nature strip darley, black caviar lightning

Professional punter Cameron O’Brien, the man behind our Key Bets membership, maintains a proprietary database for all Australian racing. All horse performances on Australian racetracks are included in his database and assigned a rating. This rating is a single figure which represents the merit of the performance with all factors taken into account. Ratings are the time-honoured way in which serious punters compare the performances of horses across different races and different days.

Therefore Cameron can tell us which horses performed best and worst on an even scale. So here they are… his Top 10 performances of the 2021 Spring Carnival. Let’s count them down:

10. Incentivise: Melbourne Cup (2nd)

Cameron’s rating: 117.1

The only performance in the Top 10 that didn’t result in a win was Incentivise’s second to Verry Elleegant in the Melbourne Cup.

“He was a deserving favourite in the race off the back of his Caulfield Cup performance,” says Cameron. “I backed him in the Melbourne Cup.

“He looked under pressure at the turn and looked uncomfortable, and I was worried about being on him. But he actually still fought on really well. He’s rated 117.1 here and held off a very good horse in Spanish Mission to finish second. And he also pulled up with a slight issue, which explains the lack of comfort at the turn. To produce this figure with something amiss in an incredible effort.”

9. Nature Strip: The Everest (Won)

Cameron’s rating: 117.2

“Nature Strip’s a seven-year-old and he’s been the best sprinter in the country for many years – at his top. But as we know, he hasn’t always produced his top,” said Cameron.

“For example, he went an enormous 124 when he demolished the field back in the 2019 VRC Sprint Classic. He also did 120 in the 2020 TJ Smith.

“He was down on that this prep, but remember in The Everest he was just cooked in front and got no peace. It was a huge effort, a very brave win given the way the race was run. He simply had to be brave rather than cruise along and have a shot at producing his outright best. And he was.”

8. Zaaki: Mackinnon Stakes (Won)

Cameron’s rating: 117.6

Zaaki is a very interesting horse in the context of this list. His spring included the well-publicised failure at Caulfield in the Might And Power Stakes, when he jumped at $1.26, and then his raceday scratching in the Cox Plate due to an elevated temperature. Either side of that, however, he produced a big figure of 117.6 – first in the Underwood Stakes at Sandown, and then in the Mackinnon at Flemington.

7. Zaaki: Underwood Stakes (Won)

Cameron’s rating: 117.6

Zaaki’s form coming into the Underwood was fascinating..

“His win in the Doomben Cup in May, a win by seven lengths, rated a very high 121,” said Cameron.

“He then won the Q22 but came back, only going 115. He repeated that same figure (115) in the Group 2 Tramway in Sydney.

“He then rose to the 117.6 in the Underwood at Sandown.”

So what if he went to the Cox Plate?

“His top over the spring was this 117.6, which is shaded by State of Rest. But he may have gone better, we don’t know. Obviously the figure he produced in the Doomben Cup was massive, but he’s a seven-year-old and there’s talk he feels his legs a bit. There’s a chance he doesn’t get back to that figure. He didn’t produce it at Flemington.”

6. State Of Rest: Cox Plate (Won)

Cameron’s rating: 118.3

“State Of Rest was first-up in Australia and had only had eight career starts prior to this. But his ratings were progressive, he’d pretty much gone forward at every start,” said Cameron.

“It’s a pretty good figure overall, but talking about the nature of this race in particular… there’s certainly been plenty of better Cox Plates.

“It wouldn’t have beaten any of Winx’s Cox Plate figures. Her lowest Cox Plate rating was her last one in 2018 when she went 123. Her highest was the 2016 demolition when she produced a staggering 131. Lys Gracieux went 121.6 winning in 2019, so State Of Rest is a couple of lengths off that here. Then Sir Dragonet won last year with 119, so he’s half a length off that as well.”

5. Nature Strip: Darley Sprint Classic (Won)

Cameron’s rating: 118.7

“Coming off The Everest, Nature Strip stepped it up to 118.7 in the Darley, and I think that’s probably about his top now,” says Cameron.

