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The bet of the century

November 22, 2010

Every punter has that one bet that stands them above all other punters.

It is the one bet where they had it so right, or came so close to getting it right, that they kick themselves when they think about it.

One that springs to mind immediately is the tale of one guy I met last year.

He told me of how, in the winter of 2005, he had just started to watch and analyse country racing midweek, in particular racing from southern NSW. Through this, he was watching racing from places like Albury, Wagga Wagga, Sapphire Coast, Canberra and Queanbeyan. In mid-August 2005, no more than 50 patrons would have been trackside in the small country town of Corowa, on the NSW-Victorian border, to watch a lightly raced galloper dominate a weak Class 1 over 1400m.

At the time, the galloper was $501 for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups and the rank outsider of the 251 nominations for the Melbourne Cup.

However, this guy saw something in the lightly raced horse and decided to have something small on him for both races at the $501 that was on offer.

At his next start, this galloper won over 2000m at Wagga by six and a half lengths – which, while impressive, barely created a ripple in the Cups picture. His price trimmed in slightly, but the guy, now committed, decided to plunge in and take more of the big price on offer.

Now feeling very happy with himself, he watched as his Cups hope was entered for an open handicap at Sandown over 2400m. This was to be the horse’s first real test as a Cups horse, and it was the first time he came to the attention of much of the racing public. Known as the horse from Corowa, he was named Leica Falcon.

That day at Sandown, Leica Falcon treated his rivals with contempt and scored effortlessly, slashing his price for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in the process.

But he was still well down the order of entry – so low, that he stood absolutely no chance of making the Caulfield Cup field unless he won the Herbert Power Stakes, over the same course and distance as the Caulfield Cup a week before. The winner gained automatic entry into the Caulfield Cup and also received a penalty for the Melbourne Cup.

In hindsight, the 2005 Herbert Power was rather weak. Although his competition included Sarrera, who would go on to win the G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) and the G1 Doomben Cup (2020m) at weight for age almost three years later, other competitors included future jumpers like Bugatti Royale, Shrogginet, Evil Master, Viz Vitae and Tripoli.

Well backed, Leica Falcon started at $3.30 and was untouched, winning by 2.5L eased down.

So our friend had to pinch himself – just two months prior, he had backed Leica Falcon to win the Caulfield Cup at 500-1. Now, he was set to line up a 9-1 fourth favourite, behind Yalumba Stakes winner El Segundo, VRC Derby winner Plastered and The Metropolitan winner Railings.

In my humble opinion, I believe that Leica Falcon was the biggest certainty beaten in a Caulfield Cup since Veandercross was taken very wide by Shane Dye in 1992.

In a hopeless position rounding the home turn, Leica Falcon was the eye catching run out of the race heading into the Melbourne Cup, making up many lengths to finish a very unlucky fifth, just a couple of lengths from Railings.

With the same run as Railings, he wins easily.

His Melbourne Cup task was a lot tougher. He was seen as the logical danger to overwhelming favourite Makybe Diva, who was attempting to win her third Melbourne Cup, and he started the second favourite.

However, while he looked a danger at the 200m, he died on his run late and finished a game fourth.

Our friend had gone through one amazing rollercoaster ride, and he had nothing to show for it. Well, except the memories and the anecdote he could tell his children and his grandchildren.

And so we come to my bet of the century. You can call me crazy or whatever, you may not believe me. Luckily enough, the bet (or collection of bets in the end) was documented on the forum Thoroughbred Village (forum.thoroughbredvillage.com.au).

Having started as a trainee junior analyst at Centrebet, I was watching more and more racing and, if I can say so myself, getting a bit of a better trained eye when it came to watching horses.

In May 2009, I had been following the Sydney trials when I came across a High Chaparral galloper trained by Bart Cummings. While he had not trialled outstandingly, I had heard good things about his stablemate who beat him in the trial, Latin News (also in the trial was the Australian Guineas winner from the stable, Rock Classic).

I am a fan of stayers – I much prefer devoting my time to a horse who is likely to have a longer career and aim towards the races I really care about, like the Melbourne Cup, rather than horses that are a flash in the pan – here one minute, gone the next.

Hence when the horse debuted, I was very keen to have something on him. He was bred to be a stayer, he’d shown a certain level of ability in his trials and I thought that if he could win, he’d get a chance to have a crack at a race like the VRC Derby.

His name was So You Think.

On the day of his debut, his stablemate Shamash (who has recently returned to racing very successfully) was a dominant favourite. There wasn’t much market support for So You Think, and I was able to get $10 about him on Betfair.

