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The race that stops the nation goes to another again


Steve Moran | 07.11.2018

I guess it’s still our Melbourne Cup day. The race that stops the nation. Even if it’s gone again to the invaders.

As long as the grandkids’ school still sends out circulars such as that pictured (exhibit 1). “What I did on Cup day”. No further description required. Everybody knows what Cup day is. “I watched a horse dad said he’d never seen before win the Melbourne Cup.”

But as to stopping the world with the plethora of overseas trained runners. I don’t think so.

Not in Hong Kong at least where nothing was stopping maintenance work on the loos. Bad luck if you wanted to stay home and watch the Cup (see exhibit 2).

Not in England where the famous race went off at 4am (exhibit 3) would be Big Ben if we had it).

Of course there will be a pint or two raised to Charlie Appleby, who became the first Englishman to train the Cup winner –  in a pub near Newmarket when the punters have finally woken up. Another in East Ilsley for Hughie Morrison who got his way with his horse this year and nearly carried it off. Bravo.

And another back in Newmarket for Charlie Fellowes who’s done such a great job with A Prince Of Arran. But I doubt any of these exploits will be dominating conversation in central London or quaint villages far removed from training centres. Even though it was a first GB-trained trifecta and surely the first by three blokes whose christian names end in IE.

Yes, an Englishman’s finally won it. Likewise Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation which has tried for 20 years. Nobody would begrudge either the victory.

And, of course, they couldn’t have done it without the kid from Streaky Bay so it’s still ours isn’t it?

Well it might be until that man V’Landys decides he’s going to run the Cup for the locals at Randwick on the very same day. Call it the Australia Cup or the Locals Cup or even Sydney’s Melbourne Cup. Australian and New Zealand trainers only eligible. Perhaps only Australian and New Zealand-breds. Perhaps it could even be run along the lines of The Everest.

It’s a kind of brilliant idea as much as it is alarming. Not my idea, I hasten to add. Like to take the credit but it was mooted in jest by a very prominent Australian trainer who is about to return to his homeland and who has a similarly prominent training brother who is very much opposed to the multitude of green cards merrily handed out to visiting trainers.

Even though a proud Melbournian, I’d be inclined to say to the VRC “serves you bloody right” if that man V’Landys did come along and try to usurp what is, in essence, Australia’s national day.

It’s just bloody, broken mate. Spiralled out of control. The number of overseas runners; the conditions and the penalty clauses and these bloody northern hemisphere three-year-olds.

That’s two in a row now with Cross Counter on 51 kg following Rekindling with 51.5 kg.

What’s that all about? How are they guaranteed runs with no weight when Runaway, a last season three-year-old here, had to rely on a penalty after the Geelong Cup and even that didn’t assure him a run.

Imagine how compromised poor old Greg Carpenter would be if a visiting horse won the Geelong and needed more than a 1.5 kilogram penalty to be guaranteed a place in the Cup field.

And, good grief mate, I still can’t figure out how a horse can win any number of weight-for-age races after handicaps are declared and not be penalised but my horse is liable to a penalty, which might not be wanted, for a handicap win.

And why the heck are the race clubs being so petty when step one to sorting out the mess is to make the winner of several spring races (current form), no matter where they’re run, ballot exempt. This discriminates against nobody.

Strewth, since Vintage Crop’s historic win in 1993, the internationals not only boast a further seven wins in the race but have also had a further fifteen runners-up.

We used to kid ourselves that these mugs won’t win the Cup without giving them a run here. Well, that’s out the window. Two in a row now. So we’ll never get to see them now.

And what do these three-year-olds add? Neither Cross Counter nor Rekindling came here boasting a win or placing in a Group 1 or a classic.

Good luck to Godolphin. They employ a lot of people here and by my reckoning they’d had, before yesterday, 31 runners in the Cup for three seconds – Central Park (1999); Give The Slip (2001) and Crime Scene (2009) plus two thirds with Beekeeper (2002) and Hartnell (2016). They were due.

But I’m still left wondering what’s it all about Alfie.

With 11 international (nh’ers) runners yesterday, two kiwis, five from the New Zealand born handlers Waller and Moroney and one supplied by South African David Payne……we had just five from Australian born training units.

It’s now two years in a row that the first three home have been northern hemisphere-trained which should surprise nobody. An Aussie-trained horse hasn’t ever looked like winning in either year.

The score in Melbourne Cup top three placings is now 19-14 in favour of NH-trained horses over the locals in the past eleven years.

I love international and racing and the relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to develop.

In the same way, many of the key VRC and RVL officials have much closer relationships with overseas trainers than they do with those at home which just might be a tiny bit dangerous.

There’s been a host of those local and prominent trainers who have called, this year, for – at the very least – a review.

I’m not sure if the way the Cup has gone is absolutely right or wrong but I suspect it’s the latter. Consider that from 1980 to 1992, only 22 Northern Hemisphere-bred horses ran in the Cup.

That in 1983 there were just two overseas trained runners in the Melbourne Cup. We’ve had 11 in each of the past years and that’s excluding New Zealanders.

Perhaps the Cup had to change to some degree but almost certainly not to the extent that it has. I really don’t wish to be too contrary but the marketing propaganda which asserts that it is now the race that stops the world is complete bollocks.

And to assert the race was becoming stagnant in the decade before 1993 doesn’t ring true when you look back at the winners (and runners-up for that matter).

It’s also readily forgotten how bloody lucky Dermot Weld might have been as Vintage Crop beat a 160/1 chance and a 125/1 chance who between them had been unplaced in ten lead-up runs.

The history would have been very different had he not won.


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