WILL SYDNEY’S SHOT AT A WORLD CLASS CARNIVAL WORK?
It’s the elephant in the room. Amidst all the hoopla and unlimited spin, there is absolutely no guarantee that the $18m million prize money extravaganza announced by Racing NSW Chairman John “the messiah” Messara will deliver the international recognition that he so desperately craves.
Championship Week, the reincarnation of Australia’s own version of the Breeders Cup, which the “messiah” has not taken long to distance himself from, has been billed as the saviour of Sydney and NSW racing – and of its once successful and now declining Autumn racing carnival.
Sydney racing in Autumn was once vibrant with its own four-day carnival during Easter week with the Inglis yearling Sales thrown in and visitors flocking in from interstate and overseas for what was one of the best week’s of Australian racing.
Despite the protestations of the States who jealously protected their own racing carnivals both pre and post Sydney Autumn, the feast of Group racing attracted the cream of Australia’s racehorses.
But it all went pear-shaped with a comatosed AJC Committee who were more concerned with a well-stocked liquor cabinet and eyes firmly set on social climbing with the north shore blue rinsers.
The well-meaning rescue attempt led by current ATC Chairman John Cornish, below and his Board has hit more hurdles than the poor old steeplechasers in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and in the Aintree Grand National have had to contend with.
With a balance sheet that is normally presented to liquidators, solvency has and is still an issue. But that is not the only millstone around the neck of the ATC.
It also has to contend with the governing body Racing NSW and its Heckyl and Jeckyl team of “good cop”, Chairman John “the messiah” Messara and “bad cop”, Chief Executive Peter “the not so great” V’Landys. And has there ever been a better example of a bad cop with his rabid attack dogs?
Despite all the spin and protestations to the contrary, Racing NSW has a single unambiguous goal – total control of NSW racing.
It has raised and still raises questions of trust and is hardly the environment for cooperation and advancing the NSW racing industry.
Now that the dust is beginning to settle after the launch of Championship week, the conceptual and financial flaws are being laid bare.
Financially, the $18 million plus prize money allocated for the two Saturdays is not only unjustifiable, it is downright obscene.
As a very keen racing observer pointed out, the inaugural championships in 2013 have literally no chance of attracting any foreign competition – the fundamental driving force behind this flawed concept.
Australia’s quarantine laws, as Hong Kong trainer John Moore accurately pointed out, are a complete disincentive to international participation.
To make matters worse, any potential international horses would have to be quarantined at Victoria’s equine quarantine centre at Werribee racecourse before making the long trek across the Hume Highway out of Bleak City to get to Sydney – a 12 hour road trip at the very least. Try selling THAT to the internationals.
But it is the prize money and, let’s face it, the truckloads that are being allocated to Championship Week is starting to cause deep angst among the middle tier of owners and trainers.
Sydney racing, which has been heading down the path of elitism with a clear divide between the haves and have nots, will be further polarized by Championship Week.
It will be dominated by the same cabal of premier trainers and owners – those with the highest strike rates of success who have access to training for the cashed up owners and breeders at the top end of the scale. And don’t expect for one minute for the pool of horses competing in these races to be any different from any other Autumn or Spring racing carnival.
It will be the same pool that competed at the recent Melbourne spring racing carnival – a carnival dominated by a few big name Sydney trainers – the usual suspects dominating the Group Ones.
If Racing NSW and their la la blah blah mouthpieces were serious about the financial well-being of the “50,000” participants as they claim to be, the bulk of this money would be better spent attacking the unchecked spiralling costs of racing faced by owners in Sydney- costs like the ridiculously high stable rents at the metropolitan training centres in Sydney and the raft of fees and charges which are directly charged out by the Club and Racing NSW-and can be reduced or eliminated.
Wouldn’t this be a tangible and effective way of getting new owners into racing and retaining existing ones?
Wouldn’t it also help increase field sizes in the longer term and bring some fresh faces into racing?
Championship Week looks increasingly like it is all about the big boys and girls in NSW racing and throwing obscene amounts of prize money into these races just won’t be sustainable in the longer term.
There is nothing to suggest that NSW racing will get its bang for the very big bucks that are being thrown around.
Besides the $10 million State Government grant is for one year only.
Will the taxpayer continue to kick in $10 million each year to fund prize money?
We think we know the answer to that one.
DON’T POKE THE BEAR
Still on the flawed logic behind the Championship Week concept, prize money and financial are not the only conundrum.
The timing of the Championship Week at Easter coincides with the early months of the European flat racing season where all the potential equine heavyweights are deep into their preparations for the elite Group races of each northern hemisphere flat racing season.
Does the “messiah” and “the not so great one” seriously believe the Europeans are going to disrupt the preparations of their elite racehorses for a trip down under with the very real potential to totally fuck up their European campaigns and the massive residual value that their Group race victories deliver to stallions, colts, fillies and mares?
Have Heckyl and Jeckyl been drinking Kool Aid and playing with Alice’s White Rabbit?
So from which countries are the owners and trainers of their elite horses going to knock on the doors of Racing NSW and the ATC to make the trip down under – the US, Japan, Hong Kong? Let’s deal with Uncle Sam first.
The bottom line is that there are very few American trained racehorses which perform at the Group One level outside their borders. It has a lot do with their medication rules. So American participation is hardly going to be a game breaker and internationalize Championships Week.
The Land Of The Rising Sun has demonstrated a distinct reluctance to travel their elite horses Down Under.
They have gone AWOL since Delta Blues’ Melbourne Cup win many years ago, and the main reason is again quarantine. And Australia’s quarantine laws, regarded as the most rigid and inflexible in the world, are hardly going to be changed for a horse race as Racing Victoria well knows.
It leaves Hong Kong, and clearly, Hong Kong’s elite racehorses are firmly in the sights of Racing NSW and the ATC.
It is their prime target market and the spin out of the launch clearly points in that direction.
It is a catch 22 and we wonder aloud if it is accidental.
Hong Kong, at this time of the year is well into its racing season with many of its elite horses targeting their domestic Group Ones as well as the International QE2 Cup and Champions Mile day in late April.
To target Hong Kong’s best horses to compete a few weeks earlier in Sydney- as has been reported in the Sydney press- is akin to “poking the bear” – a very, very dangerous game.
Worse still, Racing NSW and the ATC junketeers in Hong Kong next month for its International carnival have flagged their intention to use their trip to promote Championship Week to all the major player in the training ranks in Hong Kong.
Talk about ambush marketing- and in their own backyard while the international carnival is in progress!
Is it any wonder Australian racing administrators are held in such low regard by other jurisdictions?
It is irony at its extreme hearing Australian racing administrators bemoaning the declining domestic wagering revenue which is under siege from sports betting and the corporate bookmakers, and, at the same time, identifying international wagering from countries such as Hong Kong as the saviour of Australian racing.
Yet it appears these very same short sighted, petty-minded, vindictive, bully boy administrators will do all they can to undermine the very source of their salvation. It’s The Silly Season.
Hong Kong’s International Race day is without doubt the world’s premier race day for quality of horseflesh, jockeys and trainers.
Like Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival and Cup day, in particular, it should be treated with the respect that it so richly deserves.
So should the Hong Kong racing season, and, in particular, its International and domestic group races.
To try and steal its best to prop up a ill-conceived and conceptualized attempt at world recognition and relevance and satisfy the egos of a few outdated racing administrators and office bearers is not just an exercise in futility, it is also very, very dangerous.
DON’T POKE THE BEAR. IT BITES BACK.