It was that day that I knew I had seen something special. He raced midfield, four and five deep most of the trip, but he unleashed a very good turn of foot to win very easily. It wasn’t a big margin, perhaps a length and a half, but he did it effortlessly. After the race, the first comment I made on Thoroughbred Village was that we had seen a Derby or Cup winner debuting today. Big comment, but I was convinced he was something special.

I was ready to back him for the TJ Smith Stakes over 1600m at Eagle Farm, but wisely Bart turned him out for a spell to look towards the autumn.

Come August 2009, and I arrived home from a holiday to the USA on the day that nominations for the major spring races were released.

I was intrigued to see So You Think amongst nominations for the Cox Plate – having been so impressed with his debut and also believing that the weight for age crop was not very strong, I toyed with having something on him no matter his opening price. However, when the first market came out, I decided to wait.

He opened at 125-1, and on August 7 I labelled him as my early tip for the Cox Plate.

The next day, he drifted out to $151.

I decided then to back him and another 3yo, the Gai Waterhouse-trained Manhattan Rain.

I only had a very small amount on, $10 on each to win, but for someone my age it was a big risk to take.

I also decided to play around with a few doubles. I decided to take 5 horses in the Melbourne Cup with So You Think, and I had a couple of doubles with Manhattan Rain.

So on August 10, I had five $5 doubles with So You Think the anchor in the Cox Plate. In the Melbourne Cup, I took All In Black, C’est La Guerre, Leica Ding, Ready to Lift and Warringah. I also took Manhattan Rain with All In Black and Warringah.

My best result was with the Kiwi mare All In Black, if she was to win the Melbourne Cup I would have won close to $100 000 from a $5 bet. Unfortunately, she broke down on the training track and was euthanised.

And so the date edged closer to his return – it was to be in the Ming Dynasty Quality at Randwick over 1400m. He started at $10, and came so agonisingly close to picking up the David Payne-trained More Than Great. In fact, it was semaphored as a dead heat, but that was later revised.

It was an eye catching run – it saw his price tumble initially into 80-1, but by the next day he was into 40-1.

I still didn’t think he was very likely to get a run in the Cox Plate, even if I thought he could win it if he went there.

His next start was in the Gloaming Stakes at Rosehill over 1800m. No more juicy odds for this race – he was $1.55 favourite. He won fairly easily though, defeating last Saturday’s Group 1 winner Gathering.

Now, So You Think was into 25-1, and I decided to have a few more doubles with him into other potential Melbourne Cup runners. I decided that I’d go with Changingoftheguard, Mourilyan, Munsef, Roman Emperor and Spin Around.

While I knew that each $5 bet reduced the odds, I was so sure of So You Think winning if he ran that I thought it would be a good bet.

Then came the shock news from the Cummings yard – So You Think would miss the Spring Champion Stakes, and what was seen as a guaranteed Group 1 (and a ticket into the Cox Plate), in favour of the Caulfield Guineas. I’ll touch on that a little bit later.

And so onto Melbourne he went, and what faced him was one of the toughest Caulfield Guineas fields in memory. The 2009/2010 crop of 3yos was as strong as any in recent times, and they’ve continued their strong form as 4yos this spring.

The 2009 Caulfield Guineas had the likes of Denman, Trusting, Manhattan Rain, Carrara, Starspangledbanner – it was a cracking Guineas.

Starspangledbanner led all the way on an insane leaders track, but I was impressed with the run of So You Think – he was the only horse to really make any ground out wide.

However, it meant that a run in the Cox Plate was unlikely. Bart wanted to run him, but the precedent that the Moonee Valley Racing Club set when they eliminated Elvstroem from the field suggested that So You Think, as only a Group 3 winner, should be denied a run.

And so it was very nervously that I tuned into the barrier draw the Tuesday before the Cox Plate. Incredibly, they let So You Think take his place – I was relieved, but almost immediately, I felt even more nervous.

Come Saturday, and I was at work – luckily with a television where I could watch the races.

I have honestly never been more nervous watching a race – I had two horses lining up for me, So You Think and Manhattan Rain.

But I wanted So You Think to win so badly.

And so it was – So You Think surprisingly pinged out, took the lead, and was never in doubt once he entered Moonee Valley’s notoriously long straight.

I cheered like I had never cheered before. I think that one of my colleagues caught it on video, I was jumping up and down like a maniac. But I was so incredibly excited.

And even more amazingly, Manhattan Rain had run second – I had picked the quinella in the Cox Plate in August, when one was 150-1 and one was 30-1! But I didn’t back the quinella on that day in October…at that moment, while very happy, I did feel slightly foolish for not having a cent on the So You Think-Manhattan Rain quinella!

