By Keyser Soze
CAULFIELD CUP CHANGE: A NOT WELL THOUGHT OUT BUBBLE…
It is easy to see the commonality between the “Everest” concept and Melbourne Racing Club’s proposed change to make its signature race – the 2400 metres Caulfield Cup- a weight for age contest from its present Handicap conditions. Both have been conceived in haste as “thought bubbles”. Neither have been thought through before being foisted on an unsuspecting Australian racing community with a degree of contempt and parading the dysfunctional state of racing for all the world to see.
Like the Everest announcement, the MRC decision lacks any important sequential detail in race programming and scheduling during Victorian racing’s most important time of the year – the Spring Racing Carnival.
And judging by the responses from the other two Metropolitan Race Clubs and Country Racing (remember them?), and the governing body Racing Victoria and Trainers, there appears to have been precious little consultation on the MRC thought bubble.
It begs the very obvious question: if a Race Club can make such unilateral decisions without any consultation on fundamental racing matters, then what purpose, if any, does Racing Victoria serve? It would be akin to letting the Football and Rugby League clubs decide the fixtures, independent of the AFL and NRL.
Yet again it demonstrates the completely dysfunctional structure and decision making process in Victorian racing. And again, it demonstrates conclusively the leadership vacuum in Victorian Racing and Racing Victoria. It is an open secret that the Clubs, and most of the important stakeholder groups, have zero confidence in Racing Victoria and its leadership. The best that can be said is that some of Racing Victoria management are, to use racing terminology, a bunch of “triers”, who have been in their benchmark 58 ratings band for an eternity, and win the occasional race.
At face value, the proposed switch to a 2400 metres Weight for Age race a week before “Australasia’s weight for age championship” – the 2000 metres Cox Plate, and three weeks out from the Mackinnon Stakes, makes little sense from just about every perspective. Australia’s paucity of 2400 metres weight for age stayers is an uncomfortable reality. It won’t change in the short term. It makes a proposed weight for age Caulfield Cup an irresistible carrot for the “B” and “C” grade European and Japanese stayers. The “A” graders are spoilt for choice with races such as the Arc and a host of Group Ones in the UK, the Breeders Cup and the elite Japanese staying contests. Connections of the “B” and “C” graders in Europe and Japan would be grinning like the proverbial “Cheshire Cats”, at the opportunity to travel down under for a $4 million lottery. Hell, the MRC might as well make their “new” Caulfield Cup an invitation only contest for the internationals.
If the MRC proposal gets the go-ahead from Racing Victoria- and that’s a given- then surely it makes a compelling case for a complete revamp of the Spring Racing Carnival – dates , races and the whole kit and caboodle? Otherwise it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, serving only to completely undermine the entire carnival.
The proposed change smacks of an admission by the MRC that the Cox Plate has usurped the Caulfield Cup day as Victoria’s second biggest race day. The Cox Plate now attracts quality domestic and international competition, the Caulfield Cup does not. And the MRC must take responsibility. Caulfield Cup day has become a ho-hum race day with the MRC attempting to resurrect interest and attendance by flirting with a series of thought bubbles with “teeny bopper” acts to attract pubescent teens and pre-pubescent kids to an important race day, which have failed spectacularly, bringing with it ugly incidents of violence and underage alcohol consumption.
The time has surely come for intervention by Racing Victoria to address the unworkable and outdated model of three metropolitan race clubs and a separate country racing entity. This model is no longer relevant. It breeds bureaucratic complacency and insular thinking, and promotes self-serving agendas. It fundamentally hinders any progress in every conceivable area of racing’s operations making it near impossible for racing to compete on a level playing field with a host of progressive sports which got their act together decades ago, and which are reaping the benefits of fan interest and participation.
It is difficult not to regard the MRC proposal as a two fingered salute to the Victorian racing industry.
TIME TO ZIP YOUR LOOSE LUSCIOUS LIPS, MICHELLE!
She’s been the poster girl of Australian racing since her 2015 triumph aboard Prince of Penzance in Australia’s most famous race – the 2015 Melbourne Cup. Michelle Payne made world headlines crashing through Racing’s glass ceiling which, to this day, in many parts of the world, discriminates hopelessly and unjustifiably against women.
