RACE TALK – Is The Golden Slipper A One Horse Race?

19 March, 2024

CHRIS SCHOLTZ previews the 2024 Golden Slipper Stakes, asking is there a youngster capable of beating the favourite Storm Boy?

One question – and one alone – hangs over this year’s Golden Slipper Stakes. From every angle you keep coming back to the burning poser – is there a rival capable of beating the dominant favourite Storm Boy?

Maybe? Maybe not! If you regard the betting market as a reliable guide the obvious conclusion is Storm Boy has only one serious challenger.

 

Switzerland, a youngster racing for the same ownership interests and carrying the same colours, is the only horse conceded a better than 10 percent chance of upsetting the favourite.

 

Storm Boy and Switzerland both race for Coolmore Stud after the breeding giant bought into the unbeaten favourite in a deal that is projected to value the colt at more than $50 million if he wins the Golden Slipper.

Standing Golden Slipper winners at stud is what Coolmore and Australia’s other top end studs are all about. With their unlimited financial resources it is a rare year when Coolmore or one of their rivals don’t make a move to secure the controlling interest in a classy young prospect before they contest Slipper.

Leave it until after the race and they face paying a huge premium to buy into the winner or miss out all together on a colt certain to be in hot demand when retired to the breeding barn.

For Coolmore Storm Boy was a “must have” as he is by their own US Triple Crown winning sire Justify, a stallion making huge inroads with his early crops in Australia.

This year Coolmore is in the box seat as the purchase of Storm Boy double downed on their ownership of Switzerland, a colt bred by rival stud Arrowfield. Determined to have the son of Snitzel race in their silks, Coolmore secured him out of the yearling sale ring last year for $1.5 million.

 

Switzerland also is unbeaten and by most assessments rates as the horse standing between Storm Boy and his quest to become only the fourth youngster to win the Magic Millions Classic-Golden Slipper double – but more of that later.

 

While Cool\more controls the two colts they come out of different corners. Storm Boy leads a massive pack of runners from the Gai Waterhouse/Arian Bott stable and Switzerland flies the flag for Chris Waller, last year’s winning trainer with the Coolmore-owned Shinzo.

Interestingly Coolmore had the final say on the jockeys for their colts. UK champion Ryan Moore is Coolmore’s go to jockey in G1 races all over the world and it comes as no surprise that he replaces James McDonald on Storm Boy.

Afterall, Moore won last year’s Slipper for Coolmore aboard Shinzo with a ride that silenced many of his Australian critics when he never went around a rival runner from an inside gate. History could repeat as Storm Boy drew barrier 2, a gem gate for a colt capable of sitting hard on the back of a fast pace.

Not that McDonald will be disappointed to be riding Switzerland.

He has been the colt’s rider in two of his three wins and is the nominal stable jockey for Waller. He only got his first opportunity on Storm Boy at his latest start in the Skyline Stakes at Rosehill after Coolmore made the call to replace Adam Hyeronimus as his rider.

It was a bitter pill for Hyeronimus after riding Storm Boy faultlessly in his two of his first three wins including the MM Classic at the Gold Coast – a performance that topped most ratings assessments as the best by a 2YO so far this season.

Just how good? Top shelf as he smashed the clock running the 1200m in a brilliant 1.08 flat on the new Gold Coast turf, several clicks faster than classy Group winner King Of Sparta (1.08.28) recorded on the same day in the MM Sprint over the same distance.

The end result gave Storm Boy the highest MM rating since the 2015 winner Capitalist, the Sydney-trained colt who went on to win the Golden Slipper and become the third youngster to complete the double after Dance Hero (2004) and Phelan Ready (2009).

The Waterhouse-trained Dance Hero set the benchmark when he swept the board in 2004 winning the ATC Sires’ Produce and Champagne Stakes after the Golden Slipper with ratings performances that have rarely been challenged over the last 20 years.

In the Skyline Stakes – a race also won by Dance Hero between the MM Classic and Golden Slipper – Storm Boy regressed from his MM rating. But he hadn’t raced for 49 days and was not subjected to the same pressure that required him to sustain his speed from start to finish at the Gold Coast.

That elite ability to absorb pressure at high speed and go up a gear when required are the attributes that win Golden Slippers and suggest Storm Boy can go higher than his MM rating on Saturday.

 

The telling stat is Storm Boy’s MM Classic rating was good enough to win all but one of the last 10 Golden Slippers. If he does find anticipated improvement and run to a new high on Saturday the others are playing for the minor prizemoney.

 

Switzerland, given a better than 25 percent chance of winning the Slipper if you respect the betting market, surpassed Storm Boy’s Skyline Stakes rating with his classy win in the Todman Stakes at Randwick on March 9 that featured a strong final 200m in fast time.

He also holds scope to go to a new peak with his Todman win proof that he will be suited by the expected fast pace in the Slipper. McDonald is sure to keep Storm Boy in his sights from barrier five but he still needs to reach a new projected peak to get over the top of Storm Boy if the favourite runs to his anticipated figure.

