Welcome to the first instalment of an ongoing discussion between Roar Racing experts Cam Rose and Justin Cinque on the structure of the Australian Racing calendar, and how it can be improved.
Cam Rose: We saw some good racing on the weekend, Justin.
Mick Price has a couple of fast two-year-olds on his hands, Turn Me Loose is going to be hard to beat in everything from this point on, and Flamberge is a tough old marvel.
Winx took out another Group 1, the Chipping Norton over 1600 metres, but I want to ask you, how many other genuine Group 1 milers were in the field? I say none.
Justin Cinque: My thoughts exactly, Cam. There were Caulfield and Sydney Cup winners in opposition, as well as a BMW winner, and plenty of other good horses too, but Winx aside, for a mile race, the Chipping Norton was conspicuously devoid of milers.
Cam: Along with the Chipping Norton we had the Futurity, another Group 1 weight-for-age race but only 200 metres shorter, which is hardly an ideal calendar to get the best horses racing each other.
And this Saturday we have the absolutely farcical situation of two Group 1 Guineas being run on the same day over the same distance in different states. As a racing industry, how can we not be appalled and embarrassed by this state of affairs?
Justin: Cam, anyone who isn’t embarrassed by the situation is either motivated by self-interest or doesn’t love racing enough. In my opinion, this is racing’s biggest problem right now.
I love Australian racing but I am able to understand that the reserve of future Group 1 horses that go through our sale rings as yearlings each season is limited. And don’t forget the dozens of good horses that are purchased to race in South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand.
So, on any weekend where there are two Group 1 races in Australia attracting the same type of horse, the talent pool is so diluted that the race cannot live up to its so-called Group 1 standard. If they’re only beating half the field of eligible and ready three-year-old milers, how can ‘Group 1 Guineas winner’ be legitimately awarded to the victors of the Australian and Randwick Guineas races this weekend? It’s a farce!
Cam: Apart from that, the amount of ‘Guineas’ races that seem to be run from Townsville to Timbuktu is ridiculous. I think we need to protect the name a bit and reserve it for the absolute best.
We’ve got some changes in store in that regard over the next few days. Back to the original point, though, we both believe we have too many Group 1 races in this country.
Justin: Absolutely! Group 1 racing should be reserved for the best horses and when that doesn’t happen the effects are widespread. Any three-year-old colt that wins a Group 1 is a big chance of going to stud that season, so the more Group 1s being handed out, the easier it is for owners and trainers to plot a path to stud for their star colt.
Consequently, in the following seasons, the weight-for-age stocks – where you find the absolute pinnacle of horse racing – suffer enormously. It’s not a cycle but a downward spiral to mediocrity. Australian racing is riding that spiral.
Cam: I love the passion, Justin, and that’s a scathing attack indeed. Also, let’s not forget about the everyday racing fan who wants to see the best horses from all states racing each other.
What are we going to see this Saturday – Press Statement race the Sydney B- and C-graders, while the likes of colts Palentino and Mahuta, fillies Perfect Reflection and Jameka, plus the talented Kiwi’s Xtravagent and Risque all square off against each other at Flemington.
The Australian Guineas looks the much deeper race, but Press Statement might be the best horse. It’s sad for all racing fans that we don’t see them meet this weekend, so we can find out.
Justin: Spot on, Cam. In the spring, Press Statement won what I think may be the weakest Caulfield Guineas since Econsul’s boilover in 2004. But he won it very well. He should win the Randwick Guineas too. But what has he beaten? Not much, and therefore it is hard to be sure of just how good he is.
The Caulfield Guineas has been savaged by the rise of new Group 1 races in the spring like the Golden Rose and Coolmore Stud that draw top three-year-olds away from the Caulfield Guineas.
Exosphere, the Golden Rose winner, would have given Press Statement a race in the Caulfield Guineas (he handled Press Statement easily in the Rose) but was saved for an unsuccessful tilt at the Coolmore Stud. And now in the autumn, Exosphere is avoiding another big race.
The Newmarket Handicap is one of five races in what I like to call Australian racing’s ‘Sprinter’s Quintet’ – the Manikato Stakes, Darley Classic, Black Caviar Lightning, Newmarket Handicap and TJ Smith Stakes. These are the blue riband sprint races.
Each year we see the Darley Classic, perfectly poised at the end of the spring, draw a magnificent field. And a few weeks ago, the best sprinters in
the land, including Exosphere, tackled the Lightning, which is another race programmed perfectly. But not a lot went right for Exosphere in that Lightning Stakes.
Cam: Does Exosphere not handle the straight, or has he been the victim of poor jockeying and track bias? John O’Shea is not happy with Flemington either way.
Justin: That’s right, and as a result, O’Shea doesn’t want to give the horse another test down the Flemington straight in the Newmarket.
But, with a slight tweak in the programme Exosphere would be running in the Newmarket. If the Lightning was run at Caulfield (which hosts no races in the Quintet) instead of Flemington (which hosts three), I bet Exosphere would be lining up in the Newmarket.
Instead, the horse is back in Sydney, preparing for the TJ Smith on April 2. Exosphere has more talent than just about every other Group 1 winner in Australia and he’s going to sit out the whole middle of the autumn!
On another point, if the conditions of the Canterbury Stakes were tweaked, say by increasing the distance to 1400 metres, I bet trainers of the top sprinters would never mention it as a possible kick-off point for the autumn ever again.
Cam: The racing calendar is all over the place, which is a by-product of each state being allowed to run their own race with no regard for other jurisdictions. In fact, they effectively try to steal from each other, boosting up their own races at the expense of interstate rivals.
It may help their particular race-day or carnival, but it diminishes the sport as a whole, not just off the track with petty politics, but most importantly, on the course. Even each race club within states – and I’m mainly thinking of the VRC, MRC and MVRC here – are able to make their own changes almost at will.
What we need is a national body with teeth that can unite the divided factions across state lines, and we’re mainly talking about Melbourne and Sydney here.
Now, I’m from Victoria and you’re a New South Welshman. What say we put our heads together, and see if we can come up with a truly national Group 1 racing calendar?
I’m dreaming of a calendar with a clear order and flow. No conflicting races. The best horses racing each other, chasing the same prize. States working together to boost the profile of the sport. Do you think we can do it?
Justin: We certainly can do it, Cam! The improvements we suggest would do plenty to help racing in Australia. What we will show is that through significant but well thought-out change, a programme can be created that will restore Group 1 racing to its former glory by ensuring the best horses will have to beat the best horses to taste the greatest success in Australia. There will be no hand-outs and no chance for cherry picking.
I said at the very beginning of this conversation that our Group 1 horses are limited in number – they are – but we still produce enough top horses each season to carry a captivating calendar of Group 1 racing. The best of Australian racing is simply the best racing in the world. We will showcase what the programme should look like to get Australian racing back to where it once stood.
The sport needs to ask itself whether it is ready for significant change. With more than 70 Group 1 races run each season, we say this is what rock bottom looks like. It is time.
Cam: A lot of people talk about change in the racing industry, but it’s mighty hard to effect it. We saw the angst created by 30 minutes between races on a Saturday in Melbourne a few weeks ago.
But our readers can join us every day this week as we look to re-shape the racing calendar the way we think it should be, as you’ve described above. I’ll be writing about the Melbourne and Sydney spring tomorrow, you’re going to tackle the Sydney and Melbourne autumn carnivals on Wednesday.
Then it’s back to me on Thursday for a look at Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, before you summarise our week with what I know will be a hard-hitting column on Friday!
Justin: Cam, I’m very much looking forward to it. I really urge our readers to get involved in this important conversation as we agitate for movement.