Shampoo the latest prohibited substance
by Brian Lawlor
Hardly a month rolls by without racing getting unwelcome headlines because of the controversial Prohibited Substance rule.
We’ve already seen Alligator Blood disqualified from the $2 million Magic Millions Guineas after a substance that would have no impact on the horse’s performance was detected in a swab, but the latest case provides an even starker example of the absurdity of the rule.
Warwick Farm trainer Gary Portelli was charged after his horse Lord Zoulander returned a positive swab to a product called Minoxidil.
The owners lost the race and the trainer copped a $3000 fine, but examine the case a closely and the absurdity of the rule is fully exposed.
Minoxidil is a substance used in medicated hair growth shampoos.
Now the author of this piece is probably a candidate for such a product, but I’m pretty sure Lord Zoulander didn’t need it to win at Kembla Grange in May.
In the stewards report into the case it was established that a stable hand employed by Gary Portelli utilised such a medicated shampoo.
More importantly, the stewards reported that he estimated levels of Minoxidil detected by the Australian Racing Forensic Laboratory were considered low and most likely to be consistent with contamination and not administration.
And therein lies the problem. Testing of blood and urine samples are getting so sophisticated that minute amounts of chemicals are being picked up.
Horses licking coffee cups or coming into contact with a drug using stable hand can result in a positive result on race day.
The Rules Of Racing have no discretionary powers so that any horse with a prohibited substance simply has to be disqualified, even if the substance doesn’t improve the performance of a horse or if it’s in minute quantities that have no effect on speed or stamina.
Harness racing has seen a number of trainers charged after horses produced swabs with arsenic detected and that’s because that chemical is used to treat timber posts and is also contained in pine shavings used as bedding.
These trainers are losing races and fined a nominal fee simply because the rules of racing provide no discretion in dealing with prohibited substances.
This is a complex issue, but natural justice is not being served by the rigidity of this rule and it’s time a solution was found.
47% Winning strike rate is an impressive figure
Ontrack’s decision to increase horse numbers with Sunshine Coast trainer David Vandyke looks timely.
David Vandyke is starting his fifth season in the Sunshine State and as the first month of the new season draws to a close, he’s made a flying start.
A double at Doomben last Saturday sees Vandyke second on the trainers’ premiership to Tony Gollan thanks to an incredible winning strike rate of 46% so far in 2020-21.
He’s lined up 17 starters so far for 8 wins and 4 placegetters and that gives him a winning strike rate of 47% and a place strike rate of 70%.
Ontrack’s Grant Morgan said when David Vandyke relocated from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast in 2016, he was keen to have horses with the trainer.
“We have supported David from day one and the partnership has been fantastic for both parties.
“Like all associations, it had taken time to gather momentum but we are increasing our numbers with David and this season we will have four gallopers in the stable.
“David was a premiership winning trainer at 23 when he started out at Kembla Grange and he was a Group One trainer at Rosehill before moving north in 2016.
“It’s interesting to note that he started with two barns at the Sunshine Coast but after the first season he cut back his team significantly because he wanted to be able to give each horse in his care individual attention.
“The patient and meticulous approach to training by David is evident when you see how he kept Alligator Blood racing so well during an incredible three-year-old season.
“That attention to detail and horsemanship is what Ontrack likes and we are confident of some good times ahead with the young horses David will be preparing for us,” said Grant Morgan.
Figures reveal that last season was David Vandyke’s best since arriving in Queensland as his boutique stable philosophy started to pay dividends.
He trained 33 metropolitan winners from 139 starters for the best strike rate in the state of 23.4%.
The two seasons previously produced 23 wins at 20% (2018-19) and 28 wins at 23% (2017-18) and judging by the results so far this month, the stable is poised to blow these figures out of the water.
Arctic Shock re-fuels before Moonee Valley return
Ontrack’s talented mare Arctic Shock is having a well deserved break.
The daughter of Shocking went to the paddock after a campaign which saw luck desert her.
