When Lonhro failed to win the Cox Plate on October 25 his defeat spelled the end of a massive campaign to anoint him our latest "champion". Most of the media commentators were on the Lonhro bandwagon and no amount of compelling but negative statistics would sway them from their belief that Lonhro truly was a wonder horse.

Alas, this VERY GOOD horse couldn't match the headlines. He fell to earth with a thud in the Cox Plate, emphatically beaten by Fields Of Omagh and Defier. He had his chance and he didn't measure up.


After the race, his chastened supporters began coming out with the excuses. He didn't like the StrathAyr surface, the track was a bit too wet, he doesn't race well the Melbourne way, and so on.

The fact is that there was ample evidence BEFORE the Cox Plate to suggest that here was a VERY GOOD horse being elevated to champion status on some very shonky facts.

Phil Purser, an outspoken critic, pegged the negatives about Lonhro before anyone else, and his comments make up the substance of this article because they spell out so very accurately what it was about Lonhro that didn't quite measure up.

Purser's criticism of the Lonhro "hype" was made many weeks before the Cox Plate, so it wasn't a case of jumping on the "knock Lonhro" bandwagon AFTER the failure.

In part this is what Purser had to say on his Just Racing website on September 29:

Anyone like to back the now Class 4 horse from Toowoomba, Rue The Saint, to bowl over that horse Lonhro? What price Rue The Saint in the Cox Plate?

Totally stupid, isn't it - and that's exactly why a couple of weeks ago I wrote a story entitled "Let's eradicate  weight-for-age racing and straight racing". At Doomben on Saturday, Rue The Saint RAN 15 METRES FURTHER THAN LONHRO AND RAN QUICKER OVERALL TIME!

Rue The Saint completed his 1615m journey in lm 37.44s whilst the horse that journalist Ray Thomas wrote up (Sunday Mail 2819103) as having run 11 an electrifying performance which should finally silence the doubters" ran lm 37.48s.

Mat was electrifying? Is it the fact that at Group 1 level most horses can run a quick last 600m sectional? Hundreds of thoroughbreds can run a fast 600m on the training tracks every Tuesday and Thursday morning around Australia, but can't win a race!

John Hawkes was quoted in the same journalist's article as saying "Is he a champion? Make up your own mind, but 21 wins from 28 starts sort of says it all".

Sure, that is an excellent record, but Hawkes himself answers the question with a question! The inference from Hawkes' quote is that any horse who can win 21 of 28 has nothing more to prove.

Let's then analyse last Saturday's field in the George Main Stakes (September 27) and check out the opposition.

  1. DEFIER - has clearly seen better days, is feeling his feet according to the trainer and would have been badly in need of the run too, as he's only had a 400 (2318) and a 1300 (1319) since resuming. Anyway, he's only won 1 of 6 at a mile so he's no top 1600m horse, anyway.
  2. GRAND ARMEE - untested at WFA before the race. Last preparation he was having his fourth run back from a spell before he (AT JUST HIS EIGHTH LIFETIME START) trounced Lonhro by 5.5 lengths in the Group 1 Doncaster Handicap. Last preparation, Grand Armee's preceding starts were over 1200 (813), 1400 (2613), 1500 (1214) - so a total of 4100m in 3 starts before his Doncaster demolition job.

    Last Saturday, he would have been the lay of the year based on the aforesaid as he went into the 1600m assignment with a 1200 (2318) and a 1300 (1319) or just 2500m in his legs, so he was way short of fitness (that's why he had to have a hard run leading 1319, as Waterhouse is obviously playing catch up). The horse had never led in his life at Group level until that day in the Theo Marks. He started 1318 favourite and got beaten by his 911 stable mate.
  3. DRESS CIRCLE - hasn't won a race for over a year. He is resuming over I mile (1600) like they do in England. Only problem is we are in Australia!
  4. ARCHAVE - another WFA debut horse. Won the Cameron Handicap at Newcastle last start. The start before, bookies bet 15011 about his chances when Grand Armee started favourite and now Archave meets Grand Armee 4 kilos worse. In the spin of the "who will lead" chocolate wheel, Archave's name came up! It's that stupid "tactics" stuff in WFA races!
  5. PLATINUM SCISSORS - well, he's a favourite of mine, but he's half broken down and he's backing up from getting flogged to the line 7 days before when second-up - and in double whammy he had to come back in distance from 1900 to 1600. At the end of the day he's eligible for a Class 3 at Tamworth.
  6. HALF HENNESSY - should be renamed Half Crazy as that's how he'll send you if you try to follow him on the punt!

