Everyone loves a winner, especially newcomers like the owners of Sweet It is, purchased for a large figure at the end of March and transferred to the McDonald kennels. It put in a fine run to win the Sandown Cup last week and the $150k prize comfortably put the connections on the right side of the ledger.
But was it “gobsmacking” or did it give you “goosebumps” as reported by GRV? Or was that a bit over the top? The latter is the correct answer.
There are a number of points of note about that night at Sandown.
First, there were two 715m races that night. The earlier one (the Cup Night Stayers race) contained a far better performed field than in the Cup itself. So why didn’t they make it into the final? Three reasons; the luck of racing; second, most had had too much long distance racing in a short period; third, many were not genuine stayers but converted middle distance racers. Most ran just as poorly in the Cup Night Stayers as they did in the Cup heats the previous week. Xylia Allen was the exception, winning in a smart but not brilliant 41.75. Still, that was much quicker than the 42.04 Sweet It Is ran in the Cup final.
But how do you pick Xylia Allen? She has now won just two of seven starts over 700m-plus. Given her overall experience she still has to be classified as a converted middle distance racer. Much like Irma Bale and others.
On the other hand, Sweet It Is is a genuine staying type, never failing to finish on hard at the end. She has also improved by about three lengths since moving to the new kennel – whether by good luck or good management is yet to be proven.
Sweet It Is also goes much better at Sandown than at The Meadows (by three to five lengths, depending on how you measure her increasing maturity). Overall, she has averaged 42.28 at Sandown, but 42.18 since coming under new management. Her Meadows performances averaged only the equivalent of 42.55 in Sandown times. Arguably, The Meadows is more suited to front runners while backmarkers find it more difficult to get around the tighter track.
Even so, Sweet It Is’ starting price of $1.70 in the Cup was pretty skinny for a bitch that wins only one out of three races and has to negotiate all the traffic on the way to the post. Those who lost when she ran only second in the heat (at $1.80) would barely have got their money back in the final. The big thing in her favour was that she had no startling opposition to beat in the final. All she had to do was to stay on her feet and avoid hitting other dogs – and so she did.
It all brings to mind something I wrote back in November 2013 after Victorian stewards hauled in the connections of Sweet It Is after a solid win at 50/1. “Unfortunately, our stewards still don’t seem to realise these facts (her previous form). They called in the trainer of Sweet It Is and demanded to know why it had shown improved form after winning at 50/1. They were wrong. It had not done that at all, not really; it simply produced one of it better runs, while the others messed around.”
This is an honest, consistent bitch, but she is no champion. She will continue to win or lose races, depending on interference and the quality of the opposition. What more can you ask?
Yet Xylia Allen is an enigma. She has lost many shorter races she could have won purely because of erratic starts. Ironically, against long distance dogs, she will more often come out in front, yet half the time you cannot be sure if she will get the trip.
In either case, make sure you get a decent price about both of these. Odds-on, look on.
My hope is that authorities (and trainers) will take a good hard look at all the circumstances of the last couple of week’s staying races. They offer a huge amount of evidence of what I consider the messy nature of the staying caper these days. Performances and results are far too erratic to justify good punting.
Consequently, reasons should be found to explain what is happening and corrective action taken to improve what should be one of the real highlights of racing. Track designs are influential, of course, as one or two bumps do no good to a dog with a long trip ahead of it. So is racing frequency, where short back-ups seem to be more and more common these days (over any distance). And I doubt anyone could find a sire now with any sort of decent experience over the long trips.
My own theory is that trainers and race programmers are grossly overestimating the ability of dogs to recover from hard trips. They might look alright but inside there are not enough juices to allow them to perform at their best. The odd exception is enough to prove the rule.
Horses don’t do it. Nor do humans cope very well – consider all the problems footballers have when faced with four or five day back-ups.
Generally, what we do know is that current remedies (for the lack of stayers) have proven to be of no value at all. Paying bonus prize money to bad dogs will never make them go faster and further. Why not try mother nature instead? That would take a while but it does offer a hope of success.
What have we got to lose?