A REAL CALIFORNIA DREAM
Racing’s timeless ability to connect with people- racing and non-racing folk alike- and its extraordinary resilience in the face of adversity and challenge, knows no bounds.
The heart and soul of racing- in commercial terms its USP- has always been the horse. And champion racehorses at that.
With each and every champion comes a defining narrative – a story that is always unique.
Some of the stories of champions can be very, very raw. Others are laced with overcoming the odds, about beating adversity. Then there are those which are just pure fairy tales.
Collectively they are the reason why racing captures the headlines and remains relevant in an amazingly dysfunctional and non-stop, peak hour world.
In recent years, across the key racing global jurisdictions- Europe, Australia, Asia and America- we’ve been fortunate and privileged to have experienced- up-close and personal- the extraordinary and amazing racecourse deeds of Frankel, Black Caviar, Silent Witness, and now California Chrome.
Yes, this time it’s the turn of the United States and enter California Chrome, the three year old colt, out of nowhere and his coterie of owner, Steve Coburn, trainer Art Sherman and jockey Victor Espinoza.
They’ve been around a long time. One or two of them longer than the Mamas and Papas- and Mama Cass died decades ago.
Next weekend, California Chrome will attempt to be part of racing history when he lines up in the Belmont Stakes – the third and final leg of the coveted American Three Year old Triple Crown, having won the first two legs – the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in dazzling style, endearing himself to the hundreds of thousands of racing fans in their record numbers who have attended both race meetings.
Like Black Caviar, Frankel and Silent Witness before him, California Chrome has crossed the invisible barrier into the hearts and minds of ordinary and extraordinary Americans and made himself a cult hero.
If he wins the Belmont Stakes, he will be first horse since Affirmed captured the Triple Crown way back in 1978, and only the twelfth in Triple Crown history. And yes, the crowds will go wild if the “People’s Horse” can do it.
And if the first two victory legs are any indication, then racing and non-racing fans in the States and the world over are in for a treat- first from owner Steve Coburn, who comes across as one of those real larger than life characters of racing who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
Coburn who works in a Nevada factory which produces magnetic strips for credit cards and hotel keys, and his co-owner Perry Martin, bought an unspectacularly-bred mare- Love the Chase- for $8000, and put her to a very modestly-bred and performed stallion named Lucky Pulpit at a bargain fee of $2500. They probably paid overs for a stallion who had won just three of his twenty two race starts.
“When I saw this baby, when he was a day old, I told my wife Carolyn, this horse is going to do something big. I don’t know what it is, but we’re going to stay in the game to make sure this colt gets to be the best that he can be. I’ve been a firm believer in that ever since and he’s not proven me wrong”, Coburn told Reuters.
“He loves people, and loves what he does, and that’s why he is America’s horse. In my opinion, this horse, what he’s done for two guys that work their butts off every day just to put beans and bacon on the table- this horse has given everyone out there the incentive to say, ‘You know what? We can do it also’.
“It may not be a race horse. It may be the idea that they have in their head a new product or whatever the case may be. We just hope this horse is letting America know that the little guy can win”.
Coburn’s philosophy epitomizes the impact that champion racehorses have on both the racing and non-racing public. And together with California Chrome’s septuagenarian trainer Art Sherman they are racing’s best friend.
The 77 year old Sherman comes across as very much a self-effacing American. “After I won the Kentucky Derby, I said ‘Wow, all of a sudden I feel like Willie Nelson, the old rock star coming through the airport. So I’m getting kind of used to it. Sometimes I need to take my little siesta for about an hour. I call it just charging my battery a little and then I’m okay”.
Champion racehorses like Black Caviar, Frankel, Silent Witness, and now, California Chrome- and his very quotable and affable owner and trainer- have been and are the catalysts which drive racing into territories that only these magnificent equine athletes can take racing into.
They are “people’s champions”, and keep racing alive in the hearts and minds of entire nations and in the world.
Long may we be privileged to witness their deeds.
CHAMPIONSHIPS’ FUNDING CAMPAIGN (YAWN) CONTINUES TO RAGE
The relentless campaign by Racing NSW mouthpiece – the Daily Telegraph, aka the Daily “Smellygraph”- continues unabated.
In an interesting tactic, John Lehmann, the paper’s editor-at-large, whatever that means, has his name on the by-line of the story – whatever happened to Racing NSW bestie fearless Ray Thomas?
Even our mate Christian Nicowhatever has had the balls to come out in his column,“At The Track”, and dared to distance himself from the Racing NSW and Daily “Smellygraph” campaign to take on the Baird Government and get another $100 million into the coffers of the NSW racing industry. Good on him.
“ Believe it or not, At The Track would prefer the $100 million remain in the government coffers and be allocated to education and health”.
