Star performer still has to beat the clock
MAKARPURA Star confirmed himself as one of the best horses in the territory by landing the 2,000-metre Gold Cup in authoritative fashion at Sha Tin last Sunday.
But, as if to ram home last week's point about the shape of a race being all important, the star New Zealand import was not allowed to prove it on the clock, earning a relatively moderate Topspeed of 72 while winning the $3.1 million showpiece event.
The authorities have already come in for a good deal of stick for running one of the territory's most prestigious events on the 'C' course and they are not going to get any sympathy from this quarter, as there seems little doubt that the choice of course probably meant a fast-time performance was a total non-starter.
Sure, the standard times on which Topspeed calculations are based take into account the change in nature of the track due to the rail being moved out, but they simply cannot account for the increased likelihood of trouble.
Standard times are based on truly run races and that has to mean basically trouble-free races.
That is not an impossible aim for lower Class races but in major events with a great deal at stake the jostling for a good early position becomes all important and first bend trouble is virtually guaranteed with the short run-up of the 'C' course.
In this respect we can learn from those who follow greyhound racing. Any keen student of that sport will tell you that trouble at the first bend automatically translates into a slow time.
Indeed, when a race looks graded for a first bend melee, a shrewd move is often to side with the slowest animal in the field.
He may lack the overall talent of the others but the fact that he can virtually be guaranteed to miss the trouble gives him a built-in edge over the rest.
OK, so the Gold Cup is not a dog race but the point is by scheduling it to be run on the 'C' course the race planners are in danger of treating it as one.
Certainly the post-race comments of River Verdon's pilot John Marshall illustrates the problems of this particular track, as indeed does the stewards' report.
Confirming that 'there was plenty of bumping and barging going on', Marshall reflected that 'the run round the first bend was very rough' and 'it looked as if some were coming in at right angles in order to try to get a position'.
Marshall reckoned that he and River Verdon were hampered five times throughout the race.
So, considering that pair finished third, there is little wonder that the time was nothing special and it is clear that using the 'C' course leaves a high-profile race open to be won by an inferior animal who stays out of trouble.
None of this is meant to detract from Makarpura Star. We know that the John Moore-trained galloper is capable of better and it is not his fault that he has not been required to win in a faster time.
Nevertheless, it is also true that we cannot say with any conviction exactly how good this Derby winner is.
For one reason or another, he has still to totally prove himself against the clock.
Let's hope the Queen Elizabeth II Cup on April 1 provides the acid test and answers that question.
As for the time performance of the day, that came in the Sports Club Golden Jubilee Challenge Cup with Guts justifying favouritism and clocking a Topspeed of 72 for his defeat of Ever The Best (74) and Blazing Blade (72).
Despite the fact that a small blanket would have covered the first eight home, the time certainly suggests that the form is solid and the race should work out well in the future.
The post-race assertion of jockey Gary Stevens that Guts will be suited by an extra 400 metres is definitely borne out by his Irish form.
This likable four-year-old returned by far the best of three runs in Ireland last year when second at Gowran Park over 1,400 metres.
Make no mistake he will be winning more races when stepped up in trip.
Pride And Joy could not have been more impressive in landing the Peel Handicap and the fact that he still clocked a useful 54 speed figure suggests he is set to progress through the classes.