So we've established that this was not a vintage field - and that's fine - so we just have to play with the cards we are dealt. Let's then use some MATURITY and look at the rationale of what happened in the race. They jump out and jog trot along and it is the usual speed up from the 600 or 650m mark and Lonhro gets a nice suck into the race (generally one out and one/two back), peels off them, is given full bore at the 200m mark and he wins by a length or two. That's when the vast majority run around saying "he's a champion that should silence his knockers!

Well, I'm sorry to spoil the party, but what has that silly WFA race just proved? It has proven Lonhro has outgunned his six rivals on the day which regularly happens.

The last two times Lonhro has been TROUNCED (not just beaten by a narrow margin) were firstly in last year's Cox Plate, when he was beaten easily in running 6th. The excuse was he had a tardy beginning but he would have struggled to beat them if he cut across the infield that day.

A tardy beginning in a Group I Golden Slipper over 1200m didn't cost Belle Du jour a victory, so that is really a  stupid excuse over 2040m - and I've never ever heard Belle Du jour called a champion, even after she won a Newmarket.

The other time Lonhro was beaten easily was in the Group 1 Doncaster Handicap when he was beaten 5.5 lengths. Against an ordinary bunch of handicappers he was allocated 57.5 kilos - so he actually carries more weight each time he steps out in a WFA race! He started 1019 favourite and failed. Do we have an excuse? Oh yes, we can find one of them. It was the "wet track", which they blamed AFTER the race.

The facts and the realities of it all were that Lonhro had had two starts on a 11 slow" track (prior to the Doncaster) for two wins.

Let's look at Lonhro. There is no questioning that he is capable of winning races where the sectional times FOR THE LAST 600 are excellent. In fact, the 600m sectionals do scream 11 champion" at you. Last Saturday (September 27), Lonhro's last 600m sectional was around 33.20s (he was 2.5 lengths off the lead at the 600m) but the overall time is PATHETIC.

Just for the record, Shogun Lodge worked solo on the course proper between races at Randwick last Saturday and ran home in his last 600m in 33.98s, whilst in Brisbane they have just found a quicker way to get from Brisbane to Sydney instead of flying, it's called riding Proudly Agro, who supposedly in a solo trial ran his last 600m in 31s odd!

In terms of form lines, well, Lonhro dominates that bunch of half fit, half broken down WFA rivals so no form lines emanate from his races apart from he'll probably beat them again next time! So let's concentrate on the subject of OVERALL TIMES.

I've pulled out his last 8 starts and it reveals that NEVER in any race Lonhro contests do they EVER run time. So, in effect, what Lonhro does every time he starts is a "working gallop" and comes home in his last 600m.

Let me show you why this is so in the table below.

20031204

ABBREVIATIONS
All race dates are in 2003. Ra = Randwick. Ro = Rosehill. Wf = Warwick Farm. Track G = Good, D = Dead, S = Slow. Difference (time) is the time outside track record. Difference (lengths) is the number of lengths slower than the track record. Placing is where Lonhro finished.

CONCLUSIONS - BACKED UP BY THE ABOVE:

  1. Average number of opponents over last 8 starts: 7.
  2. Average distance overall time is slower than track record over last 8 starts (on good tracks only): 19.46 lengths!

I fully understand that not every race run in Australia will be a track record run, but please can we just see Lonhro run a fast OVERALL time as well as a fast sectional just ONCE during 2003?

I have previously described Lonhro as an "excellent racehorse". The Collins dictionary states the meaning of the word excellent as being "outstandingly good of its kind". Is that not a fair assessment?

When a lot of other people say he's a champion, surely "champion" must be deemed to be "outstanding among those outstanding" horses. My should Lonhro be allowed to be compared to Kingston Town (who won 3 consecutive Cox Plates arguably not even handling the track); yet Lonhro, having won no Cox Plate and a fraction of the 14 of Kingston Town's Group 1's, is afforded the same accolade?