Funny about that, Christian, and spot on as it’s actually exactly what the overwhelming majority in the community thinks, and not just in NSW.
Look no further than every single poll which has been conducted since Australia’s most horrendous nightmare budget for conclusive evidence that Racing NSW and their mouthpiece are completely and hopelessly out of touch with the community and the pollies and more importantly the mood of the public and community.
Respected veteran racing journalist Ken Callander in his column in the “smellygraph” bought into it, commenting that despite the $10 million shortfall from the Government, and the inequity of the State Government taxation take between Victoria and NSW, the Championships can still be maintained as a great racing event.
“The relevant question is did Racing NSW commit to the Championships without a guarantee of more than one year’s funding? So let’s get on with it, I reckon I can chop off the spending for this year’s Championships with five minutes work”.
Kenny then details savings of around $2 million – savings which clearly make sense, and without even applying the razor to the obscene prize money for some of the feature races – one of which- the Queen Elizabeth Stakes- is grossly excessive with its $4 million extravagant prize tag, and which thanks to It’s A Dundeel, finished up in the pockets of the Arrowfield syndicate headed by Racing NSW Chairman John “the messiah” Messara, which owns the champion racehorse. And hasn’t THAT caused plenty of unfair “side of the mouth” scuttlebutt commentary from, amongst others, some of the “messiah’s” fellow Hunter Valley mates!
By our reckoning, you could conservatively slash another $3 million without blinking an eye off the feature race prize money and attract the same quality field sizes, same wagering, and the same hype.
So where would the other $5 million come from?
Enter the Breeders Levy. Remember it?
The Breeders Levy, proposed some time ago, and the silence around it which is deafening in recent times.
Our clear recollection is that it was never ruled out by the power brokers and decision makers in Racing NSW.
In fact, the reported response in the media went along the lines of “it’s something that we will look at”.
Well, boys and girls, that time is NOW.
Isn’t it about time our “passionate” Hunter breeders, some of whom regularly export millions of Aussie dollars to their home bases in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the States, made a legitimate contribution to the NSW racing industry – the industry which has bequeathed them tens of millions in recent years?
Should they not contribute to the industry the same way owners do- and even the pari-mutuel operators and corporate bookmakers do?
Would this whole package not be a more rational and practical and feasible way of funding the Championships black hole rather than berating the State Government for not irresponsibly writing out a cheque for $10 million, or for lowering the tax take at a time when health, education and infrastructure, rightfully, are prioritized by Premier Mike Baird, at a time of desperate and legitimate need?
Like the rest of the Australian racing community, we are sick and tired and totally over the constant call to arms by Pinnochio Vlundies and his mates whenever they get NO as an answer.
It’s always “my way or the highway”, and it’s the NSW racing industry that suffers- along with the “50,000” participants-whose cause is frequently and monotonously the martyred catch cry from Druitt Street.
Has anyone reminded the Racing NSW Board how much more can be achieved for racing through negotiation, conciliation, compromise and good faith, rather than expensive and often wasteful litigation, and equally expensive “spin” campaigns?
Sadly, in NSW, there seems to be an addiction to resort to conflict and litigation as a dispute resolution mechanism in a kinda weird Ramboesque manner.
Is it any wonder that the NSW racing industry is so friendless in the corridors of power?
The best gift that the Baird Government can bestow to the NSW racing industry is to shake up the governing body.
It’s bloody long, long overdue.
WANTED; A LITERATE NUMBERS PERSON.
This time, the NSW racing industry is in dire need of an independent, credible and respected numbers person to once and for all bury the embarrassing, misleading and fabricated arguments surrounding the untested and largely “Alice in Wonderland” claims about the economic benefits of The Championships to the NSW state economy.
The Championships may well turn out to provide economic benefits to the NSW state economy, but that time is a very long, long, long time into the distant future.
Comparing the potential economic benefits of the Championships with the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival is not only ludicrous, but belongs to a routine befitting the Sydney Comedy Festival.
If The Championships can only attract 25,000 odd crowds on each of the two Saturdays- and given Randwick’s 50,000 odd capacity- how can they compete with the economic benefits generated by combined crowds of 350,000 over four race days in the week, which attracts visitors from all Australian states and overseas?
We’ll say it again: The Championships aka the Sydney Autumn Carnival needs to get back to its Easter format, add another race day and add the Sydney Easter Sales to the week and make it a week of elite racing again.
And while on the subject of mischievous and misleading statements and claims – whoever (and we are sure we know who)-provided John Lehmann with the information that, “the VRC is believed to receive more than $20 million to assist staging the four days around the Melbourne Cup”, is in need of an all expenses paid holiday in Pyongyang in North Korea.
Surely there needs to be a disincentive against perpetuating myths – urban or otherwise?