Forget those Group 1 races in Brisbane. The best race and the best ride in Australia on Saturday were in the $100,000 Stayers Cup at Royal Randwick.
The ride of the day belonged to rising apprentice Taylor Marshall, even though he ended up finishing second. What a brave second it was.
Jaded punters at Moonee Valley lifted their eyes to the TV screens as they started to notice a horse trying to do the impossible – to set up such a huge lead in a long race that the other horses couldn’t catch him.
‘Doing a Vo Rogue’ is what the burly men who used to be lads in the 1980s called it as they watched over their beers. The veterans among us invoked Scotch and Dry with Pat Hyland at Flemington in the 1972 Hotham Handicap, and even Sir William and Pat Glennon in the Mackinnon Stakes back in 1956.
What made us sit up and take notice was a real horse race. Great sprints have their place in racing, as all fans of Black Caviar can tell you, but there is something extra in the drama of a great staying race. It wasn’t, as some might have thought, sheer recklessness to take 80-1 chance Astro Avalanche to a 40-length lead early in the race, on a heavy track.
Taylor Marshall has been mentored by his father. John Marshall was a champion jockey with a rare capacity to rate horses – to know exactly the pace he should be going – in long distance races.
John Marshall’s timing was superb, as on Beau Zam when he won the 1988 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Canberra. He won the Melbourne Cup eleven years later on Rogan Josh after having nearly won the race on two previous occasions.
On Saturday, Taylor Marshall rated his horse perfectly through the race, not caring how far behind him the more cautious group of jockeys had bunched. He still held a formidable gap as they reached the home turn but it was narrowing, and we all know that Randwick has an uphill straight.
And we all expected Astro Avalanche to give up and be caught, but the jockey rode him with such vigour that only Joshua Parr on favourite Destiny’s Kiss got past him in the final metres.
They ran 3 minutes 32.85 seconds, more than 12 seconds slower than the track record. But it wasn’t a bad pace under the conditions, if you take a line through Eigelstein’s win over half that distance in Race 8. That good galloper won his 1600 race – half the distance – in 7 seconds outside the course record.
The Brisbane Cup on a dusty Eagle Farm track was all very well, but it’s hard to see it now as anything more than another 2400-metre gallop. When it was over two miles in what we can officially call the Good Old Days, it used to be part of a very special bracket of feature races that added brio to the best of all, the Melbourne Cup.
Now it disappears into the ruck. It is not just sour grapes on my part that Historian finished last.
Talking about recklessness puts us in mind of that popular stayer of 1977. Reckless, trained by Phar Lap’s pal Tommy Woodcock, uniquely won the Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane Cups in the one year, came so close to beating Gold and Black in the Melbourne Cup, then finished third while carrying an injury in the Perth Cup.
All those races were then 3200-metre contests. They were in a league of their own, mutually supporting the attractiveness of staying races. Today only the Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide Cups maintain the distance – and their magic.
It always pays to look behind the recent form. Astro Avalanche had run just about last in four starts since coming to Australia more than a year ago. But he is not the first horse, or person for that matter, to arrive from Ireland putting the past behind him.
If you look for the horse behind the name, you’ll find a bay colt born in 2009, sired by Galileo from a mare called Lady Lahar. At two and three years he ran at Leopardstown, Killarney, Bellewstown and The Curragh, and even at England’s Newmarket, but in those days he went under the name of I Have A Dream. He scored three wins in those preparations.
He’s part of the new fad for Australian buyers to look for ready-made European stayers as a short-cut to finding a Melbourne Cup winner. Maybe they have found one – keep a watch on this Astro boy.
As for Taylor Marshall, the secret is already out. He’s been race riding for barely a year. At his first attempt at Saturday metropolitan racing at Rosehill four weeks ago he rode four winners including the Lord Mayor’s Cup on Zephyron.
Such are the vagaries of racing that Zephyron under Glen Boss went on to finish third in the Brisbane Cup won by the six-year-old mare Floria. But the race that will stay in my memory from June 7, 2014 will be Astro Avalanche trying to steal the biscuits over two miles on a heavy track at Royal Randwick.