The Stradbroke, like beer off the wood at the Breakfast Creek followed by steak, is strictly Brisbane.
Perhaps the race is best served at Eagle Farm when the grass is intact but maintains its identity just across the road at Doomben today, hopefully without surface sludge.
Puritans decry handicaps in favour of weight-for-age events but the Eagle Farm Stradbroke over 1400 metres has been a major event on the Australian calendar and while it loses 50 metres at Doomben it remains intriguing with even more emphasis on launching pads.
My sermon today centres on barrier jockeys, a breed that is fast disappearing. Jim Cassidy, highlighted by his Stradbroke triumph on Rough Habit, was the last great exponent with Mick Dittman and George Moore being the most effective in the category under my eye.
Old timers told me the only change a bad starting position made to a good thing was make it longer odds. Tommy Smith, the master of Tulloch Lodge, wouldnt touch a hoop – no matter how many group ones to their credit -that he regarded as inferior at the break, accentuated by the stable jockeys that followed Moore: Kevin Langby, Malcolm Johnston, Dittman and Shane Dye.
Being fast out of the gates is one attribute but making full use of it with the touch and judgement to seize the situation was vital.
Take Cassidy and Rough Habit in the 1992 Stradbroke, related from his memoir Pumper, about a most memorable chapter of the sprint featuring one of the most charismatic winners.
“Rough Habit was small, he wasnt pretty,” he wrote with the assistance of Andrew Webster. “He had half a white eye and this ugly white blaze down his muzzle and his right nostril."
“Despite his size he manoeuvred through the field like a tank.
“I won three consecutive Doomben Cups [1991, 1992, 1993] on him and two Stradbrokes at Eagle Farm.
“It was the second Stradbroke most fans remember. He lumped 58.5kg and came out of barrier 20 in a field of 20, including Schillaci, the champion grey trained by Lee Freedman.”
Not only had Cassidy piloted the shortest course from no mans land, but Rough Habit equalled the modern day weight-carrying record also held by Campaign King (1988).
With so much surveillance, modern-day navigators stick more to lanes with the bleat of "riding for luck" becoming nauseous. It wasnt luck, fluke or godsend with Cassidy and Rough Habit but uncanny knack.
Great jockeys make their own luck. Maybe this is a stern assessment, particularly as those on horseback are now subjected to desktop experts who insist that their maps are followed. How could anyone tell Moore, Dittman and Cassidy how to handle a demanding situation in the saddle?
Again the best ride promises to win the Stradbroke. Two strong chances, Care To Think and Invincible Gem, have had recent efforts tarnished by wide gates and again fared badly with the draw.
Care To Think will come in a few from 16 today in the final field so, too, will Invincible Gem (17). Neither is a good thing but given the right assistance, not luck, can win.
Yes, Tim Clark on Care To Think, inclined to charge when relax is a better attribute, will have to do a Cassidy on horse power less than Rough Habit while Brenton Avdulla, in peak form, has the confidence to get the best out of Invincible Gem and thats Happy Clapper form.
Meanwhile the three-year-old filly Champagne Cuddles, under Corey Brown and another possible victim of a bad gate last start, charts to get the perfect passage from the rails.
Keg Note: Beer off the wood, not tin or metal, is served from a barrel on the hotel counter with a short pull, renowned by ale drinkers. When first confronted with the situation I asked whether in the Queensland heat wouldnt the brew get warm? “It doesnt last long enough,” was the reply. In the company of Bundamba Slim and Rod Gallegos I saw many kegs heaved onto the counter to replace empties and the result never less than perfection.
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