(photo credit Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)
With every man and his dog doing Cup previews these days, perhaps a postmortem of the race provides more value - at least for these more serious about the game or want something to refer back to in 363 days' time.
It was great to see Flemington basking in the warm spring sun, with no threat of rain which buggers up the confidence you have in the state of the track, an integral part of betting on horses. The crowd was back, at least about 10% of the normal Cup day crowd, but 10,000 more than were allowed last year. Let us never have to deal with these restrictions again in our lifetimes.
The TV coverage - well, um, ugh. On Derby Day, I was able to watch the racing.com stream in the UK while Sky Sports Racing kept to their normal NSW-controlled Sky Racing Aus coverage which denies that Victoria and South Australia exist. For Cup Day, they switched to the Channel 10 coverage with intermittent cuts back to the UK studio with the standard SSR template plugging local betting odds. All of which I'd have happily avoided but for racing.com to be geo-blocked for Cup Day which was a pain in the arse. A VPN on the iPad got me in but I then couldn't Chromecast it onto my main screen and there were plenty of network pauses, probably from my end. So it was flicking between the two broadcasts.
Obviously the main network coverage chases the once-a-year punter with their coverage of fashion, reality TV 'celebrities' and all that other pointless nonsense but crikey, talk about giving Racing NSW an open goal (TV figures from Derby Day suggest Ch7 coverage of the Golden Eagle at Randwick was miles clear of Ch10 showing Derby Day - although the latter is obviously cannibalised by the racing.com coverage). Ch10 have chosen to avoid the traditional racing identities and chase a newer audience, show they can do it differently etc.. But yuk. Yuk, yuk, yuk. Michael Felgate as lead man is Mr. Plastic, he sounds more like a Ken doll. Michelle Payne might have won a Cup a few years back but it feels like she is there purely because of that rather than the knowledge/experience which goes with it. There are several great women in the industry doing local mounting yard (parade ring) analysis, they don't need to have been a professional jockey to do that. She is a Marmite personality and I'm on the too salty side, but no doubt there'll be many in the opposite camp. David Gately knows his stuff but leave the white/pale-coloured suits to those north of the Murray.
They committed a massive sin in the race coverage - crossing to the connections of the winner before even a quarter of the field had passed the line. With so much punter interest in every horse, the welfare issue of ensuring they all got home, the wide range of bet types etc., it is absolute sacrilege not to see half the field cross the line. Like the fancy angles of the horses in action, leave those until well after the race. The UK coverage ended after the rather long trophy presentation but I'm told that it took at least 40mins before the full finishing order was shown. This can be done quickly via slo-mo cameras as we see regularly in the UK & France. We need not wait that long and every Aussie in a sweep wants to know where their horse finished to see if they got a collect for last across the line!
It was a fast early pace, the 200m splits from 3000m to 2400m were all 11.42 or faster (equivalent to a 57.0 1000m race!). It wasn't until they turned the bend and went down the river side that the tempo eased off a bit. The first 2000 was run in 2:04.35, over 4.5s faster than benchmark, somewhere around 26L fast. Overall they were three lengths faster to the 800m mark than last year. From then, they levelled out back closer to benchmark standards, but the damage was done to those not up to this class. When numbers two, three and four run the trifecta, all carrying WFA or very close to it, it shows this was a classy edition of the race - at least at the top end. As far the field being strung out over the line - this is what SHOULD happen in a fast-run race. Class prevails, distances are genuine because they have all given everything. Slowly-run races mean they've only sprinted home at the end, masking the gap in class between best and worst.
There's nothing wrong with that at all, apart from highlighting what we already knew - there was a 3kg gap between nos. 4 and 5, indicating Australia's staying ranks aren't that deep. But with proper breeding aimed at the Cup and staying classics (Saturday's Derby appeared full of intentional stayers rather than "let's roll the dice and see how far he can run"), this might be slowly improving. There will always be a market for imported stayers, just like there will always be a market for take-away food. The patience to breed a stayer doesn't suit everyone, it's costly and others are better at it. A mix of both is just fine.
