Australian Bloodstock’s Luke Murrell, a regular Spring contributor to our site, joins us on the podcast this week to assess all of the imported runners for this year’s Caulfield and Melbourne Cups. Most Australian punters struggle to line up the overseas form so Luke is well worth listening to. At Australian Bloodstock he has identified and purchased Group performed horses including Lucas Cranach, Mawingo, Master Of Design and Reliable Man. On the podcast this week he is as honest and opinionated as always and it’s fair to say he believes it’s a very weak batch of imports this year.
Punting Insights You’ll Find:
- Why he isn’t buying the hype around the Japanese runners
- Why this year’s European horses are the weakest in years
- The importance of the imports adapting to our unique style of racing
- One standout horse for the Cups
Today’s Guest: Luke Murrell
David Duffield: It’s been probably a year since we last spoke. I just wanted to run through the major contenders for the cups for this year and get your take on how the imports stack up against the local form. It’s a pretty early stage, but what’s your view about it’s all shaping up?
Luke Murrell: I think you can get the best guide from a guy like Greg Carpenter where he’s issued the weights and there’s obviously no of the good old super stars running around anymore that we’ve had in previous couple years. It’s basically just a glorified set weights and penalties race. Especially the Melbourne Cup this year. I think the highlights probably quite a lack of depth in the race. You go back a couple years to American and Dunaden and personally I think we are 7 to 8 lengths off that. It’s a massive drop down this year. But I think that’s worldwide. The quality of horses just seems to just be in one of those patches where it’s probably not as strong. We don’t have the normal superstars that we normally have.
David Duffield: You think that’s just a cyclical thing that we’re going through?
Luke Murrell: Yeah I think so. Even for Europe’s standards their Arc field if you have a good look at that at the moment. You got your handful of sort of good horses but previously this time of year, in previous years, you could get out and back something confidently at 20/1 that was a real chance but I think in all our majors coming up the chances are very, very skinny. It doesn’t mean they’re easy to win but I think from a punting point of view there’s a lot there that you could put a line through straight away and be confident in doing so.
David Duffield: Where do the Japanese runners fit in to the puzzle then?
Luke Murrell: On your world handicap ratings their probably the D graders compared to what we’ve seen out here previously. I suppose the two that everyone’s talking about are Bande and Admire Rakti. Well Admire Rakti’s the better performed of the two but if you have a look at his form, he’s so inconsistent and there are certainly two of him. I don’t know. If it wasn’t for the Japanese factor you’d be really happy to put a line through him but they’re renowned for their toughness, those horses over there. You’ve got to respect them but it’s an unusual prep for a horse like that. He’s only had two runs this year.
I understand they’re walking, as we speak, sort of four hours a day in quarantine which is just amazing compared to, say for example, the Aussie horses how they get trained. He’s only had the two runs this year at 3000 and 3200. It’d be an unusual prep. There’s not many horses that would win a Melbourne Cup third or fourth up. Personally, I think if you’re having a wide sort of bet you got to include them but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him run down the track as well. The form, you know, back in December, he ran eleventh of sixteen and this last run he ran thirteen of eighteen. He’s a very hard horse to get a line on from that angle. The other horse, I think is a typical slow maturing horse. In his 3 year old year they didn’t want to know about him. He was slow.
He started well out in the odds in the local markets over there. He’s obviously not set the world on fire in not overly hard races for Japanese standards. This year he’s won really well first up. If it wasn’t for the third to Gold Ship who won fairly easily, I’d be suggesting he’s two levels down on the other horse as well. My personal take is on that Gold Ship run, something had to run second and third. Admire Rakti, ran second and this fella ran third. It’s a lot like when Black Caviar used to run. Something had to run second and third to her. It doesn’t meant they were superstars themselves in their own right. I’m not convinced on the Japanese issue for sure.
David Duffield: The Japanese form has been pretty well renowned and there’s been a lot of talk that the Melbourne Cup has been weaker through their absence over the last few years. I think there’s only been one runner since they had the Quinella. Why do you think the form is less likely to hold up? Why do you think it’s dropped off?
Luke Murrell: There’s no doubt their participation dropped off simply because of the quarantine issues. Although, I did hear whispers that’s about to change so you might see the next couple years we get a lot more of them. You got to remember they have maiden races over there with $200,000 to the winner. They’re certainly not coming here because of our prize money. Our prizemoney is good but it doesn’t really hold a candle to their money over there. It’s why you guys like Nash Rawiller and Craig Williams go over there. Because they can make plenty of money.
It’s interesting there racing, they have two divisions a bit like the premier league in soccer. They have their main division and then if the horses don’t measure up they get basically demoted down to second division. But their second division races are still worth $100,000. Even if you’ve got a slow horse over there there’s just not the… Melbourne Cup is a famous race but there’s plenty of other money races over there that they want to win and own. Not sure we’ll see a whole truckload of them. I’m sure they’ll come down because owners do like to travel around the world. They’re interesting.
