Group 1 racing returns to the calendar this Saturday with the running of the Winx Stakes (1400 metres) at Randwick.
A seven-year-old horse is the equivalent of a 30-year-old professional athlete. Only the best kick on at the highest level at an age where injuries are more likely and retirement is imminent.
Racing is a young horse’s game these days and acceleration requirements favour the young. Few good mares are raced beyond the age of seven, while it is almost impossible to find a quality stallion in the age bracket.
This is why any seven-year-old racing at Group level will be a gelding with no commercial use after retirement. Generally speaking, horses commence their decline at seven and bottom out by the time they’re eight.
Any nine-year-old good enough to run in the city deserves respect. When one can run well at Group level over the course of a season, it is a purist’s spectacle made possible by only the best of training performances.
On Saturday in the corners of the Gold Coast, Precedence reaffirmed his status as a top stayer, and it was great to see the grand old fella back infull flight.
In his 57th career start, the eight-year-old gelding flew home from the back of the field to run third in the Group 2 Hollindale Stakes. Hitting the line harder than any other in the field, the 1800m trip was simply too short for the stayer who will be targeting the Melbourne Cup for the fifth time in November.
It will be just his fourth Cup appearance if he makes it after missing out by one spot last year.
To illustrate how difficult it is for any horse older than seven to win a Group 1, we can scour the past ten Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup winners.
Over the past decade, a spring major has only been won by a horse seven or older on one occasion. That was in 2006, when Fields Of Omagh won the Cox Plate as a nine-year-old.
History will also show Makybe Diva won the 2005 Melbourne Cup as a seven-year-old, though history ignores the fact that she was foaled in the Northern Hemisphere and therefore technically a six-year-old at the time.
Rogan Josh in 1999 was the last true seven-year-old Melbourne Cup winner, and we have to go back to 1938 for an eight-year-old winner in Catalogue. If Precedence is able to kick on in spring and all goes to plan, he would become the first nine-year-old to win the Cup.
Precedence has a hard act to follow, because it was only four years ago that we were blessed with wily veteran Zipping racing greenly to the age of nine.
He was the horse that got better with age and one the public could not hate. As honest as they came, he always ran his heart out and was adored by many.
In his nine-year-old season, Zipping won the Turnbull Stakes, ran second in the Cox Plate, ran fourth in the Melbourne Cup and won his fourth consecutive Sandown Classic – a race now named in his honour. The previous year saw him run third in the Cox Plate and win the Australian Cup on top ofhis Sandown Classic victory.
He was an ageless wonderhorse that ran in three Melbourne Cups, four Cox Plates and a Caulfield Cup. Capable of cutting it with the handicappers and stepping up to weight-for-age class, it may be years – even decades – before we see a warrior like Zipping stay the journey.
Precedence has that chance. Showing no signs of age on Saturday, we’ll see him run a few times in Brisbane before Bart and James Cummings put him away in preparation for spring where he will commence his nine-year-old campaign.