A perennial discussion rumbles on in the UK about prize money for races under Rules. In a world that seems to be getting smaller by the minute, other jurisdictions are overtaking the UK by offering tempting financial returns. Small wonder therefore that trainers under both codes are viewing a combination of more travel overseas, or full blown emigration.
The winter is now punctuated by a robust programme of well endowed races on the All-Weather surfaces in the Arabian peninsula, from the $20m Saudi Cup last month to Meydan’s Dubai World Cup, and the more modest series of $50,000 handicaps in Bahrain, all of which make our own winter programme look lightweight.
The French National Hunt programme has also found favour with trainers opting either to send teams over under a temporary licence, like Tom George last winter and this, or going the whole hog. Nick Williams is the latest trainer to up sticks and move altogether to France, planned for later this year, in search of a better return from racing. You can be assured he won’t be the last.
Meantime, the small world of Point-to-Point racing operates within its own little bubble, focused more on the popularity of the event and the development of young horses or riders. But we too are not immune to the costs of purchasing, training and running a horse.
Over on the other side of the world, Jumping has its own problems with the closure of Oakbank in Victoria, and Jump racing is increasingly marginalized. That hasn’t prevented Flat racing from mushrooming and organisers say a new $2 million race, to be held on the day of the Melbourne Cup at Royal Randwick, will not take the shine off the list of group 1 horse races in Flemington. The Managing Director of Racing NSW, Peter V’landys, will do everything possible to have the race run shortly after Australia’s most famous horse race to attract huge bets.
Racing NSW has finally scheduled a big race to coincide with the Melbourne Cup. V’landys and chairman Russell Balding announced that the “Big Dance” would be held for horses competing in any of the 25 Country Cups throughout the NSW region.
The move was part of a further $25 million increase in annual prize money – including the introduction of The Five Diamonds, a $2 million 5-year-old race over 1800 meters, to be held on November 5 – and a $6 million upgrade to Warwick Farm Racecourse itself. Similar work will also be done at Rosehill Gardens and Royal Randwick. The combination of effort here is bound to raise interest in the northern hemisphere too at the expense of good quality horses who might go hurdling instead.
While the introduction of mega-races such as the $15 million Everest and $8 million Golden Eagle is a direct attack on Victoria’s traditional spring carnival, Melbourne Cup Day has never been a priority for Racing NSW.
“This is not intended to hurt the Melbourne Cup,” V’landys said. “We had a year where we were completely inundated with scratch tickets, and that made me think, ‘Wait, if we run some good races, this could really be a goldmine for betting, and it gives punters another good product to bet on, kind of like The Everest and the Caulfield Cup.
“We don’t want to relegate the Melbourne Cup to the back burner, but simply complement it. It’s positive for the industry in New South Wales. It’s the best state we’ve ever been to.”
Because The Big Dance is worth $2 million, Racing NSW can charge bookmakers higher betting taxes for stakes in all races at Royal Randwick on Melbourne Cup day, meaning the new race practically pays for itself.
V’landys will strive to have the race run about 30 minutes after the Melbourne Cup, the biggest betting race of the year, to ensure that bettors who win the cup can reinvest in NSW’s latest multi-million dollar event.
The Big Dance’s announcement did not immediately anger our Victorian colleagues at V’landys.
“We have the best racing industry in the country, we have the most iconic spring carnival, we have all the big events, and I think it’s a testament to our strength and a testament to the nature of our calendar that other jurisdictions want what we have,” said Victorian racing minister Martin Pakula. “But they won’t get what we have.”
While V’landys downplayed any threat the latest move might pose to the Melbourne Cup, New South Wales’ attack on the Victoria Derby was not ignored after the Spring Champion Stakes was increased to $2 million and the race was postponed by two weeks, so it will only be held a week before Flemington’s Blue Riband race.
The Spring Champion Stakes will also be run on the same day as the Cox Plate, which Moonee Valley officials particularly like the prospect of hosting three-year-old horses, and the Moonee Valley Vase, a traditional Derby prep race.
It all sounds pie in the sky to those of us following the winter game over here, but perhaps it’s us that’s out of kilter. One wonders how long we can rely on the heritage of British racing to sustain a level of leadership of the sport, when others have so clearly found the wherewithal to grow the prize funds in order to attract new owners and new investment.