It’s time to fix the Sydney Carnival
Manawanui, ridden by Glyn Schofield, wins the 2011 Golden Rose at Rosehill, the first Group One race of the spring. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
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As an answer to Melbourne’s brilliant Spring Carnival, Racing NSW and the Sydney-based Australian Turf Club are planning an annual Breeders’ Cup-style racing championship to begin in 2014 that would form part of autumn’s Sydney Carnival.
This can’t happen fast enough. In the last 15 years, Melbourne’s Spring Carnival has been elevated to a new level on the back of an ever-increasing international presence and in the same time the Sydney Carnival has lost prestige and importance.
The great races of the Sydney Carnival – the Golden Slipper, BMW and Doncaster Mile – aren’t generating enough interest from local trainers, let alone those in Europe or Asia.
This autumn, the Cox Plate winner Ocean Park won’t campaign in Australia at all. Instead he will be prepared in New Zealand for a Dubai campaign that should culminate in a Royal Ascot appearance.
It continues an alarming pattern that has emerged among Cox Plate champions in the last ten years. You have to go back to Savabeel in 2004 to find a Cox Plate winner that raced, even once, at the following Sydney Carnival.
Forget the Cox Plate, that’s just where it starts.
Black Caviar has raced more times in Adelaide (a city that hosts a grand total of four Group Ones) than she has in Sydney.
The nation’s biggest owner, Lloyd Williams, hardly sends any horses to race in the Sydney Carnival. As far as he’s concerned, the only races worth winning are in the Melbourne spring.
Proving there is a gulf in class between the Spring Carnival and Sydney Carnival, last season’s autumn stars – Pierro (three Sydney Carnival Group One victories), Manighar (three) and More Joyous (three) – won a total of one race (a Group Two) in the Melbourne spring.
And as far as I can remember there hasn’t been a single Northern Hemisphere trained galloper compete in a Sydney autumn.
The Sydney Carnival’s lack of lustre is partly attributable to its timing – it falls just after the Melbourne Festival of Racing and the Dubai World Cup meeting.
So, if the Sydney Carnival is going to work, it must offer big prize money to completely overshadow the Melbourne autumn (just as Spring Carnival does Sydney’s October races) and either act as a follow-on meeting to the World Cup or acknowledge that it’s in direct competition with it.
Murmurs about a Sydney Breeders’ Cup have indicated a return to a four-day Randwick carnival but that’s not how I’d run it.
I would shorten the current format by one week to make the Sydney Carnival a five-day event played out over five consecutive Saturdays that continues to run in competition with the World Cup (which is held on the last Saturday of March) only because a hectic Australian calendar forces the Sydney Carnival to remain in its current timeslot.
My Sydney Carnival will have a fixed end date on the last Saturday of April each year with its showpiece race, the Doncaster Mile (increased to $5m prize money), to run alongside the Sydney Cup and Champagne Stakes on final day.
The current carnival has its dates determined by the fall of Easter but a more fixed calendar makes it easier for trainers, owners and fans to plan for the Sydney Carnival months and, possibly, years in advance.
The Carnival’s main meeting, it’s Breeders’ Cup, called Legend’s Day, will be two weeks before the Doncaster. Legend’s Day will feature four $4m Group One weight-for-age races.
Much like Hong Kong’s International Races, there will be a 1200m sprint (TJ Smith), 1600m mile (George Ryder), 2000m middle-distance race (Queen Elizabeth) and 2400m staying event (BMW).
Legend’s Day will be an international meeting. To generate overseas interest, the winners of all open-age Group One races in the previous year from all major racing nations – including the UK, France, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, UAE, Singapore, New Zealand, USA, Canda, Argentina, South Africa and Australia – will be invited, with travel expenses paid, for Legend’s Day.
The aim is to make Legend’s Day the biggest meeting in the Southern Hemisphere in terms of international participation and prize money. This won’t be easy but, in time, it is attainable.
The first two meetings of the Carnival – Legend’s Preview Day and Golden Slipper Day – will be run at Rosehill, with the final three meetings: Legend’s Day, Derby Day and Doncaster (Final) Day at the newly-renovated Randwick.
The idea is that by spending on the Sydney Carnival, some of the millions Racing NSW made in its successful legal battle against the corporate bookmakers, the future of racing in the harbour city can be firmly secured by a successful, vibrant festival of thoroughbred horse racing.
My revamped Sydney Carnival:
Week one at Rosehill – Legend’s Preview Day featuring the Canterbury Stakes (Group One, 1400m (previously 1300m, weight-for-age), Ranvet Stakes (Group One, 2000m, weight-for-age) and Challenge Stakes (Group Two, 1100m, weight-for-age).
Week two at Rosehill – Golden Slipper Day featuring the $3.5m Golden Slipper (Group One, 1200m, two-year olds), Rosehill Guineas (Group One, 2000m, three-year old colts), Vinery Stud Stakes (Group One, 2000m, three-year old fillies) and Coolmore Classic (Group One, 1500m, fillies and mares, handicap).
Week three at Randwick – Legend’s Day featuring the $4m TJ Smith (Group One, 1200m, weight-for-age), $4m George Ryder (Group One, 1600m [previously 1500m], weight-for-age), $4m Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Group One, 2000m, weight-for-age) and $4m BMW (Group One, 2400m, weight-for-age).
Week four at Randwick – Derby Day featuring the $2m Australian Derby (Group One, 2400m, three-year olds), $1m Australian Oaks (Group One, 2400m, three-year old fillies), Sires Produce (Group One, 1400m, two-year olds), All Aged (Group One, 1400m, weight-for-age) , Queen Of the Turf (Group One, 1600m [previously 1500m], fillies and mares, set weights) and Chairman’s Handicap (Group Two, 2600m).
Week five at Randwick (on the last Saturday of April) – Doncaster/Final Day featuring the $5m Doncaster Mile (Group One, 1600m, handicap), $1m Sydney Cup (Group One, 3200, handicap) and Champagne Stakes (Group One, 1600m, two-year olds).
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