Punters caught between Rock and hard place

Sydney Morning Herald

Monday October 5, 2009

Max Presnell

Rock Kingdom represented not only a fine training performance by Gai Waterhouse in taking out the Epsom Handicap at Randwick on Saturday but also a savage form reversal. Only a week earlier Rock Kingdom, without blinkers, was beaten eight lengths over the same course and distance, 1600m, by Road To Rock, which was third behind him in the Epsom. The turnaround was nine lengths. Sure, ground conditions differed. Road To Rock scored on good but Rock Kingdom surged powerfully through slow going. Before Saturday, though, Road To Rock had much better wet-weather credentials. Blinkers were the key with Rock Kingdom. They were dropped for the George Main after being worn when the gelding was second in the Theo Marks at Rosehill previously. Sure manipulation with blinkers is a practical tool for trainers, also used effectively on Shamoline Warrior, for one, at Flemington on Saturday. But he had been beaten a length, not eight, at his previous start without them. Getting a top-liner 100 per cent for a group 1 target is an art form, practised exquisitely by Waterhouse. Still, anyone who backed Rock Kingdom in the George Main is entitled to have a severe attack of the colic.WORRYING SIGNSA piddling 15,000-odd went to the Epsom meeting, but that necessitated the full-house sign going up because there were too many people in enclosed areas. Even in recent times 40,000-plus have been to Randwick but a government ordinance introduced 18 months ago was responsible for Saturday's debacle that triggered expletives from the normally placid Ron Finemore, the Australian Jockey Club chairman. He is already moving in political circles to get relief. The lock-out followed the new Randwick horse stalls, opened for the first time the previous Saturday, being too small. However, John Cornish, the AJC vice-chairman and a mover and shaker, already has prototypes to rectify the situation, albeit at considerable cost. Perhaps these events will add fuel to the anticipated move against AJC committee persons in coming months. Still, the Finemore-Cornish combination is giving every indication of tidying up the mess left by previous administrations. The weather on Saturday was extreme but the quick deterioration of the Randwick course proper, lacking in necessary grass cover, is another problem that requires attention. The Randwick turf is the responsibility of Turnpoint, the outfit given the task by Racing NSW to police track "minimum standards" in the state. Who is going to adjudicate on headquarters?ALL FIRED UPWhile Randwick patrons on Saturday were striving to find cover from the rain, Flemington racegoers in the Grandstand were evacuated because of a "mysterious fire alarm". Which takes me back decades to a Rosehill bomb scare which also had sirens blaring, reputed to be a signal that a hot favourite was "off", eventuating in a big punter having his fingers burned.SHINN KICKS ONHopefully he isn't damned by faint praise but Blake Shinn produced glimpses of "The Enforcer" at Randwick on Saturday. Being a September 1987 foal, Shinn is still on an upward spiral. Gai Waterhouse mentioned he required motivation recently but considering his age and the adapting necessary for the new whip rules, Shinn progressed to a pitch on Rock Kingdom reminiscent of Mick Dittman. Shinn, though, achieved his result with back-handers applying the new fly swatter.FAULTY TACTICSFavourite punters at Randwick were aghast to see Sydney mare Hot Danish so far back in the Rose Of Kingston Stakes at Flemington on Saturday. Apparently the change of riding tactics was cleared by the stewards but little, if anything, was heard about them at Randwick. After the race, stewards down south questioned jockey Dan Nikolic at length and he maintained she "was entitled to accelerate quicker" under only 56.5kg. Stewards pointed out the finishing sections to him: 1000m 56.3 seconds; 800m 44.6; 600m 33.4. Hot Danish, ridden quietly because of a wide barrier, was beaten three lengths in fifth place. Maybe she'll do a Speed Gifted, one of the most impressive The Metrop winners in recent times. He was beaten by an outside gate at Caulfield at his previous run.HORSE TO FOLLOWViewed: "He was great today. His last 400m was super. He's on the right track," said Brad Rawiller regarding the stallion's three-length seventh in Saturday's Turnbull Stakes at Flemington.DISAPPOINTINGVigor, the $4.20 favourite in the Turnbull Stakes, could finish only 13th and showed no abnormalities after the race, according to Racing Victoria stewards.

© 2009 Sydney Morning Herald

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