Things We Learned » Appreciating Australia

Appreciating Australia

The talk all week has been about what is next for Australia. The Irish Derby is the obvious race, goes the talk, but not on soft ground. He may have been reaching the end of his stamina rope at the winning line on Saturday, they say, and he shows so much pace that he may be more effective over 10 furlongs anyway. He could go: Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion Stakes, Arc. The Sea The Stars route.

But that is all for the future. For now, it is important to take stock of all that Australia and his connections achieved on Saturday. Rarely before has there been the weight of expectation on a horse before a race that there was on Australia before Saturday’s Derby. Of course, that weight of expectation was fuelled – ignited actually – by Aidan O’Brien’s comments about him when he was a juvenile. Potentially his best ever. It was a huge statement. Potentially better than Galileo, then. Better than Rock Of Gibraltar, better than Giant’s Causeway. But you know that he meant it then, and Saturday’s result was vindication. The reality is that Australia is still potentially the trainer’s best ever.

Aidan O’Brien spoke about relief after Australia had won. Not ecstasy, not fulfillment, just relief. In one sense, you can understand it, given the afore-mentioned weight of expectation, and the pressure that must have been on the delivery. In another, there is something incongruous about the fact that, when you train the winner of the Derby, when you become the first trainer in the history of the most famous race in the world to win it three times in a row, your over-riding feeling is one of mere relief.

We know that this year’s 2000 Guineas – in which Australia finished third, winning his ‘race’ on the near side – was a very good one, and the general feeling before the Derby was that it was also a good one. That notion is backed up by the race itself. One of the ‘right’ horses in Kingston Hill, the only Group 1 winner in the field going into the race, finished second, and the front two were clear, having had the race between them from the two-furlong pole. Also, the time of the race was very good, the fastest comparative time of the day, over a second faster than standard and over a second faster than the Coronation Cup.

On top of that, the vibes were that Australia did not have the ideal preparation, as reflected in his relative weakness in the market during the week leading up to the race. But he travelled like the most likely winner in the race from a long way out. Such was the ease with which he travelled down around Tattenham Corner, you could have called him as by far the most likely winner from the top of the home straight. And, while he did not pull right away from the runner-up and win by five or six lengths, there was never a point in the home straight at which you thought that he would lose.

Australia is good all right. And we still don’t know yet how good.

Keeping it simple

Joseph O’Brien rarely receives the plaudits that he is due as a rider. When he won the Derby on Camelot in 2012, the sense was that he was on the best horse in the race by far, that most jockeys would have won on the horse, and that he only had eight opponents in a race that lacked complications. There appeared to be a similar feeling after Saturday’s race.

If it was simple, however, that is because the rider made it so. That is what top class sportspeople do: they make their sport look simple. You may think that you could pass the ball as well as Xavi passes the ball if you got the space in midfield that Xavi gets. But that’s the crux. It is as much about creating the space as it is about passing the ball. Once you have manufactured the space for yourself, the actual passing of the ball looks simple.

On Saturday, Joseph kept it simple. He charted a fairly wide course from stall 12, forsaking some ground but out of trouble, confident in his horse’s ability, reliant only on his horse’s ability, not on getting the breaks down the paint. No complications, no heroics.

Sure, he gets on the horses now, but he proved himself to be a highly-talented rider before he secured the number one job at Ballydoyle, and you can be sure that he would not get on the horses if his talent did not deserve it. And remember that he is riding at a weight that is well below his natural weight. That cannot be easy, mentally more than physically. And he has only just turned 21.

Guineas class

This year’s 2000 Guineas at Newmarket continues to work out ridiculously well. Of the 14 horses who ran in the race, six have now run again a total of seven times since. Two of them finished first and second in the Irish 2000 Guineas, two of them finished first and second in the Derby, one of them won the Dante and then won the French Derby, and one of them won a Group 3 race at Chantilly on Saturday.

So the record of runners from the Guineas reads, 1121211, three Classics, a Group 2 and a Group 3, with the two 2s achieved in Classics in which the horses who notched up the 2s were beaten by fellow Guineas participants.

The Guineas thread should run all the way through the season now, and we still haven’t seen the winner again yet.

Hold up straight

Interesting piece during the week by Michael Williamson of Timeform on the relative merits of jockeys on the straight track at Ascot. Interesting information to have in the days leading up to the Royal meeting.

To summarise, Jamie Spencer is the most effective rider on Ascot’s straight track with a Timeform Jockey rating of 5.66, followed closely by Frankie Dettori with a rating of 5.39, with the pair of them clear. Olivier Peslier is third with a rating of 3.8.

Spencer has ridden 14 winners on the straight track at Royal Ascot from 127 rides, which is almost twice as many as an expected value of just over seven. Perhaps this is due to the propensity of races on the straight track at Royal Ascot to favour hold-up horses, and Spencer’s tendency to favour a hold-up ride.

And the stats back up the anecdotal evidence. Of all straight tracks in Britain, Ascot has the highest average Early Position Figure of the Winner, and Spencer is 26th in a list of 126 studied jockeys ranked by Average Early Position Figure.

So put all that together. The straight track at Ascot generally favours hold-up horses, Jamie Spencer holds his horses up more than most, and Jamie Spencer is the most effective jockey on the straight track at Royal Ascot on Timeform Jockey ratings. It all adds up.

Conclusion? All Jamie Spencer-ridden horses on the straight track this week are worth a second look.

More McCoy magic

In the middle of the flat season, with the Derby just behind you and Royal Ascot just ahead of you, it would be easy for you to miss AP McCoy’s achievement in racking up 50 winners for the season on 10th June. You shouldn’t.

The champ was on the 48-winner mark when he went to Worcester on Tuesday evening. He was fifth jumping the second last fence on Mission Complete in the opening handicap chase, and he was fourth jumping the last, but he succeeded in cajoling a finish out of JP McManus’ horse to get him up to win by a neck.

It was a similar story in the two-mile-seven-furlong handicap hurdle on Bob Keown later in the evening. Third jumping the final flight, about four lengths behind the leader Tornado Bob, again it was another trademark McCoy finish, pushing and cajoling and slapping and kicking, until his horse consented to run on, grabbing the leader 50 yards from the line and going on to win by three parts of a length.

This is the fastest 50 ever by miles. Even McCoy himself has never ridden 50 winners as quickly in any of his remarkable 20 seasons as a National Hunt rider, a fact which, on Tuesday, he said disappointed him, because when he got to 50 by 22nd June in 2002, he thought that nobody could ever do it as quickly as that again.

The figures continue to astound. AP has ridden his 50 winners this term from 151 rides. That is a strike rate of 33%. He has won on one in every three of his rides this season to date.

When he rode 289 winners in the 2001/02 season, more than any other jockey in a season ever, he got to 50 by 23rd June. He is 13 days ahead of that schedule this season. The superlatives’ well has long since been run dry, but who knows what the rest of the season might bring?

© The Irish Field, 14th June 2014