On Friday night, the world’s best sprinter, Lankan Rupee, was beaten for a second time in two starts at Moonee Valley this spring. Both times Lankan Rupee was an odds-on favourite.
Immediately after Friday’s Moir Stakes (1200m, Group 1, weight-for-age), viewers of TVN were told that trainer Mick Price was in deep conversation with jockey Craig Newitt.
Both gave a similar explanation for the defeat. Lankan Rupee is not the same horse at Moonee Valley.
After trouncing Rebel Dane and Buffering in an all-the-way TJ Smith (1200m, Group 1, weight-for-age) victory at Randwick during April’s inaugural Championships, Lankan Rupee was quite clearly the best sprinter in the world.
Yet on Friday, Lankan Rupee was beaten by Buffering and had to hang on grimly to hold second from Rebel Dane.
The Moonee Valley excuse may have some validity – it’s where a third of his nine defeats have come and Lankan Rupee wouldn’t be the first horse to be consistently below his best at the tight circuit – but I don’t think it tells the whole story. And it’s something I’ll later explain.
That TJ Smith victory on a Heavy 9 track followed supremely dominant victories in the Newmarket Handicap (1200m, Group 1) and Oakleigh Plate (1100m, Group 1, handicap) on good tracks.
Lankan Rupee had become the only horse in history to complete the Oakleigh Plate, Newmarket Handicap and TJ Smith treble. The Oakleigh Plate and Newmarket Handicap have histories that date back to the 19th century but the TJ Smith has only been run 18 times.
In any event, by becoming the 11th horse to complete the Oakleigh Plate-Newmarket double Lankan Rupee joined revered company that includes Malua, Wakeful, Placid Ark and Schillaci. It’s one of the few clubs in Australian sprinting history that Black Caviar doesn’t hold membership to.
Entering the 2014/2015 season in August, five-year-old Lankan Rupee was the best horse in Australian racing. Yet at the end of the spring eight months earlier, Lankan Rupee could only boast a single Group 3 victory and would not have been ranked in the top 80 horses in the country.
Everything pointed in the direction of a shooting star.
Lankan Rupee returned earlier this month with defeat in the McEwen (1000m, Group 2, weight-for-age). After drawing wide, Lankan Rupee was exposed outside the lead and was run-down by the talented mare Angelic Light, who had enjoyed a glorious smother behind the speed. Angelic Light was second-up off a 15-month spell.
Before her injury-enforced layoff Angelic Light had a Group 1 second as a three-year-old filly behind Platelet in Adelaide. Now on the comeback trail she had lowered the colours of the best sprinter in the world at weight-for-age.
On Friday night, in the Moir Stakes, Angelic Light finished a close-up fourth behind last season’s TJ Smith top three.
As Australian racing’s focus slowly turns to Super Saturday and four Group 1s this weekend, the pain of another shock defeat surely hasn’t departed the Lankan Rupee camp.
Lankan Rupee is not bombproof. Once again he was asked by Craig Newitt to race outside the leader at Moonee Valley. And once again he was defeated at the sprinting caper. Remember, no-one on earth is meant to be better at it than him.
Lankan Rupee’s connections would love the idea of their superstar avoiding Moonee Valley for the rest of his career. But Australian racing’s ridiculous calendar ensures there are another two Friday night 1200-metre Group 1s to be held at the circuit this season.
Lankan Rupee, a gelding, will be fronting up again at the Valley very soon. In the Manikato Stakes (1200m, Group 1, weight-for-age), on October 24, the eve of Cox Plate day, there is a chance for Lankan Rupee to set his Moonee Valley record straight.
For suffering racing fans who have had to endure the early retirements of so many favourite horses as well as carefully-mapped programmes that are often intended to protect the stud value of the best colts, it is refreshing, and very exciting, to know a possible champion will be given the chance to dispel the chink in his armour.
For the first time, I am excited by the prospect of more 1200m Group 1 races at Moonee Valley.
Because he is a gelding, racing was always going to be the winner with Lankan Rupee. Yet, as a neutral observer (albeit a fan of Lankan Rupee), I can’t help but think he should have been the winner of the Moir Stakes.
As I said at the top, the Moonee Valley excuse has some validity but it doesn’t sit well with me. Better tactics would have given Lankan Rupee a better shot at victory.
As usual, Lankan Rupee began brilliantly on Friday night. He was the clear leader after 50 metres. With the advantage of the inside rail, Newitt should not have relinquished the lead to Buffering so easily, if at all.
It was made abundantly clear by Rob Heathcote, trainer of Buffering, on the TVN coverage that his horse would try to control proceedings from the front and the success of that tactic would determine Buffering’s fate on the night.
As he did in the TJ Smith, Newitt should have allowed Lankan Rupee to run in the lead. The horse is incredibly valiant and with the use of the inside rail, would have proven much tougher to shirk.
Instead Newitt gifted Buffering the lead and showed very little respect to Buffering by sitting a length off him. Newitt must have forgotten that Buffering also won three Group 1s last season. Each of them was won at weight-for-age. Buffering needs no favours yet he was not pressured in the first half of the race.
Newitt saved Lankan Rupee for the last 600 metres. As he did first-up, Lankan Rupee didn’t handle the Moonee Valley bend with much proficiency. He was off-balance and under pressure on straightening.
One-hundred metres later he was struggling. And on the line Lankan Rupee was beaten by a tenth of a length yet was as close to first as he was to the fast-finishing Rebel Dane in third. Second best is a fair summary.
Buffering fought bravely to hang on for a narrow victory. He now has four 1200m Group 1 victories. Each of them has been recorded at weight-for-age and by a combined margin of just over a length.
The seven-year-old deserves every accolade he gets. If Lankan Rupee is the best sprinter in the world, then Buffering can’t be too far behind.
Newitt rode Lankan Rupee like he was Black Caviar. The expectation, seemingly, was that an electric acceleration would turn the race in Lankan Rupee’s favour on the home corner. Of course it didn’t occur.
Whenever Lankan Rupee has exploded in races, it has come when ridden in the lead or with cover. Lankan Rupee is the best sprinter in the world, for now at least, but he isn’t a champion. Not yet.
It requires incredible strength or superiority to win Group races the way Lankan Rupee has been ridden this campaign.