She had eight starts for Chris and John Meagher’s Mornington stable and while not able to win she recorded seven minor placings. The only failure came on a heavy Flemington track.
Arctic Shock went to the paddock after a game third at Moonee Valley where she was three wide the trip after drawing the outside barrier.
Ontrack’s Grant Morgan said the Moonee Valley run confirmed a couple of things that will be useful when the mare races next.
“I think we have finally landed firmly on how this mare should be trained and raced.
“I am of the strong view that she is essentially a 1600m horse who appreciates being ridden a bit quiet off a good tempo.
"Whilst she has won over 2000m, I think she is better trained as a 1400m-1600m horse and kept on the fresh side.
Morgan has top jockeys Craig Williams and Ben Melham in his corner, with both riders sharing this view.
“I think training her to try and get 2000m-2400m takes the speed out of her and she becomes a bit of a 'grinder'.
“I also feel she is clearly at her best at Moonee Valley. Her top three career ratings are now all at Moonee Valley which is a 'speed' track,” said Grant Morgan.
Arctic Shock will have a few more weeks in the paddock before returning to work with some spring targets at Moonee Valley and Caulfield on the radar.
Nature Strip shapes strongly for rich sprint
The career of ever reliable stallion Nicconi is poised to reach unprecedented heights off the back of one very special horse this season.
Nicconi has always been a steady supplier of winners and from eight racing crops his record is 491 runners for 343 winners of 1034 wins.
Last season his progeny around the world surpassed the $10 million mark for the first time and that record looks under threat even though the Southern Hemisphere season is only weeks old.
And the reason for that sits squarely on one horse.
Nature Strip is Nicconi’s pin-up horse and the brilliant sprinter looks set to catapult Nicconi to the top of the Australian Sires’ Premiership in the weeks ahead as he builds to the $15 million The Everest.
Given the ridiculous ease of Nature Strip’s barrier trial on Tuesday it’s going to take a good horse to deny him in The Everest.
Last season Yes Yes Yes captured the richest sprint in the world and that victory was enough to make his sire Rubick the champion sire of Three-Year-Olds.
The Everest is run at Royal Randwick on October 17 and should Nature Strip win he will bank $6.2 million to add to the $5.14 million he’s already earned.
Given that Nicconi’s progeny won $9.1 million in Australia last season, an Everest win would promote the stallion to the head of the premiership table and with plenty of other nice horses running around he will be a major player for champion stallion bragging rights.
Nicconi has covered 669 for the last four seasons so he’s got plenty of fire power yet to hit the racetracks of Australia so Nature Strip will have plenty of support this season.
Pride of Dubai records impressive Group winner
Breeding giant Coolmore looks to have another star stallion in Pride Of Dubai.
The talented galloper is the only horse to win the Group One double of the Blue Diamond and Sires Produce Stakes and stands at Coolmore’s Hunter Valley and Irish studs and his first crop of Australian horse raced last season.
Pride Of Dubai had 12 first crop Southern Hemisphere winners for earnings of $1.1 million to make him the Champion Australian First Season Sire for 2019/2020.
The horse is travelling just as well in the Northern Hemisphere with his first Northern Hemisphere stakes-winner in the UK with a strong finishing victory in last weekend’s Group 3 Sweet Solera Stakes (1400m) at Newmarket for Star of Emaraaty, a two-year-old filly from the Ad Valorem mare La Grande Elisa.
Pride Of Dubai has now sired two Northern Hemisphere winners and he has plenty more ammunition to come with over 100 two-year-olds to run for him up there.
A gorgeous looking son of champion sire Street Cry (sire of Winx), Pride OF Dubai is an athletic horse with a great walk and when first paraded to the Ontrack Hunter Valley Horse and Wine Tour in 2016.
Breeders were obviously impressed because the horse hasn’t lacked support with books of 177 (2016), 171 (2017), 146 (2018) and 176 (2019).
He is the fastest son of Street Cry and is closely related to two of the world’s most influential stallions in Invincible Spirit and Kodiak.
Pride of Dubai stands at Coolmore Australia this spring at a fee of $38,500, the same service fee as 2019.
