James Willoughby
Vancouver is to be aimed at Royal Ascot, but for which race?
— James Willoughby / Thoroughbred Daily News

One man whose presentation on the opening day at our Winter Workshop we'll always remember is Patrick Cummings. Recommended by no less a "pro" than Mike de Kock for what his Trakus system could do to help trainers and jockeys to identify the idiosyncrasies and the biases of different tracks, how best to negotiate them, those riders whose techniques best suited them, as well as identifying the runners in each race by their colours. For any aspirant tactician, it's a unique strategic tool and any professional worth his salt will quickly cotton on to its boundless advantages.

We've long extolled the analytical virtues of James Willoughby for his incisive insights into the nuances of racing, and he's found the "button" again in Coolmore's announcement that their Australian Champion Juvenile colt is winging his way westward. Vancouver's arrival at Ballydoyle could turn out one of the major themes of the European Flat preseason of 2016. How good is this colt, whose G1 Golden Slipper win for Gai Waterhouse was mighty impressive? And what are his chances of a top-level strike in Europe?

First, as an aperitif to the European campaign, Vancouver's purchase by Coolmore and others and his transcontinental switch from Gai Waterhouse to Aidan O'Brien, isn't bad. Let's face it: intrigue surrounding each Flat campaign isn't exactly buzzing like it used to, partly because nobody expects the dominance of O'Brien and Coolmore to end.

O'Brien has done well with former antipodean stars like So You Think, Starspangledbanner and Haradasun, and Vancouver's Golden Slipper win over six furlongs last March was mighty impressive. It is not hard to work out the appeal of switching the colt to Europe: nowadays, it is obvious that the leading racing and breeding operations are keen to cultivate links through horses to different countries and continents because revenues from shuttling stallions are much greater.

Vancouver's win in the Slipper was much more impressive than it reads on paper. He won by less than a length, but had to get over from the outside post in a field of 16 on a day at Rosehill when it was noted that the outside running lanes were slow. If you review the video of the Slipper, the task facing his jockey Tommy Berry becomes clear. Ground loss is a much bigger consideration in Australia than Europe because horsemen have learned that racing wide translates to victory far less frequently than riding the rails. A jockey who loops the field on the turn needs the leaders to stop in front, or else the extra yards covered result in significant energy loss.

This is far more than just a cultural emphasis. It is underpinned by the maths. The energy used by a running horse is some exponential function of its speed. A runner trying to keep up with the leader while running wide (and thus running at greater speed to cover more ground in the same time) is far more vulnerable when the field accelerates into the turn, which is common in Australia but less frequent in attritional races in Europe with a stronger early pace.

Berry actually did a great job to go only three wide on Vancouver, but it was impressive to see him dig in and surge away close home after that. A pure sprinter simply would not have done that; this is a miler, in my view.

Either way, Vancouver managed only one more run after that, and it left some with an ambiguous impression. Five months later, he lost his unbeaten record at the fifth try when only fourth in a Group 3 at the same Sydney track. However, it must be noted that he was spotting the winner Japonisme, the subsequent Coolmore Stud Stakes (Gr.1) winner, no less than nine pounds. Was it really so disappointing, irrespective of excuses made for him on the grounds of health?

Vancouver is to be aimed at Royal Ascot, but for which race? The presumption is that he is a sprinter, but he doesn't look like one to my eye. Neither is he bred like one, as a son of world-class stallion Medaglia d'Oro, the sire of top-notch U.S. fillies Rachel Alexandra and Songbird, plus numerous good colts. Coolmore obviously like the pedigree overall, for they purchased his half-brother at the recent Magic Millions Sale just last week. That might be taken as a vote of confidence in Vancouver.

It seems more likely that Vancouver was winning sprints in Australia because 2-year-old racing is concentrated on those distances, rather than his own distance suitability. It will be fascinating to see which way O'Brien goes. On the downside, the Golden Slipper doesn't have the best record in terms of future talent, but that is because it takes a big performance to win at a relatively early stage of a horse's life. Some do not rebound, and it is fair to say that the trajectory of Vancouver's career could be read like that. It is dangerous to judge the individual by a coarse rule, however.

If Vancouver can get on track in the manner expected, he could play a part in furthering the growing regard for racing in Australia that exists here. In addition to the internationalisation of the Melbourne Cup (Gr.1) and the exploits of Australian stars like Black Caviar at Royal Ascot, there is now a much greater awareness and interest in races like the Cox Plate (Gr.1), won by the O'Brien-trained Adelaide in 2014, Mackinnon Stakes (Gr.1) and Metropolitan Handicap (Gr.1), to name but a few. Coolmore have played a major part in this development, and one of the biggest advantages the operation has is O'Brien. It will be interesting to see which way the brilliant trainer goes with Vancouver.

Editor's note: At the Emperors Palace Ready To Run sale in October, we sold a smart High Chaparral colt out of Vancouver's sister to Mayfair Speculators for R1.6million. He wins a good one, he makes a stallion.

Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News by James Willoughby
Vancouver / Daniel Hill (p)