The legacy of her remarkable, and at the time, unexpected achievement – Prince of Penzance was the rank outsider in the field, given little or no chance of winning, let alone running a place, will last forever.
Like most significant, ground breaking and historic landmark achievements, it took a while for the magnitude of what Michelle Payne had achieved in what has been a traditionally male dominated sport to sink in. The response was overwhelming. Michelle Payne was front and back page news. She was the lead item on news bulletins, and the toast of social media. The media and the public could not get enough of Michelle’s fresh face and her warmish yet cheeky smile. She shot straight to the top of the A-listers, rubbing shoulders with the “usual suspects” who have been known literally to attend the opening of an envelope.
Sadly, for many whose names end up in neon lights, handling fame and notoriety is a challenge beyond them. And these days where the use of social media can become addictive and develop its own kind of entrapment, those in the limelight are subjected to a sense of intense scrutiny like never before, where their every spoken and written word and sighting is taken at face value and can be interpreted with no accountability resting with any commentator or their commentary.
Michelle Payne literally fell for the “three card trick” when controversy erupted in racing circles last spring over her fitness to resume her riding partnership with Prince of Penzance in his quest to go back to back in the 2016 Melbourne Cup.
Recovering from a very serious and near career ending race fall, there were many in racing, including close family, who made no secret of their belief that Michelle should hang up her riding boots. Many of these well meaning people included the connections of Prince of Penzance, some of whom questioned whether she was a fit and healthy enough mentally and physically to do justice to her riding responsibilities. Connections refused to guarantee her the ride on Prince of Penzance for his spring commitments, and, not surprisingly, sections of the racing media seized the opportunity to squeeze every drop of life out of the issue for nothing more than the cheapest of headlines.
Taking to social media, Michelle’s knee jerk criticisms of connections served only to lengthen the life of the issue. And when eventually the penny dropped, she was forced to eat humble pie. Such are the perils of social media. But unfortunately for Michelle, the lesson clearly did not sink in.
Her provocative comments earlier this week, again on social media, criticizing the preparation and condition of the Flemington straight and resurrecting the widespread criticism of the track preparation for the four days of the 2015 Melbourne Cup carnival, landed Michelle in hot water again.
She just could not help herself on twitter. And in her 140 character dialogue with that intellectual colossus of the racing print media, Matt Stewart, called for Flemington Track Manager Mick Goodie’s position to be reviewed. “Maybe Mick Goodie’s position needs to be reviewed. He has no one to answer to, gets away with it time and time again”. And then: “It’s not very nice to upset people but I’ve been there many times our premier track, walked it and felt like going home”. In case you didn’t realize Michelle, no one is forcing you to take a ride at Flemington. Okay?
Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the likes of David Hayes, Robbie Waterhouse, Peter Ellis (Darren Weir’s renowned track walker and race tactician), and jockey Mark Zahra put matters into perspective with comments ranging from describing the Flemington surface as “Excellent” (Robbie Waterhouse) to “I thought it raced well and all of my horses pulled up well” (David Hayes) to “it was a typical good track at Flemington in March when the rail is true and the good horses are running fast time, it is hard to make ground” (Peter Ellis) to “A lot of horses won on the inside, but later in the day a horse like Mr Sneaky came from out wide and it certainly wasn’t hard against the fence track where you couldn’t pass a horse” (Mark Zahra).
Michelle Payne has reached a fork in the road in her racing career. Her riding days are well and truly numbered. She is the most high profile holder of a dual Jockey/Trainer licence and has already had a public spat with Racing NSW’s Peter V’Landys and come off second best. Not even her own Jockeys Association has been able to sort out the refusal of Racing NSW to licence her as a dual licensee in NSW. She is about to ramp up her training career and has received very good support from some high profile owners. Michelle Payne needs to concentrate of her new training career and make a success of it in what is arguably the toughest profession in racing. She must put a stop to being a naïve and willing mouthpiece to provide headlines for a headline seeking member of the racing media pack.