Sydney spring racing sees more money, rejigging, and a St Leger revival

Tristan Rayner Editor

By , Tristan Rayner is a Roar Editor


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    Change is on the way. (Source: Wiki Commons)

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    Racing in spring is set for a shake-up, with Racing NSW and the ATC throwing down some intriguing changes, more prize money, and reviving the oldest classic race in Australia.

    The rejigged spring carnival will feature an extra $1.73 million in prize money, and will run for a month of Group 1 racing to the big one on October 14th, Everest day.

    Why? The old narrative was Sydney had the autumn, Melbourne the spring. Sydney’s spring was never poor, but without the big three of the Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate, and Caulfield Cup, it couldn’t compete. Something had to be done. The Everest was a big step one. This is a smaller but important step two.

    While the headlines read familiar from Racing NSW – more prize money, more bolstering of Sydney racing – the talk coming from Racing NSW and the ATC appear to have changed for the better.

    In comments afterwards to Fairfax, instead of the us versus them approach, ATC Chief Darren Pearce said part of the shake-up was to improve the flow of racing into the big races in Melbourne’s spring carnival, rather than trying to steer horses away from Victoria.

    Hold onto your hats! Here’s the quote:

    “We have tried to give our spring a better flow into the grand finals in Melbourne, while we have our own grand finals,” ATC chief executive Darren Pearce told Fairfax.

    “We wanted to give the best of both worlds for all horses and look at what is the best way forward for racing.”

    These comments, assuming they’re taken on face value, are a little bit exciting as it’s the first time in too long that either Racing NSW or Racing Victoria or the CEOs of the various race clubs have said something about supporting each other.

    The changes to NSW spring racing
    Part of the 18 in total race changes is building around what’s being called Everest day, giving the supporting races around the $10m invitation race the Everest, on October 14th, 2017.

    Click here to read all about that race.

    Of 18 race changes, not including new races, four races shift a week or later in the year. 14 others shift a week or later into the year, pushing Sydney’s spring deeper into Melbourne’s spring.

    Six races are shifted to October 14th to join The Everest. The Group 3 Craven Plate (2000m) is one of those, seemingly aimed at attracting Winx with prizemoney rising to $500,000. Also joining the day is the Listed City Tatts Lightning (1200m), which will now be a weight-for-age consolation for sprinters that miss out on an Everest slot, also worth $500,000.

    Click here to examine all the details of each change.

    The rejigging also creates some momentum towards pushing big spring racing towards later in the year. It makes sense – warmer weather is great for crowds, and that’s true in both Sydney and Melbourne, where the Cup Carnival crowd can often decide based on temperature if it’s worth donning something suitable for a rainy day.

    There’s also pushback from traditionalists, those that don’t want the whole show to go on forever, and the catch-cry of ‘the first Tuesday in November’ no longer holding true for a certain big race would no doubt confuse many.

    The St Leger is back!
    Of the changes, one of the most eye-catching is the restoration of the (AJC) St Leger, now known as the ATC St Leger, the first classic run in Australia in 1841.

    The old St Leger has been killed off twice. Once in 1959, before a restoration in 1980. It was originally a staying race for three-year-olds and was later opened up to four-year-olds to boost fields. The last renewal was in the 2001 autumn.

    More than 16 years later, it’s back, even if it’s a different race to the old name. 2800m becomes 2600m, and it’s now a very healthy $500,000 set weights and penalties (SWP) race on October 14th.

    The Roar has called for more staying races and it’s fantastic to see a race with such a famous name at a testing staying distance be brought into a busy carnival.

    This race alone will trigger some chatter as to the how this ‘supports’ Victoria’s grand finals, with the race just a week before the Caulfield Cup.

    As a SWP race, winners may not be eligible for a penalty into the Melbourne Cup. Horses out of the Turnbull Stakes, a SWP race, are not handicapped, and neither are WFA races.

    That’s all fine for the top-end of the Melbourne Cup entries list, but for those scrapping to get into the final field of 24, and need a weight penalty to rise up the ranks, this race may not help.

    There’s also the issue of internationals not being out of quarantine in time for this race, which places pressure on the quality of field that might turn up.

    In any case, it’s good news for stayers.

    Tristan Rayner
    Tristan Rayner

    Tristan is a writer, consultant, racing enthusiast and former Editor of The Roar who has turned the Melbourne Cup into a year-round study via

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