2015 Race Quality
Our pre-race WFA Performance ratings suggested that this year's Caulfield Guineas lacked depth compared to past years and that's the way it turned out. We didn't see anything 'jump out of the ground' and run to a big new peak befitting of historical Caulfield Guineas quality and even the winner Press Statement ran to a performance level below his previous best.
Press Statement was heavily favoured as a standout betting prospect in our preview and he did a great job to cross from a wide draw and lead the field to win, defying a clear pattern on the day. However the merit of those factors are subjective... on the facts and figures, his win only rated 101.5 against a peak of 103.4 (1.2L off his best). No matter how you try to dissect the indicators, it's impossible to objectively rate the performance any higher. 101.5 really is the maximum reasonable rating.
That rating makes this year's Caulfield Guineas the lowest rating edition in recent years. Below is a comparison of winner ratings for the past 8 years.
- 2015 – Press Statement – 101.5
- 2014 – Shooting to Win – 105.2
- 2013 – Long John - 105
- 2012 – All Too Hard – 108
- 2011 – Helmet – 107
- 2010 – Anacheeva – 102
- 2009 – Starspangledbanner – 107
- 2008 – Whobegotyou – 108
It may not sit comfortably with intuition or racing logic to have Press Statement carry that label, but if we take a simple look at some key indicators the clock, the signs of a moderate rating race are there.
- Press Statement ran 0.6 seconds slower overall time for the 1600m than the Thousand Guineas winner Stay With Me. (wind speed was comparable, almost non existent 4-6km/h in both races - yes, we do look at wind speed.)
- Press Statement Led at an even speed, while Stay With Me got back off a strong pace. Their individual times for the first 1000m of the race were only 0.12 secs different (Press Statement went slower)
- Despite a fractionally slower first 1000m, Press Statement still ran home 0.48 secs slower over the final 600m compared to Stay With Me.
There's no doubt that in a speed sense, the race only reached a low to moderate performance level relative to Caulfield Guineas quality. There are some reasons for this (discussed later) but in terms of what the Guineas field actually did, the facts are the facts.
How do the ratings fit?
Press Statement's 101.5 rating out of the race is superior to what our speed measures indicate... rating purely on that would be wrong, especially given some of the explanations behind the speed measures discussed below. His figure takes some influence from his winning margin and fit to the previous performances of the runners behind him. When that figure is sanity checked through the field, there's no objective evidence to rate the race any higher.
The current rating already has 2nd placed Lizard Island and 4th placed Sovereign Nation running to clear new career peaks. 3rd placed Ready for Victory rated below his Golden Slipper spike, but ran clearly his best rating this preparation. Those further back like Rageese and Bassett logically ran marginally below their best ratings and the current mark reflects that.
Subjectively ignoring the speed indicators and pushing the race higher in these cases in almost always a mistake. In this case it would push the likes of Lizard Island and Sovereign Nation to big new peaks... even 7th placed Tarzino (who ended up with a +1.3L career peak) would have been pushed to an even higher level, which makes no sense, especially when he was a little unlucky in the straight and not able to finish as close as possible.
One of our key philosophies is that it is a grave mistake to push a number of horses out of a race to big new career peaks when they have not shown the speed based indicators to warrant it. Ultimately class is "pace and speed" and stepping outside of reasonable boundaries to promote horses without that evidence results in flawed ratings.
The reality is that plenty of horses run below their peak performances and still win the race. In rating races you have to be mindful of that otherwise it's easy to end up consistently overrating horses behind the winner under a flawed assumption that they have suddenly improved.
That's very much the case with this year's Caulfield Guineas. If you focus on Press Statement then it doesn't sit comfortably that he rated below his best, but equal focus needs to be given to those behind him and it's impossible to make a logical case that they should be rated higher.
So why did Press Statement not run to his peak on the day?
The answer lies in Hugh Bowman slowing the tempo once he established control off the race and then maintaining varying degrees of moderate speed until around the 400m mark.
In most races we start to see an increase in tempo from the 800m mark and from the 600m mark the speed well and truly escalates. However in the Caulfield Guineas, passing the 800m Bowman had already slowed the race to a moderate speed and he kept an almost identical rate to the 600m, which was many lengths below the speed we normally see in this section of a race.
Passing the 600m he did start to increase his actual speed, but it was still to nowhere near the levels you normally see horses travelling at during this stage of the race. The cumulative effect of that was very moderate speed from the 800m to 400m mark of the race. It was only from the 400m that the speed really started to get serious.
To draw a comparison, Press Statement traveled at an average of 16.47 meters per second between the 800m and 400m mark. The Thousand Guineas winner Stay With Me was travelling at 17.41 meters per second, that's 8 lengths faster than Press Statement in just one 400m section of the race... and a very important section when it comes to establishing overall performance quality. Take Pride who ran the slowest splits between the 800 and 400m as the tiring leader in the Thousand Guineas was still going 0.3m per second faster than Press Statement or 3 lengths over the 400m.
Press Statement ran a solid last 400m to win the race comfortably, but it was only the 6th best in the field. The big slow down in the race from Press Statement limited his potential to run faster overall time and even his ability to run a faster last 400m split due to a lack of momentum, especially compared to other runners in the race. Most importantly it was an impediment to him running to his full potential and maximising his winning margin over the remainder of the field.
Maintaining such a slow speed from the 800m to 400m gave those behind him the momentum initiative and the ability to make up cheap ground without being under pressure or being asked to travel anywhere near their peak speed. That in itself helps those chasing to get closer at the finish. When runners have to work and run faster to make up ground, then the race becomes a more genuine test of sustained speed and overall quality.
Had Bowman started to wind the speed up gradually from the 800m and then really start to get serious inside the 600m, then there's no doubt Press Statement would have won by further and rated higher. That's not a criticism of the ride, it was a great tactical ride that won the race... but in a performance sense the speed tactics limited the potential of Press Statement to display his full ability in the race.
Note that the tactics mentioned to maximise overall performance are most relevant when examining the best horse or at least one of the best in the race, especially if settling up near the lead. A key tactical mistake by riders on the top chances in a race is going too slow for too long. You simply give inferior horses the chance to make up cheap ground, especially between the 600m and 400m and also give away the momentum initiative, which is a key advantage on pace horses assume in a race.
Press Statement had such a quality advantage over this particular Caulfield Guineas field that he was still able to run at well below optimal speed between the 800m and the 400m, give away momentum and ultimately produce a performance below his best, but still easily win the race.
When we rate the performance of Press Statement on the day, it has to be consistent with what was actually done in the race, rather than speculating about what he could have done with different tactics. The integrity of the process is very much about getting the right assessment for the field, rather than just how the rating reflects the winner. In this race, the rating mark for the race measures what Press Statement did on the day, but is by no means a reflection of his overall level of talent.
Press Statement is well established at 103.4 as a peak and the hope was that in the Caulfield Guineas he might go to a new peak of 105+. The way the race was run didn't allow that, so the question of just how good he is is still to be determined. We suspect that a 105 rating is within his reach as a 3YO and maybe a little higher as a 4YO.
The Cox Plate this year is likely to require a performance of at least 107 to win, which is approximately 2.5 lengths better than Press Statement's best so far That highlights the challenge he faces if going to that race.
* Thanks to Vince Accardi's www.dailysectionals.com.au for their accurate and detailed breakdown of individual sectional times in the Caulfield Guineas.