Most importantly, all runners made it back with no serious injuries so the controversial and stringent vet checks did their job.
Now onto the stars of the show.
Timing data found here
Winner. Very Elleegant - settled midfield one-off the fence, brilliant work by JMac, slid across just behind the wall and parked about 12th. The race-winning move was down the back when the pace eased ever so slightly, and JMac moved out to take the back of Spanish Mission in the three-wide line, edging closer as Grand Promenade pulled that line forward. Came off Spanish Mission's back at the 600 under a great hold. If you were on her, you were very confident at this stage. Cruised up to Incentivise, went past at the 300 and off she went, topping off a superb career winning her tenth Group 1, the biggest race of them all, by four lengths. Listen to JMac talk through the ride here
2nd. Incentivise - went forward, made to work a bit as so many wide runners wanted to press forward, ended up sat outside the leader. Never let Persan get any peace on the fast pace and that probably took its toll. Was challenged on the outside on the turn and didn't stop, but lacked the acceleration to go with the winner. Pulled up with a small amount of swelling in his near foreleg but not sure that made any difference. Trainer Peter Moody said he hadn't improved since the Caulfield Cup as that was his prime target and such is his quality, this is likely to be his last race in a handicap as he'll be weighted out of the Cups in future. Terrific horse having his first run at the distance, just beaten by a superstar perfectly tuned for the day.
3rd. Spanish Mission - slid across to be one off the rail before the wall of prominent runners from out wide arrived. Ended up 3wide with cover behind Grand Promenade which was perfect for him. Edged closer coming off the home turn but unable to accelerate, just kept on going at the same pace. This was an ideal race shape for him, had it been an old-fashioned stop-start race I reckon he'd have been way back.
4th. Floating Artist - master early ride from Nugent, worked across with the field, stayed patient and ended up in 1x1. Had every chance in the straight, battled on but the class in front of him just wouldn't slow down. Terrific run to just miss third, beat the fifth horse by six lengths. Big watch on him for next season.
5th. The Chosen One - got caught in the backwash from early interference but managed to settle in running line midfield. Followed Verry Elleegant from the 650 when Twilight Payment just wasn't keeping up. Soon got left flatfooted by her but refused to give up, kept on running and claimed fifth, with a 3lbs higher rating than last year's fourth, even though he was 10.6L behind. Picked up $230k for his efforts. Deserves to win a big staying race somewhere. Will no doubt be back again next year.
6th. Grand Promenade - caught between rock and a hard place, leaders going to hard to press on, not quick enough to get into the running line, stuck 3w facing the breeze about fifth until the 1400m point where he decided to move up closer to the lead. According to the Trakus data though, only covered three metres more ground than the winner - but she had a cosy run, he faced the breeze. Loomed up to Incentivise on the turn when Persan folded, couldn't go past but battled on well considering his run. Beaten 12.6L into sixth, great prospect for next season.
7th. Delphi - pushed up from gate three looking for a prominent position but got shuffled to five pairs back by the winning post. Comfortable there until the 650 when he edged out and went for home but was out of puff by the 250. Jockey Damien Oliver stated after the race it was just a bit too far for him. Ideal candidate for races like the Tancred and Brisbane Cup over 2400m next year.
8th. Selino - settled towards the rear, no other choice from 23 with several prominent runners drawn inside him. Hooked wide on the home turn, battled away with the fifth fastest late section. This race was 5.7s faster than his Sydney Cup win on a similar surface and he only had five horses with a slower peak speed than him. One-pacer, needs to race more prominently to be a threat in Aus.
9th. Tralee Rose - caused interference approaching the winning post the first time which is probably where she got galloped on, as reported post-race. Jockey Darren Holland was suspended for 12 meetings as a result. Just behind the speed and immediately inside the winner at the 600, but couldn't sustain the pace and faded to be beaten 16.7L. This was a big step in class on the fields she has beaten in the past, the hot pace found her out.
10th. She's Ideel - hooked to the back, came off the rail at the 800, followed Selino and passed tired horses. Slower than Selino on average speed, can't win races from gate 20 running like that. Sydney Cup more her tempo.
