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Prize-money dominance of a smaller number of trainers is a cause for concern

Steve Moran | 19.12.2018

The fundamental problem in the recent tit-for-tat of major race initiatives in Victoria and New South Wales is not the rivalry between the states, which many have branded as petty. This competition could well be a good thing.

Instead, it may be the likely inequitable distribution of the huge prize-money (a combined $12.5 million) being offered for the All Star Mile and Golden Eagle.

These new races follow quickly after the institution of The Everest, this year’s goodness-knows-why prize-money hikes for the three majors in Melbourne and the 2014 creation of The Championships with the most significant prize pools for the Queen Elizabeth and the Doncaster Mile.

So, what’s happened? Well, the same horse has won both editions of The Everest and Godolphin (International) won two of the three money boosted features in Melbourne this year. Winx, of course, won the other. She’s won three of the ten big money races at The Championships and her trainer, Chris Waller, five of the ten including taking $2.85m of the $3m on offer when he trained the first four in the first Championship’s Doncaster.

Godolphin’s picked up one; John Messara, some unkindly say, conveniently another.

Courtesy of sheer volume and major race wins thus far this season, less than five months in, four outfits (Waller, Godolphin, Darren Weir and the Snowdens) have won an aggregate of c. $63m in prize-money which absolutely dwarfs the earnings of everybody else bar Kris Lees and the Lindsay Park team.

The point is that these big race spoils, irrespective of the Winx factor, will almost certainly go to the big boys and jolly good luck to them.

However, this is happening against the backdrop of two things we’ve not seen in a long, long time. One is a declining property marketing; the other is the polarisation of the trainer’s premierships in Sydney and Melbourne with first and second (Waller and James Cummings in Sydney and Weir and Hayes in Melbourne) gapping their rivals.

Weir and Lindsay Park aside, Mick Price and the Mathew Ellerton-Simon Zahra combine were the only two Victorian based stables to train more than 20 Melbourne city winners last season. That’s staggering, if not frightening. Very few trainers I’ve spoken to are discussing their burgeoning client base or bulging pockets.

What impact might both those factors have during the upcoming yearling sales season? I do not wish to be a harbinger of doom so hopefully none at all for the vendors selling off boom-time services fees. But that, I suspect, is unlikely.

If there’s no ‘correction’ as we quaintly like to say in this business then hallelujah and full gallop ahead. Let’s have twenty $5m-plus races AND $150,000 minimum Saturday stakes – apparently, Peter V’Landy’s is about to pull a funding rabbit out of a hat –  but if not, there just might be have to be reassessment.

I’m not sure the announcement of Sydney Cup bonuses, an All Star Mile and a Golden Eagle will be enough for the sales houses. Reckon they’d have preferred a $150,000 to $200,000 minimum stake for every Saturday city race in Sydney and Melbourne.

It gives us plenty to think about over the festive period – particularly as to whether it will be a prosperous New Year

Of course there’s a lot more we could discuss over the Christmas turkey – the Regumate issue; the Aquanita case and just how wide the so called ‘circle of trust’ was; the future of Winx; V’Landy’s Opera House blunder which galvanised a 250,000 strong anti-racing sentiment and what racing issue they might gravitate to next; and whether TABcorp’s withdrawal of sponsorship of the Golden Eagle might be a forerunner to opting out of The Everest.

And you might want to throw around the dining table whether Racing New South Wales and the Australian Turf Club should have consulted the Urban Dictionary before calling a race the Golden Eagle. But only if the kids have gone outside.

But lest I be accused of being uncharitable at this joyous time of the year, perhaps the family could debate Mr V’Landy’s desire to turn racing on its head. That I don’t have an issue with given that other sports, especially AFL, NRL and cricket, have virtually reinvented themselves in the past 20 years. Provided the change comes with consultation and acknowledges racing’s changing landscape and attempts to pay more than lip service to across the board returns to owners.


Not that talkative or social with a full belly on Christmas day? You could retire to the lounge chair with a copy of Winx – The Authorised Biography by Andrew Rule or The ‘Bool – The History Of Racing in Warrnambool by Mark McNamara.

Rule is one of Australia’s best journalists and comes from a family immersed in racing. He’s produced a great read on the champion mare which, from the very first sentence of the book, highlights his ability to turn a phrase….”High Bowman vaults onto the patent leather wafer that passes for a saddle as casually as most of us step into a car.”

McNamara, meanwhile, is not a professional writer, rather a barrister who grew up about 2km from the Warrnambool racecourse – home of the famous May carnival and Grand Annual Steeplechase.

His labour of love The ‘Bool, however, is well penned and incredibly well researched with a touch of Victorian politics fused with great tales of the turf from Tommy Corrigan, immortalised by ‘Banjo” Paterson, to the Manifold family and on to grand trainers Kevin Lafferty, Jim Houlahan and Darren Weir and just about everyone and everything in between.

The ‘Bool was produced by the Slattery Media Group for McNamara and Winx published by Allen and Unwin.

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