Love, loyalty and bond for the Melbourne Cup has lived in my heart for 52 years but I am now concerned about its future - I would like to explain why.
In all its manifestations the Melbourne Cup is the one race or sporting event in the world that genuinely and emotionally connects with the common man of its country, something absolutely unique in a sporting context! Furthermore, the race has become so embedded into the country's psyche and DNA it produces its own electromotive force which generates unparalleled excitement, whilst at the same time carrying a reverence and sanctity shared amongst all its stakeholders. No other world sporting event can claim this distinction!
Australia has been a nation in transition and one that has undergone a major personality change. It has sometimes struggled to meet the challenges and diversity of changing times, but up to now the Melbourne Cup has always managed to transcend that process. Each year the emotional connection towards this race by an adoring Aussie public fuels drama and excitement to unprecedented levels. No other race in the world can compare or engender the same anticipation, contagious engagement and intensity where the ensuing atmosphere ensures each household, great-grandmother to grandson, feed on this giant monster buzz.
But this absolute love should not be taken for granted, and with regret a wrong turn has been taken by the custodians. For the first time since 1861, the race is to be served on a platter to the likes of Coolmore, Godolphin et al.
The big two have main access to the premier staying sires, and from now on will bring younger progressive European Group-rated horses with no weight to beat-up the locals. With today's ease of travel and quarantine no longer an issue, they will collect winnings and bragging rights, congratulate themselves, then plan their next assault for the following year!
Those living in Ballarat, Bankstown or Bundaberg will be of no concern to them nor the country's history, folklore or legends, instead, they will crush and defile a nation's dreams by taking this triumph of Aussie sporting life out of domestic reach.
We are aware of the fabulous work by the VRC Board and believe they have acted in good faith, but inadvertently about to jeopardise the heart, character and soul of the most fantastic race in the world.
It is only natural the VRC want to showcase their fabulous race to the world and celebrate its eminence and success but they are custodians not owners with no mandate/authority to sell the essence/history of the race and besides, their primary duty of care is to the real owners - the Australians, it is they who offer unconditional love and nutrition.
Amanda Elliott is the VRC Chairman and when asked if the balance of the race was wrong she told me emphatically: "No! The VRC is proud to host a race that is so desired by connections all around the world. Every year we receive a very healthy number of international nominations, with the final field consisting of some of Europe’s highest-quality stayers. It is our aim to present the best staying race in the world, whether it be made up of local or international runners."
I agree with her sentiments in a general sense but the key word in her response is 'whether'. This word infers the race could be made up of only international runners, in that event does she think the people of Australia will give tacit approval or otherwise? I
Just one week before this year's race she told me: "Makybe Diva will return to Flemington to commemorate the 15th anniversary of her unprecedented third victory and the great mare will parade in the Mounting Yard, the scene of her ascension to equine immortality in 2005. She is considered an Australian icon akin to Sir Donald Bradman and presented with the inaugural Spirit of Sport Award by the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2005 after retiring from racing."
She continued: "The unforgettable image of Makybe Diva standing on the track in front of the grandstands after her third consecutive win always makes me emotional. She had taken all before her and she stood and watched as nearly 110,000 people rose to applaud and respect a great champion. She brought people to the track who had never engaged with racing before, and her victory became their victories. She demonstrated courage that really resonated with the entire population. There is a whole generation of Australians who fell in love with racing thanks to Makybe Diva."
What Amanda has said is 100% correct and I share every vowel and consonant, I wept watching her third victory. But the above is in total contradiction to her original comments and the route the VRC are taking now. Under this new provision (whether it be made up of local or international runners), there can never be another Makybe Diva, thus denying Australians the chance to share moments she has so eloquently described!
The facts are Australia does not have the sires, structure or patience to breed genuine stayers so opening the race up globally without protection will encourage pillage. Their domestic calendar proves the point, from 333 Group races there are only 3 Group races (0.9%) over 3,000 metres or more:
- The Adelaide Cup (SA) 3,200 metre Group 2 (March)
- The Sydney Cup (NSW) 3,200 metre Group 1 (April)
- Tattersalls Cup Handicap (QUE) 3,000 metre Group 3 (June)
All three races have produced Melbourne Cup winners and the suggestion is one or two more races need to be added and properly spaced into the racing calendar to domestically help the greatest horse race in the world! Of course there are rich Australians who will attempt to short-cut the process by buying up ready-made but the suggestion here is that is not what Australia should be doing.
Without serious readjustments the 2017 winner Rekindling will be remembered as the start of a demise. This three-year-old previously won a Group 3 and a Group 2 before travelling to Melbourne with just 8st 2lbs to carry. Of the first 11 places Australia provided just the fourth and eighth. If this was just a little disturbing domestically it was worse the following year.
Cut from the same cloth the 2018 winner Cross Counter was another three-year-old carrying virtually no weight (just 8st) after winning a Group 3 before made favourite for a Group 2 (beaten a head). Of the first 12 places the home nation provided just 3 and once again the best position was fourth.