 

Apart from Storm Boy seven-time Slipper winner Gai Waterhouse and her training partner Adrian Bott could saddle up another six final acceptors, equalling the record seven starters trained by John Hawkes in 2003. She will equal the Hawkes record if her first emergency Espionage gains a start.

The other Waterhouse/Bott acceptors are the colts Straight Charge, Prost, Fully Lit and Shangri La Express and the filly Lady Of Camelot, an impressive list of quality youngsters that gives Waterhouse the chance to repeat her historic Golden Slipper trifecta in 2001.

 

Straight Charge, a speed runner, beat stablemate Espionage in the Silver Slipper Stakes over 1100m at Rosehill before they finished second and fifth behind Switzerland in the Todman.

Espionage, the Breeders Plate winner at the start of the season, was luckless in the Todman and appeals as a big improver out of that race come Saturday if he secures a start.

 

Prost, second to Espionage in the Breeders Plate, was also second to Storm Boy in the Skyline Stakes while Shangri La Express has been the bunny leading the leader in the Pierro Plate and Todman Stakes before finishing in the placings behind Switzerland in both races.

They are form lines worthy of Slipper runners but there is a considerable ratings gap between them and Storm Boy.

 

Fully Lit was unbeaten before his second to Slipper rival Holmes A Court in Canberra’s Black Opal Stakes, a race that has dropped away as a highly rated Slipper guide with only one winner (Catbird) completing the Slipper double in more than 50 years.

With the free running Fully Lit and Shangri La Express drawn gates 1 and 3 the race map will have this pair driving for the early lead, assuring a fast pace through the first 600m and handing Storm Boy a box seat run.

For good measure compatriots Lady Of Camelot (barrier 5) and Straight Charge (barrier 9) are also certain to press forward from their favourable draws.

Father and son training team Peter and Paul Snowden know what winning Golden Slippers is all about. Peter won his first with Sepoy in 2011 when head trainer for Darley and had trained the 2015 winner Capitalist in partnership with son Paul.

They are double handed this year with Black Opal winner Holmes A Court and Bodyguard, a classy youngster who won twice in Melbourne before a training setback forced him to miss the Blue Diamond.

Bodyguard went a month between runs and was below peak fitness when fourth behind Switzerland in the Todman Stakes. That race is standing out as the highest rating Sydney lead up and his profile points to him being one of the strongest over the last 200m on Saturday.

Fillies have an excellent record in the Golden Slipper and it may be that Lady Of Camelot, returning to Sydney from her close second in the Blue Diamond Stakes at Caulfield, is the one that is being overlooked in the market.

The Blue Diamond, won by another filly Hayasugi, is often discounted as a Slipper guide despite five youngsters having won both races including two fillies. Admittedly it has been a drought as Sepoy in 2011 is the only winner of the double since 1989.

This year it is a significant form reference as Lady Of Camelot and Hayasugi are among seven Blue Diamond runners who have made the Slipper field with subsequent results showing it to be a race of considerable depth.

 

Traffic Warden, eighth home in the Blue Diamond, has since won the G2 VRC Sires Produce over 1400m at Flemington while Dublin Down (12thand Coleman (13th) finished first and third in last Saturday’s Pago Pago Stakes (1200m) at Rosehill to surge into Slipper reckoning.

In its early history it wasn’t unusual for a youngster to come back in distance from a VRC Sires Produce win and land the Slipper. Pago Pago, Storm Queen, Vain, Full On Aces and Canny Lad all did the double before 1988 but none have been successful since Flying Spur in 1995.

What is evident about Traffic Warden’s Melbourne performances is that it only adds to the quality of the form behind Storm Boy as he was a well held second behind the Slipper favourite when making his debut at Rosehill in December before heading south.

The wins and placings by Traffic Warden, Dublin Down and Coleman since the Blue Diamond add considerably to the respect that should be paid to Hayasugi, Lady Of Camelot and Eneeza (4th in the Blue Diamond) with their 2kg weight advantage over the colts.

It’s a difference based on historic wfa principles that many argue is too much under modern day conditions and is backed up by the results as 13 fillies have won the Golden Slipper since 2000.

Of course the barrier draw always plays a part in Slipper reckoning. The fillies Haysasugi (16) and Sweet Embrace Stakes winner Manaal (17) have drawn the widest gates and while an outside barrier isn’t ideal it’s not the end of the world either.

The rails gate has been the source of the most winners (10) in the Slipper’s 67-year history but some 22 winners (33 percent) have come from gates 10-16. Barrier 13 remains the winless exception.

 

2024 GOLDEN SLIPPER – HOW THEY RATE

 

STORM BOY

SWITZERLAND

STRAIGHT CHARGE

BODYGUARD

ESPIONAGE

COLEMAN

LADY OF CAMELOT

HAYASUGI

 

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