On the Rails

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 October, 2009, 12:00am

My high school economics teacher was particularly fond of wheeling out the following analogy when it came to innovation and herd mentality.

If someone goes to a football game and takes an orange box to stand on, that person has an advantage and gets a better view. But if everyone takes an orange box to stand on, then nobody has an edge.

(Now, we won't go into the suppositions involved, including the idea that there was no tiered area, no big screen or designed seating sections ...we're talking late 19th century here, remember. And it ignores the fact that whoever didn't have an orange box loses in every scenario. But we digress.)

The point is that everyone had their orange boxes out at Happy Valley last Wednesday night in the final race won by Easy Ahead and the result was a race that smelled of rotten oranges.

Few races in recent years have caused such talk among professional and just plain observant punters.

It was a glimpse back to the time when a handful of events each season were restricted to local jockeys and usually contested by those who got few real opportunities for the rest of the year.

One expat, who rode with some success here in the early 1990s, once related the tales of those occasional events, in which leaders appeared to hold a distinct advantage and winners were greeted by the enthusiastic cheering in the jockeys' room of local lads who had missed a ride in the race but obviously not missed the boat.

The stewards certainly didn't miss last Wednesday's event.

They have inquired feverishly into the tactics employed in a race in which there were at least four of five potential leaders on paper and found that connections of all the leaders, bar one, were thinking of the same tactical change.

Floral Picasso took a sit, having been burned driving forward from a wide draw in similar circumstances at his previous run as favourite. Likewise, Juggernaut had been doing it tough for several starts pushing on towards the lead in competitive tempos and the decision was made to use a good draw and not press the speed.

Billion and Luminous were in something of the same boat. The only horse without any ambiguity on wanting the lead was Easy Ahead and little Ben So Tik-hung may have been surprised at just how easily he got there and stayed there.

Billion perhaps was the one which rankled most with punters - and with stewards, judging by their extended grilling of connections on Sunday - as there is little doubt his best racing style is to free-bowl since he fights his riders when restrained.

In the past, when tempos have slowed, as last week's event did in the back straight, riders have tended to let Billion have his head and tackle for the lead.

But the grey's connections told the stewards they were very wary of the 131 pounds aboard Billion, vis a vis Easy Ahead's 106 pounds, and had no intention of eyeballing the leader with such weight stacked against them.

So he wrestled with the jockey instead, Easy Ahead had an unexpected picnic in front and proved impossible to run down.

In the end, it is all about chemistry. And orange boxes.

Sometimes a race with no leaders sees a fast pace generated because everyone has the same idea. Sometimes it's a race full of speed where nobody wants the lead.

And if everyone has the same idea, nobody wins - except, of course, the somebody who just played a straight bat and did what was expected.