However, as good as it was, the ideal result was just a fingertip away. The week after So You Think’s very good return in the Ming Dynasty, Spring Champion Stakes markets were released. I had heard So You Think was unlikely to go there, but I also thought that if So You Think didn’t go to the Spring Champion Stakes and didn’t win the Caulfield Guineas, he was unlikely to be allowed into the Cox Plate field. As mentioned before, Elvstroem was one 3yo who was denied a start.

So You Think’s price had also tumbled after the Ming Dynasty and he was favourite for the Spring Champion Stakes at $5. I didn’t really want to have Spring Champion/Cox Plate doubles into So You Think if he was unlikely to win the former.

So I decided to have two doubles with Manhattan Rain, just in case So You Think didn’t get to the Cox Plate.

These are two doubles that haunt me every time I remember the 2009 spring. For you see, a colleague at Centrebet, knowing I was a fan of New Zealand racing, had me watching some of the spring entrants from New Zealand. Already a fan of High Chaparral, I was caught by a 3yo who came from well back to win a maiden over 1400m in September. He was at 40-1 for the Spring Champion, and I decided to back him in that race and also double him with Manhattan Rain in the Cox Plate. His name? Monaco Consul. Of course, Monaco Consul won. If I had the $10 double with Monaco Consul in the Spring Champion and So You Think in the Cox Plate, I would have won $10000. Ah well, c’est la vie.

In the end, Manhattan Rain would actually have been a better result for me in the Cox Plate. But I was cheering So You Think. Sometimes money doesn’t matter. I’d unearthed So You Think, he was the one discovery I made which I had stuck with, despite having savers on Manhattan Rain.

And so, it was on to the Melbourne Cup. After the barrier draw on the Saturday night prior to the race, I was thrilled to know that I would have a third of the runners – that’s right, I had 8 of the 24 runners as a profit. All in doubles with So You Think. They were as follows:

C’est La Guerre – $9450

Changingoftheguard – $1820

Leica Ding – $5066

Mourilyan – $1470

Munsef – $2870

Roman Emperor – $1680

Spin Around – $14070

Warringah – $25830

These amounts must be taken in perspective. To some punters, $25k would mean absolutely nothing. But to me, they meant a lot. The biggest win I’d ever had was $1500 three times – twice on the same day. I had 1% of the Big 6 on Doncaster Day 2009, I had a $10 double with Vision and Power in the Doncaster into Daffodil in the Oaks, and I had $10 on So You Think in the Cox Plate at 150-1.

But $25k? That was new territory.

Come Melbourne Cup morning, Changingoftheguard was a controversial scratching, leaving me with 7 runners from 23 starters – a pretty good ratio really.

However, I didn’t have either of the two favourites, Alcopop or Viewed.

I didn’t have the third favourite, Shocking.

I was confident in my seven though – I didn’t like Alcopop, didn’t like Shocking, didn’t think Daffodil or Allez Wonder would run 3200m. In my mind, the only obstacle was Viewed.

While I’d shown good judgement in the Cox Plate, my judgement was horribly wrong for the race that means everything to me. The Melbourne Cup is my birthday and Christmas rolled into one. But in 2009, I misread it completely.

I groaned as Shocking hit the lead 200m out, and although I could see Mourilyan flashing home on the rails, I knew Shocking had it won.

My biggest early bet, Warringah, finished a distant, ignominious, last.

I felt deflated after the race, and even a year later, I still feel weird when I watch the 2009 Melbourne Cup.

But at least I still had So You Think to follow. He ran a game second in the Emirates Stakes, missed the autumn but returned this spring to dominate weight for age racing with wins in the Liston Stakes, Underwood Stakes, Yalumba Stakes, Cox Plate and Mackinnon Stakes.

This year, despite being trackside for my first Cox Plate, I didn’t have a bet. I was there to watch the horse I’d followed throughout his career win his second Cox Plate, which he did comfortably.

I was so swept up in the So You Think story that I was convinced he would win the Melbourne Cup, despite my head saying that it was a big ask. His gallant third was full of merits, and I think it was an incredibly brave run. But I was so disappointed and so mentally drained after Americain won that I actually left Flemington before the presentation – usually, I would stay until well after the last race, but this year I couldn’t. I felt as though I was in mourning, not because he had disgraced himself in any way, but because a victory to So You Think would have been one of the most incredible chapters in Australian racing history.

In fact, I’d say that watching So You Think lose the Melbourne Cup was more painful than watching none of my seven runners win the year prior. It was heartbreaking.

He’s now off to race overseas, and while Coolmore have said that he may race in the Cox Plate again, my head tells me they’d be mad to forego the Arc.

My early bet on So You Think in the Cox Plate is one I’ll never forget. It was the bet of a century – my bet of the century.

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