Racing Victoria's Mick Kent Profile
Aussie trainer Mick Kent is embarking on a plan to claim Australia's greatest race with another French horse. He's also got some strong views on the industry as STEVE MORAN reports
Trainer Mick Kent has embarked on his third hit and run trip to the UK in little more than month to continue the preparation of his French acquired Melbourne Cup hopeful Tac De Boistron.
Such are the demands of a cross-hemisphere Cup bid. It's one thing to hand over a cheque, usually of significant amount, but yet another to ensure a horse is in the right shape for our most famous race after two stints of quarantine; a 30 hour flight plus changes of environment and season.
The Cranbourne based Kent says he has no issue with long haul flying - even when turning right on aircraft entry - which is a good thing man for who also concedes he can be 'a little too fastidious and reluctant to delegate'. He's more concerned about his horse coping with the rigors of flying.
Mind you it's fastidiousness which may well be required in this assignment. After all it was Lucas Cranach who was clearly the best performed of the five Australian trained overseas acquisitions in last year's Cup and he had the hands on attention of Lee Freedman in England. The second best performed was Kent's own Unusual Suspect.
This, of course, raises the question as to the wisdom or otherwise of Australian owners falling over themselves and outbidding each other for northern hemisphere bred Cup contenders. Not to mention the impact of those dollars spent on local markets - in particular yearling sales. And I doubt anyone has yet done the definitive return on investment anaylsis of these purchases. It's all heart over head stuff at the moment.
These questions certainly demand greater exploration for another time but the early evidence, and very early it is, suggests that this method of winning the Cup is anything but guaranteed despite five nothern hemisphere wins since Vintage Crop blazed the trail in 1993. Those winners were all in the care of their original trainers.
Last year, 16 of the 23 Melbourne Cup runners were either overseas trained or overseas acquired. Overseas trained horses filled six of the first seven placings including, of course, the winner Dunaden. Aside from third placed Lucas Cranach, the Aussie prepared imports finished 9th, 10th, 19th and 22nd.
So as much as we might puff our chests out over Peter Moody's transformation of Manighar it would be silly at best, and jingoistic at worst, to declare that our trainers are somehow vastly superior to their UK or European counterparts.
Of course we are very much in the experimental stages of the experiment and Kent is bullish about his 2012 candidate Tac De Boistron and, for that matter, about Unusual Suspect despite the fact that he's just turned nine and been well tried and exposed.
Tac De Boistron, with Christophe Soumillon up, is a last start winner of the Prix Maurice De Nieuil (2800 metres - Group 2) at Longchamp, on July 14, when he beat Vadamar and Shahwardi who then ran fourth and third respectively behind Joshua Tree and Brigantin in the Prix Kergorlay - the Deauville race which the past two Cup winners have contested.
'I really like the horse and he's done well. We were keen to get him and I'm heartened by the fact that Soumillon is keen to ride him. The issue there might be the weight. He's got 53.5 (kg) in the Caulfield Cup and Soumillon would battle to get below 54 (kg) but hopefully we'll sort that out.
'This is one issue I would like RVL to look at. I think there needs to be some flexibility. To be intransigent is to suggest that weight is the only factor which determines the outcome of a race and that's a nonsense. We have the option to claim in so many races but not to declare overweight. I think it's not unreasonable for owners to be protected in this regard - to have their jockey of choice riding a kilo over rather than employing someone they're not comfortable with,' Kent said.
Nobody could accuse the Cranbourne trainer, who was a key player in the introduction of the 3200 metres Sandown Cup, of wanting for ideas.
Paraphrased, here's a brief sample which all emerged in a 30 minutes conversation. He'd like to see the Group 1 Emirates, on final day, run at weight-for-age; the construction of a chute to allow 2400 metres races at Flemington; further industry support of the Cranbourne night racing which he described as 'excellent with a great feel'; a small cut from the prizemoney percentages paid to owners, trainers and jockeys which would be redistributed to the raceday strapper; speed/time incentives in races to discourage the jump and take hold style of racing which has become the norm; the impounding and post-race scoping of horses who perform below expectations.
Not to mention a wholesale change in culture and operation which would see training tracks opening and closing later. 'We really should work more in the European style, from daylight to late morning. You would reduce the burden on staff and encourage more to stay in the industry which, at the moment, is a huge problem. And we could turn the lights off which just might be a real issue with the carbon tax,' he said.
In the meantime, he's looking to Tac De Boistron and even the veteran Unusual Suspect - with whom he's hatching a radical plan - to provide some inspiration after the recent loss of several key horses either to injury or other stables.
'I'm confident that Tac De Boistron has more to give and that he'll be able to perform on our better ground even though his best in Europe has been on soft tracks. We'll look to run him in the Caulfield Cup or the Geelong Cup with the track condition probably the thing which would make us go one way or the other,' Kent said.
Tac De Boistron, stabled alongside Dunaden, is one of 15 horses in quarantine at Newmarket. Another - Dermot Weld's Galileo's Choice - is confined in Ireland. These horses arrive in Melbourne on 29 September with a second shipment - including last year's runner-up Red Cadeaux - expected on 20 October. Thus Cup spots, for locals, will be hard to come by as was the case last year.
'It's understandable,' Kent says, 'the European staying horse is simply better than ours at the moment.'
Kent, fresh from unearthing a possible Derby runner Phillipi at Moonee Valley on Saturday, is looking forward to checking on Tac De Boistron even if just for four days. 'I'll head back Friday night but I feel I have to go. Training is about observing your horse and you want to have a handle on his current environment.
'It's very, very different. The quarantined horses can work on the gallops but late in the afternoon and with any number of security people on hand to ensure no local horses are encountered. Other than that they're locked in a courtyard. Then they have to cope with flying to Melbourne via the middle east and Singapore which can take it's toll. You want these as horses as well as you have them before they step on that plane,' he said.
The former US galloper Unusual Suspect resumed with a sound performance in the Heatherlie Handicap and is showing no signs of his age according to the trainer. 'He's flying, ' Kent said, 'just in great shape. I'm not sure he could win the Cup now but there's a decent race in him still and I'm toying with the idea of taking him home for the Breeders Cup Marathon. I'd love to win that race. Wouldn't that be something to take him back to the States and have him win.'
A Derby win with Phillipi would also be some fillip for the stable. 'I'm not committed to that at the moment but it's possible. I have no problem with running a horse like him in the Derby and I'm certainly not one to advocate any change in the distance. If they don't come through the Derby well then it's perhaps because they've been overtaxed beforehand. If a horse is naturally predisposed to stay they could do it on two runs,' he said.
Kent noted and praised Pat Carey's performance in winning the Australian Derby with Ethiopia at just his fourth run. The trainer, renowned as the king of the treadmill and other alternatives strategies, is not one given to professional jealousies as he comments favorably on a number of his colleagues, none moreso than Peter Moody.
'What can you do but admire him? He runs a great operation. If I wasn't training, I'd give all my horses to him. Of course you would, why wouldn't you? His results speak for themselves and I think he's managed to evolve with racing. He puts speed into his horses and that's what's required here,' Kent said.
Kent might always be searching for a better way and a new stimulus and yearns to compete on the international stage but his passion for racing, here and abroad, remains undiminished.