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KV's Spring Carnival awards: The good, the bad and the ugliest media spats

Mooney Valley racing. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Roar Guru
13th November, 2014
20

Even though the Spring carnival ends at Sandown this Saturday, I thought that there would be little that could happen on the last day to change my carnival awards to the impressive and not so impressive.

Award – Ride of the Spring
There were many rides that showed skill, tactics and horsemanship over the carnival.

I gave the award to Damien Oliver’s winning ride on Preferment in the VRC Derby.

Oliver rode the Chris Waller-trained horse in the Geelong Spring Classic (2200m). The horse showed all the signs of immaturity and got the better of Oliver. An astute judge might have thought ‘that won’t happen again’.

In the Classic, Preferment got past the pack and thought that was all he had to do, even with Damien riding strongly. Then, after 30 metres, the horse realises there are still two horses in front of him and sets off again But it was too late, and he just missed. Most race-watchers agreed this was a horse of real talent, although not the brightest spark in the fire.

Oliver had two tactical choices in the Derby.

Firstly he could ‘stand-over’ the animal, always a risky proposition with an immature horse, as they often don’t understand what is happening and become frightened. This strategy is usually reserved for stubborn or lazy animals, but always used with great caution.

Secondly, the champion jockey could use his experience and ride him in such a way that the horse would have a galloping partner. This is training track stuff that makes an immature horse feel comfortable as they know what is happening and what is expected.

At morning practice (trackwork), Preferment knew his job was to finish off his work, hopefully in front of his companion.

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Oliver chose the latter.

The full Derby is below, but watch Oliver pick the right horses to follow, and how he keeps Preferment settled but on the outside of the pack. He was wide but, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, it isn’t a big deal if you know what you are doing.

How he then chooses Bondeiger as the horse to pair onto for the final charge to the winning post. And as you would expect from Oliver, he gave a masterclass over the last 100 metres.

Throughout the whole trip he kept company on his inside, picked the right horse to ‘gallop’ with and turned a potential dicey ride in to a ‘bird’.

Winner – Damien Oliver

2014 VRC Derby … watch some jockeyship …

Award – Trainer of the spring
A tough call from the nominees; Andreas Wohler, Aidan O’Brien, Joe Pride and Chris Waller.

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For racing purists like me, you haven’t made the grade unless you can put together a Derby horse. So Waller gets my Australasian vote as he has got that monkey off his back winning his first ‘classic’ with a maiden.

This ‘maiden’ feat is remembered as the first accomplishment by the legendary T.J.Smith, when Playboy also won the AJC Derby (spring) as a maiden. Although Smith, like Waller, had won the trainer’s title and other feature races.

But my nod goes to… Aidan O’Brien, who brought Adelaide to Melbourne, started him on a strath-ayr surface, on a racetrack that resembles a Colosseum and won.

Andreas Wohler accomplished great things too, but some thought he may have beaten the handicapper whereas Adelaide was starting at WFA.

Winner: Aidan O’Brien

Award – Horse performance of the spring
Tough. Here are my nominees …

Shooting To Win hunting down Rich Enuff in the Caulfield Guineas. Admire Raktai from last to win the Caulfield Cup with top-weight. Lankan Rupee’s speed turning the Manikato into a unique race. Adelaide so impressive in the Cox Plate. Happy Trails once again showing his tremendous quality in the MacKinnon. Protectionist in his powerhouse display of a fast stayer in the Melbourne Cup, or Terravista winning the clash of the titans in the Darley Classic?

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Any one of those performances is good enough, but I’ll give it to Protectionist. He came from the back of the field and swept past them in one of the fastest Cups ever, beating Red Cadeaux who had competed so well previously.

Award – Race of the spring
The Darley Classic (1200m) promised a world class contest and delivered.

Absolutely amazing race. We had the world’s top ranked sprinter, Lankan Rupee, and two contenders, Chautauqa and Terravista, who were unproven at this level.

All beautifully ridden. I congratulate all the jockeys in the race as everything had their chance, but the sheer quality of the race split the field up at the finish.

Trainer Joe Pride made the call that his horse, Terravista, was up to it and so it proved. I couldn’t see any excuses from the others.

So Australasian horses went into the race with the world top ranked horse and came out of it with the top three.

How they are going to benchmark these three in the end-of-year world standings is a task i don’t want to contemplate. And Deep field joins the party next year.

The 2014 Darley Classic.

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Award – Jockey of the spring
I have five contenders here – Ryan Moore, Damien Oliver, Dwayne Dunn, Joao Moriera and Hugh Bowman.

This for me was the toughest choice of all, as you are looking for skill, horsemanship, tactics covering all distances and a sharp race brain.

All nominated deserved this award offering jockey-ship of the highest quality on every level, but a five-way dead-heat would be fudging so I’ve plumbed for Hugh Bowman.

Hugh was the bridesmaid in Sydney, riding brilliantly, then copped a suspension that cost him the Cox Plate ride on Criterion and the Derby ride on Preferment. He came back to ride a gem in the Group 1 Oaks winning on Set Square, and then the Darley Classic on Terravista. All his G1 rides this spring,ticked all the boxes.

