Betting 360 Ep 079: Cups and imports with Luke Murrell

Australian Bloodstock’s Luke Murrell has been a regular podcast guest, most recently when he was celebrating the scintillating win of Protectionist in the Melbourne Cup.

A lot has happened since then so Luke is back to chat about Protectionist’s disappointing autumn campaign and plans for the future, how the overseas horses went overall and what’s next for finding imports.

Punting Insights:

  • Where to now for the dominant 2014 Melbourne Cup winner?
  • Why Hartnell and Contributer weren’t nearly as impressive as most people thought
  • A simple but effective way to find horses looking for more ground
  • Why this year’s 2yo crop is suspect
  • Luke’s thoughts on the best horse in Australia and an up-and-comer for the Cox Plate

Today’s Guest:
Luke Murrell

David Duffield: Thanks for joining us again Luke. Now you’re probably a little bit flat because Protectionist never really hit his straps this time in, but what’s your take on his four autumn runs?

Luke Murrell: Yeah he’s always going to have a lot of pressure on him, that horse. To be brutally honest, I was absolutely gutted after Saturday. But on the flip side, on my ratings and how I measure horses and if I was buying horses, I’ve got him in the Australian Cup probably 2 lengths off his career best.
I thought his first up run was more than acceptable, so I was really happy with those 2. BMW run, really happy with, again. Something about this horse is he won’t go around corners, hence those bigger Randwick and Flemington tracks are certainly his go.

He probably lost a little bit of momentum in the BMW and if he hadn’t drawn 12, any other barrier would probably have 2 pairs closer, and he runs a place, and everyone says, “It’s the flashing light”.
I was really happy with the runs, up until that point. Then, the highs of the Melbourne Cup versus that on Saturday is a long way apart for me, and unfortunately, he’s come out of the race … He’s injured himself during the race, which explains his performance.

Overall, I was happy enough with the horse. He’s earned a hundred grand for the prep, and the horse showed to us that he was racing at his absolute … Well, close to his peak. That’s all positive going forward. The big thing for us is coming out of today. He goes and gets some dye through his system and it highlights any hot spots, or where he’s actually hurt himself.

That’s an unknown, whether it’s a minor or serious, but we’re not thinking it’s career threatening, so that’s positive, but yeah, it was very different emotions, I can tell you that.

David Duffield: So early in the prep, he had a fair bit of market support and was seen by some to be disappointing, but you’re saying you were happy with those runs right up until Saturday?

Luke Murrell: Yeah, absolutely. I think what you’ve got to appreciate is that if you go yourself for a run out on the road, and we ask you to sprint from the moment you leave your door and sustain that for such a long period of time, there’s very few athletes in the world that can do that.

A lot of people have got to remember that the 1800m and the Australia Cup were never his main aims, but if we have a look at the tempo of those races were run, they were run at suicide type speeds.

For a horse that hadn’t raced for a while, to ask him … And you’ve got to watch him in the run. The horse is, at his top speed, sort of 100m, 200m, once they’ve left the gates, so I think they were really credible to finish as close as he did, we were really thrilled with.

I could not believe the market support for the first … Well, probably all runs this prep. Especially the first 2 or 3. It certainly wasn’t sort of stable inspired. Look, the horse was going really well, but you only had to watch him pull up and come back to the yard.

He needed the runs, and we fully expected that. We didn’t want to overtax him. He’s got a big 12 months coming up. It was never a target, they were more a kick off and give him a pipe-opener and really setting him for that BMW and Sydney Cup.

Just that suicide pace … It was funny, because in New South Wales, they absolutely crawled in all of the weight for grade races, and down in Melbourne, they went sort of “Bat Out Of Hell”.

That was good in one way, because it gave him a good grounding to come up to Sydney. He came out of the really rock hard sort of races, but unfortunately we drew the outside in the BMW and had to go back to last.

Who Shot Thebarman and Protectionist were probably the best 2 runs in that BMW race, considering the lack of tempo. Thebarman obviously went very close Saturday, so we weren’t disappointed with the horse at all. I can’t believe some of the knockers.

