When weight doesn’t matter… By Rob Young

When weight doesn’t matter… By Rob Young

Hugh Bowman got Liapari home on Saturday. Photo courtesy Daryl Duckworth.

One of the common ploys in racing, particularly in Winter on wet tracks, is to put a claiming apprentice up in a relatively weak race, and use that 3 or 4 kilo claim to try to “steal” a win. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If you can get a video of the TAB Rewards Handicap at Rosehill last Saturday, you will be able to see a classic example of an occasion when this strategy didn’t work.

The race was a Benchmark 85 event over 1500 metres on a Heavy 8 track. Not an overly strong field, and a favourite, Moss ‘N’ Dale, known as a wet track specialist, being ridden by a 3-kilo claimer, Jack Martin. Now, to be fair, Jack Martin is a very competent 21 year old Victorian apprentice. He has had nearly 1000 race rides and has a winning strike rate of 7%, which isn’t bad for a young bloke. But, he hasn’t had that much experience in Sydney, in fact Saturday’s race was, I think, his second ride in the Harbour City. It was certainly his first ride at Rosehill, and Rosehill can be a tricky track for any rider. On the plus side for the horse’s chances, his claim meant that the horse carried 56 kg rather than its’ allotted 59 kg, and, on a track that was testing, that contributed to Moss ‘N’ Dale being sent out as the $2.30 favourite on TAB Fixed Odds.

As things turned out, young Jack rode a competent race. He positioned the horse in the front half of the field, moved into the lead with around 200 metres to run, and looked to have the race all parceled up with about 20 metres to go.

But Hugh Bowman had other ideas.

Bowman was riding Liapari, a bit of a conundrum for punters and a horse that needs a fair bit of “gentle persuasion” to do his best. After 21 starts, he has collected a winner’s cheque on 5 occasions. All of those wins have been when a senior rider was on board. The race on Saturday was a clear case of the master outriding the apprentice. Bowman tracked Moss ‘N’ Dale down the running, looked for a run to the outside, was disappointed in that and then went back to the rails and literally threw Liapari over the line for a narrow victory with Moss ‘N’ Dale hanging on to second placing. It was an outstanding ride, and a ride that showed very clearly that experience and strength in a tight finish on a wet track absolutely trump the benefits of a 3-kilo claim!

Again, Jack Martin did nothing wrong. But watch the replay and the difference in the ability of the young rider to get the most out of his mount, and the capacity the champion rider showed to do the same is really marked. It was clearly the difference between the results for the two horses.

So, the question comes down to whether or not a claim is a good move.

Winter racing is always a tricky time of year for punters, trainers and jockeys alike. For punters, wet tracks add another level of complexity in trying to pick a winner. For trainers, Winter often plays havoc with training schedules, and can disrupt the best laid plans to get Winter horses, who are often not quite up to the standards of class or performance that we see in Autumn and Spring, race-fit and ready to win. For jockeys, Winter tracks mean even more emphasis needs to be placed on balancing a horse during a race, keeping them in their comfort zone for as long as possible, and timing that rush to the line just perfectly. Bowman’s ride on Saturday was a Winter gem. He tucked Liapari in behind the leaders, and kept him there until the last possible moment before launching the gelding at the line.

Jack Martin’s claim meant that Liapari carried 1.5 kilos more than Moss ‘N’ Dale. That should have been enough to hold off the challenge, and had it been enough, the claim would have been justified. Problem was that the experience and strength of the senior rider was worth 2 kilos!

That’s the dilemma for trainers and the lesson for punters. There is a real case to be made for claiming, but the argument also needs to be put that, on the more difficult surfaces, the relative inexperience of a claiming apprentice can often negate the benefits of a claim. Many trainers take the view that using a claim makes more sense on a good track than on a heavy track, and I have to say that’s a view I share. Horses that can handle the heavy tracks may not actually need weight relief, and Liapari was a case in point.

Racing is full of instances where the best-laid plans fall apart. Moss ‘N’ Dale’s Victorian trainer, Peter Gelagotis, tried to replicate a successful cross-border raid with Moss ‘N Dale on Saturday – on April 22 Moss ‘N Dale took out a Randwick BM78 using the same jockey and the same tactics on the same track conditions. Worked then, certainly worth another go! But this time a Bowman got in the way.