GOLDEN SLIPPER STAKES (Group 1)
Rosehill Gardens, Turf, 1200m
21 March 2015
There are no half measures when it comes to Australia's Golden Slipper. You're either good enough, or you're not; you're well-bred enough (by which they mean precocious enough) or you're not; and there are no excuses when it comes to the draw. That despite the fact there are nineteen eligible in the world's richest two-year-old race and it's a sprint contested around a bend.
For those of us at a distance who can adopt a more cerebral view of things, you'd be happy if you were in Sheikh Mohammed's camp with all four of your runners drawn inside of 10. But for the face of Australian racing, Gai Waterhouse, who's attempting her 6th victory in this epic, you'd think she'd be distraught at having picked up the "18” slot for her hot favourite, Vancouver, who puts his unbeaten record on the line tomorrow afternoon. On the evidence so far, he could be one of those freaks of the sport, yet even freaks can't predict what the traffic's going to do from out there.
Waterhouse is undeterred: "I never worry about barriers, because you can't do anything about them. We have an outside barrier, and there will be a scrimmage going on inside. He can go forward and he can go back. Tommy Berry (jockey) has won a Golden Slipper, and he will be using his brains from the outside”.
You have to admire this girl: from a distance, we know that unlike human athletes, racehorses do not enjoy the benefit of a staggered start. The starter simply calls them up in a straight line, and those that are furthest from the inner rail, are at the biggest disadvantage. In her attempt at equalling the record of six Golden Slippers set by her late father, the Hall Of Fame trainer, T.J. Smith, she is effusive: "I love this race, and I think it's the most exciting race in the world. It symbolizes everything we stand for, which is all about vitality, all about youth and every stallion that is worth its stamp has come out of this race. This is the stallion-making race of Australia, and the world.” That's how badly she wants it.
From a breeding perspective, there are some interesting observations: just as you'd expect a healthy sprinkling of Vars and Captain Als in any line-up for the Golden Medallion (Gr.1) at the end of May at Scottsville, so certain strains have come to dominate the outcomes of the Slipper. Reaching back to its earliest years, the Star Kingdom line was all-conquering, and these days the stallion whose blood courses through more than half the Australian thoroughbred population, Danehill, is the overwhelming force. Only two of the nineteen eligibles are free of his blood on either the male or female sides, and during the currency of his stud career he posted no fewer than five of its heroes himself.
Three years ago, the most potent representation belonged to the dual hemisphere Juvenile Champion Sire, More Than Ready, who had five in the card (he has another five two-year-old Stakes winners this season), while that distinction now belongs to Danehill's son, Exceed And Excel. His name is embedded alongside six runners, and he is also the broodmare sire of Haybah.
Roll on Saturday. And let's see if the barrier really doesn't matter.