The new racing season is under away with some underwhelming Group 2 weight for age races headlining meetings in Sydney and Melbourne.
In last Saturday’s Missile Stakes (1200m, Group 2, Weight for Age), a lacklustre field of eight turned out for Sydney’s first Group race of the season. The headline talent was strong but the race fell away quickly.
This weekend, Caulfield plays host to the PB Lawrence (1400m) and judging by the nominations, it too will be a substandard Group 2 weight for age contest.
In Australia, where we devalue Group 1 racing by running more than 70 top-level races, there is a flow-on effect that sees too many races run at weight for age.
Weight for age Group racing brings the best horses together by using a time-honoured pound-for-pound system and, accordingly, it should be reserved for the best horses in the country.
At a time where the number of top horses trained in Australia is limited due to early retirements to stud and the breeding of less middle-distance gallopers, there should not be weight for age racing so early in the season. The Warwick Stakes (1400m, Group 2), should be the first weight for age race of the Australian season. It is run in the second half of August and always produces a field worthy of its status.
As for races like the PB Lawrence and the Missile, well they should be run at set weights and penalties conditions.
There are only 25 horses who are weight for age class in Australia and among them there are few who would be able to win weight for age races on the global stage.
To be considered for the 25 a horse must be: trained in Australia, active (not retired), had at least one start in Australia, and be able to consistently compete with any horse in Australia at weight for age within their distance range this season. Horses trained in New Zealand who are expected to do most of their racing in Australia are also eligible for consideration.
The most consistent Group 1 sprinter in the land, he got his just desserts when producing an enormous finishing spurt to win the best sprint in the land, the TJ Smith (1200m, Group 1, Weight for Age) in the autumn. One the best horses in Australia.
Won two Group 1 weight for age races last season. His ability to quicken off a fast speed makes him extremely hard to beat when on top of his game.
Graduated to weight for age last autumn with a soft victory in the William Reid Stakes (1200m, Group 1, weight-for-age). The William Reid is one of at least 25 Group 1 races not deserving of the title. Lucky Hussler scrapes into this list and he will need to win at weight for age in the spring to justify his spot.
Nicknamed ‘WBS’ by trainer Joe Pride, Terravista’s victory against Chautauqua and Lankan Rupee in last spring’s Darley Sprint Classic (1200m, Group 1, weight for age) led many to believe he was the world’s best sprinter. He didn’t win in the autumn, but always acquitted himself well against the best sprinters we have.
Beat the best mares in Australia at The Championships and at weight for age. That all-the-way victory means I regard her as a weight for age horse, but she will need to produce similar performances this spring to maintain the standing.
A four-time Group 1 winner, twice at weight for age, while he was disappointing all too often last season, Boban still showed in the Brisbane winter that he is weight for age quality by winning the Doomben 10000 (1350m, Group 1, Weight for Age).
Late-blooming seven-year-old Burbero has matured into a weight for age horse. He was an impressive winner of Saturday’s Missile Stakes but he earned his billing with a strong sixth in March’s George Ryder (1500m, Group 1, Weight for Age). The eligible horses that beat him that day are also in the 25.
A modern-day Emancipation, the grey mare is probably the most popular racehorse in the Harbour City and while she is yet to claim a Group 1, she has run a place in four Group 1 weight for age races.
The runaway Doncaster (1600m, Group 1, handicap) winner had a fantastic autumn. He was a super third in the George Ryder on route to his Championships success. He will be a big player in this spring’s Cox Plate (2040m, Group 1, weight for age).
In seven weight for age starts last season, Royal Descent amassed three seconds, a third and a fourth. She doesn’t win very often but she is weight for age class.
The improving mare has emerged as a weight for age galloper this year. She was fantastic when spoiling Dissident’s party in the Futurity (1400m, Group 1, weight for age) and followed it up with a strong victory in the Blamey (1600m, Group 2, set weights and penalties).
