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Despite the hullabaloo about the quality of the BMW Caulfield Cup field, I think the winner, Southern Speed, is an exceptional mare, and one who is continuing the incredible modern dominance of fillies and mares in world racing.
On the back of the female trifecta in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, Southern Speed became the 11th four-year-old mare to win Australia’s premier 2400m handicap from a quality list of 20 mares and one 3YO filly who have won the famous race in its 134-year history. She also is the first since Let’s Elope (1991) not to win an Oaks as a three-year-old—although she finished third behind Lights Of Heaven and Absolutely in a strong edition of the 2011 Group 1 Schweppes Oaks (2000m, Morphettville).
And despite all the cries of despair about whether the Australian breeding industry can produce quality stayers, Southern Speed (b or br m 2007, Southern Image (USA)-Golden Eagle (NZ), by Zabeel (NZ)) is Australian bred, as are recent Melbourne Cup winners Viewed and Shocking, and recent Caulfield Cup winners Viewed, Railings, Elvstroem, Mummify, Northerly and Diatribe.
After watching the replay over and over again, I came to the conclusion that Southern Speed, thanks to a good barrier and a clever behind-the-pace ride from Craig Williams, won as easily as any recent Caulfield Cup winner. It was a soft win.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. On reflection, Southern Speed ticked a lot of boxes—light weight, good barrier, good jockey, good trainer and the right, solid weight-for-age form leading into the race. Her second behind Lion Tamer in the Group 1 Underwood Stakes (WFA, 1800m, Caulfield) on September 17 was a bottler, as was her fourth behind December Draw in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (SWP, 2000m) at Flemington on October 2.
The query was her ability to run a strong 2400 metres—before the Caulfield Cup she hadn’t won beyond 1400 metres—although she is from a mare by the great staying influence, Zabeel, and she looks every bit “a Zabeel” with her size, length, rein and long, loping stride.
The Zabeel influence should never be underestimated—the great stallion can inject stamina into the fastest of pedigrees. Southern Speed’s granddam, the Australian-bred Rising Eagle is a sister to Golden Slipper winner Ha Ha (by Danehill from Very Droll, by Crown Jester from a half-sister to Rory’s Jester). Southern Speed’s female bottom line is Golden Slipper royalty through and through—Danehill, Crown Jester, Rory’s Jester, Baguette, Star Kingdom and Vain’s sire Wilkes.
History may not be kind to the overall depth of the 2011 Caulfield Cup, but in the next 12 months Southern Speed could well prove that we have underrated her.
Photo: Southern Speed (Craig Williams) winning Saturday’s Group 1 BMW Caulfield Cup. (Sean Garnsworthy, Slattery Media Group).
They won’t beat him
Journalist and raconteur, the late Peter “Skinny” Bye, who went by the moniker of the “biggest man of trotting”, had the unnerving habit of giving the answer and leaving the rest of us at The Sporting Globe to ponder the question.
“They won’t take six,” he declared one morning, thumping the desk as he strode by – we were left to scratching out heads; who won’t take six, and what was the six?
It took a week to find the question – “the who” was the men of the loading dock at the Herald & Weekly Times, and “the what” was the bundles of newspapers. It seems that the workers were threatening a strike if they had to lift more than five stacks of newspapers.
Here’s my Peter Bye impersonation from yesterday’s Flemington meeting: “They won’t beat him.” Thump.
I suspect that’s not too confusing an answer without question to anyone who saw December Draw win the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m), nudging out Glass Harmonium in a thrilling finish.
I don’t see how December Draw can be beaten in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m, Caulfield) in two weeks. Others seem to have a fear about him running 2400 metres, but that’s the least of my concerns, he’ll run it on his ear.
It’s the first time I have had a chance to have a good look at December Draw, and I was surprised – there’s nothing of him. In defiance of speed-oriented pedigree (b g 2006, Medecis (GB)-New York (IRE), by Danzero), he’s built like a stayer – narrow and lean – just as an Ethiopian distance runner is shaped compared to the powerhouse sprinter Usain Bolt.
December Draw produced a terrific performance to win the Turnbull. He worked from the gate, and then took cover while Glass Harmonium bowled along at a good tempo. Jockey Michael Rodd said he made his run in the straight too early, and then corrected himself, which cost December Draw momentum. In the end it was courage and class that saw the imported gelding get up on the line.
“That run will top him off nicely, bring him to his peak,” trainer Mark Kavanagh said – Kavanagh also admonished Rodd for his impatience.
December Draw goes into the Caulfield Cup at his fifth run, winning three consecutive times over 2000 metres, building from a handicap to Group 3 (Naturalism Stakes) to Group 1. It’s a brilliant progression through the classes, and he drops nicely to 52kg (expected to rise 2kg at acceptance time) under the handicap conditions of the Caulfield Cup. If he’s not ready to run a strong 2400 metres, no horse will be.
