By Hans Ebert
Call us masochists, but despite listening to adverts where Louise calls Nanna in her new retirement home, and more otherworldly weirdness like suggesting that Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Mel Gibson and others have reached retirement age and might be in need of a retirement home of their own- we’re not making this up- we just had to tune into RSN, Melbourne’s dead people’s racing radio channel last week and hear the still very much alive Michael Felgate interview Emperor Petrus, the saviour of Australian racing, about him scaling new heights with the “richest race in the world” The Everest. There was more weirdness ahead.
As always, Petrus took the road much travelled by him over the years, and off we went over hill and Dick Dale, Jack and Jill, while Django unchained sold Racing NSW’s and the Australian Turf Club’s concept for The Everest, a very slightly amended version of Frank Stronach’s The US $12 million Group 1 Pegasus World Cup held at Gulfstream Park in late January and won by Arrogate.
The Everest- we get giddy even thinking about it- scheduled for October 14 of this year, is being touted as “the richest thoroughbred race in the world”- a 1200 metre turf race whereas The Pegasus was an all-dirt race- AUS$10m in prize money- with all the pomp, ceremony and spinning we have come to expect from The Man Who Would Be King.
The most used words in the “prospectus” for this event are “exclusive” and “exclusivity”. And like Sheikh Mo’s annual caravan of racing in Meydan, The Everest is obviously aimed at sheikhs and racing’s usual shake-your-money makers. Who else can afford an entry fee of $600,000 per race for three consecutive years? In case slow with doing the maths, this adds up to $1.8 million before the races have even been run- over a period of three years. And who will be the runners three years down the road? Or, on October 14, 2017 at Royal Randwick.Talk about betting blind. But, then again, when did God being in the details ever matter to Petrus? Megalomania has no boundaries.
While Petrus uncorked Racing NSW’s plans for The Everest, and which clashes with the running of the Caulfield Guineas – be still our beating hearts – we were mystified to hear Melbourne Racing Club Chairman Mike Symonds, below, roll over and meow that this pile up will “enhance” racing in Australia. Really, Mike? We thought you couldn’t be so easily bamboozled.
The usually tough-talking Symonds almost seemed to be auditioning for a position with Racing NSW, something not lost on Petrus. Sensing not even a tickyboo of balls from Big Mike, the wily coyote that is Petrus, rolled in the deep like Donald Trump on crack. Knowing he can chew and spit out more reserved characters like Symonds and the other guest on the programme, Simon Love, Racing Victoria’s somewhat low key CEO, when it comes to beating one’s own drum, Petrus played Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum on a dime- at least on the programme. He drummed louder and bragged harder. Horse racing in Australia has its own Donald Trump. Maybe Symonds and Love, below, were just letting him fall in love with the sound of his own voice once again while knowing The Everest is actually a molehill?
Still, Symonds and Love seemed to be left clutching at straws and drowning in piffle. Their meek responses that this hastily cobbled together concept for The Everest, despite the bollocks about being 3-4 months in the making, has nothing to do with it upstaging Melbourne’s Spring Carnival again spoke volumes for the leadership void when it comes to racing in Victoria. The state really is in dire need of a miracle man to lead them out of the wilderness.
As for the small group, who were initially sold on the rabid pack of unreality bites that The Everest is a “great initiative for racing” and how racing should embrace “creative” ideas like this, well, they seem to have quickly disappeared. There’s real creativity and goofball copycat nonsense that is only about politics and ego.
Let’s look at the logistics. Well, the few that exist. The race is scheduled for 14 October 2017. That seems to be the sum of it for the moment. What are the terms of entry? What are the entry dates and when will interested slot holders know who the competition is? The date clashes with the Melbourne Spring Carnival, in general, and the Caulfield Guineas in particular – which is either a gross error of programming or possibly a deliberate punch below their neighbour’s belt. Either way, with the country’s top riders and horses (not to mention punters) focussed on Melbourne, from where does The Everest expect to source jockeys? A number of big name horses are already off the table, so who’s going to run? The race does not even have Group status. So, with there being no Group status to add prestige, the bulk of the racing fraternity’s focus sure to be involved in the Melbourne’s Spring Carnival, uncertainty about runners and riders, exactly who is this aimed at? And more importantly, why? Why the undue haste to get this news out, Petrus?
