That oft-quoted – and in fact, misquoted – line from the 1989 Kevin Costner flick Field of Dreams asserts, “Build it and they will come…”
In fact, the line is “If you build it, and he will come.”
Perhaps this is the logic behind the push to rename Sydney’s Queen Elizabeth Stakes the Sydney International Champions Cup as part of an overall revamp of Sydney’s autumn carnival.
The new Sydney International Champions Cup, it is said, would challenge the Melbourne Cup in terms of prize money – and in time, organisers hope, in prestige.
The new race would become the centrepiece of Sydney’s carnival, driven by international participation, particularly from Asian jurisdictions like Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.
As a Sydneysider, it sounds brilliant in theory. Most punters forget that the Tancred Stakes (now The BMW) had international participation before the Melbourne Cup, when a number of Europeans ran in 1988, 1989 and 1990.
Logistically, though, it is very difficult to see it succeeding, especially in this day and age. The lure of large prize money is significant, but perhaps not significant enough to overcome the many hurdles involved.
In particular, there are two reasons a race like this would be unlikely to work as planned: timing and quarantine.
Already, the international racing calendar is packed to the rafters, meaning a race like this is unlikely to achieve significant cut-through overseas.
For European horses, their season is just beginning, and those who are fit will have been in Dubai a month earlier.
As for Asia, scheduling issues present problems.
Hong Kong has the Queen Elizabeth II Cup around the same time – this year, it was held a day after the Queen Elizabeth Stakes – while the Champions Mile is run a week later.
Given both are worth close to US$2m, why would a Hong Kong trainer or owner make the decision to forego prize money at home in order to chase a race abroad?
In Singapore, all roads lead to the Singapore Airlines International Cup in mid-May, and while it would be possible to run in both, it would be unlikely a Singapore-prepared galloper would attempt the double.
Quarantine continues to remain an issue for Japan. Nevertheless, in April, their top horses are either preparing for the 3200m of the Tenno Sho or are in the paddock.
Perhaps it would be easy if the quarantine situation were to be relaxed, as quarantine issues continue to hinder attempts to attract more internationally-trained horses to Australia.
However, the quarantine laws are necessary.
Our quarantine rules may seem over-zealous at times, but it is easy to forget Australia has a unique environment and the introduction of foreign pests could have terrible effects.
The arrival of equine influenza in Australia, six years ago this week, should serve as a reminder of the need for strict quarantine measures.
Still, quarantine remains a massive stumbling block in attracting internationals to Sydney.
Ian Mackay and the team at Racing NSW should be applauded for thinking big and aiming high. Too often, attempts to engineer change in racing are derided and mocked, when ingenuity should be encouraged.
However, the dream of international participation en masse in the Sydney Carnival once again looks a pipedream. Still, I look forward to seeing what they come up with in their attempts to put Sydney on the international racing radar once more.