Craig Williams rides Hartnell to a thrilling win in the C.F. Orr Stakes (Image: Racing Photos

Craig Williams rides Hartnell to a thrilling win in the C.F. Orr Stakes (Image: Racing Photos)

Old school Orr highlights racing’s versatility

It was a case of ‘old school’ Australian racing on display at Caulfield on Saturday when Hartnell narrowly won the Group One C.F. Orr Stakes from Single Gaze and Brave Smash.

It showcased one thing that has proudly made Australian and New Zealand racing different to many other elite racing jurisdictions for the best part of 200 years.

In one word: versatility.

Where else would you see some of the best sprinters, middle distance and staying gallopers clash in one race at Group One level?

We witnessed that on Saturday at Caulfield and it was the stayers that came out on top.

Hartnell and Single Gaze had come through a spring campaign that saw them compete in the Melbourne Cup over 3200m, with the mare Single Gaze (17th) beating home the gelding Hartnell (20th).

Their rivals on the weekend included Brave Smash, who ran third in the $10 million The Everest against Australia’s best sprinters over 1200m in the spring, the Caulfield Guineas winner Mighty Boss, along with elite level mile winners Tosen Stardom (also good enough to win at weight for age over 2000m) and Shillelagh.

All categories represented.

WATCH: Hartnell claim a thrilling win at Caulfield

It was a messy race – there were many hard luck stories and the form will be tough to work out – but we can put that aside for a moment.

The field was an intriguing contest on paper and an interesting wagering opportunity.

The great thing is that the traditional Australian way of racing competition helps create good sized fields and a competitive betting product.

Over the years, many great winners of the Melbourne Cup would return and compete in the Orr Stakes – At Talaq, Let’s Elope, Jeune, Saintly, Might And Power all ran, and all won bar Might And Power (and he probably should have.)

Melbourne Cup winners could win the race just as readily as middle distance and mile horses (Vo Rogue, El Segundo, Durbridge, Maldivian and Lonhro), or star three-year-olds (All Too Hard and Redoute’s Choice), or champion mares (Typhoon Tracy) or legendary sprinters (Black Caviar and Manikato).

We saw high class horses from a variety of distance categories, with weight for age, handicap and own age or gender form, compete against each other.

As I have written before, that rarely happens in Europe where horses are positioned in categories – sprinter, miler, middle distance and stayer – and they will race predominately in that division throughout their career.

Especially in the UK, not only will horses be kept in distance categories but it is rare for handicappers to clash with weight for age or set weight stars.

The United States has virtually eliminated distance categories outside of the Triple Crown series – most races are run between 1200m and 2000m on two turn tracks.

Hong Kong, with a smaller horse population and just two tracks to compete on, has reduced opportunities for variation.

Japan offers racing over a variety of distances and courses but it is rare for a horse to compete outside of its distance division.

In recent times, whether driven by the bloodstock market or different training techniques is yet to be determined, we have seen a trend of horses remaining in their distance categories rather than showcasing versatility in Australia.

It makes feature race ratings easier to work out.

But I think that the versatility of a horse is one of Australian racing’s great selling points and I hope we never lose it.