Reflections on Golden Slipper Day

There were three racing ‘heroes’ at Rosehill on Saturday for the Longines Golden Slipper meeting, first Chris Toogood’s track which enabled the meeting to be even held after another deluge of Sydney monsoon, second the Slipper itself which held up a great Australian racing fact that anyone from anywhere with the cheapest horse can win a major and thirdly the champion mare Winx.

It was with some amazement that everyone assembled at Rosehill for the meeting on Saturday morning. By the end of the afternoon there must have been in excess of 100m of rain on the track over the preceding seven days, however the meeting was conducted and it was safe.

It was a tiring work on the Heavy 10 as a weary duo of William Buick and Hartnell (GB) testify, picture

Fair might not come into it, but that is not the fault of the track, just the reality of some horses coping and most not. Winx aside there were wide finishing margins and the times naturally reflected the conditions. She Will Reign covered the Group 1 Golden Slipper 1200m dash in 1.15.04, someway short of Dance Hero’s 1.08.60 race record in 2004. But that was the day that it was and better that than another Monday postponed effort.

As with Randwick’s ATC team Toogood’s track staff at Rosehill have produced excellent racing surfaces under exceptional conditions. Sydney has had rain for 19 of the last 22 days.

The Golden Slipper field brought together the mighty and world-wide powerful with runners, the winner of the Magic Millions 2YO Classic, Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes and a collection of black type winners in between.

She Will Reign and Ben Melham beat them all, not just fair and square, but a good old fashioned belting. The celebrations from the very large contingent of supporters, some of whom stumped up the $20,000 to buy the unfashionable Manhattan Rain filly, were wonderful.

They stood in a group by the running rail near the rose arch to watch the race. One, taller than the others, was looking over their heads at the broadcast screen. He saw Melham make his move on the inside off the turn into the main straight. Roaring support he charged off under the arch and down the race to the mounting yard to give further encouragement to Melham’s tactics and his racy filly.

She Will Reign and Melham zipped past the post and the cheering and hugging began in earnest with the disappearing cheer leader charging back into the fray in a stacks on the mill embrace of his co-owners. Why not, they all shared $2.5 million in stakes for her five races.

Trainer Gary Portelli is a likeable man. He takes what he can get and turns them out well. Realistic, he is also not afraid to travel with his stars, Gold Trail to Royal Ascot, Rebel Dane to Sha Tin. He had not won a Slipper before, plenty of runners, but he fixed the winning part on Saturday and it was deserved.

Gary Portelli likes a Golden Slipper, picture

Last year this column wrote “The silkiness of Winx’s power is the abiding memory of Rosehill on Saturday as the four-year-old Street Cry mare won the Group 1 WFA George Ryder Stakes (1500m).”

Change that to five-year-old and the same applies except for one caveat, Winx is getting better.

It will be interesting to see what our colleagues at calculate with their Timeform ratings early in the week.

Visually though Saturday was complete and spine tingling to be on course. The crowd watch for Hugh Bowman to set the mare alight around the field from the 500m and they start to roar. There cannot have been a smaller Slipper crowd in modern times, but they created a wall of noise and appreciation of Winx and Bowman as she put the field to the sword.

Bowman is modest about his part and because he rides with such skill and a lack of movement on the mare the subtly of his guiding her is not obvious, but it is the skill of a supreme horseman. To be effortless is actually very hard.

Before the Timeform guys work away on the abacus here are the five final 600m times of each of the Group 1 races on Saturday. Forgetting the obvious differences in distances and age groups they give a clear indication of Winx’s superiority as a racehorse;

Winx – 34.88
Russian Revolution – 36.36
Our Ivanhowe – 37.02
She Will Reign – 37.14
Gingernuts – 38.18

There was world class on display on Saturday with runners, jockeys and sponsors. While the adverse weather no doubt kept patrons away it was disappointing that only 13,568 attended the renovated course and its stand facilities.

In 2016 the crowd figure was 19,781, in 2015 19,504, while back in 2010 over 30,000 attended. It takes a long time to build a brand and not long to dismantle one and the Golden Slipper meeting has felt the full brunt of that with disastrous marketing campaigns, multiple slogans and movement of dates.

This meeting is too important to allow it to drop any further. The ingredients are there with world class racing and facilities and this must be backed by a similar standard of promotional support with pretty pictures on Twitter not cutting it.

Winx throws up her kick back as she and Hugh Bowman head for the line, picture