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The solution to the Championships programming bungle

After three second-place finishes, Red Cadeaux was euthanised after the 2015 Melbourne Cup. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)
Expert
2nd February, 2015
34

For more than 12 months, the best trainers in Australia have been critical of the programming in the Sydney Autumn Carnival. And now it threatens to put a dampener on what could be one of the best Autumn Carnivals this century.

The advent of the The Championships last season made Sydney racing important again.

The nation’s best Group 1 horses returned to the harbour city for the first time in a decade and raiders from the Northern Hemisphere collected a pair of Group 1 races for the first time in an Australian autumn.

In 2015 it is going to be bigger and better. Red Cadeaux, the three-time Melbourne Cup runner up, will be on a plane to Australia this month. He will be contesting his first Australian Autumn. All going well, 2014 Cox Plate winner Adelaide will be the first Cox Plate champion since Savabeel in 2004 to race at the meaty end of the same season’s Sydney Autumn.

Protectionist is, in my opinion, the owner of the most impressive Melbourne Cup victory since the advent of colour television in Australia and that could be regarded in time as a conservative assessment. He’ll be lining up in Sydney.

Silent Achiever, who was a ripping third in Adelaide’s Cox Plate, will be using this Sydney Autumn as her Australasian swan song before taking on the world’s best middle distance gallopers in Europe later this year. The beautiful mare was the star of last year’s carnival and continues to improve with age.

For the sprinters, the Autumn will surely decide the best sprinter in the world. Will it be Joe Pride’s Terravista or Mick Price’s Lankan Rupee? Could Team Hawkes’ trio of Mossfun, Chautauqua and Deep Field spoil the party?

The three-year-old ranks are very exciting. Brazen Beau, an incredibly-talented sprinter, has a Royal Ascot trip riding on his Autumn performances. Shooting To Win was brilliant in the Caulfield Guineas and will be a big shot at collecting more Group 1 glory in the coming weeks.

Personally, I can’t wait to see whether Preferment and Bondeiger go on to bigger things after their brilliant battle in the VRC Derby. Why can’t either of them turn a great spring Derby into a super career like Elvstroem and Efficient did after their Derby successes?

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If only the programming worked.

When The Championships were announced at the end of 2013, the Australian Turf Club got very excited and changed the programming for the autumn entirely.

Moving the Doncaster to Australian Derby Day gave Day 1 of the Championships a real big-day feel. And the decision to pump $4m of prize-money into the Queen Elizabeth Stakes to make it showcase race of the autumn, was a great decision.

A lot of people who don’t classify themselves as racing fans would tune in to watch a race contested by Protectionist, Adelaide, Red Cadeaux, Silent Achiever, Lucia Valentina, Rising Romance, Happy Trails, He’s Your Man, a pair of Japanese horses and some three-year-olds thrown in for good measure. And we’d be sure to have that exact field this year if it wasn’t for poor programming.

In 2015, Golden Slipper Day is now run two weeks before the Doncaster meeting and it once again boasts five Group 1s – The Slipper, George Ryder, Ranvet, Rosehill Guineas and The Galaxy.

But the problem is that it leaves the time-honoured BMW standing alone a week after in no man’s land. And to add insult to injury, the decision to cut the prizemoney by $750,000 to $1.5 million in 2013 has only served to scratch more shine off the great race’s trophy.

How many trainers will want to have their horse run in the Ranvet at 2000m before stepping up to 2400m the week after in the BMW? When looking at the question in isolation, the answer would be a few. But when you consider the Queen Elizabeth at 2000m (run two weeks after the BMW) is by far and away the most important middle-distance race in the Southern Hemisphere between now and October’s Cox Plate, the picture changes quickly.

The Ranvet, three weeks before the Queen Elizabeth becomes the perfect the lead-up for the true stayers heading towards the QE because it is so much more preferable than having to drop from 2400m to 2000m in a two-week space if the BMW was the chosen lead-up.

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But where does that put a horse like Protectionist, who is booked to run in the Australian Cup over 2000m at Flemington on March 14, a week before the Ranvet and a month before the Queen Elizabeth? Well, he won’t be running in the Ranvet. In fact, expect the Melbourne Cup winner to only be seen in Sydney once – in either the BMW or the Queen Elizabeth.

Silent Achiever and Red Cadeaux face similar programming issues. The mare will race in the Ranvet so I think she will most likely bypass the ideal 2400m BMW to keep the $4 million Queen Elizabeth dream alive. For Red Cadeaux, who thrives racing fresh, I suspect he will go straight from the Australian Cup to either the two mile Sydney Cup handicap or the Queen Elizabeth, which are both run a month after the Flemington feature. But, in reality, the BMW would have been the perfect race at 2400m weight-for-age.

It is sad to see the quality of the BMW field diminished by poor programming. Protectionist, Silent Achiever and Red Cadeaux should all be racing in this year’s renewal. If I was in charge, I’d scrap BMW Day as it was and keep the Slipper a week before Derby Day as it has been during my lifetime.

I’d run the Ranvet a week before the Slipper so it sits two weeks before Derby Day and I’d move the Queen Elizabeth to Derby Day. The Ranvet would act like the Caulfield Stakes in the spring – two weeks before the big weight-for-age race and the perfect lead-up because it is as the same distance as the Queen Elizabeth at Randwick.

For the Melbourne horses, the Australian Cup on March 15 this year would be three weeks before my scheduled Queen Elizabeth on April 4. That’s the perfect break between races for those horses who would be travelling up the Hume Highway.

I’d move the Doncaster to Day 2 of The Championships so that it is still run two weeks after the Ryder on Slipper Day. And then I’d put the BMW one week after that so that is perfectly placed a fortnight after the Queen Elizabeth and in the current slot held by the All Aged and Champagne Stakes. I’d also return the BMW’s prizemoney to $2.25 million so that it entices Queen Elizabeth horses to continue their campaign for one more run.

I’d move the All Aged from that post-Championships meeting to two weeks before the Ryder at Rosehill. To finish my program changes, I’d send the Canterbury Stakes to its rightful home at Canterbury and have it run on the last Friday night in February each year.

I’d have no doubt that with those program changes, the BMW would draw an incredibly strong field, the best middle-distance horses would meet each other at least twice this autumn and the carnival program would fit a whole lot nicer than it currently does.

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Horse racing has enough issues as it is. Getting its program right should be an easy box ticked. It’s too late now, but my changes should be adopted in future seasons.

My solution to the Autumn Carnival programming dilemma
Friday February 27 – Canterbury Park
Canterbury Stakes

Saturday February 28 – Warwick Farm
Chipping Norton

Saturday March 7 – Randwick
Randwick Guineas

Saturday March 14 – Rosehill
Coolmore Classic
All Aged

Saturday March 21 – Rosehill
Rosehill Guineas
Ranvet Stakes

Saturday March 28 – Rosehill
Golden Slipper
George Ryder
The Galaxy
Vinery Stud

Saturday April 4 – Randwick
Queen Elizabeth Stakes
Australian Derby
TJ Smith
Sires Produce

Saturday April 11 – Randwick
Doncaster Mile
Sydney Cup
The Oaks
Queen of the Turf

Saturday April 18 – Randwick
The BMW
Champagne Stakes