I felt like driving to out near Boonah to the Moggerah Dam spillway (pictured) - and jumping - after the racehorse Spillway got beaten at Caulfield last Saturday afternoon. But I resisted the temptation, as too many people would have been happy if I had.
Like many people in racing I watch numerous replays, but only from Saturday city meetings. Put simply, I don’t get time to watch midweek racing live and it doesn’t interest me anyway. Who cares what wins the Maiden at Ipswich on Wednesday or the four Maidens or two Rating 58 races that were run at Echuca yesterday. I have no idea why anyone would even have a bet in such races, but to each their own. I guess it’s their money, so they can do as they please with it. If any winner of those provincial or country races is any good it will eventually get to race in Saturday city company anyway, so I get to assess it then. So often in life in racing everyone gets carried away with a horse that wins a midweek race by half a furlong and runs fast overall time, but so often when that horse hits Saturday city class it struggles and invariably gets rolled at a short price after everyone except the local grave digger has talked it up.
That said - one could reasonably assume that the standard of jockey who is riding at Saturday city meetings would far outweigh the ability of some of the jockeys flogging a slow one around in a Maiden at Echuca. And that would be right, as each of B Knobel, J Keating, J Anstice, B Higgins, N Souquet and R Wheeler rode at Echuca yesterday, either in the exciting Maidens or the riveting Benchmark 58’s, but it’s highly likely that between them they’ll struggle to get one solitary ride in Melbourne Friday night or Sunday. That doesn’t mean they can’t ride a horse, but it’s just the perception of owners and trainers that Oliver is better than Knobel and co, albeit I have to shake my head at some of the rides by these “champion jockeys”.
Damian Oliver’s ride on Spillway last Saturday at Caulfield has been written up and spoken of everywhere as a tale of woe. The poor bugger just couldn’t get a run at all at any point in the home straight until the race was all over, so in essence the race was a non-event from Spillway’s perspective. It’s totally apparent to anyone watching the race that Oliver did all he could to get a run on his horse in the home straight and on the balance of probability if he gets a run when he went searching for one on straightening - he wins.
In fact it’s fair to say that Oliver’s ride on Spillway was pretty much a mirror image of that of Dwayne Dunn a few weeks earlier on Wrotham Heath. Dunn was publicly and I believe wrongly criticised by the horse’s part owner on racing television on Sunday 24 August after he’d failed to get a run on the horse the previous afternoon at Moonee Valley. What for? The bloke was going for the lick of his life and a run never eventuated. That happens in racing. Anyone who doesn’t understand that simple fact shouldn’t part-own a racehorse and/or have a bet. When a jockey can’t get a run on a horse, you can jump up and down like a school kid that someone has stolen a sandwich from, or you can just accept what has transpired and be patient and wait until next time. In Dunn’s case “they” left him on the horse at his next start and after a perfect ride he won. The horse is obviously limited, but Dunn was able to get him home 14 days later at the same track on 6 September.
But whilst Oliver’s luckless ride in the home straight on Spillway at Caulfield has been openly discussed all over the place, it was from my observations, a totally botched ride right from the start. Watch the replay and the horse is tardy out of the barrier as racecaller Greg Miles correctly points out, but instead of Oliver simply remaining cooler than the other side of the pillow, he starts fighting the horse to the point where the horse can be seen over-racing badly, in on the fence, clearly in a claustrophobic situation, with no room to move. So now we have the short priced favourite pulling his head off whilst the “champion jockey” has no chance of getting the Caulfield Cup aspirant to come back underneath him. In fact Spillway continues to pull his head off, as per the video, to the 900-metre mark meaning the horse has overraced for 1100 metres and the jockey was totally useless to the cause of trying to get his horse to settle. After pulling badly for 1100 metres, Spillway was entitled to have therefore run his race.
Prior to the race, any person who knows anything about thoroughbred racing would have been able to conclude that Spillway was a class above that woeful field. All “champion jockey” Oliver had to do was exactly what he’d done seven days earlier, namely settle the horse straight out the back after he’d missed the kick. He could have them come to the outside like he did in the Makybe Diva Stakes seven days earlier and let the horse fly to the line - straight over the top of the rubbish that was to his inside.