I suppose when you win a Melbourne Cup in that sort of fashion, everyone expects you just to be an out and out superstar, which we’ve still got him as, but unfortunately he’s had a lot of racing prior to us getting him and we were not displeased at all with his efforts. It’d be nice to be winning those races, and on the ratings … On mine, he sort of wins 7 out of the last 10 Australia Cups, and 7 out of the 11 BMW’s.

His runs were good. It was just, unfortunately, he had a race shape that didn’t suit him for the stage of the prep he was at and probably, to be fair, some really decent depth and quality fields that we probably haven’t seen in recent times, anyway.

David Duffield: Assuming that it’s not a major injury, you talked about the big plans for him over the next 12 months. Have you narrowed that down? Do you know what you’re going to do?

Luke Murrell: Yeah, look, a lot of it will obviously depend on today’s results but we’re, at this stage, going to stay here and he’ll probably have something like a sort of a kickoff in say something like a Chelmsford at Randwick, then I think there’s the Hill Stakes at Randwick. That’ll take him into a Caulfield Cup and then a Melbourne Cup.

Then, the plan certainly after that is to look abroad. Whether it’s Dubai thereafter and then onto Europe, and probably after that, depending on how he’s going, we’ll look to retire him. He’s worth a lot of money at stuf and he’s got a really pedigree there, so that should remain in demand.

David Duffield: A lot of your work involves assessing the overseas horses. Were you expecting the kind of performances that we saw from say, Hartnell and Contributor?

Luke Murrell: Yeah, it’s really funny. I actually had Contributor bought, so he’s always been a bit of a bogey horse, and at the last minute, the Shiekh came in and doubled my offer so I’ve followed him very closely.

Do you know what? I think for both of those horses, as good as they’ve been, they’ve been very flattered. Contributor especially is one horse that I think is a mile or 2000m horse but he’s just absolutely devastating off no tempo. In all 3 of his top runs this prep, he got that.

I think we saw in Melbourne in the Spring, when he was in those races that were truly run, it dulled his turn of foot. I’m not saying he’s one dimensional, but he’s very much suited to that weight-for-age sit. Especially in Sydney racing it seems to be hold up, hold up, and then sprint for the last 800.

He’s shown he’s got the best turn of foot, probably in Australia, over that type of race shape. That really suits him, and Hartnell’s probably a little bit in the same category.

I was very surprised he started $1.60 in the Sydney Cup. If you look at his sectionals in the BMW, he had the 2nd or 3rd slowest last 200m of the race and one point that I use a lot of reference on is, if you watch the horses passed the post, especially in those staying races, you can get a guide for their inclination if they’re going to get further.

He was probably the first horse passed the post, that stopped as quickly as he did. In that particular race you had Protectionist and WhoShotThebarman, and they were sort of 4 in front of him, probably 100m passed the post.
I think that’s a very good point. When you’re looking at horses, will it handled a step up in trip if you go back and watch that.

And, it wasn’t run at a suicide tempo. I would suggest that Contributor’s … I laid him heavily, a place in the Queen Elizabeth. I’d suggest, going forward for a Cox Plate or a tempo race like that, he’s just got no hope.
Unfortunately, in Europe when he got in those races as well, he failed at it. A lot of our racing is sit and sprint. He’ll win plenty more races, but he needs the right race shape, and Hartnell’s a bit the same, he can handle a little bit faster tempo, but I don’t think he’s the next … Some of the reports are saying … Making out he’s the next Phar Lap reincarnated, but they’re not those type of horses. They’re very explosive, if they get their right race shape.

David Duffield: What about the Japanese horses? There was some mixed results there and also some mixed luck for them in terms of the track conditions.

Luke Murrell: Very much so. I’m a big fan of Japanese racing, you’ve only got to watch their racing, and they make our Pacific Highway look like a soft track, some of those tracks over there. It’s just phenomenally hard.