December Draw reminds me in style and ability of a very good horse, Suleiman, who emerged in the spring to start a short-priced favourite (6/4) in the Caulfield Cup in 1979, only to finish third to Mighty Kingdom after a luckless run – only bad luck will beat December Draw.
Glass Harmonium’s prancing pre-race antics are a joy to watch, but they worry me when it comes to him settling well enough to win a Caulfield Cup. However, trainer Mike Moroney might consider that a tough run in the Caulfield Cup could be just what is needed to take the edge of the big grey for a Cox Plate (2040m, Moonee Valley) assignment seven days later. That’s the way I’d be going.
The solid performances of Playing God (third) and Southern Speed (fourth) franked Lion Tamer’s winning form from the Group 1 Underwood Stakes at Caulfield. Both are heading to the Caulfield Cup with some claims of being in the money. Lion Tamer looks poised to win Saturday’s Group 1 Yalumba Stakes (2000m, Caulfield) as his final lead-up to the Cox Plate.
Rekindled Interest (fifth) looked a bit wintery in the coat in the parade and he raced as though he needed the run, looming wide out at the 200 metres, only to peak on his run. On face value, it was a good effort to get close to the first two, coming from near last at the 500m. Trainer Jim Conlan has three weeks to prime the gelding for the Cox Plate. I expect him to be a more formidable opponent on his favourite surface at Moonee Valley, but I worry that these conservative riding tactics will see him unable to get close to horses like Lion Tamer and Jimmy Choux, who will race close to the speed.
Absolutely (sixth) ran a nice Caulfield Cup trial. Trainer Mick Kent said Caulfield is the AJC Oaks winner’s mission as he doubts she is seasoned enough to progress to a Melbourne Cup this spring.
It was good to see Shamrocker (seventh) run back into form after a shocker in the Underwood. She looked under pressure at the 400m, but she got going late between horses. The mare presented a picture in the parade.
Precedence (10th) ran well enough for a handicapper. He’s ready for the Bart Cummings polish, while Linton (12th) raced as though he has issues by pulling and hanging.
The final word goes to the grand old grey, Efficient, who got home late between horses for eighth in his first run for two years. Oh, if only Lloyd Williams and his team can keep him sound. Maybe the Group 2 Zipping Classic (2400m, Sandown) is his race.
Photo: Mark Kavanagh, trainer of December Draw. Picture Lachlan Cunningam, Slattery Media Group
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s possible jockey Seamie Heffernan might regret going back on So You Think in the Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2400m, Longchamp) last night.
So You Think sat near last on a fast pace – set by his stablemates – but at no stage did he get into the race to look a winning chance. He got home late for fourth behind the brilliant German filly Danedream, who smashed the Arc race record (her time was 2 min 24.29 secs) in winning by five lengths.
So good was Danedream that the best So You Think could have hoped for was second, and, maybe, with a clearer run that’s probably where he deserved to finish.
Would he have won the Arc by going forward from his wide draw? I don’t know, and despite the rumblings of the couch tacticians on Twitter, nobody really knows.
I can understand why trainer Aidan O’Brien and Heffernan went back at the start. The Arc has a history of being run at a cracking pace and they didn’t want to “cook” So You Think and leave nothing for the finish. The way the race was run, I reckon O’Brien and his jockey would have been pleased with their decision at the half-way mark.
However, the European training style probably cost So You Think at the end. He just didn’t have the ping, the acceleration that we were accustomed to seeing when he raced in Australia. It was a grinding effort – he kept coming as he was entitled to do after such a cosy run – but showed none of the turn-of-foot that he displayed winning last year’s Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley.
What disappointed me about the performance was the fact that So You Think travelled sweetly at the back of the field, and then made ground at the 600m to tack on to the back of Snow Fairy (third), the mare he held out at Leopardstown at his previous start. So You Think is a better horse than Snow Fairy on any day, but not at Longchamp.
The pair came on through the field together and Snow Fairy still had a distinct three quarters of a length advantage on So You Think at the finish. All the big horse could gain on the mare in the final 600 metres was about a half length.
Yes hindsight is a wonderful thing. The Arc was to be So You Think’s grand final, and perhaps it was the race to be daring and brave, to leave nothing to chance, not do die wondering what could have been.
Unfortunately, that’s not the nature of the protectionists at Coolmore and Ballydoyle, where reputations must be maintained and not put at risk even for an important, historical race like the Arc. It’s safety first for the stallions of the future and the value of their important service fees.
O’Brien said after the race that the Breeders’ Cup (2000m, Churchill Downs) on dirt was a possibility for So You Think. “He’s a big cruiser and I think he would handle the dirt no problem,” he said.
It’s a pity we didn’t see the free-running horse strut his stuff at Longchamp, but let’s hope O’Brien and senior owner John Magnier let him rip at Churchill Downs.