Dance Hero (pictured) is the best two-year-old I will ever see in my lifetime. Not only could he win all of the Magic Millions 2YO on the Gold Coast and the Sydney Triple Crown during 2004, he also ran electric overall time in two States.
As the 2011/2012 racing season draws to a close and all thoroughbreds turn one year older at the stroke of midnight, it’s worth remembering that in “the good old days” - whenever they were allegedly - people used to think that the easiest way to get a quid was by backing fast and classy 2YO’s from good stables. And history would probably prove that to be a fair comment. You may recall in Eddie “The Fireman” Birchley’s biography that I wrote some years back, that he advised me he once flew to Melbourne investing over $200,000 on two-year-old Caboul, backing the colt from even money into 4/1 on, before he got the money. When it is noted that Caboul first saw the light of day way back in 1972, which is 40 years ago, that $200,000 back then would be some millions in today’s dollar terms. That same strategy of backing two-year-olds was successfully invoked by a big punter I knew and watched as a kid growing up – except obviously not to the financial extent of the Birchley plonks, but this other chap bet quite heavily and successfully way back in the days of the great trainers of 2YO’s like Melbourne’s Angus Armanasco and Cliff Fahler - and Sydney’s Maurice McCarten and Jack Denham, who were four masters at setting a 2YO up.
For his part Angus Armanasco (1912-2005) was getting given numbers of well bred horses to train by Stanley Wootton and Armanasco did a terrific job over many years. Armanasco had tremendous success with Wootton’s Star Kingdom line horses, the likes of Biscay, Bletchingly, The Judge and Zeditave – and upon their retirement all four later became successful sires. Stanley Wootton, a former jockey and later successful trainer in England, is best remembered for importing the stallion Star Kingdom into Australia. That stallion Star Kingdom went on to produce brilliant youngsters including inaugural 1957 Golden Slipper winner Todman – who was incidentally bred, owned and raced by Wootton.
To this day Victorian trainer Cliff Fahler holds a special place in Australian racing history, as in the 1978/79 season he trained an incredible 46 two-year-old winners. Maurice McCarten (1902-1971) was Stanley Wootton’s right hand man in Sydney. McCarten, born in New Zealand, was a former top jockey who in later life was also was a highly successful racehorse trainer. During his career he won four Sydney trainers premierships and ran second to Tommy Smith on another 10 occasions. Jack Denham had Geoff and Beryl White continually sent him well bred youngsters and what a lethal combination they were with the right horse.
Sadly today - it’s so much harder to find a trainer who can set up a 2YO. In fact in the modern era really only Sydney trainer Gai Waterhouse has shone to any major degree. Her feats in 2004 with 2YO Dance Hero to win a Magic Millions and the Triple Crown of the Golden Slipper, Sires Produce and Champagne Stakes won’t ever be repeated in our lifetime, as it takes a special gutsy and sound 2YO to land that wonderful feat. And Dance Hero wasn’t mollycoddled - he had it stuck to him right from January of 2004 until April 2004. He even had the audacity to run brilliant overall times, as he won the 1200-metre Magic Millions at the Gold Coast in 1.08.70, then three months later he stopped the clock at an even faster 1.08.60 in the Golden Slipper. And he didn’t beat scrubbers in the Golden Slipper, as subsequent Group 1 winner Charge Forward ran second and the subsequent four times Group 1 winning Melbourne filly Alinghi ran third. As a measure of just how great Dance Hero was - only one 2YO, the brilliant Clan O’Sullivan, has ever run quicker overall time in a Magic Millions 2YO, first run a quarter of a century ago, in 1987 – and that was only by 0.20 of a second, or a little over one length. If you asked me on my death bed who was the best thing beaten I ever saw in a thoroughbred race, before closing my eyes I’d probably mutter “Clan O’Sullivan in the Golden Slipper for what they did to him that day was disgraceful”. The bookies had to get him beaten – and they did.
Just this year Gai Waterhouse was back at it again – doing a fine job with her Lonhro colt Pierro. Time wise, he wouldn’t keep up with the brilliant Dance Hero at 2Y0, but nevertheless his effort to win the Sydney 2YO Triple Crown this year was tip top. An interesting point about Dance Hero and Pierro is that when Dance Hero won his Triple Crown, he had to race and win on three consecutive Saturdays, whereas Pierro had a 14-day gap between the Sires Produce and the Champagne Stakes, so really Dance Hero would play Pierro off the break in any test you throw at them as 2YO’s.
The main unexpected problem that can hit the classy 2YO’s - or the slow 2YO for that matter - is shin soreness, which could pull up a train, if it were a thoroughbred, and hence any young horse is vulnerable. Many plonks on good 2YO’s have been left in the bookies bags over the years as shin soreness came into play on race day, during the run. The harder the track, the more likely shin soreness is to happen in the run. Once again penetrometer readings should have some relevance in telling trainers just how hard a specific track is, but I personally believe many penetromer readings in this country are best described in one word as “crap” – as I’m convinced they are “just a figure plucked out of thin air by track managers” – and I would be talking of metropolitan tracks when I make that statement.
In the old days, they used to not spell a 2YO or 3YO with the onset of shin soreness, like they do nowadays. Instead they’d gallop it either in a race on a rock hard track - or up the centre of a bitumen road – to make the horses shins so sore that the horse could not bear to stand on them. To see a horse who is in extreme pain from shin soreness is probably cruel, but it's actually an amazing sight, as they will quickly shuffle from one front leg to the other – just to have one front leg off the ground – for some pain relief. “Shin soreness” is actually a hairline fracture of the cannon (shin) bone – so naturally a horse feeling shin soreness can’t gallop to their optimum. Every 2YO and most 3YO’s and even some 4YO’s and 5YO’s will exhibit some degree of shin soreness in a preparation. As with different pain barriers in humans, the same thing applies in horses and some handle the early onset of shin soreness better than others.
In the 2011/2012 season we got to see four top two-year-olds. Tomorrow I look at those four two-year-olds, one of which I’m sure will become the top three-year-old in Australia in the 2012/2013 season. I’ll also name the one I believe will be the best of those four.
Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there is the first of two big montages of photos from Marburg harness racing last Saturday and Doomben thoroughbreds last Saturday. On www.sydneyracing.com.au David Clarkson looks at Black Caviar's possible retirement and the Queen's racing interests and other interesting snippets, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au Matt Nicholls looks at how every Group 1 favourites fared in the 2011/2012 racing season - and the results are interesting to say the least.