Friday, August 11, 2006

Horse Racing

About the only sport that I follow with any regularity is horse racing. I’ve been interested in it since I was quite young. When I was about 13 I kept a scrapbook, cutting out pictures of racehorses from the daily newspaper. I followed a particular horse called Dhaulagiri, though I was interested in all the others racing at the same time. I can’t remember now why I picked Dhaulagiri as my horse to follow. Perhaps I just liked his name. He was a better than average performer and won some prestigious races, the Cox Plate for instance. He was placed in a Melbourne Cup, the weight he had to carry penalised him out of contention I think.

I still have the scrapbook and take it out every year during the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne. I continue to save newspaper clippings of memorable racing events involving memorable performers.

Over the past decade there have been some truly outstanding racehorses. This has kept my interest alive. We had the great Might & Power in the 1990s, Sunline and Northerly in the late 90s/early '00s and more recently, Makybe Diva, The Mare, as she was dubbed by the media.

Horseracing = gambling is a common perception, but I rarely put on a bet. I hate losing so only place a bet when I’m forced to by the terms of my Internet betting account, or have a strong hunch about a horse. Like everyone else I love winning, especially at good odds. Instead of gambling, I enter tipping competitions on the Australian Racing & Sports website message board, where the only prize is virtual recognition of race knowledge and tipping accuracy. My favourite comps are the Groupies and Super Stable in which I have acquitted myself fairly well.

Here is my super stable for the coming spring:

Apache Cat
Cat's Fun
Miss Finland
Virage de Fortune

It works by selecting horses from a list. The horses have set prices according to a rating system devised by the competition runner. The stable owner has a virtual $1,000,000 pot to purchase 7 horses. My stable above cost me $942,000. I have $58,000 left in my pot.

I’ll keep you posted on how it fares. Your stable wins the amount of money your horse/s collect in races from August to November. You are permitted to substitute horses on two occasions. One hopes that one’s original stable earns enough to make substitution viable, particularly when selecting horses for the Melbourne Cup. The winner of the Cup collects $1+ million dollars in prize money, so it is vital to be able to afford a good stayer at the last substitution.

My stable has good sprinters and middle distance runners for the start of the season, plus a few promising 3-year olds who did well in autumn. One is obliged by the rules of the game, to retain at least two 3 year olds and at least one mare. Hopefully my stable will perform well in the early stages of the season so that I will be able to afford some prime stayers for later in the season.

One of the things I love about horseracing is the “rags to riches” story. More than any other sport, these heart-warming stories seem to be common. Recently an Australian sprinter won a race at Royal Ascot in England. Named Takeover Target, he was regarded as a crock when put up at a sale for only $1250 and has proved the doubters wrong by winning 12 races from 19 starts. He’s owned and trained by a taxi driver, a humble soul who can’t believe his luck.

Another thing I love about racing is the naming of horses. I’m still attracted to racehorses with odd or unusual names. Some names vibrate with me and I get these hunches that they will win. Unfortunately this method of picking winners is not all that reliable, as horses with names I find boring often win too. Horse names are often derived from their parentage and can be quite laterally creative. Some are named through the whim of their owners. For instance Makybe Diva is owned by South Australian tuna fisherman Tony Santic, who named her after the first two letters in five of his employees' names (Maureen, Kylie, Belinda, Diana and Vanessa). A Melbourne trainer, Lee Freedman, some years ago named all his horses after Art movements. There was Surrealism, Dadaism, Naturalism, Mannerism and they all performed well and won some top races.

Of course if I am having a bet, or even selecting a horse for a tipping competition, I studiously read the form guide and try and watch races when they are on free to air television.

The form guide is a fascinating document. If you know how to read it and understand all the codes and acronyms you can find a wealth of information within. Consideration must be given to several factors – track, track condition, distance, weight, barrier, weather and form. Sydney horses rarely do well on Melbourne tracks owing to the direction they race in Sydney, which is the reverse of the way they race in Melbourne. The same goes for Melbourne horses racing in Sydney. The best performers seem to be able to handle either way of going.

The different racetracks have peculiarities and individual quirks that will either favour a horse or disadvantage it. For example, Moonee Valley racecourse in Melbourne has a very short straight and a tight corner just before the straight starts. It also has a particular surface that some horses can’t handle. The great Sunline, a super New Zealand mare, really liked Moonee Valley and rarely lost on that course. She rarely lost anywhere else either.

I intend going to Moonee Valley in September as I have done for the last few years, for the first group one race of the season. It’s a good day to go as crowd numbers are not all that large, particularly as the weather has been pretty awful the last two times with rain and hail.

However, it’s a good meeting to see star horses. Last year Makybe Diva ran a stunning race there and only lost by a nose after giving the winner an enormous start. I saw Sunline race against Northerly several years before and I was at the Cox Plate meeting when Might & Power won. I used to go to the Cox Plate every year, but recently it’s just too crowded and the admission cost is astronomical.

Anyway, I shall report on my day at the races when it happens, and hopefully will be able to get some good photos of horses and people.

The above photo is of Makbe Diva winning her third consecutive Melbourne Cup – the first horse in Australian racing history to do so. It’s a gruelling race over 3000 metres (2 miles) and is termed “the race that stops the nation”. In Melbourne we get a holiday, but just about everyone else in Australia watches it on television and has a bet. When I was a child, living in the country, it was broadcast over loud speakers into the classroom.

Two horses in my virtual stable are racing tomorrow – Apache Cat & Cat’s Fun. I don’t really expect them to win as they are both coming back from a spell, but hope they are in the money all the same. Anyway I’ll be interested to see how they go.

1 comment:

chiefbiscuit said...

The virtual betting sounds a good way to still have the thrill of a bet without the agony of losing your money - my kind of betting!
I hope you have a great day at the Races!