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Shergar Cup concept should be considered for Spring Racing Carnival

Expert
17th August, 2012
5

An interesting day of racing in England a week and a half ago should provide the blueprint for a new addition to racing’s spring carnival.

The Shergar Cup, first contested in 2000, is essentially a day which focuses on the jockeys, as opposed to the horses. It is a team-based competition, featuring some of the world’s top jockeys.

This year’s competition saw four teams – Great Britain and Ireland (Kieren Fallon, Johnny Murtagh, James Doyle), Team Europe (Frankie Dettori, Andreas Suborics, Cristian Demuro), Rest of the World (Yutaka Take, Aaron Gryder, Matthew Chadwick) and, for the first time, an all-female team (Hayley Turner, Chantal Sutherland, Emma-Jayne Wilson).

While no Australians were riding this year (although Matthew Chadwick did begin his career at Beaudesert in Queensland), in the past the Shergar Cup has featured the likes of Hugh Bowman, Craig Williams, Luke Nolen and Damien Oliver.

English racing purists are vocal about their opposition to the meeting, yet attendances at the Shergar Cup meet are always high. In fact, more people turned up to Ascot on Saturday than were there three weeks ago to see a vintage renewal of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes – 30,000 for the Shergar Cup, compared to 10,000 for the King George.

It shows something of the power of the human aspect of racing, just one of the many factors which can be used in the marketing of horse racing to a wider audience. It is often ignored, with the recent race fixing allegations perhaps a reason why.

But look at a story like that of teenage apprentice Anthony Allen, who is significantly deaf yet rode five winners in one day at Doomben recently. The human side to racing is a powerful drawcard.

So why couldn’t a similar competition to the Shergar Cup work here?

Imagine four teams of three jockeys – an Australasian team (Australia and New Zealand), an Asian team (Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong), a Rest of the World team (United States, United Kingdom and Ireland) and, as pioneered last Saturday, a female team.

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It would be like taking the State of Origin concept to a new level, a chance for race-goers to cheer on their country trackside.

The Cox Plate weekend seems to be the logical time to attract the world’s best jockeys – it does not clash with Champions Day in England or the Breeders’ Cup meeting in the United States.

This year sees the first two day Cox Plate carnival, with night racing on Friday 26 October to feature the Manikato Stakes before the Cox Plate meeting on Saturday 27 October. This move has not been overly popular among the racing community, with fears the track could be struggling come the Cox Plate.

But instead, the Friday night meeting could become a boon for the industry if such a competition were to be staged.

The Friday night timeslot, while perhaps an obstacle for riders from Singapore, does not clash with meetings in Hong Kong, therefore giving them the opportunity to come to Australia and compete.

The specifics would obviously require a lot of work, but quite feasibly six of the eight races could become legs of the jockey challenge. The two Group races, the Manikato Stakes and the Fillies Classic, should remain open to all jockeys.

The benefits of this could be massive. Imagine the media attention in the lead up to such an event. While it would be competing with coverage against the Cox Plate, featuring our best horses, for the Moonee Valley Racing Club it should only serve to boost crowds for their two day carnival.

As it stands right now, many racegoers will make the decision to either go to the Manikato Stakes or the Cox Plate. Of course, there are a number of people who will go to both. But for the general public, there is every likelihood they will choose between one or the other.

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So why not give them the opportunity to see world class action on the Friday night?

There would be drawbacks. This year, the Breeders’ Cup meet is being held on the same weekend as Derby Day. In that instance, how many jockeys are likely to come to Australia, head over to the United States before coming back again for the Melbourne Cup?

Yet that is an issue faced universally when it comes to the Spring Racing Carnival. Whether we like it or not, our carnival falls at the worst time possible on the world racing calendar. Look at the other major carnivals of the world – Dubai, Royal Ascot, Hong Kong – they do not face competition from every other corner of the globe.

The Melbourne Cup already has a large international following. But the Spring Racing Carnival as a whole needs to take a step forward – in international minds, the Spring Racing Carnival is almost exclusively about the Melbourne Cup. The other races of interest are the Caulfield Cup and the Geelong Cup, but they are mere stepping stones to the big prize.

The Cox Plate this year has received more attention than usual, but it is still largely ignored. As much as Racing Victoria hopes it will one day become a target for overseas horses, it is an unrealistic goal.

This year, we are almost certain to get at least one European galloper. But due to timing, we will never get the creme de la creme here. The best middle distance horses are heading to the Arc, Champions Day, the Breeders’ Cup or to Japan.

But perhaps the Cox Plate, and as a result the Spring Racing Carnival, can still achieve a higher level of exposure overseas.

The two day Cox Plate meet has been largely criticised in racing circles, fairly. But this is the opportunity to bring some flair to the Spring Racing Carnival. It is a marketing opportunity that cannot be missed.

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Imagine having the likes of Frankie Dettori, Johnny Murtagh, Douglas Whyte, Yutaka Take and Chantal Sutherland taking on some of our best jockeys? Parochial as we Australians are, wouldn’t that be a great opportunity to see our hoops proving their worth on the world stage – albeit at home?

Who knows, they may stick around to ride in the feature the next day. And they may choose to make Melbourne their home for the period leading up to and including the Melbourne Cup Carnival.

Hopefully this time next year, we will be eagerly discussing the jockeys selected by the Moonee Valley Racing Club, excited that racing’s administrators have made the most of what is a golden opportunity.