There used to be a time long ago when horses failing, or even doing well, in the Melbourne Cup were never much good any more. The tough 3200m was too much, especially for the majority which had no experience over the trip. Those days are no more, with trainers and jockeys obviously better attuned to their horses’ capabilities and the sort of preparation they need. Yet still, many are struggling by the time they hit the home straight, and some break down.
Even so, the tragic aftermath of this year’s Cup will have shocked everybody. We don’t know the reason for Admire Rakti’s demise and it may have to be put down to one of those unpredictable events which could happen to any athlete – horse, greyhound or human. Nevertheless, it is a sober reminder that all have physical limits which can be approached or exceeded only at the runner’s peril.
The symptom is even more obvious in a greyhound where the chasing gene is sometimes too strong for its own constitution and it continues on past its apparent deadline, drawing on reserves which were not meant to be used up that way.
One spectacular incident occurred at Albion Park in the 2002 National Distance Championship when Boomeroo, well-conditioned and not over-raced, broke the track record (41.61) but then had to be put on a drip for days after the win, hovering between life and death. It was never the same again.
Not quite so dramatic are the repeated examples of stayers fading when backing up within seven days of a gutbuster. None has been clearer than in the career of our greatest ever stake winner, Xylia Allen, which continually faded the second time up over the long trips yet has been asked again and again to repeat the effort.
In April it broke the Wentworth Park record then faded a week later in the final.
In May it broke the Traralgon record then faded at Sandown a week later.
In June at Albion Park it ran 41.55, 41.71 and 42.07 in successive weeks.
In July at Sandown it ran 41.70 then 41.90 a week later.
In September at Wentworth Park it ran 41.76 then 42.11 the next week.
Following that heavy program, it failed miserably over 515m at Sandown on October 9, then ran a poor 6th in 34.94 over 600m on October 25 at The Meadows, where it hold the track record. Each time it was a hot favourite but looked like it wanted to be somewhere else, rather than chasing the elusive $1 million prize money target. Despite all the evidence, stewards asked no questions and demanded no veterinary checks.
A natural stayer like Sweet It Is might be able to get away with this, perhaps because it takes its time for the first half of the race and only after that does it put its paw on the pedal. Xylia Allen is a leader, probably best suited to middle distance racing, but still goes flat out for the entire trip. Sometimes, that’s too much.
All this can’t be doing the dogs much good but it is just as bad for punters who can have little idea of how some of these dogs will perform when backing up. That contravenes every principle of racing as we know it. It’s time to change the rules.
A DEAD SHOT
Since readers wanted to hear my thoughts before the race, not after (I offered both for the TOPGUN), here is how the SHOOTOUT might be run.
Thursday’s race at Sandown, in sharp contrast to the TOPGUN, boasts four inform racers but no really flash beginners. All three have recently run around 29.40 or the equivalent. At different times three of them have run a fraction faster, while Iva Vision has had just the one run at the track.
I love Allen Deed and he may be marginally the best dog in the race. But he will need luck to win this. He will be no better than 3rd early and will have to run around them. Not impossible but difficult. Its current odds-on price is ridiculous.
Iva Vision will not be far behind early and is suitably boxed. Again, it too has to run around the others to win. If Awesome Project jumps it is hard to see how it can run it down.
Awesome Project is a bit up and down at the jump but at its best should be able to sneak to the front.
Oakvale Destiny will have to rely on collisions to get through. It’s honest and finishes well but may be a notch below in class.
In top class races like this one, it’s rare to see leaders run down. The odds are with Awesome Project.
So there you go. The jump will tell.
TRUTH BEATS FICTION
But what was the scribe at GRV on about when he wrote “only greyhounds of the highest order” do this – that is, winning by 14 lengths? He likened the dog to “former greats Miata, El Grand Senor and Brett Lee (which) spring to mind as greyhounds capable of such dominance at this level, but they are few and far between”.
My Bro Fabio’s 34.29 was five lengths outside Xylia Allen’s record, mostly because it began last but fluked a rails run to lead at the judge the first time. It then scooted away while the second dog busted a hock and the remainder pushed, shoved and scrambled around, losing ground all the way. Every dog in the race is capable of 34.20 to 34.60 but the actual second placegetter ran 35.20, a time usually bettered by Maidens and Novices.
The record book will show My Bro Fabio’s running numbers as 1111. In reality, it was 8111. And the 14 length margin was rubbish and should be ignored, together with the form of the remaining six runners.
Anyway, when will someone grasp the nettle and construct a decent start for 600m races? This one is a disgrace.