Thankfully the 2019 version was won by an Australian yard but the win disguised the facts. Vow And Declare goes into the book as the winner but the best horse in the race was placed third and would have won by a length and a half had Frankie Dettori not mullered him with his mount. Il Paradiso was another 3yo Irish colt carrying 8st 4lbs so part of the continuing trend. The winner apart the Aussie runners finished 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 23rd and 24th.
The book could easily read 2017: REKINDLING 2018: CROSS COUNTER 2019: IL PARADISO, if 2020 shows TIGER MOTH then my suspicions will no longer be suspicions. All four would have been 3yo colts carrying between 8st and 8st 4lbs and won in Group company in the UK and Ireland and out of proper staying sires.
We now look at entries and are reminded Australia contributed 16 runners (67%) of the field in 2012 whilst the UK & Ireland provided 6 (25%) but this figure has drastically changed over just seven years. 2018 showed Australia with 11 (46%) runners whilst UK & Ireland ran 10 (42%):
2019: AUSTRALIA 12 (50%) UK & IRELAND 10 (42%) OTHERS 2 2018: AUSTRALIA 11 (46%) UK & IRELAND 10 (42%) OTHERS 3 2017: AUSTRALIA 12 (50%) UK & IRELAND 9 (38%) OTHERS 3 2016: AUSTRALIA 14 (58%) UK & IRELAND 8 (33%) OTHERS 2 2015: AUSTRALIA 13 (54%) UK & IRELAND 9 (38%) OTHERS 2 2014: AUSTRALIA 12 (50%) UK & IRELAND 7 (29%) OTHERS 5 2013: AUSTRALIA 15 (63%) UK & IRELAND 7 (29%) OTHERS 2 2012: AUSTRALIA 16 (67%) UK & IRELAND 6 (25%) OTHERS 2
There were 16 Australian entries for 2012 for a 67% share of the race and that looked almost right but by 2018 there was a significant drop to 11 for just 46% so a net reduction of 21%. The UK & Ireland contingent picked up those entries and rose from 6 (25%) to 10 (42%). So what should the maximum figure be for overseas entrants? Our view is a maximum of 6, leaving 18 places for the Australians and New Zealanders. It is absolutely imperative they are given the opportunity/chance to win their own race and build on its fabulous history as previously described.
Talking of caps, it must be wrong for any owner with a bank balance ego to have six runners in this race. At best it is not in the spirit of the race but at worse obscene! Braggart Lloyd Williams negatively impacts on the spirit of the Melbourne Cup so becomes part of the problem, especially as he intensifies his relationship with Coolmore. He is an Australian with an estimated wealth of A$700m and in 2017 had more than a quarter of the field running for him - what next 8-9-10? What if Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wanted to own 6 of the runners in the race, what if Hamdan Al Maktoum, Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum and Sheik Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum wanted 6 horses involved also? What has any of this to do with the great Australian spirit? Nothing, that's what...
A cap of two runners per owner is not unreasonable, the race must be bigger than ego - once again it is the people's race, it must remain the people's race!
To conclude, I have been told by the politically correct there is no such thing as an Aussie way of life, everything is borrowed from elsewhere, but I do not recognise that view. The Melbourne Cup is the purest example an of Aussie life and has not been copied. It epitomises effort, the competitive spirit and the ability to put on a spectacular show whilst retaining fair dinkum, no worries and a laid-back outlook on life. What other country can claim those elements in a single race?
I am qualified to make this comment. I have shares in a few horses and one of those won the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and I was there in the winner's enclosure to welcome him back after backing him at huge ante-post prices. But that could not compare to the welcome I received or the excitement of the 2017 Melbourne Cup. As anticipated it was the very best day I have had in racing or sporting life!
Regarding this year's result I believe Tiger Moth will win with a kind trip and the O'Brien family will have the 1-2. My rationale explains why and worth pointing out this colt has a better profile than the previous three or four. Our predicted result shows 1 TIGER MOTH 5/1 2 MASTER OF REALITY 25/1 3 SURPRISE BABY 9/1 4 ANTHONY VAN DYCK 10/1
So this is a plea to the custodians to change course now. Australia has something so iconic that already has a maximum connection, excitement and support and something able to unite a nation. Why would one give it away, sell or compromise it? Save the greatest horse race in the world - The MELBOURNE CUP!
My homage and allegiance to the race was sealed in 1968 when as a young £10 Pom I witnessed levels of sustained delirium unimagined in any environment let alone a horse race. I vividly remember trying to make sense of this national euphoria before quickly succumbing to it. I thought I knew what excitement was - I had previously watched the 1966 World Cup Final with all of its shenanigans but this was something else!
The Racing Horse fulfilled its racing ambition when invited to the 2017 Melbourne Cup. To be a bit part of this euphoric occasion along with another 90,536 plus inveterate gamblers with a TV audience estimated at 750 million from 163 nations, was the ultimate racing thrill. Prior to my visit I had always thought this race was the greatest borne out of Antipodean blood, sweat and tears, after racing I knew it!
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