Track bias on the biggest carnival days is always a delicate subject. Often, it’s a taboo one.
The broadcasters and media types that cover the sport refuse to acknowledge its presence, for fear that it will detract from the positive stories of the day. Criticism is not part of the job description in spring time.
Unfortunately for racing fans, a lightning rail track bias was a blight on Caulfield Cup day this year, just as it was on Cox Plate day and Derby day two years ago. Admittedly, Caulfield on Saturday wasn’t as bad as it was on those 2015 days, which were the most horrific biases we’ve seen this century.
On Saturday at Caulfield, horses sitting first and second in the run ran the quinella four times. Another two leaders ran second, and you can basically make that three, as Single Gaze in the Caulfield Cup was the de facto leader given Sir Isaac Newton was off in his own race going so hard out in front.
Ulmann won the Moonga Stakes from Burning Front in a close finish after both had spent their running time hard up against the rail. Echo Effect was third there after Damien Oliver took off around the field early in the race, knowing his horse needed to be up the front to be any chance.
The Tristarc Stakes quinella, Global Glamour and Cool Passion, were second and third in the run. Petition was second last on the rail at the 300m, and rocketed home in the fast lane like she was on a travellator.
When such bias is in play, the patient punter is rewarded most of all. Most will have an idea of who they are going to back going into a Saturday meeting, but the canny observer changes his strategies to allow for what is taking place.
Even horses like Boom Time and Single Gaze were probably over their true odds by the time the Caulfield Cup came around, given they were always going to settle in the prime spots.
The Cup trifecta, adding in favourite Johannes Vermeer for third, spend their entire races within two horses of the rail. Kathy O’Hara only had one ride for the day, but must have asked herself why she ever left the rail on Single Gaze at the 800m, which eventually allowed the winner to slip through on her inside.
Such a prominent bias creates dangerous working conditions for the riders, who all want to claim the same pieces of real estate, but there isn’t enough to go around.
It’s no coincidence that this was the roughest Caulfield Cup for a number of years, with four suspensions coming from it. Another three jockeys were suspended for careless riding throughout the day.
Similar to those Cox Plate and Derby meetings from 2015, it should be easy to identify coming winners based on horses that produced great efforts against the pattern of the day.
Marmelo in the Caulfield Cup was an obvious one with an outstanding performance down the middle, and has been installed as Melbourne Cup favourite accordingly. He ran the quickest 400m-200m and 200m-finish splits of the race, showing the stamina that will be required for 3200m at Flemington.
Shillelagh was arguably the run of the day in the Tristarc, to get as close as she did after coming from near last at the turn hooking around the field as the widest runner. She’ll be something to beat at Flemington in the Myer Classic, or they might even back up in the mares Group 2 at Moonee Valley this week.
Another horse to keep an eye on in Cup week is Shillelagh’s stablemate All Our Roads. He gave all runners weight in the Moonga, yet caught the eye out wide in the worst part of the track. A Group 2 winner earlier this year in New Zealand, Chris Waller is sure to have picked out a nice race for him during the Flemington carnival.
The spring carnival goes by with a rush at this time of year, and there are only three big Group 1 weekends left. Hopefully, the tracks play fairer than they did on Saturday.