The Crazy Days of Cup Week

MelbCupThe Crazy Days of Cup Week 2015
 Track Bias, Bolters, Downpours and More.

We were really looking forward to a fruitful Cup week this year. However, the Flemington track manager Mick Goodie, the elements and some other nefarious forces conspired together to throw not one but several spanners in the works to well and truly upset the applecart. The apples were left strewn on the ground and what could have been went begging.

We knew trouble was afoot on Derby day when leading jockey and good judge Craig Williams commented that although the track was rated ‘good’ - and it was that on the rails - the going was actually ‘slow’ 10 metres out creating a fast lane along the inside. Horses racing along the rails on the firmer surface proved too fleet of foot during the day whilst those stuck out wide got bogged down in the going. Track manager Goodie was in the bad books on the day admitting that he had over watered despite a forecast for rain.

Come Cup Tuesday Goodie made blue number two by moving the running rail out just a tad from the true position to the 2 metres. This had the effect of narrowing the fast lane even further. Jockeys again reported that the rails was the place to be and nowhere was this more evident than in the Melbourne Cup where the three placegetters Prince Of Penzance (100/1), Max Dynamite (12/1) and Criterion (18/1) all tracked hard up against the running rail in the fast lane during the race before shifting off the fence to make their runs in the home straight. The horses which raced out wider in the poorer going simply had the odds stacked against them and none of them figured in the finish. The narrow fast lane created chaos as jockeys tried to steer their charges towards the better ground and many were knocked out of contention as horses cannoned into each other. So bad was the interference during the running of the race that 20 of the 24 runners were mentioned in the stewards’ report from the event.

Going into Oaks day we’d studied the form inside out and went into the meeting chockfull of confidence. At 7.30 a.m. at final scratching time the track was rated a Good 3 and things were looking good on just about all fronts - except the weather front. Rain was on its way - and plenty of it. It came and it was constant. During the day the track was down graded right through the spectrum of track conditions from a Good 3 to a Heavy 9. As any punter worth his salt knows the worse conditions to bet in are those where the track conditions are changing. In the morning we were looking for firm trackers, by midday horses that could handle cut in the ground, and by late afternoon we were on the lookout for mudlarks. In the end the Oaks was won by Jameka - a horse which had never raced on a wet track in its life - so much for looking for ‘muddies’!

Late that afternoon the weather had deteriorated so much that lightning and thunder filled the skies. Then channel Seven weather person Jane Bunn stepped in front of the cameras at Flemington to announce that tornados were on the way. Tornados! That frightening comment put a shiver down the spine and a worried look on the face of just about everyone who heard it. Thankfully, Flemington did not experience Armageddon that afternoon.

Ok – three crazy days down and one to go. What could possibly go wrong on Emirates day? The rail was moved out to the 6 metre position and like an old fashioned wet track the inside got cut up a bit and horses tracked out wide to where the going was better. However, applecarts were still being upset. The most notable the hot odds on favourite Chautauqua being defeated by the Waller trained outsider Delectation in the Darley Classic.

When all was said and done, the overwhelming memory that was left with us was the magnificent riding performance of Michelle Payne on the winner Prince Of Penzance in the Cup, her heartfelt words after the event, her hugging brother Stevie the strapper in the ensuing moments, and the ever smiling Darren Weir - the trainer and top bloke whose face communicated that he could hardly believe that he had just won Australia’s greatest race with a 100 to 1 shot. Unbelievable - that’s the perfect word to describe this year’s Cup week.

               By Mark Hall     November 2015