When Weary brings his best form he runs very well at weight for age. In the last 16 months he’s accumulated five weight for age placings. That alone sneaks him into the category.
Has been off the scene for two years but when he last raced, as a three-year-old, he was one of the most exciting prospects in the country. His strong victory over Criterion in the 2013 Spring Champion (2000m, Group 1, three-year-olds, set weights) reads very well today. Peter Snowden, who used to train this Godolphin galloper, had a huge opinion of him. Complacent will win a Group 1 this spring.
Is Contributer the best weight for age performer in Australia? He dominated the autumn with wins in the Apollo (1400m, Group 1, weight for age), Chipping Norton (1600m, Group 1, weight for age) and Ranvet (2000m, Group 1, weight for age). He is all class and unbeaten in three weight for age races.
The globe-trotting Criterion is clearly a weight for age horse. He walked in against a strong (by what we have come to expect of our top 2000m races) Queen Elizabeth (Group 1, weight for age) field in the autumn. He has placed twice at International Group 1 level in Hong Kong in the last nine months. He tackles the Juddmonte International – the highest-ranked race by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities – in a matter of days.
Had a fantastic 2014 spring where he went from a good horse to perhaps our best middle-distance horse. He won the Caulfield Stakes (2000m, Group 1, weight for age) by beating Criterion and was a narrow second in the biggest weight for age race of them all, the Cox Plate (2040m, Group 1).
Won the Mackinnon (2000m, Group 1, weight for age) last year and was a good third in a fair Australian Cup (2000m, Group 1, weight for age) in March. There is such a thing as a Group 2 weight for age horse and the ageing Happy Trails is it. He won’t win the Cox Plate (but he did run second in one!) or a Queen Elizabeth but, he is good enough to beat the second stringers this season.
The import had a fantastic end to the racing year. He came via an unusual route to land Doncaster favouritism but the mile was too short for him that day. When he lobbed in a weight for age race, the Doomben Cup (2020m, Group 1), he bolted in. Gai Waterhouse thinks he can win the Cox Plate.
Continues to improve since coming to Australia two years ago. He won the Australian Cup by a nose (after looking like he’d do it easily) and then wasn’t disgraced in the Queen Elizabeth. Too slow for a mile but tested at 2000m, he will frustrate more than he impresses but he is weight for age quality.
The Rosehill Guineas (2000m, Group 1, three-year-olds, set weights) winner, Volkstok’n’barrell, is a top New Zealand horse who will prove his wares at weight for age this spring. Is he good enough to win a major? Potentially. He’ll impress in some big races in the coming months.
Mile and a half
Won the BMW (2400m, Group 1, weight for age) with authority. Godolphin hope he can win their first Melbourne Cup (3200m, Group 1, handicap). That’s doubtful but Hartnell’s ability is not.
Split Mongolian Khan and Volkstok’n’barrell in the Australian Derby. Obviously I rate that race highly, with all three place-getters making this list. I’m expecting big things from Hauraki’s four-year-old year, including a maiden Group 1 victory.
The reigning Australian (2400m, Group 1, three-year-olds, set weights) and New Zealand (2400m, Group 1, three-year-olds, set weights) Derby winner is a fantastic stayer, with huge spring aims and an even bigger will to win. He may not be tested at weight for age at his favourite 2400m journey until next year’s BMW, but I’m confident he’s a weight for age horse.
Pride of Dubai
As a two-year-old Pride of Dubai possessed an amazing will to win that you do not often see in horses of that age. He plain and simply had no right to win the Blue Diamond (1200m, Group 1, two-year-olds, set weights) after getting poleaxed at a crucial stage. To follow that up with victory in the ATC Sires Produce (1400m, Group 1, two-year-olds, set weights) after travelling wide throughout means that Pride of Dubai is a special horse. He will make the weight for age grade.
The unbeaten Golden Slipper (1200m, Group 1, two-year-olds, set weights) winner ranks in the top-five juveniles I have ever seen. On that basis, he will measure up to weight for age level.