Racing is, first and foremost, a game of excuses.
A jockey's job is to either win or come up with a connection-appeasing reason as to why not.
For many punters the game is a search for 'forgive runs'. A huge part of doing the form for many (or most) is finding excuses for horses.
For trainers, privately at least, I suspect that excuse 1A in the training guidebook is the jockey. But it is hard for trainers to lay blame on jockeys publicly. After all, it's the jockeys that are out there risking head and shin.
And so publicly a trainer's number one excuse is the ground. (As an aside, excuse 1B would be the handicapper. If you ever hear a trainer complain about a handicapper back the horse in question.)
The poor track managers out there must feel like Sisyphus, the poor old punter who had the unfortunate task of pushing a giant boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down again, for all of eternity.
Despite the predictable mutterings and excuses from a few of the beaten brigade, Caulfield turned in a perfect track for the opening day of the Caulfield Cup Carnival. Times across the card did not suggest that the ground was any quicker than good, and this despite Anamoe running the Caulfield Guineas in 95 seconds flat; the fastest Caulfield Guineas since the pattern was introduced in 1977.
A quick flick through a the track records at Australia's best racecourses will quickly highlight that fast times are (largely) a product of the conditions that they were achieved under, so it is easy to infer from the Caulfield Guineas that the track was firm and fast on Saturday, but as was the case when we looked at Incentivise and pace last week we have to consider that the horses on top of the turf were much faster than the horses that make up the bulk of times taken at Caulfield.
When the now 123-rated Anamoe stepped out onto the Caulfield mile on Saturday we surely didn't expect to see something merely average!
And we certainly didn't get average. The fast time was perfectly set up by the pace up front. Those in the first five in-running overplayed their hand and left Damien Oliver on Anamoe (and we can't leave out Luke Currie and Capitivant here) travelling almost perfectly to par around the Caulfield mile.
It is worth noting that, while the jockeys up front overplayed their hands, none of them were holding the cards that Oliver held on Anamoe. The pace was too strong for those up front but it wasn't too strong for the pocket aces Ollie was playing. And he played it perfectly; as a time faster than any Guineas for 40 years would suggest.
For that honour Anamoe toppled Helmet who ran 95.36 back in 2011 on ground that, based on times, was only fractionally slower than the going on Saturday.
Let's take a look at the five fastest Guineas: Anamoe (2021); Helmet (2011); Helenus (2002); Shooting To Win (2014); The Autumn Sun (2018).
A comparison of the overall times of these five Guineas with times across the card to produce a track variant (calculated in much the same way as made famous by Andy Beyer) shows five Caulfield tracks produced to race within a range of just 100-106; about two lengths.
"But wait a second," I hear you say, "this is a set of variants taken from when the times are similarly quick - of course the range is tight. This blog is nonsense." True, I apologise, but widen the net to take in other good track times in the past decade and we get only really Long John's Guineas run outside a range of about three lengths. Such consistency seems like a remarkable piece of horticulture from our much maligned and certainly undercelebrated track manager, Sisyphus.
Anamoe and The Autumn Sun raced on the fastest tracks from this subset but only a couple of lengths faster than the other three.
And more defence of the track manager comes from a study of the sectional times produced by our fastest quintet.
All five were run in a way that was conducive to producing a fast time (as we could have guessed) but none more so than Anamoe and none less so than The Autumn Sun who finished a bit quicker than par. From this we can infer that conditions were at least as quick, if not quicker, when The Autumn Sun took the Heath apart. Perhaps the beaten brigade threw up the excuse of the ground being too quick that day. But subsequent results, on subsequent tracks, would suggest that it was simply that The Autumn Sun was too quick, not the ground that rattled beneath him.
And that was the case on Saturday as well. Anamoe was too big, too fast, too strong, and - in the case of Artorius - too professional.
Certainly what happened on top of the turf at Caulfield was of far more significance and interest than what was going on beneath it; and we should also make special mention of what was going on high up above it.
Innovation for it's own sake is ridiculous and attempts to change things from what has worked for ever and a day to include rapidly moving camera angles, under the rail shots and close-up panning shots through the race, have all been busts. It gives punters less not more. But overhead vision from the chopper or from drones is brilliant.
It works for the first 200-400m of the race as horses find their positions and it works brilliantly in the post race. A fine example of this was the aerial footage of the Toorak which showed the task that was thrown into the lap of Jye McNeil and I'm Thunderstruck.
It's reasonable for punters, owners and connections to critique jockeys like athletes in any other sport; so long as they are fair and reasonable. And footage like the Toorak from above certainly encourages fair and reasonable.
The Toorak was a show of courage and class from McNeil and Thunderstruck, a horse who starred on soft ground through the winter and romped over perfect spring going at Caulfield on Saturday. He was the best horse in the Toorak - no excuses.