Opinion piece by Matt Stewart in Melbourne Herald Sun..
THE most alarming aspect of New South Wales’ encroachment into Victoria’s established carnival territory is not the aggressive self-interest, but what might happen next.
Take this border war, which is being waged most heavily by one side which reckons Victoria has no right to eternal top dog status, to greater heights and Australia’s carnival landscape could be turned on its head.
Dominant carnivals could take on different parameters. Sydney has fired the first shot across the Murray, creating a $10 million slot race to run on Caulfield Guineas Day, October 14.
Peter V'landys says it’s now a “catch and kill your own’’ battle for the punting dollar.
Melbourne may respond by encroaching into Sydney’s traditional time in the sun, in the autumn.
To do that, Victoria would have to push its spring back, deep into November, to allow reasonable space between its spring and autumn.
Such territory raids are not exaggerated war talk.
Racing chiefs, at Racing Victoria and other Melbourne clubs, have been convinced for some time that a later spring — and a Melbourne Cup run on the third Tuesday in November — would be a sensible use of warmer weather and vacant sporting space.
The NSW expansionism, albeit without OK’s from authorities NSW has chosen to ignore, and the haphazard creation of the Everest, has merely steeled Victorian resolve not just to innovate, but react.
A space and stake money war between our two most powerful states would make casualties of the states with smaller carnivals and no muscle.
A leading Melbourne administrator said he “feared’’ for the carnivals of Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane if Melbourne and Sydney upped the ante.
“Those states aren’t travelling particularly well. A later Melbourne spring would have a negative impact on Perth’s carnival; a battle between Melbourne and Sydney in autumn would make it hard for Adelaide to keep up. And Queensland’s already teetering for a variety of reasons,’’ he said.
The catalyst for war came in January, in Florida.
Within days of the running of the inaugural Pegasus World Cup, Sydney announced the Everest. Both were “slot’’ races where most of the funding came primarily from those who bought slots.
The Everest would be worth $10 million. The Australian Turf Club has sold its 12 slots at $600,000 each, leaving a $3.4 million shortfall it must fill. Because of the prizemoney breakdown of the race, eight of the 12 slot owners in “Australia’s richest race” will do their money.
Winx could bypass the Caulfield Stakes and remain in Sydney as she prepares for her second Cox Plate defence.
The race, which will lure champion horses and jockeys from Caulfield, has no sponsor and NSW will have to pay Channel 7 to cover it as part of Seven’s Guineas day coverage.
NSW is desperate for this $10 million catalyst for war to attract international runners — mainly because the autumn Championship’s banner race, the $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes has consistently failed to do so, to Sydney’s great embarrassment.
“So what do they do? Have another go at the internationals in the spring instead — on Caulfield Guineas Day,’’ said one administrator.
A belated realisation that Everest horses would not be able to share flights or quarantine with Melbourne-bound horses prompted NSW to announce last week that a $3 million polytrack would be built at Canterbury to make it a suitable quarantine venue.
Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys said last week that a gaggle of internationals were queuing to run in the Everest — which he says could be worth $20 million in three years — but only one international, the Coolmore-owned Caravaggio, is regarded as a possible starter.
Australian Turf Club chairman Laurie Macri has sung the praises of the controversial Canterbury upgrade — the track is likely to be sold off for housing by 2021 — and Macri was an unusual spruiker given he raced champion mare Atlantic Jewel with Coolmore. The ATC will fund the upgrade.
Those whose ears prick at perceived conflicts of interest would have been interested to hear Macri say that polytrack was Coolmore’s preferred surface, interested also that $3 million might be spent for a horse who might not come, at a track with a short life span.
Of Macri’s apparent conflict, an Aussie administrator who once held a major post overseas said: “Unbelievable. But also it’s not. It’s certainly different up there.’’
The Everest has been surrounded by huge prizemoney increases and date changes to other races. The Craven Stakes, also on October 14, has been bumped up to $500,000 and now clashes with the Caulfield Stakes. The Hill Stakes (Sydney) and Underwood (Melbourne) are near-identical and now a day apart.
The cynical view down south is that the Craven was upgraded to keep Winx in Sydney; a genuine October 14 attraction at Randwick on the day of the dubious slot race.
In defending his race war, Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys has dismissed the relevance of Racing Australia and the Pattern Committee — the body that advises on the placement of feature races — saying it’s not their role to monitor one state’s expansion, and said today’s wagering environment meant it was now “catch and kill your own’’ for the punting dollar.
Racing Australia, headed by former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell, has been asked by a number of media outlets to explain its role, or lack of, in assessing Racing NSW’s race changes but has been mute.
Racing Victoria says traditional checks and balances are there protect the established, successful flow of carnivals for the betterment of racing, not individual states.
RV’s Greg Carpenter said racing, as a sport, lacked the muscle to have its product — the good horses, mainly — torn between carnivals which have traditionally flowed from one to another.
Carpenter said that if V’Landys “view’’ dictated the future then “it is a defining moment in the history of the sport in Australia. Catch and kill your