Stewards hauled Oliver into their room seven days earlier, after Spillway got within 1.75 lengths of the winner Dissident in the Makybe Diva Stakes and they asked him about his lack of whip use on Spillway over the concluding stages. In the relevant stewards report of the 13 September Makybe Diva Stakes, it was stated: “Damien Oliver was questioned regarding the level of vigour displayed in his riding (of Spillway) in the (home) straight and he explained that the horse was racing at its top and for that reason he continued to ride the horse hands and heels as he felt any further use of the whip was unnecessary in these circumstances. In assessing Damien Oliver’s explanation, the Stewards noted that Spillway ran home his last 200 metres quicker than any other horse in a time of 11.41 seconds. Damien Oliver’s evidence was recorded for future evidence”.
Last Saturday was the third time that Oliver has ridden Spillway. In fact no other jockey has been on the horse since he resumed from 16 weeks off at Caulfield on 16/8/14. He got beaten by a short half head that day. Then as stated in the previous paragraph, the stewards queried his ride 28 days later at Flemington in the Makybe Diva Stakes, before last Saturday’s ride to the 900, until the horse settled, was about as awe-inspiring as watching a four-kilo kid having their first ride in the bush on some wayward scrubber in a capacity field from the outside barrier.
But hopefully all is not lost. Two things blatantly apparent now to anyone that uses the set of eyes that God gave them. Firstly if Spillway misses the start, under no circumstances panic, just snag him straight out the back and let him do what he wants to do, in clear galloping room, so he’s not racing with numbers of other horses to his outside - and secondly when he wants to finish his race off bring him to the extreme outside.
Had Oliver invoked even the first strategy last Saturday it is my considered opinion that Spillway would have won. Why is that? Well a horse called Albonetti, which is eligible for a Class 4 at Marble Bar, was snagged to last on settling, just like Oliver could have done when Spillway was a bit slow away, yet Albonetti is so limited that she’d won just one of her previous nine starts. Included in those “nine starts” was a third at Penola in an $8,000 total prizemoney race, an eleventh at Hamilton in Victoria in a $30,000 total prizemoney race, a second at Murray Bridge in an $11,000 total prizemoney race and an 8.6 lengths thrashing at Sandown by such stars of the turf as Angola (meow) and Pentometer (“e-orr, e-orr). In fact Albonetti is so ordinary that she’d even been trounced by over 3.5 lengths at her previous start in the Balaklava Cup by about the greatest tease of a racehorse in Australian thoroughbred racing post World War 2 history – Longshoreman - and another hardly household name, Justify That. Would anyone want to back Longshoreman or Justify That to win a Group race in the Melbourne Spring Carnival? No - me neither.
Yet Albonetti after sitting out the back last Saturday, like Oliver should have on Spillway, after being brought to the extreme outside for one run at her opposition, showed how pathetic the field was by charging home at 60/1 and getting beaten officially less than 1.25 lengths, meaning she could finish 2.25 lengths closer to the winner in Gris Caro’s Naturalism Stakes than she could in the Balaklava Cup. Wow. And if you walked up the main street of any city or town in Australia and asked the first 10 people you ran into “For a free set of steak knives, what State or country is a town called Balaklava in”, some would give you a dumb look before answering “I don’t really know, but I’ll have a guess, Kazakhstan” and others would say “Pass. Have you got an easier question as I could use the steak knives”, or “I’m a vegetarian so what would I need steak knives you (expletive, expletive)”.
It is my considered opinion that had Spillway last Saturday been allowed to settle at the tail of the field and been brought to the extreme outside in the home straight - exactly as unheralded jockey Dean Yendall did on Albonetti – he wins the Naturalism Stakes by panels of fencing and had he achieved that feat he’d now automatically be in the Caulfield Cup.
Spillway can still make the Caulfield Cup field, but to make the field he has to win an exempt race. A golden opportunity went begging last Saturday when a “champion jockey” stuffed up about two strides out of the barrier by scrubbing his horse to improve his position.
As I’ve written here for a decade “Step One in a crisis is not panic”. Hopefully when riding Spillway next time out, if he gets the chance – and hasn’t been given the flick - Damien Oliver will remember that.
I accept that mainstream media picked up the bad luck the horse encountered from the home turn, but no one has mentioned the earlier claustrophobic problem, which clearly led to the horse pulling his head off for 1100 metres, so I just wanted to bring all the early problems the horse encountered to public account.
Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there’s the popular What’s In A Name segment, on www.sydneyracing.com.au David Clarkson looks at three topics, namely Blake Shinn’s treble last Saturday, a former Aussie galloper winning in Hong Kong and Nash Rawiller heading to Hong Kong to ride, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au Lankan Rupee is the centre of attention.