Most of those tracks over there, every race you’re seeing dust fly up. I think for the horses that … There’s a lot to be said for the lushness and the thickness of certain tracks.

While it’s visually very pleasing to the eye, these horses would never have raced on tracks where there’s that much thickness of grass. If you picture The Cleaner, I think The Cleaner would do exceptionally well in Japan racing because that’s their style of racing over there. They just run, and run, and keep running through brick walls. They’re not “ride pretty”. You get a lot of French horses that are … Some of their races, they don’t sprint until the 400m mark. They ride pretty and just sprint home.

The Japanese are going from the gates. I felt they probably selected 2 jockeys this time that tried to ride them like Australian horses, and I think that really came back and bit them on the bum.

They were trying to ride horses that are high-cruising, high-tempo speed horses. They were trying to hold them up and ride them pretty. I don’t think that helped them at all. I don’t think we ever saw the proper Japanese horses. That Real Impact is a very good horse, and I would have suggested if he’d ran in the Queen Elizabeth he would have beat Criterion again.

He’s obviously had the best performance out of all those horses that arrived, but to be fair he was the 4th stringer when they come. They’ve walked away very happy. It’s why you find a lot of the Japanese horses fail to do well in France, because if the French jockeys get on them over there and “hold them up, hold them up”, and these horses are used to running through pain thresholds at the 1000m mark and just keep running on.

We saw in the Caulfield Cup, even though it looked a tough run, that horse is out there travelling and travelling well and they just keep coming. The point that I use a reference on … If they’d had more of a front-running rider on them, and a more aggressive rider, I think they would have got a lot better, and different results.
Someone not scared to ride outside the norm. A guy like a James McDonald or a Brenton Avdulla or even Jimmy Cassidy. He’s not the rider that he was, but his daring tactics where he doesn’t care what everyone else does. I think they needed that or possibly to even bring their own jockey.

It’d be interesting to see whether they come again or not. They took a fair chunk of our money. They were probably coming away all fairly pleased with the exception of World Ace. He was probably the horse that possibly was the 2nd best of them, behind that To The World.

David Duffield: Do you look closely at Japanese form to try and find imports that you could buy? I know, you’re trying to stay ahead of the game, and Germany was a focus there for a while because you thought it was undervalued and probably proved that with Protectionist, but is there much of an opportunity in Japan or the prize money too good over there?

Luke Murrell: Yeah, it’s so good. To be frank, I had a deal done on one of the Japanese that was here, but unfortunately he failed the vet yesterday so we couldn’t proceed. Well, he passed the vet, but we couldn’t proceed with 1 or 2 of the issues.

Yeah, the Japanese horses over there. A lot of people don’t know, but they actually have 2 divisions of racing over there. It’s a bit like the English Premier League. They’ll have the Premier League and then they’ll have the 1st Division.

So, horses based on their performances, get relegated up and down. In the top division, you’re racing for serious money. But, they’ve got maiden’s over there where they’re racing for $300,000 Aussie to the winner.
I think some stats put out the other day, the average amount of owners in a Japanese horse is 668, or 64 or something. That’s because their, what we’d probably classify as our Inglis Premier or Inglis Classic type horses, they’re selling over there for the equivalent of a million and 2 million dollars Aussie. And, they’re not the absolutely blue bloods, because they generally get kept by the Yoshida’s.

The different owners over there, so the prize money’s phenomenal, and therefore it just makes buying next to impossible, because those horses will go back over there and every race they’re racing for … Especially those Group 1 races, they’re all a million bucks to the winner type thing, so you get a bit of luck … Some of their Group 2’s are just phenomenal type money so it makes our Championship’s look enticing, but they’re certainly not jaw dropping compared to their standards.

David Duffield: So, you’ll stick to Europe?

Luke Murrell: Yeah, stick to Europe. It’s funny at the moment. Throughout the world, I think, the older horse crop or division are almost non-existent. I’m really close on a horse in England that we’re trying to buy half of to bring to the Melbourne Cup.