David Duffield: Just off the Cups topic for a while then. Why is the Japanese, as far as a betting market goes, off the beaten track a bit for most punters? Because it’s pretty easy to bet into Hong Kong or Singapore or UK but I don’t come across many people that are betting into Japan. Why is that?
Luke Murrell: They have the most marvellous facilities and it’s such a huge sport over there. It’s almost like it’s too elite. Talking to a few people that know it better than myself, they’re saying the average horse over there is owned by 800 people. I know from a bloodstock sort of thing, the agents go over there and they’re basically shopping in the equivalent of say an Inlgis Classic sale. But they cannot compete at say an equivalent of an Easter sale hypothetically. It’s actually bet into their… it’s just not enough, even when you look on the websites, I’ve done a number of times, you just can’t find the information. It’s been proven a number of times obviously the more information you got the more likely you are to have a bet.
It just becomes very difficult. Obviously Sky shows the odd race from Japan but like anything there’s always people out there that will bet two flies up a wall but if you can’t get a good grasp on the form,. you’re basically down to just picking your favourite names and colours and jockeys then. They don’t seem to really want to promote it. Even in Europe, I know the European guys, you can’t get any information out of there. They are regarded as… I’ve heard stories of horses, they’re so hard on the horses but I know their trainers over there, they might be limited to maybe 30 or 40 horses in their stable. Where we’ve got goliaths like Waller with 200 or 300 horses, these trainers have got 40 horses.
It’s an unbelievable model and it’s terrific I think, but it would be a lot better if they sort of promoted it and tried to encourage that investment but they just don’t need to do it. They’re obviously so wealthy and they don’t need that outside dollar to make it tick. Where obviously we do. We try to encourage all that. They just don’t seem to need it or want it.
David Duffield: That’s interesting, but just back to the cups then. You’re not particularly keen on the Japanese runners. Are there any imports that have caught your eye?
Luke Murrell: It’s a very weak year. Look to be fair, I think a lot of the Europeans that are coming you probably still got to put the Japanese ahead of them. I think it’s the weakest year that we’ve seen for the imports to come here. That’s probably reflected in a lot of the markets around the place. The imports that are coming that everyone knows about they’re sort of the old crocodiles on their last legs. Hoping for that last hurrah. There’s a horse coming that’s a 9 year old and I think that’s an indication that people have looked at the likely field and markets and what is going to be around and they’re saying well I’ve got a real chance with this race this year. We haven’t got those genuine weight for age horses that have sort of beaten the handicap and got in at a reasonable weight. It’s a real handicappers type race this year. With the exception of a couple.
They’re exposed and they are very limited. That’s probably more why I’m saying it’s a weakish year. Personally I have the Japanese ahead of most of the Europeans and I think that’s just an indication of how weak some of these horses are. Like you get a horse like Mutual Regard who won the Ebor and everybody raves about the Ebor but I think from memory he might have started 25, 26/1. Well look it’s a big field and they do start some decent prices over there but the form around them is very suspect. Personally I think, with the exception of 1 or 2 that are coming, I think perhaps the winner for both Cups are probably here already and we’ve seen. There’s nothing really coming from Europe that would scare or have the capabilities to do what some of our local horses have done so far.
David Duffield: You mentioned that Mutual Regard started at a big prize in the Ebor win and same with the Japanese horse that’s favourite being a slow maturing type and not particularly liked by the market. Is that something that you consider strongly? Not just the result of the race but how the market rated the horse coming into the race?
Luke Murrell: Yeah, 100%. I think that whether it’s any betting I think you really need to pay a lot of regard to starting prices. The way the actual market expects that horse to run. It’s a case with a number of runners this year that are coming from Europe. They aren’t these horses on the up and constantly improving type horses. They’re more horses that we see go around race each other and they just seem to take turns. I don’t think we’ve got those progressive type horses coming that are still on that upward spiral.
They’re just horses going around and they’re all just going to take their turn type thing. It’s why I think so many Europeans, there’s been a bit of stuff in the media saying all the Europeans that are coming this year. I think there are so many coming that we’ve seen reports about Gatewood wanting to come back. He’s in okay form over there but he’s only winning listed quality type races over there. Good luck to the owners. They’ve realized, gee we’re going to get in this race now.
That’s a show of the depth of the race. Gatewood and some of these horses, especially in Europe, say a horse like Seismos is coming as well. Seismos is a good old tough horse but I still think a lot of the trainers and owners over there they don’t understand our racing and our race shapes. It’s one thing if you got a horse and Aiden O’Brien’s brought them over before before, some of those stayers over there, they can run 4000 metres and run 12 1/2 second furlongs but they just cannot increase that even one length. They got to our races where we have electric horses out of the gates and then we pull up and then we build it up from the 800 and sprint home.
I think this is the really hard trick to try and sort of identify those horses, a lot of them, they can’t sprint. They are used to, we’ll just go flat out and then we’ll just grind them into the ground. Those horses are being brought year after year after year and they just constantly come undone. I think race shapes when you look at any race but especially these Melbourne Cups and with the Europeans, if the horse doesn’t have the ability to run fast overall time or to have a turn of foot, I think that’s where a lot of them get exposed and get caught out. We saw Fawkner in a Caulfield Cup last year. He was always a horse that had a booming turn of foot and that just put him in such good stead for a race like that
David Duffield: How do you think he’s shaping up this year then?
