After barnstorming wins at Royal Ascot and Newmarket, popular European sprinter Slade Power is on track for a tilt at the Australian - and world’s highest-rated - champion sprinter Lankan Rupee. Brad Waters considers the other race that could stop the nation this Australian spring – the million-dollar G1 Darley Classic during Melbourne Cup week.
It’s probably best that Slade Power has little idea of what’s at stake, and the outstanding sprinter he must defeat, to claim the G1 Darley Classic (formerly the VRC Sprint Classic and, before that, the Patinack Farm Classic) at Flemington in November. The Irish-trained speedster stamped himself the best of the European sprinting ranks with his strong performances in the G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, followed by the G1 July Cup at Newmarket some weeks later. Then came the announcement that the horse would travel to Australia, the proverbial home of the sprinter.
“Let’s make him the best in the world,” said trainer Eddie Lynam after his charge’s July Cup victory. “To do that, you have to go where the best sprinters are.”
After the Jubilee triumph, international breeding giant Darley purchased Slade Power to stand at Kildangan Stud in Ireland, but only after a tilt at Australia. While the horse was initially pointed at the G1 Betfred Sprint on Sept. 6, a bout of ringworm sidelined him, and Slade Power entered quarantine for an extremely difficult trip to take on the Australian sprinters on their own turf. The long journey is the first of many obstacles before an international visitor steps out on an Australian racetrack, with tough local quarantine rules forcing many changes of routine for both horse and accompanying staff. But attempting to confirm Slade Power as the best sprinter in the world, as Lynam hopes to do, will certainly make jumping through the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) hoops worthwhile.
From Darley’s perspective, winning the Darley Classic would increase Slade Power’s service fee, as becoming a dual-hemisphere G1 winner would all but cement the horse’s future as a dual-hemisphere breeding prospect. However, discussing Slade Power as a shuttle stallion is premature when one considers he must beat the world’s highest-rated sprinter, Lankan Rupee, in his home town.
Lankan Rupee, by champion sire Redoute’s Choice, is a sprinting phenomenon, with AUD$2.8 million (USD$2.6 million) in earnings so far. Trained at Caulfield Racecourse by Mick Price, in his last nine starts he has notched up seven wins, a second, and a third. He earned a Timeform rating of 129 for his win in the G1 Newmarket Handicap back in March, on the same Flemington straight course as Slade Power must confront him on this November. Lankan Rupee then improved on the Newmarket to record a 132 rating when he demolished Australia’s best sprinters in the G1 TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick during The Championships. He finished the Australian season as the world’s highest-rated sprinter, on both the Racing Post Ratings (RPR) and the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, the latter compiled by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA).
With a famous white heart on his forehead, Lankan Rupee has shown little love for his opposition since being gelded in May 2013. The simple operation transformed him from a talented performer into a world-beater. Timeform’s Australian expert Gary Crispe said that gelding the horse has improved him six lengths, propelling Lankan Rupee into the elite of his category.
“Before he was gelded, his best rating was 113, but gelding him has made an enormous 19 pounds improvement,” Crispe said. “He won those autumn races pretty easy, and kept making jumps in his figures.”
However, on Sept. 6 at Moonee Valley, Lankan Rupee, returning after a winter spell, suffered a shock, though narrow, defeat in the G2 McEwen Stakes over 1,000 metres. Angelic Light, a G1-placed 5-year-old mare, edged out the super sprinter by a slim margin. The result shocked punters, but Crispe said Lankan Rupee was vulnerable first up, and he expected the speedster to return to his previous heights as his preparation progresses.
“His run was pretty much in line with what he did last time, and even though he was beaten, he still ran to a figure of 121, which is what he ran first-up last campaign,” Crispe said. “He’s a bit of a slow starter, and that’s just what he is, so I don’t think there’s any need to panic just yet.”
In Europe, Slade Power was rated 130 for his Diamond Jubilee Stakes win, but only 126 for his July Cup victory, which was assessed as a weaker race overall. Crispe is confident that Lankan Rupee will handle the Irish raider in the Darley Classic, but added that Timeform analysts around the world all rate Slade Power as a worthy adversary.
“I think Slade Power won’t beat Lankan Rupee if he [Lankan Rupee] is on song,” Crispe said. “But you can’t knock Slade Power. He’s a horse that has improved with age, and he’ll be a worthy competitor if he turns up here and runs up to his form at home.”
One point aiding Slade Power is that Timeform has rated the Darley Classic wins slightly inferior to Newmarket Handicap performances. Should Lankan Rupee’s rating slip slightly, Slade Power could be the one ready to capitalise and provide the Irish with another Melbourne Cup-week victory. Irish trainer Dermot Weld’s Melbourne Cup wins with Vintage Crop in 1993, and Media Puzzle in 2002, are part of the folklore of Australia’s greatest race, “the race that stops a nation,” while Irish-bred stallions Fiorente and Green Moon have won the last two editions of the event for local owners.
The Slade Power-Lankan Rupee match will, all going well, occur on the final day of the Melbourne Cup carnival, Saturday Nov. 8, on what is known as Emirates Stakes Day. It usually draws more than 60,000 racegoers. The prospect of a clash between Europe’s best sprinter and the local hero will probably guarantee the Darley Classic top billing, particularly if the annual Irish influx stays another four days in Melbourne to support their champion in the AUD$1 million (USD$932,000) contest.
Australian punters will also look forward to Slade Power’s arrival as a means to taking a few dollars off bookmaker Paddy Power, whose majority shareholders are also Slade Power’s owners. Paddy Power entered the Australian betting market via the acquisition of Sportsbet and IASbet before the dismantling of the latter earlier this year, but, along with Ladbrokes and William Hill, its presence has produced its share of angst. Punters have accused the betting giant of ruthless approaches to managing risk, including shutting down winning accounts and limiting bet amounts.The Australian betting public, therefore, might enjoy a hometown win a little more than usual come Nov. 8.