I remember 4 or 5 years ago you used to have 15 or 20 proper Group 1 horses. But, just through injuries and probably some of the foal crops not standing up, there’s just not that depth of older horses in Europe at the moment.

I think any sort of proper Group 1, world class Group 1 horses, they’re few and far between. Very interested this year to see what comes through in the 3 year old’s because a lot of the good horses have either broke down or retired.

Interesting to see the British Horse Racing Authority put out a paper yesterday saying, they want to try and limit or ban, or they’ve got to improve English racing because they feel they’re losing too many of their better horses to the Southern Hemisphere, but I don’t see their best ones being bought to come down here.

It’s interesting that they’re starting to get a bit worried about it. Watching some races at the moment, and there’s 1500 pounds to the winner. A race, sorry. So, there’s 1000 pounds to the winner.

Makes it very hard up there. You’ve got to have plenty of surplus money to even contemplate going into horse racing up there. The syndicates aren’t as popular as what they are down here, most of our horses these days are owned by 10-20 people but it’s very much a royalty up there. That’s the big worry I have. I think New South Wales is really trying to make horse racing elite and I think that’s probably the wrong direction.

Victoria has probably done it better where they’re trying to encourage every man and his dog to enter racing. The elitism up in Europe has really come to bite them on the bum, with some very strange decisions.

It’s good that there’s money around, but I think for us, we’ll just stick to Germany, and Ireland, and France. They’re the 3 places that I think there’s still some value, if you can get in and get them early.

We’ve changed our system slightly this year to try and identify a couple more. They seem to be winning all of our major staying contests year after year, the imports, so I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to change.

David Duffield: So, just back to the local scene then and the Spring’s not all that far away. Is there one local horse that you’d love to own? I don’t necessarily mean one that you’re targeting, but one that you think is set for a big Spring?

Luke Murrell: Not really. My personal opinion is the 2 year old crop that we’ve seen at present is very suspect. I use my parameters more based on, will these 2 year olds develop into proper Group 1 weight-for-age horses, and the only one I think that ticks that box is Vancouver.

Horses like Pride of Dubai, they’re looking very flat to the eye. They just haven’t done it. Hallowed Crown, no, but he’ll be off to stud.

It’s interesting. A lot of these studs are now getting involved. You see Deep Field retired. I’m tipping it won’t be long before Hallowed Crown’s off to stud. The horse of Snowden’s, Shooting To Win he’s sort of dropped right off the radar.

There’s a lot of international money now coming into our market. You’ve got these Yanks that have come in and bought the Yallambie down in Victoria. I know they’re very keen to try and buy some stallion prospects.
For mine, the best horse in Australia is Chautauqua. He’s just world class and I think, on what I do, he could even be a word class miler, but there’s probably no need for him. He’s a gelding, and he’s just obviously clearly dominant over anything that we’ve got here.

He’s the one, but he’s obviously really obvious. I don’t think our 2 and 3 year old crops are as good as what we might think. I think it’s definitely proven that the Melbourne 3 year old’s prep with that Guineas, is far superior to the Sydney crop. I know that is sort of different to what the media was trying to make out, but Kermadec is the one with the big plus.

You’ve had horses like Wandjina. I really love that thing of McEvoy’s – t Alpine Eagle. The horse that ran 2nd in the Guineas. I think he’s an absolute … I think he’s one horse that you could back in a Cox Plate pretty confidently if they decided to head that way. He looks a proper horse.

You know, Wandjina those types, they’re just as good as your Kermadec’s and what not. It’ll be interesting. I’d love to see some proper 2 and 3 year old’s stand up and have a good year, because I don’t think we’ve had that for a while. The better ones we do have sort of end up off to stud.

David Duffield: That’s good. Opinionated as always. I like that, and I’m sure the people do, too. You don’t sit on the fence, and you tell it how it is. Or, how you see it, anyway.

Luke Murrell: Yeah.

David Duffield: Excellent. All the best for the scans today for Protectionist and for the Spring.

Luke Murrell: No problem. Thanks.

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