding, he has been brilliant. He was strong in a 1.3 length victory in the Oakleigh Plate with 56kgs – his maiden Group 1 victory – and incredibly superior when carrying 56.5kgs to a 2.5 length Newmarket romp.
Lankan Rupee, the colt, was weak. He could be broken in a solid 1200m race. As a gelding he is formidable – sustained speed, perhaps the greatest asset to be found in any notable horse (save for stayers), is the making of his game.
To put his Newmarket performance into perspective, only Hay List (58.5kgs, 2012), Black Caviar (58kgs, 2011), Scenic Blast (57kgs, 2009), Takeover Target (57kgs, 2006), Shaftesbury Avenue (58kgs, 1991), Maybe Mahal (56.5kgs, 1978) and Black Onyx (1970, 57.5kgs) have carried the same or more weight to Newmarket Handicap success since 1960.
As a group, they are some of the best sprinters ever produced in Australia. Black Caviar – the greatest sprinter of all time – joined Scenic Blast and Takeover Target as Royal Ascot winners in 2012.
You could make a case to say that Lankan Rupee was more dominant than any of those gallopers in his Newmarket success. When horses win big handicaps with big weights, it is notable.
But generally only champions carry big weights to dominant victory in big handicaps. We can’t call Lankan Rupee a champion yet but it might not be long before we start.
Importantly, the Newmarket was the best performance of his career and it came off the back of a career peak that was set in the Oakleigh Plate immediately prior. Lankan Rupee is a rising star in world racing.
Most thoroughbreds will peak at an age of four or five, and Lankan Rupee, at four, is just beginning to show us his best. He may well be blunted by a wet track on Saturday – he has never raced on a wet track before – but should he produce a career-best performance, I think it would beat Australia’s best sprinters by at least three lengths in the weight-for-age TJ Smith.
There’s nothing like watching a good horse at their top. I think Lankan Rupee is going to be the star of The Championships in 2014.
Officially, he’s the best sprinter in the world. I’d like to think everyone will be on the same page on Sunday morning.