Then let’s look at the figures, which are equally puzzling. There are 12 slots. A single slot costs $600,000 per race, but there is a minimum of a 3 race buy in, adding up to a staggering $1,8 million to Racing NSW, presumably payable upfront. But let’s break it down for a single race: 12 x $600,000 = $7.2 million. Racing NSW says the prizemoney pool is to be fully-funded from subscribers and additional revenues generated from the event, so the $2.8 million per race deficit will be generated from “incremental wagering, sponsorship, broadcast and other race day revenues from the race meeting.” ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky.
Prize money is paid down to 12th place with the breakdown being $5.8 million for first place, $1.425 million for second, $800,000 for third, $400,000 for fourth, $250,000 for fifth and $175,000 for 6-12th place. That makes a total of $9,9 million to be paid out as stakes, with the remaining $100,000 being allocated to the Equine Welfare Fund. In other words, the subscription money is gone and they are in deficit by $2,8 million before the race has even been run. And that’s not even considering costs such as travel expenses for the anticipated international participants (although the race is reportedly ‘tailored to Australian racing’). As Alice said, ‘curiouser and curiouser.’
Apart from being a copy of The Pegasus, hardly a resounding global success, The Everest has more holes in it than when gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond was found riddled with over ten bullets in him.
It is a flawed concept that makes no financial sense to anyone except for a very few of the usual elite suspects. It’s exclusively stupid. We’re not even sure the elitists see any upside to participating in The Everest.
The selling of “slots” could even open up a can of integrity issue worms by bringing even more undesirables into a sport trying so hard to change its perception as not being only about the punt and where the rich get richer and the plebs keep getting thrown the crumbs.
The room spun when Petrus opined that here was an opportunity for those with an “entrepreneurial spirit and perhaps even nothing to do with horse racing” to get into the sport by investing in a couple of the “slots” available, and sell these to the highest bidder.
It must have been the drugs talking, because none of the real life entrepreneurs we know- not even the well-known money launderers from Macau who have quickly become part of racing in Australia- would go anywhere near this “innovative idea”. Why? They’ve done the maths. But, there are those in racing, especially in Australia, who believe everything they read and buy into hype without reading everything not said and hidden between the lines.
Sensing blood, Petrus went for the jugular about how all news is good news, how racing, via The Everest, was front page news- in Australia- and here was the panacea for racing in the land down under to just connect one’s feet and get to the sunny side of the street.
When on a roll, Petrus V’landys makes Donald Trump sound shy and retiring. Did Love and Symonds return serve? No, though Michael Felgate changed subjects and suddenly asked Petrus why Michelle Payne can’t ride and train in NSW. Huh? Being in his alternative universe, Emperor Petrus gushed about “loving” Michelle Payne, how laws are laws, and how he was certain he would be seeing Felgate back in Sydney. And there we were thinking Donald Trump is a divisive character with his own self-serving agendas.
The plan for The Everest comes at a time in the world when everything is somewhat off kilter. We’re being kind. There’s a serial bully, xenophobe, sexual predator, megalomaniac and reality star in the White House trying to control the world, and with much of the world fighting back. Enough is enough.
The old guard in many sports are stepping down or are being forced to step down as they have been proven to be liars, cheats and Robin Hoods in reverse.
The economies of the world are shaky at the very best, and people are more suspicious than ever that Trojan horses are being wheeled in.
Rightly or wrongly, social media has given everyone a voice- voices that question without fear of reprisal.
Wherever there’s the smell of fear, there’s weakness. And wherever there’s weakness, there’s something very wrong. Where once people rolled over and adopted a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, this no longer exists. Everyone has become Howard Beale. One hopes Petrus understands this.