Gimme some room! says Beauty Generation
"Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, Don't fence me in, Let me ride through the wide open country that I love, Don't fence me in."
You can almost hear Beauty Generation crooning Cole Porter's 1940s hit in the darkened cool of Sha Tin morning trackwork after his defeat in Sunday's Sha Tin Trophy.
In the past 2 years, Beauty Generation has been beaten in only 4 of his 18 starts but it took the day he lost as a long odds-on favourite for the penny to drop - every time was the exact same scenario. The other three defeats came two years ago, early in the 2017-18 season, when Beauty Generation was just one of the good horses in town, not the standout star he has become since. Since he started between 5.4 and 8.6, defeat was hardly unthinkable so nobody thought to join the dots. Until now.
Those have been the only four times that Beauty Generation did not lead or sit outside the leader.In the 2017 Jockey Club Mile, Beauty Generation led early before being crossed by Winner's Way then Giant Treasure came around him, snookered him behind the leader and forced jockey Derek Leung to check off the heels of Winner's Way on the first turn.
In the 2018 Stewards' Cup, Beauty Generation, from gate 13, again ended up in the box seat behind the leader, when he couldn't cross Giant Treasure early then stablemate Werther came around him to sit outside the leader and edged Beauty Generation back to the inside (below).
In the 2018 Chairman's Trophy, it was frontrunning stayer Time Warp, drawn below Beauty Generation, who led him, and Fifty Fifty provided the other leg of the pincer movement, working to hold a place outside Time Warp in a solid tempo that convinced jockey Douglas Whyte to ease Beauty Generation over behind the leader.
And that was the way things played out on Sunday. This time it was Ka Ying Star who led him, and not unexpectedly. Zac Purton even looked to allowed for that likelihood in his tactical approach, staying in the two path on the track, seemingly with the intent to let Ka Ying Star lead then roll up to sit outside the leader - the same game plan he had used successfully first-up in the Celebration Cup at 1400m and so often the winning formula in Beauty Generation's winning streak.
But this time, Ka Ying Star was not alone. Drawn next door, Glorious Forever came across with Ka Ying Star to take the outside lead position in front of Beauty Generation, and Southern Legend three wide outside Beauty Generation was matching the favourite's pace to put him in a box. As the leaders steadied once they had crossed, Beauty Generation had to be steadied off their heels and Southern Legend's rider Alberto Sanna had enough horse to dictate to Purton and direct him inwards.
In each case, what is striking is that Beauty Generation ostensibly had every chance after being box seated - runs came in the right places but he was unable to go and win.
Just like the other occasions, backers on Sunday would still have seen no reason for alarm. By the time they passed the 600m, Purton was able to edge Southern Legend out of the way and come three wide and get into the race but, once again, Beauty Generation didn't have the kick to assert himself.
Four times out of four might not prove a guaranteed weakness, but it is the makings of a good argument, and, now that rivals might recognise being fenced in is the horse's Achilles' Heel, it seems reasonable to expect that they will try to exploit that.
Everywhere he goes, Ka Ying Star will be going, too, and it seems he is fast enough to make this an ongoing issue.
Perhaps it's mental and the horse doesn't like being fenced in, but perhaps it's more mechanical than that.
One of the myths that has grown up around Beauty Generation is that he wins his races "Vo Rogue style".
Anyone under 50, see YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3d4EBY1-mq4 for replays of this sensational Australian reverse split frontrunner of the late 1980s, who won his races often by running the fastest part of his races between the 1000m and the 300m, often setting up huge breaks on the field. Although he was pursued by some of the all-time greats of Australian racing, horses like Super Impose and Better Loosen Up, with huge finishing capacity, Vo Rogue's chasers had spent so much energy just keeping him in range that they had no sprint at all by the time they turned into the home straight.
By contrast, Beauty Generation's wins have been characterised by unspectacular sectionals, at any stage. At the finish, he has not had the sort of finishing speed that made the likes of Able Friend or Ambitious Dragon so deadly - the times the current champion has ever broken 22 seconds for any 400m split could be counted on one hand, with fingers to spare. Able Friend used to break 22 seconds doing handstands.
No, Beauty Generation's winning talent has been an ability to sustain better than average, but measured, splits for a good part of the race. A relentless but not brutal frontrunning style, pretty to watch in its delicacy but, when he is in behind other horses almost until the home straight, he doesn't get to use that talent and horses with a better brand of 400m acceleration get by him as
Rise High and Waikuku did on Sunday and as others have done before in the same scenario.
That isn't to say he couldn't be Vo Rogue. The one time we have seen Beauty Generation in a role reminiscient of that great old horse was last year's Jockey Club Mile, when there was a very strong pace out of the gates as five of his seven rivals tried to push up under Beauty Generation in the first 200m to keep him wide. Purton elected to ease back initially hoping to let things settle, then circled the field to sit outside the leader, The Golden Age, they came clear and engaged in a war for the front from the 900m. The next 400m was every bit as violent as the early pace and Beauty Generation was utterly gassed - but everything else in the race had been emptied out just trying to stay within shooting distance. Beauty Generation's final 400m wouldn't have flattered a maiden race but those gasping for breath behind were even worse off and he spreadeagled them.
And that he was able to do that may be important going forward.
On Sunday, Purton's body language in the saddle said he clearly didn't want to be in the box where his rivals put him but, with his horse carrying 133 pounds and conceding a minimum of 14 pounds to every other runner, he was probably wary of asserting himself too much too early to ensure the lead, even if he could.
As we go forward now, however, there will be no more handicap assignments for Beauty Generation this season and, under set weights, Purton might be more willing to assert himself and dare others to try to work the Horse Of The Year.
When we go next to the Jockey Club Mile next month, the dress rehearsal for international day, will we see a more assertive Beauty Generation, looking more like Vo Rogue and taking other leaders out of their comfort zone earlier to ensure he leads while forcing run-ons to extend their sprint by a few hundred metres or risk giving him a 10-length start?
I'm not saying that Beauty Generation is about start losing on a regular basis, he's still the horse to beat in anything, especially under more favourable weight conditions, but things just got more interesting now that the competition knows where the kryptonite might be found.