He has had a strong year in the sale-ring with four yearlings selling for $500,000 or more and his overall average price up markedly from 2019 indicating the high regard in which his progeny are held.
Ontrack purchased a Pride Of Dubai filly at the March Magic Millions Sale on the Gold Coast and she was the highest priced lot at the sale fetching $170,000.
A half-sister to the talented Group performer Looks Like The Cat, the filly has been broken in by talented horseman Greg Bennett at Fenwick Farm, Canungra, and is currently spelling at Waverley Park before another pre-training session that will have her ready to join trainer David Vandyke’s Sunshine Coast stable.
Consistent sprinter reunites with Michael Cahill
Ultra-consistent sprinter Dream Master is ready to return to the fray.
Dream Master was pencilled in for a race last month but a wide draw and a wet track saw the good looking gelding scratched.
Instead, Dream Master trialled at the Gold Coast on Monday morning and he showed he was ready to race with a pleasing effort leading and then being nosed out on the line.
Dream Master is down to run in a Class Six Plate at Eagle Farm tomorrow and has drawn perfectly in gate 4 over 1000 metres.
Ontrack Thoroughbreds Managing Director Grant Morgan believes Dream Master finds himself in a winnable race for a change.
“He is probably the unluckiest horse we’ve ever had in terms of drawing wide barrier draws.
“The last time he drew inside was six starts ago when he scored a dominant win at Doomben back in September last year.
“His Eagle Farm is good with two starts for two placings and drawing an inside gate means he can either lead without doing any early work or settle just behind the speed.
“Michael Cahill has ridden him in three trials this time in and he retains the ride. Michael has only ridden the horse once and that was when he scored that Doomben win.
“He’s a very genuine horse who always gives 100 per cent and Michael’s got great hands and balance and he suits this horse.
“Having a third trial has been beneficial in getting the horse close to peak fitness and while these older horses often take more racing to heat form, we are pretty happy with the horse heading to Eagle Farm,” said Grant Morgan.
Master of Wine, North Pacific & Masked Crusader head talented team
When it comes to moulding young horses into stars John Hawkes has few peers and along with sons Michael and Wayne he’s poised for a fantastic start to the new season.
Hawkes Racing has stables at Rosehill and Flemington and earlier in the week they gave a sneak preview of what lies ahead when they trialled a number of horses on the Rosehill track.
In typical understated Hawkes fashion most were there for a quiet hit out designed to lift fitness levels, but all shaped up well.
If you want to imagine how the spring will play out for Hawkes Racing, look at the mouth-watering list of horses they trialled on Tuesday morning: Master of Wine, Kingsheir, Wild Planet, Angel Of Truth, Zebrowski, Masked Crusader, North Pacific, Ole Kirk and Rock.
And don’t forget that potential superstars such as Supernova, Mount Popa, Doubtland and Greyworm were back in their boxes.
Over the last 12 years John Hawkes and his boys have developed the dual state stable operation into a slick enterprise.
John, Michael and Wayne were the first three-person training partnership in Australian racing. They were the first training partnership to saddle up a runner in Sydney racing, winning with their first ever runner – Real Saga in the 2008 Listed Breeders Plate.
They also prepared the first Group One winner by a training partnership in Sydney racing when Fiumicino won the 2009 The BMW on Golden Slipper Day at Rosehill Gardens.
Team Hawkes has enjoyed unbridled success, producing more than 700 winners, 15 at Group One level, a total of 95 stakes wins and stable earnings exceeding $50 million.
Ontrack has placed some nice young horses with the Hawkes Racing operation in the last few years and is impressed with the setup.
“We are a fan of multi-state operations because they make it simple to target races when trainers have a dual state operation,” said Grant Morgan.
“The first horse we placed with Hawkes Racing has had preparations in Sydney and Melbourne and won a Flemington jump out and is spelling.
“He’s got used to working right and left handed, has travelled between both centres and will be ready to slot into whatever stable they chose when he’s next in work.
