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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

Wrong time, wrong race in Sweynesse flop


Horses lose.

That's the lesson that we are taught again and again over the years as racing fans and punters.

(Almost) all horses lose.

The Black Caviars and Frankels, who string together victories like night follows day and are never beaten, are very much the exception, even amongst the world's best, and are as much about brilliant management and good luck at the right time as they are about perfect talent.

Lucky Sweynesse is not unbeatable but in simple terms, he flopped. And the defeat of the world's top sprinter in the Chief Executive's Cup on the weekend was what you get when a horse is in a race that makes no sense.

Opening day at Sha Tin has its share of colour and pageantry as the chairman bangs the gong and it's good luck everybody to get the season underway, but it also has a

little bit of history for the few very short-priced favourites we seen on what is generally a very open, competitive card.

Future Dubai Alquoz Sprint winner, Amber Sky was beaten at 1.2 in Class 3 in 2012, Rattan was beaten at 1.4 in 2018 and now we can add Lucky Sweynesse at odds of 1.2 as well.

But, to assess his defeat, we have to look at how the Chief Executive’s Cup was run and what role the race was to play in his campaign, where there was no sneaky plan to slip off to the Sprinters Stakes in Japan, requiring a prep race now, and his earliest major is the Hong Kong Sprint.

On the latter, the Chief Executive's Cup was more a hindrance than a help.

The big target is 3 months away - to the day - which is shortening his summer break and stretching his preparation out longer than necessary.

And that was a key point In how things turned out when it is viewed alongside the former.

The first 400m in 25.01 seconds was the joint seventh-slowest for that section from 1,877 Sha Tin 1200m events in the last 20 seasons – on all kinds of going.
The second section in 23.46 seconds was the 74th-slowest over that period.
But that left Victor The Winner with plenty of energy to rip down the straight in 21.40 seconds, the second-fastest final 400m from those 1,877 races and only 0.01 seconds behind the fastest, set by Beat the Clock in the 2018 Sprint Cup on a firm track.

I'm making no reference to the state of the going. The official going for the race was yielding, which was upgraded for the following race, but I would suggest the ground was more like good to yielding for the whole day.

In the times above, that was all swings and roundabouts anyway - the early speed was woefully slow, the high class horses ran their first 400m 1.14 seconds slower than the next race for the lowest grade of horse in Hong Kong, Class 5, but their final 400m, as indicated, was fast for any grade on any track.

So that was the scenario for Lucky Sweynesse, giving away 20 pounds to a talented leader, Victor The Winner, and needing to run a record final 400m to beat him..

And that came down to pilot error – a poor ride from champion jockey Zac Purton.

It is easy to lay the blame for that on Purton, he's the jockey. But the reasons underpinning that ride can't be separated from Lucky Sweynesse being in the race at all. As Rome's Marc Antony might have said: I do not come to bury Purton, but nor to praise him.

On paper, the race looked a very slow tempo long before the gates opened. The obvious plan for Purton, with the outside draw and the only leader immediately inside him, would be to follow Victor The Winner across early and travel through the race at his tail or outside him before engaging in a sprint for home.

But that isn’t what happened - Purton steadied Lucky Sweynesse straight out of the gates and the race was basically over after 100m.

Perhaps it was good old-fashioned hubris - this is the champion, we will pick up the leader whenever we like - or maybe it comes back to the timing of the race.

Perhaps Purton was mindful of asking too much of the horse first-up, under a big handicap, and especially when the rain came, with the risk of flattening him for more important targets ahead.

And that’s the problem with running in a race that should not have been on his schedule.

Given the sectionals, sitting outside the lead in 25.01 seconds is something Lucky Sweynesse could have managed doing handstands, and, had Sunday's race been an actual target instead of an indulgence, you can bet pounds to pennies on Purton would have been close in that tempo. But digging him out of the gates at all was not on the agenda.

There's no suggestion Zac was doing anything but trying to win the race but, by running Lucky Sweynesse in this race, connections set the jockey an extra layer of difficulty - win it while still looking after Lucky Sweynesse for the thick end of the campaign.

Victor The Winner is a very smart sprinter and maybe time will show that 20 pounds was enough to swing things his way anyway but wrong time, wrong race for the favourite made sure of it.

I’ll be treating the Chief Executive’s Cup as a barrier trial for future analysis.

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