Things We Learned » Operation Kentucky

Operation Kentucky

Despite So You Think’s defeat, Operation Dubai was a successful one for Aidan O’Brien.  A winner, a second, a third and two fourths from six runners on the richest day’s racing in the world cannot be viewed any other way.

Of course, Daddy Long Legs’s victory, under a blemish-free ride from Colm O’Donoghue, was the highlight of the evening for O’Brien and for Ireland, and, while Kentucky Derby talk might be ambitious, it is a conversation that is well worth having.

It is not a coincidence that no European-trained horse has ever won the first leg of the American Triple Crown.  Indeed, the Dermot Weld-trained Go And Go is still the only European-trained horse to win any leg (Belmont Stakes 1990).  That factor puts the magnitude of the task into context.

One of the main difficulties – and there are many – that European horses face in the Kentucky Derby, of course, is the fact that the race is run on dirt.  The only time that Daddy Long Legs raced on dirt was in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November, when he finished 12th of 13 behind Hansen.

He didn’t seem to be in love with the surface that day, but you can be sure that Aidan O’Brien wouldn’t be even entertaining the possibility of returning to Churchill Downs if he wasn’t happy that he would handle it this time.  A son of dual Grade 1 dirt winner Scat Daddy, there are plenty of dirt performers on Daddy Long Legs’s damside, and his galloping style of racing should be suited to dirt.  Perhaps there was something else at play at the Breeders’ Cup meeting, perhaps it was the end of a long enough season for the European horse, perhaps different tactics will be employed this time – it was the kickback that Daddy Long Legs seemed to dislike rather than the racing surface per se.  Operation Kentucky would be an exciting operation.

Tapeta out on its own

It is fast becoming apparent that the Tapeta surface that they chose to lay on the non-turf track at Meydan may not be like any other surface.  We have become used to the idea that synthetic racing surfaces are more inclined to mirror the qualities of good to firm turf than they are to mirror the qualities of traditional American dirt, despite what you might think based on physical appearances.  That is why Polytrack is so well accepted by form students at Dundalk and at Kempton and Lingfield and Wolverhampton, and it is why the European horses did so well on the Pro-Ride at Breeders’ Cups 2008 and 2009 at Santa Anita.

Of the four winners of the four Tapeta races at Meydan on Saturday, only Daddy Long Legs hadn’t proven himself on Tapeta.  He had never raced on it.  By contrast, correlation on the turf track on Saturday night was much more difficult to find.  Opinion Poll had been beaten at Meydan in all his four previous attempts, Ortensia had never raced at the track before, nor had Cityscape, nor had Cirrus Des Aigles.  None of the four turf winners had won at Meydan before.

Of the 12 horses who filled the places in the four Tapeta races, six of them had won on the surface at Meydan before, and five had never raced there before.  Only Red Jazz had raced on Tapeta at Meydan before and hadn’t won, and he had finished third in the Godolphin Mile there last year on his only previous try at the track.  On Dubai World Cup night 2011, three of the four races run on Tapeta were won by horses who had previously won at the track and on the surface.  In 2010, Meydan’s debut, all four winners of the Tapeta races had won previously on the surface.

It is a phenomenon that should be worth bearing in mind for next year.  Horses for courses – and surfaces.

Sunnyhill drift

The ante post markets on the betting exchanges are usually good guides, but they are not failsafe.

Of course, we have the well-documented and well-aired New Approach and Kicking King and Binocular betting exchange sagas, dragged kicking and screaming into betting folklore by the fact that those horses won the races for which they had drifted out to nohopedom on Betfair.  We also had the opposite with Kauto Star in the lead up to last month’s Gold Cup, when he apparently had a mother and father of a fall when schooling, yet there wasn’t a whiff of it on a betting exchange until Paul Nicholls broke the news six days later.

There was something going on as well with Sunnyhillboy during the week in the Grand National market.  Backed into as short as just over 16/1 for the National in the aftermath of his Kim Muir win, he suddenly went very weak on the betting exchanges during the week, with someone picking up a couple of quid at 65 and plenty matched at between 30 and 35 before Jonjo O’Neill and Frank Berry both said that they had no clue why he was so weak, that he was well and bang on track for the race.

There is rarely smoke without the fire that lies behind so significant a betting exchange drift.  Perhaps Sunnyhillboy just did an ordinary piece of work.  Perhaps Synchronised did a good piece of work, and enough people wanted to be against Sunnyhillboy as a result, and that was enough to start the small snowball.  Perhaps (most likely) somebody got the wrong end of some stick somewhere along the way, and that there is nothing at all for Sunnyhillboy’s supporters and connections to fear.  Nothing, that is, except 30 fences and 39 rivals.

Hughes head-scratcher

It is still difficult to understand why the BHA decided to uphold the 50-day ban imposed on Richard Hughes by the Royal Western Indian Turf Club, after they deemed that he had not ridden Jacqueline Smile in a race at Mahalaxmi racecourse according to the instructions apparently given to him by trainer HJ Antia.

Even if the BHA were happy to reciprocate the ban, given that there is no such rule in British racing, and given that Hughes was denied legal representation at the hearing in India, and that the authorities were happy to go with Antia’s reported instructions, even though the trainer wasn’t present at the hearing, and even if they were happy with the severity of the ban, a 50-day ban in India covers approximately 15 race meetings.  You have to think that the intention of the punishment was to disallow the rider from riding for 15 meetings, not from 50 meetings, as is now the case in Britain.

Surely, even if the BHA was intent on reciprocating the ban, a commensurate ban in Britain was one of 15 days, not 50.

Casey concern

Peter Casey is concerned about fast ground for Flemenstar’s bid to continue his march to the top in tomorrow’s Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse, while the television producers are much more concerned about the post-race interviews.  A proposal to run the race at 9.30pm, after the watershed, has failed to gain traction.  “No floodlights,” says Peter Roe.  The post-race interview may be held over until then though.  Best advice is to watch it on YouTube.

© The Irish Field, 7th April 2012