In the racing game, sometimes the horse makes the jockey, and sometimes the jockey makes the horse. In any given race, one of the two is most likely true, and it’s our job as punters to try and work it all out beforehand, along with the many other factors that go into a race.
Saturday’s Cox Plate was a classic example of a case where jockeys won and lost the race. Six horses started between $3.60 and $9, and 1.6 lengths covered the first seven home. It looked one of the most even Cox Plate’s in a decade, and delivered on that promise.
Romantic Warrior, Mr Brightside and Alligator Blood were the first three horses home, yet you can argue none of them were the best three horses on the day. James McDonald on Romantic Warrior and Tim Clark on Alligator Blood gave their horses 10/10 rides, while Craig Williams on Mr Brightside delivered an 11/10. The rides were good enough for those three to be a length clear of the chasing pack.
Yet, it’s equally plausible to say that Duais (4th), Gold Trip (5th), and Fangirl (7th) all could, or even should, have won the race. Damien Oliver went left instead of right on Duais at a crucial stage in the straight, causing her to be blocked for a run, while Mark Zahra on Gold Trip and Zac Purton on Fangirl both had their horses last on the rail at various stages in the race, and from there never got going early enough or with enough room to move. Zahra and Purton must have never seen a Cox Plate before, if they thought that was going to be a winning position.
Militarize was probably not good enough to win, but he might have finished at least fourth if not for Zac Lloyd making several mistakes in the early stages when the field was fighting for position. Instead, he finished eighth beaten 2.35 lengths, doing his best work when it was all over.
In the Manikato Stakes, it was a different story. Imperatriz would have won if you or I were riding it, saluting as a $1.40 pop should.
In Sydney, the best horse won the two big feature races – Tom Kitten in the Spring Champion, and Espiona in The Invitation.
Tom Kitten was the best horse in all five runs he had this campaign, but only won two of them. Nash Rawiller rode him poorly in the Gloaming, getting much further back than he needed to. Adam Hyeronimus made all the right moves on Saturday, but when he won by almost four lengths any jockey would have been able to do the same.
Espiona has proven herself a tricky conveyance to master over her colourful career. She’s had eight different jockeys in her last 10 starts, but Jye McNeil, Mick Dee, Nash Rawiller and now Kerrin McEvoy have all been able to ride her to victory. She’s lethal at 1400m-1500m these days, and is finally allowing her talent to do the work. Still, she is always wanting to crab up the straight, and takes some skillful riding.
Last week, we saw Mark Zahra deliver an inch-perfect ride on Without A Fight to win the Caulfield Cup. If he makes one mistake, he probably loses the photo to West Wind Blows instead of wins it. With Gold Trip in third, this was a case of the three best horses all getting three brilliant rides.
You never know until after the race whether barrier draws are going to prove all or nothing. In the case of The Everest, Think About It was clearly good enough to win, and Sam Clipperton didn’t put a foot wrong, but the barrier won the race. Both horse and jockey just had to let the race unfold and not do anything wrong, which is exactly what happened. I Wish I Win had to navigate barrier one, and Private Eye was posted wide – three quarters of a length separated them at the end, and if you swapped the three barriers around, you possibly swap the result.
Moonee Valley can be the toughest metropolitan track in the country to bet on, with its tight bends, unique contours and short straight causing a great deal of bad luck and heartbreaking losses. Rosehill and Caulfield are fair enough but tend to favour on-speed runners, and it’s best to find horses that can sit in the first four, and leading is often in your favour.
On the verge of the Melbourne Cup carnival, Flemington is of course the fairest track in the country. It drains beautifully, races true, and the long straight means jockeys have plenty of time to make the right (or wrong!) decisions, and the best horses have a chance to accelerate in a straight line for longer.