05 November 2014
Disappointing is the only way that could describe this year’s Melbourne Cup. As someone that loves the race so much and someone that loves the horses, it finished a hollow day.
In chronological order, the first disappointment was Red Cadeaux finishing second yet again. The wagering on horses is only ever side issue for me. It’s the sporting story that means far more. When he burst to the lead down the straight, I couldn’t care less about any bets on other horses, and started cheering him home wildly. Sadly, that moment was barely a few seconds, as Protectionist leaped to the front and ran away with the race. Some minor satisfaction did soon emerge, that second place was a great achievement for “Cads”. To do it now three times in four runs, it puts him in Melbourne Cup folklore.
The second disappointment was obviously the death of the favourite from Japan, Admire Rakti, and then later in the evening learning that Araldo had to be euthanised. Admire Rakti collapsed soon after the race in his stall, dying of acute heart failure. He dropped back very quickly in the race just entering the straight, so immediately something seemed odd. No one expected this. Then Araldo, who finished 7th, was spooked by a flag waved close to him as he walked back from the race, and in recoiling away, awkwardly twisted and planted his leg, smashing a pastern bone in his off rear leg. Both deaths were of such a freak and unavoidable nature, and unfortunately animal activists disgraced themselves by their ghoulish hovering over the carcasses to make their ignorant points.
First and foremost, the deaths were freakish and could not been prevented. Human athletes die of such heart conditions and no one calls for their sports to be banned. Admire Rakti was never “flogged to death” or forced into the barriers as was disgustingly and ignorantly claimed. Only the final stages of a race are horses asked for their effort, and he was eased up much earlier than that. Before the race, the couple of tickles on the back of his legs were just to encourage a notoriously mischievous horse to enter the barriers. Facts are that a horse cannot be forced to run if they are really stubborn about it.
As for Araldo, who could ever have foreseen such an incident like that? This has never occurred on the race track. In fact, such breaks of legs are more likely to be seen in private paddocks and stables. Is anyone calling for the horse pet industry to be dissolved?
If you want to talk about deaths, the pet industry as a whole is far, far worse. Tens of thousands of cats and dogs are euthanised each year in Australia, and that’s only the ones officially recorded. Unwanted puppies, kittens and birds, especially with regard to show animals, are wantonly destroyed by their breeders. Then there’s the unimaginable torture that exists. Kittens burnt alive, hamsters put into microwave ovens, need I go on? Let’s also not forget the 60 billion animals worldwide bred each year as sources for food and clothing. In comparison, the horse racing industry is the most heavily regulated industry involving animals on the planet and most horses lead pampered lives. If I had a choice of being a cat, a dog, chicken, cow, pig or race horse, I know which one I’d choose. It’s also a sport that involves human fatalities, so the sacrifice is diffuse. A bit of perspective, please.
Horse racing is attacked because it is high profile. Now that the Cup is over, all these big mouths will go away for another year, munching on dead animals for their lunch and dinner, thinking nothing wrong of it, in acts of total hypocrisy. Calls to ban whips and 2yo racing are also irrelevant to the events that occurred on Tuesday. If only activists were so sincere. No, that’s part of the strategy to pick away at the edges – and mostly because activists don’t like “the look” of the whip or “the idea” of a 2yo racing, not that there’s anything genuinely cruel happening. Even if these wishes were heeded, within a few years, the activists would be back again to demand the entire sport be banned.
For what it’s worth, in an ideal world, it would be great if no animals were used for anything. The world is such a long way from that, that to simply say “no animal exploitation” is unrealistic. Food and clothing substitutes need to be developed, and so too life-like robots to replace organic pets. Personally, while I’m no vegetarian, I already prefer vege hot-dogs over standard ones. It’s steps like this that will ultimately start reducing mankind’s reliance on animals, not irrational, militant and disrespectful conduct.
Lost in the double disappointment is Protectionist’s amazing win. I was staggered to see a horse bolt away like that, and learning the times of 11.66 seconds for the final 200 metres and 22.75 for the final 400, it was ridiculous, and more typical of closing sectionals in many sprint races. That’s why you needed to be happy for Red Cadeaux as he was beaten by a almost a freak performance. You also could not help marvel at the performance of Protectionist itself.
