Australia Preview: Heavy schedules for Lighthouse, Shelby Sixtysix

March 11th, 2022

If you have been following American mare Lighthouse in Australia, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – she is racing in Group 1 company on Saturday, for the second consecutive week.

LNJ Foxwoods’ Mizzen Mast mare continued her outstanding Australian form last week, finishing second in the 1,300-meter (about 6 1/2-furlong) Canterbury Stakes (G1) behind favorite Forbidden Love.

But instead of saving her for the $A5 million (about $3.65 million) All-Star Mile at Flemington, Melbourne next weekend, her connections have decided to contest the 1,500-meter (about 7 1/2-furlong) Coolmore Classic (G1) at Rosehill Gardens in Sydney this weekend in an attempt to gain a first Group 1 victory.

The fact she will be backing up a week after her last race hasn’t put off oddsmakers in Australia, who have made her the early favorite for the event, run for fillies and mares under handicap conditions.

As in the rest of the world, Australian horses don’t race as often as they once did.

But though racing on consecutive weekends isn’t that uncommon Down Under, the questions being asked of Lighthouse pale in comparison to fellow Rosehill nominee Shelby Sixtysix, who is set to race for the fourth Saturday in a row – which is even unusual in Australia.

Not only will the 1,100-meter (about 5 1/2-furlong) Maurice McCarten S. (G3) be Shelby Sixtysix’s fourth race in four weeks, it will be the Toronado gelding’s seventh race in eight weeks. So far, however, trainer Danny Williams’ judgment in giving his horse such a workload has been sound.

All of Shelby Sixtysix’s races have been at sprint distances between five and seven furlongs, and he’s been in top form. After 11th of 14 runners first-up Jan. 22, his next four races produced a second, fifth, second, and first.

The victory prompted Williams to step up to stakes company the following week, where Shelby Sixtysix finished a close second at 60-1 odds in the 1,000-meter Challenge Stakes (G2) at weight-for-age behind multiple Group 1 winner Eduardo. Behind him in third was none other than Nature Strip, the world’s highest-rated sprinter.

A similar effort would see Shelby Sixtysix just about win the Maurice McCarten – he’s down from 58.5kg (about 129 pounds) under weight-for-age conditions to 53kg (about 117 pounds) and doesn’t face anything like Eduardo or Nature Strip. But it’s still a good field, and whether he’s up to a peak effort at his fourth consecutive week of racing remains to be seen.

Shelby Sixtysix’s program is a reminder of a bygone era. It’s worth noting that 1948 Triple Crown champion Citation raced 20 times as a three-year-old, and raced twice within 10 days at least 10 times. These days, the nine-race campaign that California Chrome had as a sophomore is seen as a busy one.

It’s difficult to say one approach is better than the other, or how much racing is too much. There are horses that don’t want to race too much, and others that appear to thrive on a lot of racing. What Shelby Sixtysix demonstrates is that some horses are able to perform at a high level when raced on a regular basis. Players are best to study the individual horse, and the record of their trainer with frequently-raced horses, when deciding how they will perform during a busy schedule.