When I heard that he was being referred to as a ‘distance’ jockey, I laughed pretty hard.

When Hugh went to Melbourne it was usually only the New Zealanders with Derby/Oaks aspirations that called on him. And he seldom let them down.

No one who has been watching Bowman for the last decade ever considered him anything but an all-rounder.

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Hugh like many top jockeys, he elicits the confidence of a horse.

I have watched Hugh over many years and noticed that any horses he worked with consistently; in training/barriers trials and races, resulted with the horse developing absolute confidence in him.

As the expression goes ‘they would run through fire for him’. To a non-horse person that is the highest compliment you can pay a horseman.

Watch him ride Criterion in the ATC Derby. Watch Terravista in the Darley and realise that Hugh wanted him to barge through a closing gap. The chestnut responded immediately and in the nick of time to get his shoulders between their rumps. A split second later and he is on his nose.

Yep, he gets my award.

Award – Emerging jockey of the spring
Three contenders here – James McDonald, Damian Lane, Nick Hall and Chad Schofield.

An ’emerging jockey’ needs to fit a rider that shows they have progressed to the next level.

My top level ranking for a jockey is ‘Group 1 international level’ meaning that they can be engaged to ride anywhere, on anything, in any race and you won’t have to lose any sleep about the outcome.

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For me Nick Hall gets the nod.

Hall provided many bullet-proof rides in group races during the carnival, certainly reminding me of his father, Greg Hall, one of the best money-riders to sit in pigskin (metaphorically speaking).

Nick has promised to take the last step for some time, but this spring he showed me he had what it takes. He has all the prerequisites of skill, horsemanship, tactics and brains. I’m sure Hong Kong will be looking seriously at Nick if he wants to go.

James McDonald had an outstanding spring, and youngsters Lane and Schofield continue to improve.

Award – Horse of the spring
Tough one too. A lot of one-hitters this year and so with a huge amount of trepidation I’ll give it to Terravista.

The Joe Pride-trained galloper took on the world’s best at level weights and beat them fair-and-square. I’ve already replayed the race plenty of times for the enjoyment of it, and it isn’t a week old.

Brain-dead, stupid media whinge of the spring
Very tough call this one.

The two nominations are …

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“Our stayers just aren’t good enough…”

Hard to listen to because unless no-one has been listening or watching or thinking than other than Japan, no country’s stayers are good enough to compete with Western-Europe, except for the odd-horse that emerges from time to time. Not us (Australasia), not North-America, not Hong Kong, not Singapore, not Eastern-Europe, not Turkey, not South-America.

So what’s the point in even discussing it. We are not alone in our staying equine inferiority. For heaven’s sake, let it go.

Can’t we just be happy that we have quality internationally competitive middle-distance/staying horses that would find it hard to finish in the placings in the world’s best staying races but the good ones would make the field.

What they do to us with stayers, we do to them with sprinters.

Or…

“Cap the Melbourne Cup internationals…”

Did anyone bother to ‘play-scratch’ the internationals from the Cup and place the next-in-line of locals in their place? What a very average race it would have been.

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The result would have seen Who Shotthebarman, winning by a length and a half to Signoff, two lengths back to Precedence followed by Araldo and Fawkner.

Seriously gang, the Melbourne Cup would lose its current hard-won prestige in two-years if it served up a couple of years of quality like that.

I think the Australian racing public like the internationals, and now have got accustomed to them, even though they still can’t do the form .

If we went back to a ‘local’ or ‘invitation’ event, the Cup might take a popularity hit for a few years.

Even limiting the internationals to five runners, which of the winning internationals would not have made the Cup in recent years? Which recent results would have changed? Would we have witnessed Red Cadeaux’s courage in four consecutive Cups?

No, the dumber-than-dumber ‘cap’ argument wins the Brain-dead, Stupid Media Whinge Award by panels of fence.

All lastly,

The “Oops, that was a mistake” Award
My nominations are…

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Simon Marshall for his Best-Ride award going to a jockey that was suspended for 20 meetings for the effort. Also, nominated is Michelle Payne for being that jockey.

Hugh Bowman for having fun with Glen Boss but earning the stewards’ ire that cost him the Derby ride on Preferment. They wouldn’t have worried about it in Sydney… maybe.

The people who bagged Ryan Moore on hearsay more then evidence. Why would these people proclaim to the world their… anyway.

The owners decision to remove Criterion from David Payne.

Here is a tip. If you have a trainer with over a hundred Group 1 wins to his credit, who has already trained your horse to within a length of winning the Australian Triple Crown, it’s good idea to listen.

Now the horse finds himself in a foreign environment. Criterion is a special type of horse and still has a little way to go. I have no confidence in the outcome of this ‘stupidity’. It’s a shame, as he had the makings of a very special horse and if Hayes gets the best out of him I’ll be the first to apologise.

Anyway, my Dumb-A award goes to S. Marshall. That was a good one, Simon.

I’ll be more than pleased to hear other Racing-Roarers awards and hope you enjoyed the carnival as much as I did. Bring on the Autumn.

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I plan to drop in a few articles early next week before I head off that may be of interest.