“It was obviously a weaker field than The Everest and he didn’t really need to produce a run like this to win… but he did anyway. And won by more than three lengths.”

4. Nature Strip: Concorde Stakes (Won)

Cameron’s rating: 118.7

The (equal) biggest performance by our best sprinter this spring was in his first-up run in the Group 3 Concorde, at a level he then returned to at the end of the prep in the Darley.

“His best now isn’t quite the 124 rating we saw from him a couple of years ago, but three appearances in this list show just how capable he still is,” said Cameron.

“The 118.7 still wins these races.”

3. Eduardo: Classique Legend (Won)

Cameron’s rating: 118.8

Despite Nature Strip’s heroics, the best sprinting performance of the Spring was produced by Eduardo (albeit by a ridiculously small margin in terms of ratings points).

“He’s really come out of nowhere this past year, it’s a bit of a fairytale,” says Cameron. “Joe Pride has got him going really, really well.

“He did a similar figure back in March when he won the Galaxy. Early in his career though, his top was around 110, 111… all of a sudden he’s producing these figures. He went 116 in The Everest when he was pouring the pressure on Nature Strip, then produced this career-best performance at the 1300m. It’s the highest sprint rating of the year for any horse, too.”

2. Incentivise: Caulfield Cup (Won)

Cameron’s rating: 122.1

Incentivise’s best performance of the spring was, unsurprisingly, his dominant win in the Caulfield Cup.

“It was the best performance on an Australian track in 2021 to that point in time,” says Cameron.

“He’d gone 116 in the start before (in the Turnbull) and then put in this massive performance in the Caulfield Cup.

“The performance obviously looked amazing to the eye, but big winning margins can sometimes be illusionary. This wasn’t. Fast time, strong sectionals… he went enormous here, the numbers totally back up what we saw with our eyes.”

1. Verry Elleegant: Melbourne Cup (Won)

Cameron’s rating: 125.1

The top performance of the Spring Carnival came in Australia’s biggest race. Verry Ellegant rated a massive 125.1 in winning the Melbourne Cup – a huge spike in performance.

“This is the highest-rating performance in a Melbourne Cup since Makybe Diva’s third and final win in 2005,” said Cameron. “She did 126 that day on my figures.

“It’s also the highest-rating performance I have in any Australian race since Winx retired.

“Verry Elleegant’s previous best was 118 and I always thought that was her top. So she’s found another 7 ratings points (3.5 lengths) on that – on a dry track. It was very much unexpected. She’s simply flown. I don’t think anybody really saw it coming, she’s six years old and it’s not as if there’s been a recent progression toward it. If there was, she would’ve been favourite.

“She’s been a brilliant mare for a long time but I didn’t think she was capable of this rating. Not many horses are.

“And it’s borne out by the strength of the placegetters in Incentivise and Spanish Mission.”

The ratings also show that even if Incentivise went to his enormous Caulfield Cup figure of 122.1, it still wouldn’t have been enough to top this incredible performance by Verry Elleegant.

Rank Horse Race Finished Track Distance Rating
1 Verry Elleegant Melbourne Cup (G1) 1st Flemington 3200 125.1
2 Incentivise Caulfield Cup (G1) 1st Caulfield 2400 122.1
3 Eduardo Classique Legend Stakes 1st Rosehill 1300 118.8
4 Nature Strip Concorde Stakes (G3) 1st Randwick 1000 118.7
5 Nature Strip Darley Sprint Classic (G1) 1st Flemington 1200 118.7
6 State Of Rest Cox Plate (G1) 1st Moonee Valley 2040 118.3
7 Zaaki Underwood Stakes (G1) 1st Sandown Hillside 1800 117.6
8 Zaaki Mackinnon Stakes (G1) 1st Flemington 2000 117.6
9 Nature Strip The Everest 1st Randwick 1200 117.2
10 Incentivise Melbourne Cup (G1) 2nd Flemington 3200 117.1


Pro-punter Cameron O'Brien knows how to find value winners at big prices. He's done it time and time again for his Key Bets members. They get all of Cameron's tips from right across Australia, including stake, recommended price and runner comments.

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