Monday 18 December 2017

So You Think puts pundits in their place

Market forces got it right again in a thrilling Eclipse, says Ian McClean

No excuses. No hard luck stories. Just a pulsating, honest-to-goodness buckle of a horse race featuring two of the highest-rated colts in the world showcasing the best the sport has in the locker in one of its shop-window midsummer highlights.

That the 125th running of the Coral Eclipse at Sandown yesterday was chalked down as a two-horse race in spite of the presence of a four-time Group One winning filly (Snow Fairy) tells you everything about the calibre of protagonists Workforce and So You Think. That, and the elected absence of any representative from the Classic crop.

Yet although both principals were inseparable on a Timeform rating of 140, all week punters only wanted to know about So You Think. Reputation is just as Shakespeare reckoned -- "oft got without merit and lost without deserving". David Stevens (of sponsors Coral) voiced from early in the week that 80 per cent of the money had been for So You Think, while other bookmakers complained of a "one-sided book". This, in spite of the fact that the Ballydoyle inmate had been turned over at long odds-on at Royal Ascot, enduring a gruelling race in the process. And while So You Think was being lightly forgiven, people continued to quibble with Workforce -- the first Derby winner since High Chaparral (2002) to win on his debut as a four-year-old. Influencing the market against Workforce, inevitably, was the uncharacteristically indifferent form of the Stoute yard. But that rot had been stymied by no less than Workforce's galloping companion Class Is Class on Friday afternoon. In addition, a possible anxiety could be found in the return to 10 furlongs on quickish ground in an effort to broaden his stallion appeal. That said, the market seemed steadfastly determined to make assumptions in favour of one horse (So You Think) whilst eager not to take the record of the other at face value.

Prior to yesterday, Workforce had still only had six starts (against So You Think's 15). On the third of them, he won the Derby by seven lengths, smashing the track record. He went on to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and, with so few miles on the clock, was laudably kept in training.

On his return, he made a thoroughly convincing reconnaissance of yesterday's course and distance. Thought to need the run, and shouldering a 7lb penalty, he was the only one able to get after a breakaway leader, leaving him 11 lengths clear of the third. That acceleration was no surprise to those who remember his debut, quickening from last over seven furlongs at Goodwood.

Workforce had achieved so much it seemed eccentric to go looking for reasons to back something else at shorter odds. Yet that's precisely what the market did.

In spite of the fact that eight of the 13 experts in the Racing Post journalist panel selected Workforce. Or that the public opinion poll run by the industry paper preferred Workforce by a significant percentage.

In short, the market -- supposedly a mirror of expert and popular opinion -- was a resounding reflection of the exact opposite. Sponsors Coral braved it by going 11/10 about So You Think yesterday morning. Yet the SP return of 4/6 suggests a force of even greater magnitude than either popular or expert opinion. The Ballydoyle vibe all week had been ominously strong. Aidan O'Brien significantly spoke in terms of expectation, not apprehension, when he said yesterday there would be "no excuses"; that the horse was "in a good place" and "where I'd like him to be".

When Ryan Moore kicked for home three furlongs out on Workforce, Seamie Heffernan followed in his slipstream. He then angled out So You Think to deliver his challenge. After the race he reported: "I was always confident he'd get by."

Asked how he could have been so confident of taking a Derby and Arc winner, he replied simply: "I know this horse's ability". It seems a clear case of the Wisdom of Crowds colliding with the Wisdom of Coolmore, with a clear verdict, not for the first time, going to Tipperary. And with that the Northern Hemisphere has been acquainted with the merit of So You Think's reputation.

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