Jo McKinnon Column

‘I am now scouting for a recruit so that I can be part of it all next year’

Finally, Racing NSW last week released its much anticipated Equimillion plans. 

Equimillion is an event for off the track horses set to be staged at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre (SIEC), kicking off on September 30 and finishing on October 2.

It is being officially touted as “an equestrian event with a minimum $1 million in prize-money exclusively for retired thoroughbred racehorses across disciplines of eventing, show jumping, dressage and show horse.”

But, read the fine print and conditions and it is an event strictly for horses that have been bred and raced in NSW. To be eligible, horses cannot have been bred or raced outside of the state. 

Prize-money is incredible. Each class will offer a total of $30,000, which includes $15,000 [first place] down to $1,000 [fifth place].

All entrants must be current financial competitive or participant members of Equestrian  Australia at the date and time of entry.

It will cost a motza to enter. The nomination fee is $600 (plus GST) and the competition entry fee is $400 (plus GST).

Entries will also be subjected to strict criteria. In the conditions laid out on the event’s website it states:

All horses competing at Equimillion are required to pass an arrival assessment which includes a baseline soundness assessment at the walk. Judges and officials in all the Equimillion disciplines are authorised to eliminate horses should they feel that they are not appropriately sound for the discipline they are competing in. Lame horses may not compete and can be referred to the event vet.

Medication Control
Medication control [swabbing] of horses will occur at random at this event to protect the welfare of the horses and to ensure a level playing field for all competitors. All winners across the disciplines will be tested, random testing will be conducted on all horses. All positive results will cause disqualification.

Body Condition

Any horse that arrives at Equimillion with a below two body score of five will consult with a vet on arrival and may not be allowed to compete. Competitors could find it useful to have their vet assess their horse’s body score prior to nominating the horse for the competition. Officials in all the Equimillion disciplines are authorised to eliminate horses should they feel that they are not appropriately conditioned for the competition.

I applaud those conditions that are in the best interests of the welfare of the horse. 

As was to be expected, Equimillion has sparked a lot of opinion from a notoriously passionate and vocal equestrian community. The majority of views thus far have not been very supportive.

Here are just a few of the comments posted on the independent official Facebook page:

Equestrian Performance Horses: “Great concept but cost of entry is ridiculous. Way out of touch with who the owners of OTT horses are and what they are spending to get them to the point they can compete.”

Grace Chantler: “So disappointing it’s only for NSW horses, and frankly entry fees just aren’t manageable. I’ll be surprised if you get enough entries to make this viable. But it was a nice idea until these stipulations.”

Su Dennis:[I] was going to be there with bells on when the concept was first proposed BUT the entry fees are prohibitive. How many grass roots, everyday people can afford that!”

Nat Cross: “Clearly this is not in support of the OTT community as a whole. It is discouraging rather than encouraging OTT owners…..the fact that only an elite group of people were aware of the rules and regs before this announcement was made public screams ‘in house event’.

Sophie Tsimbalyuk: “Most of the horses cost less than the entry fee itself.”

These are all extremely valid concerns from people at the coal face as owners and riders of off the track horses that compete regularly. So far, I am struggling to find any public commentary that is wholeheartedly supportive of the concept. 

For me, one thing that is a little perplexing is that entrants have only two months to prepare which means that it narrows the field even further to those that not only meet the strict criteria and to those that already have horses up and going to a standard where they will be competitive. 

From my own vast experience training retired racehorses, I know first hand that it takes at least 12 months to suitably transition a horse from the track to the competition arena. 

All of this considered, I do believe this event is an enormously positive initiative. Where else in the world can those of us who enjoy working with these horses stand to train them for a shot at this level of prize-money and kudos? 

I agree, the nomination and entry fees are high, however the reality is that in most pursuits, the higher the stakes the higher the cost and effort is to participate. 

And I think it is fair enough that given this is an event funded and run by Racing NSW that they are entitled to cast the net for entries within the confines of their own state border. 

Personally, I just wish I had a paddock full of horses that tick the criteria box but unfortunately I don’t. One thing for sure is I am now scouting for a recruit so that I can perhaps be part of it all next year. 

I sincerely hope Equimillion is a huge success and that it sparks a whole range of spin-off events and inspires other Australian racing jurisdictions to come up with similarly lucrative concepts for off the track horses. 

Most importantly, it will surely stimulate the demand for retired racehorses from NSW and instead of buying an expensive performance horse, equestrians might consider taking on a thoroughbred instead? 

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