The mood in the crowd immediately after the race says so much. While there was the isolated excited race-goer here and there, mostly it was subdued. The only post-race atmosphere more subdued in recent times was Green Moon in 2012. In that year, first, second and third were unfancied. In 2014, it’s fair to say most people were hoping for Admire Rakti, while Red Cadeaux and Who Shot Thebarman had their supporters cheering… until Protectionist’s blitzkrieg.
Removing Protectionist from the equation, you do need to wonder about the strength of the field. It was already considered weaker than previous years, and vindicated by Red Cadeaux being a 9yo and not in the form of previous years, and Who Shot Thebarman in third being not much more than a glorified plodder. Even Precedence, in his fourth attempt and also a 9yo, achieved his best result in sixth place. Not that it all matters ultimately. It’s about the drama of the race, and this year we got a memorable winner and runner-up.
Admire Rakti’s sad demise did rob of us potentially of a monumental finish. He got a nice a drag off tearaway leader My Ambivalent and about to make his run when he faded. If you imagine Delta Blues in 2006, they raced almost identically, and most likely Admire Rakti would have skipped out by a few lengths as Delta Blues did. In 2006, Pop Rock emerged to chasing and just fail to catch Delta Blues. In 2014, Protectionist – who had to come from near the back of the field – would have been that challenger. Sadly we can only imagine.
Fawnker (10th) and Lucia Valentina (13th) didn’t run the distance. It was suspected before the race. In fact, it was proven the year before for Fawkner when finishing sixth. Still so many of us were lured into selecting them by their brilliance over shorter distances. If something is certain in this modern era with the Melbourne Cup, horses that can’t run a strong 3200 metres, avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid. It’s that simple.
Signoff (4th) just lacked that touch of class to strongly run out the race. He loomed up into the straight and seemed destined to race away with it. He may not have been seasoned enough or perhaps didn’t back up after Saturday’s race. That’s always the risk with the approach the connections took with the horse. He’ll be interesting to watch next year. Often, horses don’t back up a year later anyway. Their first shot, especially with such a light weight, is usually their best. Look at Fawkner.
Mutual Regard (14th) couldn’t accelerate. His run ended quickly so possibly he found the ground too firm. He hadn’t a lead up run in Australia so it was always a risk. Normally I follow the rule to ignore internationals that haven’t run in Australia yet. I was seduced by his Ebor win (an inconsistent form reference at best) and his relatively short odds, and Damien Oliver the jockey.
Most couldn’t run the distance, lacked the class or were plodders. Seismos (9th) is the classic example of the latter. He’ll run forever; he’ll just do it too slowly. Willing Foe was serviceable in fifth. Araldo (7th) lacked the big acceleration -emphasised by him racing back with Protectionist and finishing lengths behind him. The outside barrier impacted here, forcing to tuck behind the field after the start. Had he been able to race on the speed, he would have battled for a few spots higher. My Ambivalent (17th) was always either a speculative hit or a probable miss. She was a miss; never settled and ran too hard early.
Banking on Admire Rakti as I did, obviously the result was a wipeout. I had Protectionist outside my top four. After Admire Rakti, the next three of Fawkner, Signoff and Mutual Regard were tough decisions. In overall betting, Fawkner, Lucia Valentina, Protectionist and Mutual Regard were essentially equal second favourite. In hindsight (yes, it’s wonderful), I should have tossed aside Fawkner (distance doubt) and Mutual Regard (unseen international). Most likely I still go Signoff as second pick. The issue I always had with Protectionist was that Herbert Power run where he was beaten by Signoff and others. His run also seemed to end 50 metres out in this 2400 race. His overall record still suggested he’d run 3200, and his recent form was good, so the Herbert Power should have been seen as an acclimatisation exercise, not so much a form reference, as such races rarely are these days.
As mentioned in the preview, all 5 panellists on Sky Racing’s “Racing Retro” picked Protectionist. Protectionist also emerged as top pick from the racing experts in Melbourne’s Herald Sun. Why do all the form crunching yourself when you can leave it up to others? Of course, if you go against your own hunch and that hunch pops up, you’ll be disgusted. Also, the experts don’t always get it right. Maybe use them as a covering bet, or to validate your own hunch.