Without a Fight completed the rare Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double on Tuesday as star jockey Mark Zahra went back-to-back in the big one after…
With the annual Spring Racing Carnival heating up, The Everest is the glam event on the social calendar at Randwick – but it will be run at a cost greater than its $20 million contributed prizemoney for the entrants.
The 1200m scamper should be called “The Subterranean”, in my opinion, because it continues the decline of Australian breeding and thoroughbred standards.
Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’Landys has succeeded in making the race a spring focus, not only in Sydney but nationwide. It is supported by the likes of the $10 million Golden Eagle and $3 million Big Dance, which will be run in the weeks ahead and will almost eclipse the Melbourne spring – but at what cost?
The condemnation of the concept can be seen by examining one of the current stars of the Australian turf Zaaki, who is racing almost in parallel with the V’Landys marketing-based, dollar-driven innovation. The gelding came here as a group-three winner in England and looked like a world-beater, winning and placing in multiple group-one races.
He is still competitive at nearly nine years old but has not started in any of the 1200m scampers. He is not bred for them and there is no need for him to try anyway; there has been scamp competition from the locals at 1400m plus distances – and he is highly successful at them.
Meanwhile, It was Verry Elleegant’s lonely task to defend Australian racing for seasons, as virtually the only local that could run a metre past 1600m at Group One level.
She could boast of beating an English Derby winner in the ill-fated Anthony Van Dyke in the Caulfield Cup, and a win over the then-world top-rated Addeybb at Randwick. But she was New Zealand bred anyway and there was no other local support. It was cruel to send Verry Elleegant off to France to finish her career – she had done her job and was giddy.
There are no imminent successors for races past the mile, while the Cups are just quarries for any weight-for-age-class or strong handicappers who visit.
Local defender Anamoe won the last Cox Plate, and proved he was at least high-class by running second to the visiting Dubai Honour in the Queen Elizabeth at Randwick, but was hailed because he had already won at group-one level throughout his career.
That is what good horses were once expected to do. Take, for example, early Golden Slipper winners like Fine and Dandy and Sky High. The 2016 Golden Slipper winner Capitalist had one run as a spring three-year-old and was off to stud. The previous year’s winner Vancouver had two in the spring.
Once Slipper winners might have raced long enough to run in “The Subterranean”. Now the Slipper is a grand final for colts; the plan is to win, retire early and then a lucrative stud career awaits. Just rinse and repeat that formula.
Before he died, the legendary Australian Cups King Bart Cummings said horses were faster but more brittle. The Colonial breed was once the toughest horse in the world. He said tongue-in-cheek and dismissively of the modern Slipper, a race he had won, that it should be run at Randwick.
V’Landys might have noted how many Australian-breds were in this year’s Sydney Cup – which is run over 3200m, like the Melbourne Cup – the answer is just one.
Nowadays, it is a win if an Australasian runs a place in the Melbourne Cup. Staying races at either the metropolitan or the provincial tracks are full of horses with breeding in brackets (GB), (IRE), (FR), (GER) etc.
It is cheaper to get a ready-made that can run a metre past 1600m because now the Ponzi-scheme local breeding industry produces one type of horse – unless, of course, there is a breeding fluke.
This year’s Sydney Spring Carnival had the Group One, time-honoured Flight Stakes prizemoney at $750,000, and the famous Group One spring double of the Epsom Handicap at $1.5 million and the Metropolitan at $750,000.
Randwick also featured a $2 million 1900 Hill Stakes – the race was formerly a 1700m lead-in to the Epsom. There was also a $1 million 1400m Allan Brown Stakes.
The Epsom-Metrop double has had its day. Perhaps the Epsom could be run in the early spring at Kembla Grange, Newcastle or Hawkesbury as a qualifier for the Big Dance. The Metrop could be run at one of those tracks but it cannot be run as a lead-in for anything because there are not any later Sydney staying races.
Prospective starters would drop dead trying to run the once 13 furlongs, now 2600m, Metrop at Randwick, won by a strong stayer.
But what does all that matter? The Everest has been a huge hit and there will be lots of ‘hooray Harrys and Harriettes’ there enjoying the glam day. People will be making money and the day will be getting plenty of attention. Only the boring old diehard racing traditionalists could see the bigger picture, and note that dual Everest winner Redzel would not be among the emergencies in a best-ever Australian 1200m field.
Can the Melbourne autumn and spring carnivals fight back against the V’Landys conquest? Well, the trumps down there could seek out prospective owners willing to chip in towards, say, a $21 million 1200m Kilimanjaro in the autumn, and a $21 million 1200m Andes in the spring. Perhaps a $6 million Prince William against Sydney’s new $5 million King Charles. Dad would be proud.
As for the time-honoured Cox Plates, Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup? Let’s just leave those to the visitors.
A short race is a good race – especially if you can slap any sort of dollar figure on it, and then heavily promote it.