11th. Twilight Payment - gate 2 wasn't an advantage, like most northern hemisphere stayers he takes a while to get going and that meant he caught back in midfield. McNeil tried hard to push him forward but it just didn't happen. Tried following Verry Elleegant in the 3wide line down the back but was already being pushed along to stick with her. Crop pulled on the home turn, only plodded on from there and jockey eased up at the 250. Was immediately retired and will spend the rest of his days at Living Legends, the home of retired champions. Enjoy your retirement old fella!
12th. Miami Bound - walked out of the gates and her only option was to settle last. Was under pressure on the home turn but batted on one pace (slowest peak speed of whole field) and passed the exhausted bunch at the back. Not good enough or just doesn't stretch out anymore on a dry track.
13th. Great House - came across early to take the rail and then allow others to cross ahead of him. Had cosy run two back, worked off the rail at the 600 when leaders were tiring but there was nothing left in the tank. Worth noting he's a baby in terms of age being born in late December in the northern hemisphere so he's classed as a 5yo rather than four which hampered his development - would have conceded as much as 360 days to rivals in 2/3yo races, massive at that age. This was his 14th start for the year and backing up from Saturday, progressing from a BM70 in January to the staying championship of the world. Needs a good break and expect to see more from him next year.
14th. Sir Lucan - elected to go back when I thought he might have pushed further forward. Hugged the rail, in the slow bunch with Selino and She'd Ideel, never sighted. Possibly a rushed preparation and would have been better served going to the paddock to acclimatise. Showed more speed in Europe, won't achieve much in Australia unless he finds it again.
15th. Explosive Jack - tried to push up and sit midfield but had too many ahead of him and got shuffled into the back third of the field. Every chance but found nothing in the straight. Awful campaign where he drew inside every time and it's well reported that his preference is to be out in clear air. Or perhaps he was just overtaxed as a 3yo winning three Derbys and is now cooked?
16th. Master Of Wine - found the rail, worse than midfield. No acceleration in the straight, battled to get past any of the tired runners, although did get blocked a couple of times in the straight. From the future star of Australian staying ranks 18 months ago to a never-a-chance no-hoper in the Cup, it's been a disappointing fall for him. Jockey Fred Kersley Jr.'s quote of "Nice" sounds like he was enjoying the scenery rather than expecting to have any hope of winning.
17th. Pondus - not quick enough to take advantage of gate 1, shuffled back into midfield. Fanned off the fence entering the home straight but he was done. Twilight Payment went straight past and he was barely plodding. Covered the least amount of ground of any runner but was still beaten 24.6L.
18th. Carif - checked by Tralee Rose approaching the winning post first time round, settled just better than midfield, off-rail, just inside the winner. Started conceding ground at the 700, run off his legs. Simply outclassed.
19th. Knights Order - went forward, crossed to rail and ended up behind leader. Had enough by the 700, waved the white flag and dropped right out, despite being pushed along in an attempt to claim a top 12 finish cheque.
20th. Persan - forced to go to the front as they all crossed from wide and then there was no let-up. Challenged at the 700 and went backwards from there. Disappointing but pulled up with mild heat stress.
21st. Port Guillaume - tried to be more prominent but ended just worse than midfield. Joined 3wide trail behind Twilight Payment approaching the 1000m. Passed by Selino and She's Ideel at the top of the straight, horses with zero acceleration, only three horses ran slower than him in the last third of the race. If there's any talent left in him, look for him over 2000-2400 next year.
22nd. Johnny Get Angry - had it been a good year and decent horses were being denied a run because of this fellow, I'd have understood. But the depth wasn't there so no point fussing about it. VRC Derby winners should be automatic inclusions the following season anyway, no matter how badly they are going. Dropped out the back and stayed there.
23rd. Ocean Billy - thought he might have been a smoky place chance and was well backed on the day, 100/1 into about 25s. Sat just worse than midfield in the running line, but was gone before they straightened and dropped out of camera shot, assume the jockey pulled up stumps very early when had no chance.
Future Score SCR - saved the embarrassment of coming nearly last anyway.