“Ontrack is very keen on training partnerships because in today’s seven day a week business it’s very tough for a sole trainer and in our experience there’s no better way to operate a partnership than a family business,” said Grant Morgan.
Always On Show shapes well for spring
Ontrack’s promising filly Always On Show is gearing up for a spring return.
The attractive daughter of Showcasing showed plenty of promise during a short racing campaign during the winter and three runs showed she has plenty of talent.
In her first preparation with Kris Lees at Newcastle, Always On Show was beaten narrowly when racing as a two-year-old against older horses and then ran fourth in the Group 3 Ken Russell Memorial before finishing a luckless eighth in the Bill Carter Stakes beaten less than two and a half lengths.
“It’s fair to say that Always On Show showed enormous talent in what was her first racing preparation,” said Ontrack’s Grant Morgan.
“She went from pre-training at Fenwick Farm in Queensland to Kris’s Newcastle stable and after trialling nicely she was able to get to the races and perform with distinction in that first preparation.
“Very few young horses can go through their first preparation and get to the races so it’s fair to say she over-achieved in that campaign.
“The beauty of having her race in Queensland over the winter carnival was that we could turn her out in the warm conditions and she has really grown and strengthened.
“She is currently in the early stages of pre-training with Greg Bennett at Fenwick Farm and then is likely to head to the Newcastle stable once again for a fresh campaign.
“Being able to compete in black type races in that first campaign suggests she could prove a very nice filly in the spring.”
The Kris Lees stable has notched up another fantastically successful season with the stable recording a total of 215.5 wins on tracks around Australia.
That puts the Lees stable fourth out of all trainers in the country and he’s likely to build on last season now that his dual state operation with stables at Newcastle and the Gold Coast is now operating at peak efficiency.
Pride of Dubai, Better Than Ready & Bel Esprit fillies impress
Ontrack’s last batch of yearlings have completed their breaking in with flying colours.
The trio of fillies came out of the March Magic Millions QTIS Sale and have just completed their initial education with master horseman Greg Bennett at Fenwick Farm, Canungra, in South East Queensland.
Ontrack’s Grant Morgan said the three fillies were broken in later than usual because of issues with the Covid 19 situation.
“We like to give our yearlings a spell after their sales preparations but these girls had a little longer than usual in the paddock as the Covid situation played out.
“The extra time wasn’t really an issue and the three all came through their education with Greg in great style and he is very happy with how they came through the process,” said Grant Morgan.
The fillies are the Pride Of Dubai-Fiery Dee who topped the Magic Millions Sale, a Better Than Ready filly from Spritely Girl and a Bel Esprit-Flamenco youngster.
The Pride Of Dubai and Better Than Ready youngsters are heading to the Sunshine Coast stable of David Vandyke and the Bel Esprit filly will be trained by Toby and Trent Edmonds at the Gold Coast.
Breaker Greg Bennett was impressed with all three fillies and here’s his summation of the trio:
Pride Of Dubai-Fiery Dee filly: “Arrived from Waverley Park in great order and proved to be a lovely filly to work with. Took to the groundwork without any issue and everything proved a good experience. Continued under saddle without any problems and quickly built up confidence as she prepares for the track.”
Better Than Ready-Spritely Girl filly: “She arrived in good order and settled in well. She's been a good learning filly undergoing the groundwork stages and moving easily to being ridden. All went well during her breaking in which was a positive and quiet experience.”
Bel Esprit-Flamenco filly: “She settled straight into her new routine and was quickly underway with the daily groundwork. She's a lovely filly and she was going around nicely before turning out for a spell. She’s a pleasure to work with and is a quick learner.”
Grant Morgan said the three fillies will have a month at Waverley Park with the Queensland sun on their backs before heading back to Fenwick Farm for another period of pre-training.
“The next pre-training preparation at Fenwick Farm will reinforce their breaking in education and add to their fitness and strength but they’re all very nice young horses and being QTIS fillies they have the potential to earn some lucrative bonuses during their two and three-year-old seasons,” he said.