x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

The difference is in the detail for Ortensia's trainer

Paul Messara tries to use as much technology as is available to hiim, writes Geoffrey Riddle, in contrast to Frankel's Sir Henry Cecil.

Craig Williams rode Ortensia of Australia to the win in the Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night thanks to a little science and strategy by the trainer, Paul Messara.
Craig Williams rode Ortensia of Australia to the win in the Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night thanks to a little science and strategy by the trainer, Paul Messara.

In the past few months, there have been two conversations involving Paul Messara that any fly on the wall might have been privileged to overhear.

The 34-year-old Australian trainer has left his pregnant wife, Alice, and their one-year-old son at home and has flown halfway across the world to saddle Ortensia in the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot on Tuesday and possibly in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes five days later.

Although he will pop back home afterwards, Ortensia is slated to run in the July Cup at Newmarket next month, and perhaps even the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in August. You can imagine how that conversation might have gone.

The other discussion that piques interest was with Craig Williams, the jockey, ahead of the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai in March.

Williams and Messara sat at breakfast and analysed the mare's strengths and weaknesses. They studied the form of each runner in detail and then set about walking the turf course at Meydan Racecourse many times. A few days later Ortensia had won the Group 1 sprint by a length and quarter and had bagged a US$600,000 (Dh2.2 million) cheque for her owners.

"We got down to the smallest detail," Messara said, nursing a cappuccino in a cafe behind Newmarket High Street.

"I wanted Craig to be out in the centre of the track because when you come into the straight at Meydan there is a camber so they run up on to the straight part where in the middle of the track there is none.

"We also chose the lane we wanted to run in as the grass was mowed up and down the track in opposite directions.

"There is a small margin per furlong but you want to be with the grass as it is mowed down the track. The next time you go for a run, try the grass the other way and you'll see what I mean. It's a small margin but if you are going to be beaten by a head it makes all the difference."




It is conjecture how much assistance the turf and lack of camber helped Williams and his mount, but the fact of the matter is that Ortensia ran the final 400 metres at Meydan 0.49 seconds faster than any of her rivals, which included seven individual Group 1 winners.

Arguably, Williams was positioned too far back and the acceleration showed by his partner proved the difference between success and failure. It was only the second time he had ridden for Messara and like the first occasion it resulted in a Group 1 victory.

"The discussion we had gave me a better insight in to Paul and his mindset," Williams said. "For a jockey, I love doing form and I love walking tracks. Paul is a trainer who thinks like I do and we love those one per centers."

Messara has been in England for almost three weeks and for a man obsessed by detail the more traditional approach taken by some trainers in Newmarket has been quite a shock.

When Sir Henry Cecil came to Dubai last year to run Twice Over in the World Cup he was asked by a South African journalist how heavy his charge was in comparison to the previous year when he finished 10th to Gloria De Campeao.

"It may sound very amateurish," said Frankel's trainer, "but I never weigh my horses."

In contrast, Messara weighs Ortensia at least every week and has created a database of times for most of the main gallops in Newmarket utilising GPS saddle blankets. With the use of heart-rate monitors he has gauged exactly how well Ortensia has been working under Leah Gavranich, his travelling head groom.

Gavranich has been building up the horse's rear muscles in an effort to tackle better Ascot's five furlong turf track, which rises by 20 metres to the finish.

"Of course I look at my horse and have an understanding of how she is, but a heart-rate monitor is an aid to give us a better picture," Messara said. "You see sportsmen in other spheres taking it easy and they get found out with heart-rate monitors and horses can't talk.

"When I go from training on flat tracks in Australia to training on hills I need to equate her work. So in Dubai we knew what we were up against as it was a circular track like at home.

"She has got to get used to running up hills. Ascot has a hill, the July Cup at Newmarket is up a hill, and what's more I need to start training her for downhill for that race, too.

"Warren Hill, Long Hill, Side Hill, Bury Hill - we've used all the gallops here. We've had to work her slower than most here because we have had to graduate her through the grades and build up different muscles than what she's used to. We also don't want to load her up behind and then for her to get a muscle injury. I reckon I'm about as modern as I can get."

If it is a lonely existence being young and on your own without your family in a backwater like Newmarket, Messara has at least used the time to extend his knowledge. He has been to Newmarket before when two years ago he brought over Alverta, who unfortunately lost 40kgs in transit and ran well below form to finish 14th in the Golden Jubilee Stakes behind Starspangledbanner.

Messara ran her again in the July Cup a month later after she had regained the weight and she finished third to her Ascot conqueror.

He also visited Newmarket on a whistle-stop tour when honing his experience before taking out a licence and was seconded to David Loder, who had just left Godolphin.

Many trainers in Newmarket would never allow a rival in to their stables but Messara has been exchanging ideas with Luca Cumani and Robert Cowell, both regular visitors to the UAE.

"I did evening stables with Luca Cumani the other day and it is just great to see how he does things. You only pick up small things, such as we have a lot of chaff mixed in with our grain, which is not what they do over here, but it all helps.

"I am good mates with Robert Cowell and I like to spy on his horses. Of his three entered in the King's Stand I'd say Spirit Of Quartz would be his best horse and he'll be very dangerous in a year's time as he's still quite light."

The media bandwagon in Britain has gone into overdrive about the presence of Black Caviar, the world's highest-rated sprinter, who bids to extend her winning sequence in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday week to 22 victories. It means that Messara has virtually slipped into the country unnoticed, which, like at Meydan, seems to suit him just fine.

"In Dubai we were the undercard to Sepoy and Helmet and were barely considered," he said. "As it turned out we won and they're still running.

"Do I feel some inadequacy that I have to come over here and compete, yes, I think it does rankle. If their sprinters travelled to Australia to compete they'd get beaten by a furlong. We have the best sprinters, it's simple. Our sprinters win over here having been on a plane for over 30 hours, and very few of them are 100 per cent, but these are big occasions.

"You don't get many shots at days like this. I train around 30 to 40 horses and I may never have a horse as good as this again. If you come with a chance and you manage to win, it's a oncer."


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