Group 1 Racing: Miss Cover Girl
BY name it was a Group 1, but the reality was something else altogether.
Miss Cover Girl’s Tattersall’s Tiara victory at Eagle Farm on Saturday drew the curtains shut on Group 1 action for the 2015/16 season.
On a substandard Eagle Farm track, Miss Cover Girl found the outside fence and beat home favourite Azkadellia to land the $320,000 first prize.
That local trainer Kelly Schweida was not even on course to watch his mare was perhaps was the best indication of his expectations on race day.
Before the race was run, punters concurred that the race would not be a vintage Group 1.
The favourite, well supported into $2.40 in early betting before drifting to $3 on race day, was coming off a 10.7 length defeat (also as favourite) in another Group 1 a fortnight ago.
Despite holding the same ‘status’, comparing the two races would provide analysts with racing’s equivalent to the chalk and cheese idiom.
But whatever the weakness of the form, Miss Cover Girl’s Group 1 victory has made her a far more valuable commodity for breeders.
— Sky Racing (@SkyRacingAU) June 25, 2016
While she is not the first horse to win a substandard Group 1, she is yet another example of the push by breeders to increase the number of Group races, in order to prop up sales prices.
As The Punters Show’s Marc Lambourne explained, maintaining the number of these ‘high-status’ races requires a great deal of effort.
“Racing has created a self-fulfilling structure,” Lambourne said. “The ratings of Group 1 winners need to be of a certain standard set by the International Pattern Committee.
“That means adjustments to the ratings are possibly made to maintain the strength of these races, despite their true performance value.”
Lambourne cited ATC Derby winner Tavago as a typical example of the adjustments performed that could be argued have inflated the standard of a Group 1 event.
“Tavago went into the race rated 84 and came out rated 109!” he said.
“The handicappers have said that in this one run the horse has improved 12.5kgs. But an argument could be the Derby needs a 109 rating to make the race look okay from a Group 1 point of view.
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“He was 84 going into the race based on career to date. He was lightly raced – but not that lightly raced!
“Similarly, there was Le Romain, the Randwick Guineas winner, which supposedly improved from 63 to 104 by winning that one race. That’s a 20.5kg improvement!
“Obviously, there are runners that come into these Group races as Benchmark 100 horses. But anything that comes into these Group races that performs well is allocated a rating relevant to Group 1 regardless of the true performance.”
With this knowledge in mind, punters studying standard form guides can often be misled by these ratings and the conventional wisdom around ‘Group 1 form’.
To counter this, professional punters often maintain an edge over the rest of the market by assessing performances via their own ratings systems.
This also allows them to look past the perceived ‘status’ of a horse and assess the runner on its merits for that particular race without being clouded by supposed ‘Group 1’ race standards.
“Status is a big factor in markets in these races and can skew the market to offer betting opportunities,” Lambourne added.
— Sky Racing (@SkyRacingAU) June 25, 2016
“The higher the ‘status’ of a runner or race, the more likely the pool is to contain uneducated money.
“Of course, the Group 1 status and prize money also makes these races an obvious ‘target’ for trainers and connections and punters can read into that as a signal of intent.
“But in the main the heavy duty professional punters are not swayed by reputation. They are not overawed by the occasion – the money will talk.”
Azkadellia’s position in Saturday’s Tiara market was a clear reflection of ‘status’. Early markets saw her initial favouritism reinforced by small bets before bigger players expressed concern about her lead up form and true chances in the event on race day.
One professional punter who had been unswayed by Azkadellia throughout her Brisbane campaign was John McLeod.
After watching Azkadellia compete in the ”gut-busting” Doomben 10,000, McLeod knew that her second placing in the Group 1 event would be a weaker form line than what it appeared on paper.
“The idea that any race is a Group 1 is definitely a starting point, but at the same time it is just a certain race like any other,” McLeod said.
“We have different criteria to work out if the quality stands up from one race to the next, then we work from there.
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“A race like the Tiara, it is obvious it can’t stand up, but neither can the Doomben 10,000. We knew it wasn’t going to for horses like Azkadellia which were going to go on to other races.
“It (the 10,000) was a really strange race won by a horse which is not Group 1 standard and that’s not ideal.”
McLeod’s position was supported by a number of other professional punters when approaching the Tiara, with all agreeing it would be almost impossible for Azkadellia to run close to her career-best rating off a poor – albeit
‘Group 1 standard’ – preparation.
With a number of other runners performing below their best, and Miss Cover Girl’s victory coming via the cape, Lambourne agreed with McLeod’s assertion about the Tiara form going forward.
“Clearly this is a race that can ‘fall off the cliff ‘at any time,” Lambourne said.
“Everyone was quite aware before the race on Saturday that it was lacking in quality. When you marry that with the track playing silly buggers, you have a relatively useless form race.
“Some aspects of the form will be worthwhile, such as the horses heavily disadvantaged, but that’s tempered by the fact that it was a low-grade group race.
“Your top tier Group 1s suffer because we’ve got these other dodgy ones that carry the same label. They diminish the lustre of the real ones.”
– Matthew Taylor. Twitter: @MattyA_Taylor