A Classic conundrum in the Year of the Dragon

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2012, 12:00am


On the track, the second half of the season is always the most appealing, even if the big international day is well behind us.

Regular high-grade racing, the promises made, kept or broken by the four-year-olds, the sprint series, the best of the season's domestic events belong to the back of the term and we've had two Group Ones in the past week.

Or should that be just one? The Classic Mile looked like a Group One, lined up like one but frankly wasn't very useful as a proper contest of the four-year-olds.

Peppermint's Class Three win in the race beforehand was on a par with the Group One, which was marred by a dreadfully slow tempo that took all the test out of the contest and left us with a con - the only participants that ran to their prior form were the outsiders Packing Tycoon and Horace's Empire, who were able to get closer to their betters by dint of the race being run in 97.6 seconds and reduced to only a 400m dash. And Packing Tycoon was the one who paid for that with a six-point rating penalty that may cost him a victory somewhere.

What the race meant to connections of Sweet Orange was unmistakable. What it meant for the Derby remains to be seen.

The Stewards' Cup, too, was not run at a dashing speed but it was respectable enough to take the result as read, as Ambitious Dragon put away 13 rivals, eight of them good enough to be among the official list of the world's 330-odd top horses of 2011.

It was tough to tell if the Horse of the Year was empty or idling in the final 100m, and since there was nothing to test him properly once he swallowed Xtension whole halfway up the straight, we won't find out.

He did enough to win comfortably and everyone gets paid, but we believe we still didn't see the absolute best of him. That seems reserved for a day when he can sit off a much stronger tempo, yet still produce the same blistering change of gears to go from eighth to first in a few strides.

Back in third, California Memory also produced his big turn of foot to rip lengths off the front runners and the Gold Cup promises a more competitive encounter, but the Year of the Dragon looms large.