Praying for speed
Even tempo the key for big-striding internationals
LET the intrigue begin.
Speed, or lack of it, track pattern, pressure buttons, good and bad trails, and so on.
All I pray for is something near a truly run race.
And if that happened, I had long considered Red Verdon ($ 31.00) the best Cup value in years.
But early Thursday morning, he suffered bruising after shifting a plate moments before a scheduled fast-work session and so his long-priced date with destiny was up in the air.
It’s still hard to swallow the interference Red Verdon copped from the 1000m until early in the straight in the Caulfield Cup. In fact, the sixyearold stallion did an amazing job finishing as close as he did.
Admittedly, he doesn’t boast the winning CV or exposed class of Godolphin’s multiple Group 1 winner and Caulfield Cup hero Best Solution ($21.00 into $15.00) or even the stable’s promising Newmarket-based four-year- old Cross Counter ($17.00 into $11.00), but Red Verdon was well in on 54kg and has that wonderful “edge” from trainer Ed Dunlop.
For years, this man produced the late, great Red Cadeaux to perform brilliantly in the Cup on relative light programs and another “Red” just may have been headed the same way.
Speaking of Newmarket, the six-year- old grey Muntahaa ($21.00 into $13.00) is a massive threat and now my on top selection.
After a fair run behind Best Solution in the Group 2 Princess Of Wales Stakes (2414m), he carried 61kg to a dominant win in the time-honoured Ebor Handicap (2816m) in late August. Two miles is in his strike zone.
And don’t think lightlyraced Cross Counter – barely past his first full prep – isn’t seasoned enough.
His dominant win in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes rated very highly before he was beaten a lip in the Group 2 Voltigeur at York.
A power son of Teofilo, he’ll go close.
So, three runners I bracket on top to win are CROSS COUNTER, MUNTAHAA and RED VERDON (if he runs)
I refuse to let Japanese star Chestnut Coat ($ 46.00) get totally under my guard despite a poor effort at Caulfield.
He improves big time second-up and on top of the ground and I can’t get that run in the Group 1 Tenno Sho (3200m) out of my mind where he covered plenty of ground but still hit the line beaten one and three- quarter lengths. He’s a genuine chance at big odds.
Normally, there’s enough speed on down the long straight to find some sort of early position.
Knowing of course the two middle quarters are generally the slowest, this is where a comfortable trail is vital by the time they pass the winning post the first time.
Of course, the critical piece to the speed puzzle is what I call the “trapdoor” mile – how slow do they go from the 2400m to the 800m?
This is where several offspeed horses – most notably the big-striding overseas brigade – lose their room and stride as any early tempo soon disappears.
So don’t be surprised if you see riders aboard European stayers like Red Verdon, The Cliffsofmoher and Muntahaa, and Japan’s Chestnut Coat all shifting well away from the fence towards open ground before the 1000m mark.
These types, including wellweighted Best Solution and highly-touted improver Magic Circle ($17.00 into $11.00), are trained to sustain long runs, even on the fresh side.
Of course, there’ll be no more spruiked horse than dominant Group 3 Herbert Power (2400m) winner and ruling favourite Yucatan ($ 5.00).
In the Lloyd Williams-led ownership and trained by Aidan O’Brien, his win at Caulfield under 56kg when he dashed away on the point of the turn and audaciously eased up at the 100m was a beauty.
The question is whether the five-year- old gets a strong two miles and the simple weight argument says yes.
Although over shorter trips, Yucatan carried 61kg to win the Group 3 International at the Curragh in July and 62kg when close-up in the Group 3 Ballyroan.
And unlike many of the overseas crop who need to wind up, Yucatan has an acceleration gear.
I’m a fan of The Cliffsofmoher’s ($17.00) style, but doubt he can run a strong 3200m; while I confess to having lost faith in Avilius ($12.00) whose been up for a long while under big weights and heading towards his first try at two miles.
Muntahaa is Neil’s top pick for the Melbourne Cup.