Luke Murrell: I thought his first run was okay. Lloyd obviously, all he wants to do is win Melbourne Cup but I think he has to be a chance just going on the depth. We just don’t seem to have the weight for age horses, which I think is the type of horse that you need. Your typical weight for age horse can go really fast or that can go fast and then slow and then sprint off that. We’ve got a lot of the horses that are in both races this year that are just true handicappers who need everything to go right for them to do their bit. When they’re one dimensional, you really need that extra bit of luck on your side.
David Duffield: So which of the locals stand out for you at this stage? You mentioned you have the Japanese runners ahead of the Euros but neither of them are a particularly impressive group. Which of the locals would you want to be on? Again, we’re a long way off but the Caulfield Cup and the Melbourne Cup?
Luke Murrell: I think Lucia Valentina from the local horses, she looks a superstar. Her run where she run second or third in the Oaks was just phenomenal. I suppose what you’re looking there is she sustained 1000 or 1200 metre sprint and maintained it all the way to the line. It wasn’t that horses in front of her stopping, she was just getting quicker. A horse like that I personally think if she could handle Moonee Valley she’d be an excellent Cox Plate horse but I suppose they’re going Caulfield Cup route at this stage and they can always get Cox Plate next year.
She looks exceptional. When you look at the Caulfield Cup, I think your first European is Admire Rakti which is outside of Bande who is second favourite. That horse Bande is probably going to have the better lead up form and prep but like I said, I think he’s there based on Japanese reputation more than what he’s done physically. I’ve watched his tapes and to me he’s more of a… if they turn it on from the 1000 he’ll be outstanding but if they sprint from the 600 I think he will be exposed. I think the strength of the Caulfield cut shown by, you got a, what was it an Auckland Cup winner in Whoshotthebarman as third favourite. While his win looked good to the eye the other day I didn’t think it was that impressive. For me it’s for Lucia Valentina. There is one horse coming of the Europeans that I think is worth an interest. There’s a mare of all things called Ambivalent.
They reckon the vets and the strappers have to go in with a body armour just to handle her. She’s an absolute nutcase and fiery thing. I’ve heard some very weird stories about her attacking people. She’s certainly a different one mentally. She’s hard to back this far out because you don’t know how she’s going to travel but she has travelled to Dubai and raced really well there. To me it’s a similar climate and it’s hot. Or hot compared to what they’re used to. She’s $26 and if you knew she was here and she’d settled in okay, she realistically should be favourite. Her form around her is excellent. She handles all sorts of different race shapes.
She is a horse that I’ve seen go off in a mounting yard and sweat up really bad. Whether she handles the big Caulfield Cup crowd is I suppose the main issue there. Dandino’s coming again this year. Probably for the old fellow we’ve seen his best. He’s had 3 of his 4 runs this time and he’s been beaten out of sight. He’s probably had his chance. A horse like Seismos, he’s one of those European horses that I talk about. He can run 12 1/2 seconds to the furlong all day long. He just cannot quicken. He’ll be one of those, for mine, one of those horses that won’t be sighted. For all the Europeans that are coming there’s next to none of them that are in the market Caulfield cup. A lot of them that are coming, its worth noting, aren’t even qualified for the race.
I think they said there’s 19 on Saturday shipment that arrives. I think there’s probably only half of them are either too far down in the weights or haven’t met the ballot clauses. So the Geelong Cup will be an interesting race because they’ll be so many of them just trying to scramble to get into the race.
David Duffield: I don’t think we’ve discussed The Offer, where do you think he sits?
Luke Murrell: He’s a really interesting one. On his Sydney form I was willing to bet he would run last. I just thought he was nowhere near what he’s needed to do. I must say his two runs this time in have surprised the hell out of me. I thought he shown a really good tactical turn of speed and turn of foot. He certainly didn’t have that in the autumn. Where I was saying he was no hype I think he’s a massive chance coming into these races. I don’t know about him in the Caulfield Cup.
I think he’s going well. His last run on the weekend was excellent. I just wonder… I did some research on previous Caulfield Cup winners recently and unless you’ve been a European, outside of Fawkner, you’ve needed to be fifth or sixth up to win a Caulfield Cup. I just worry, from memory, he’s only had 2 runs in this time in I think. With the race just being a couple of weeks away I just wonder whether he’s going to be a little bit underdone for the Caulfield cup and they are more setting him for a Melbourne Cup. I must admit he’s really impressed me the last two runs. I think he’s got to be a chance. He should certainly be in front of a horse like Whoshotthebarmen as an example.
David Duffield: All right. Well we’ll leave it there for now. Interesting as always. We’ll definitely check in before the Melbourne Cup and see what you thought of the Caulfield Cup and how it’s shaping up for the big race.
Luke Murrell: Yeah. No problem. No trouble at all.
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