We welcome the new financial year with another likely dry day and wet track at HQ.
On Tuesday I detailed my working of a traditional handicap. Today we will have a look at a set-weight race – the Darley Classic, a 1200-metre run under weight-for-age conditions (WFA).
Weight-for-age conditions means that the competitors are allotted fixed weight designated for their age and gender. This is meant to create a level playing field where the best horse should win.
Also, as on Tuesday, I make a reference to the official handicap rating (OHR), more commonly known as the benchmark rating.
The Darley Classic joins the perennially underrated Black Caviar Lightning Stakes, Newmarket Stakes, The TJ Smith Stakes and The Everest as the top sprint races conducted in 2017, and this year’s Darley is a beauty.
The two current Australasian sprint stars, Chautauqua and Redzel, are top of the heap. Chautauqua is not displaced as Australia’s top sprinter, although Redzel with victory here would do that very thing. Both are in fast form, so expect the sparks to fly. One in front and the other charging from near enough to last.
As on Tuesday, the analysis is ordered in preference.
Chautauqua has slid the scale two points from his TJ Smith Stakes victory last Autumn. Even with his reduced mark, OHR116, he holds the number one rank in this field and equal second rank in the world.
Some suggest he is on the slide, but his finishing 200-metre splits are as good as ever. There is a lot of nonsense ranted about his inability to handle the Flemington straight course. Plain unresearched rubbish. The big grey has traffic problems. He hates to be surrounded by horses. Once he is in clear air, he is nearly unbeatable.
I used the term ‘clear air’ as it is used in Moto GP motorcycle racing, where a rider moves out from the slipstream with nothing in front and very few competitors on either side. There’s nothing to impede the rider’s acceleration away from the nearby traffic. In fact Chautauqua’s only loss in clear air down the straight was a head-bobber to Delectation in the 2015 Darley.
After his performance in The Everest when given no chance to win by being ridden into the pack, he gets an old mate Dwayne Dunn back as jockey. Dwayne knows all about his requirement for clear air, and hopefully Team Hawkes will give Dunn the licence to go find it. It’s 18 months since he raced at Flemington. He’ll enjoy himself.
Redzel from the team of Peter and Paul Snowden is a wonderfully gifted sprinter. He has moved to the very top level this year. His sustained speed is unmatched. Jockey Kieran McEvoy has Redzel’s pace chart down to a nuance knowing exactly when and how to apply pace pressure to the detriment of his opponents. His performance in The Everest was breathtaking and dominant.
This son of flying machines Snitzel and Millrich is one-for-one down the Flemington straight, where he just bettered Terravista over 1000 metres last November. His current OHR115 is over ten points higher than last year. In handicapping parlance, such a quality rise is called jumping the scale.
It’s hard to see Chautauqua and/or Redzel being bettered on the day, but this is horse racing! And it is always good handicapping practice to re-handicap the race if the obvious top picks were scratched and see what emerges.
If the two seeds don’t figure, it will be a very close contest between Vega Magic, Terravista, Redkirk Warrior and the wonderful Newcastle mare In Her Time.
Some may think that Lindsay Park’s Vega Magic should be the auto-pick as he has an OHR115, but on my maths he is yet to prove that high number. He has proven at OHR113. His Everest finishing 600-metre sectional was good but flattering. He needs to be quicker to win this.
Stablemate Redkirk Warrior is undefeated down the Flemington straight course. He is yet to show the speed required to win this. He was the fastest straight-course winner on both days he won at Flemington but the comparison times for other distances were average. Redkirk Warrior’s rating is OHR112 but only down the straight.
The big improver along with Redzel is Newcastle mare In Her Time. Her OHR111 is confirmed. She was very unlucky in the Manikato Stakes (1200 metres) at Moonee Valley. She has been very unlucky in many of her defeats but should appreciate Flemington and barrier 1.
Her speed to compete is good. Her autumn campaign was all over the place, finally finishing with some unlucky performances in the Brisbane winter. On weights-and-measures handicapping her Doomben 10,000 performance should have Impending and Clearly Innocent covered.
Last on the shortlist is ‘the spoiler’, Terravista. People seem to forget that he won the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes (1000m) at Flemington last February running a good time. This is a below standard field compared to recent times, but the horse has good time and eats pressure for breakfast when he wants too. He has done little since that victory, but he is ‘the spoiler’. Corey Brown rode Terravista in that race and now swaps to In Her Time.
So my pick for best of the rest must land with:
3. In Her Time
In Her Time should prove herself more than capable of keeping up. Novocastrians usually do.
A couple of starters that are in the market and receiving a push are Impending and Malaguerra. Both runners are suspect at this speed.
There are two types of quick speed. The first is pressured speed, where the race is run in a manner that fatigues competitors of lesser constitution. The other type is plain speed, the fastest horse between two points. Not much pressure, just a sprint home of a nice speed.
A perfect example of these two speed types was on Everest day. In Her Time won the Sydney Stakes (1200 metres) faster than Redzel won the Everest, but the $10 million race was all pressure and you were watching Group 1 sprinters popping like balloons all the way down the straight. This was best exemplified by Deploy, who had set two track records at his previous starts but just couldn’t cope. He still battled strongly all the way, but he was dished.
Back to the Darley Classic, Impending needs to improve. Even if you give him a full maturity bonus from last spring’s top mark, the Caulfield Guineas, he still ends up on OHR109. I can’t see any way through that mark, and whether he can take the pace-pressure is to be seen.
To be a chance in the Darley a contender requires a minimum proven rating of OHR111.
This brings us to Malaguerra with OHR112. As honest as they come, having won his last four starts at the track with the last two on the straight course. He won this race last year beating the unlucky Spieth, who again is a competitor. It was a messy race where many good horses failed, and the time was poor.
Malaguerra had promising times 18 months ago when trained by Lee and Anthony Freedman. He ran a race record for his new trainer, the talented Peter Gelagotis, winning the Moonee Valley Australian Stakes, but that time isn’t good enough for this. His number is good, but whether he can take this pace pressure is under the microscope.
So my wash-up on this very classy race is for the two sprint stars, Redzel and Chautaugua, to battle it out. In Her Time may upset if she continues her jump up the scale. If the absurd happens and the early speed goes out of the race, who knows what will occur, but I don’t think McEvoy will let that happen.