Are you going to allow Lonhro's name to be spoken in the same breath as 13 times Group 1 winner Sunline or Bernborough or Phar Lap and other former greats? Could Lonhro win one Cox Plate then multiple Group 1 mile handicaps at Randwick like Super Impose? No, he hasn't won a Cox Plate yet nor run a place in a Randwick mile Group 1 handicap.

Last Saturday (September 27), as outlined, Lonhro covered his 1600m assignment in lm 37.48s. The track record is 1m 33.31s and is held by Filante. Filante was a very good racehorse but no-one would say he was a "champion ".

Last Saturday, Lonhro ran 4.17s or 29.19 lengths slower than Filante the day he broke the record, which just happened to be in a Group I Randwick mile - the Epsom Handicap. In Filante's defence, he came from that era of '95 to '98 which contained quality horses like Saintly, Octagonal and Nothin'Leica Dane.

However, if I sat 20 "experts" down in a secret ballot and said write down the 10 best thoroughbreds who have graced the Australian turf since 1990, it is fair comment that not one would write the name Filante.

Well, let's then compare the record of what I describe as a "very good" horse, Filante, to that horse that some say is a 11 champion", Lonhro, and let's compare their racetrack achievements up to and including their 25th start (as Filante retired to stud after 25 starts so we must compare apples with apples!).

Filante won just 7 of his 25 starts (or 28 per cent wins to race starts). Lonhro had won 18 o his 25 starts (or 72 per cent wins to race starts). Lonhro had won 6 of 10 Group I appearances and no placings in the other 4.

Filante won just 2 Group 1's (Epsom and Caulfield Stakes) but did run another 6 Group I 2nds and 3 Group 1 3rds (so the "very good" horse Filante had won or been placed in 11 Group 1's by start 25 (Lonhro, remember, has 6 wins and no placings).

So in terms of Group 1 wins, Filante could only win one-third (2) of the number Lonhro did (6). Filante only earned 53 per cent as much prize money as Lonhro. So everyone agrees it's chalk and cheese - FILANTE CANNOT HOLD A CANDLE TO LONHRO. Maybe that's what STATISTICS tell us, but let's have a closer look.

Filante was no "champion" – but guess what? HE COULD RUN OVERALL TIME AND WAS EVEN COMPETITIVE IN A COX PLATE (TWICE). He ran 2nd to Saintly in COURSE RECORD time in the 1996 Cox Plate. He also ran 2nd in the 1997 Cox Plate.

Filante ran a COURSE RECORD for 1600m at Randwick, winning an Epsom. Filante ran a RACE RECORD time in winning a Chelmsford Stakes, beating Saintly and Nothin' Leica Dane. Filante won the 1996 Warwick Stakes at Warwick Farm defeating Saintly in RACE RECORD time.

Filante won the 1997 Warwick Stakes (juggler was 3rd) and Filante ran a Warwick Farm COURSE RECORD for 1400m of 1m 21.06s. That course record has stood the test of time - it remains to this day. I therefore pose the following question: How many times has Lonhro been able to win an Epsom, Doncaster, Toorak or Stradbroke Handicap or any one of Australia's great handicaps and run time? (Don't say they'd weight him out of them because they didn't in the Doncaster 57.5kg).

We must mark the word "champion” very hard in racing or every horse that wins a few Group 1's will be a 11 champion". Let's make sure that our Hall of Fame recipients are genuinely the "outstanding of the outstanding".

Let's have our children and grandchildren remember and hear Vince Curry's voice fleetingly crack from emotion as he says "it's Tulloch's Cup" or Keith Noud in his nasal tones say "oh, Bernborough this mighty horse" or Bill Collins drop his guard once in his life by saying "Kingston Town can't win" - but Kingston Town didn't hear him, and many more.

They were champions and no-one disputes that. For my money I'll say Lonhro is an "excellent weight-for-age racehorse". However, if you disagree and think he's a "champion", that is your right, too, for the one great beauty about Australia, is its democratic outlook where everyone can have a say and there is probably no right or wrong answer.

So that's how Phil Purser saw the Lonhro case BEFORE the Cox Plate. I have no doubt at all that he wasn't lining up to accept the 2/1 ON price that the bookies and the tote were offering!

By Brian Blackwell

PRACTICAL PUNTING - DECEMBER 2003