By The Numbers

Sprint stars cash in on era of unmatched riches

The $20.8 million prize-money earned by recently retired star Nature Strip is not only a tribute to his extraordinary talent and speed, but a sign of an era of astonishing returns.

In a stellar 2021-22, Nature Strip (Nicconi) became the first horse in Australian racing history to earn over $10 million in a single season.

Of that total, compiled over eight starts which included five wins and three placings $9,923,100 was earned on home soil, while a further $528,833 was banked from his memorable victory in the King’s Stand Stakes (Gr 1, 5f) at Royal Ascot.

The powerful son of Nicconi (Bianconi) would have been a champion in any age, indeed he is one of only six horses to have been named Australian Racehorse Of The Year on two occasions, but his massive prize-money total is also an indication that he is very much a product of the current era.

He is the second highestearning Australasian-raced thoroughbred of all time, behind only Winx (Street Cry) on $26.45 million. To give some historical context, Nature Strip earned $12.8 million more than the unbeaten sprinting mare Black Caviar (Bel Esprit), whose career only preceded him by a decade.

On average Nature Strip earned $471,932 every time he stepped on a racetrack, and he banked a cheque, in some form or another, in 43 of his 44 starts.

However, that average only puts him sixth on the historical prize-money-per-start metric, a list topped by a trio of winners of The Everest (1200m), Giga Kick (Scissor Kick) on $959,970, Yes Yes Yes (Rubick) on $896,906, and Classique Legend (Not A Single Doubt) on $625,700.

Winx is fourth on that list on $615,143, then follows Anamoe (Street Boss), on $485,121, then Nature Strip. Last year’s Golden Eagle (1500m) winner I Wish I Win (Savabeel) was ahead of Nature Strip until his third in Saturday’s Memsie Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m), which took his average back to $460,474.

Leading seasons by earnings for Australian-raced horses

Horse Earnings Season
Nature Strip $10,451,933 2021/22
Giga Kick $9,508,950 2022/23
I Wish I Win $7,617,500 2022/23
Redzel $7,532,300 2017/18
Winx $7,452,750 2018/19
Classique Legend $7,132,000 2020/21
Redzel $6,833,250 2018/19
Yes Yes Yes $6,823,750 2019/20
Anamoe $6,310,250 2022/23
Verry Elleegant $6,273,500 2021/22

As mentioned, Nature Strip owns the record for the most lucrative single season, but that mark is unlikely to last long. The $9.51 million earned by Giga Kick last season, the most productive campaign ever by a three-year-old, shows how a race like The Everest is changing the way history is written.

Giga Kick’s trainer Clayton Douglas is aiming to better that mark by Christmas, with the now four-year-old set for a defence of his Everest title, worth $7 million to the winner, and then to the Golden Eagle, where first prize-money is $5.25 million.

Should he win both races, and he is favourite to do so, he would usurp Nature Strip as the secondhighest Australasian-trained earner of all time after just 14 starts, and easily eclipse him as the highest earner in a single season.

Leading Australian-raced horses by average earnings per start

Horse Av per start Starts Prize-money
Giga Kick $959,970 10 $9,599,700
Yes Yes Yes $896,806 8 $7,174,450
Classique Legend $625,700 15 $9,385,500
Winx $615,144 43 $26,451,175
Anamoe $485,121 25 $12,128,025
Nature Strip $471,932 44 $20,765,008
I Wish I Win $460,474 17 $7,828,053
Incentivise $441,792 13 $5,743,300
Redzel $421,641 39 $16,444,000
Makybe Diva $403,531 36 $14,527,110

That the current surge is distorting history is hard to argue against when you consider that the top 10 earning seasons by horses in Australian history have all occurred since 2018-19.

That was Winx’s final season on the track, and her most lucrative, as she earned $7.45 million, enough to place her just fifth on the all-time seasonal tally. Had she completed that exact same unbeaten eight-race program in 2022-23, she would have earned $9.7 million, or 30.2 per cent more.

Winx’s overall earnings across her career just from her 25 Group 1 wins was $24.7 million, a quite astonishing figure, but even relatively soon after her retirement, the value of those races has gone up significantly. The combined prizemoney of those 25 wins calculated at 2022-23 levels is $32.9 million.

Black Caviar’s most lucrative season was 2010-11, where she earned $2.99 million from eight wins. The exact same program in 2022-23, with wins in those same eight races, would have yielded $7.44 million, a 149 per cent increase in the space of 12 years.

Filtering just by her 15 Group 1 successes, Black Caviar earned $6.14 million. Put in the context of 2022-23 levels, winning prize-money for those 15 races now works out to be $14.3 million.

That is also discounting the fact that had The Everest been staged in Black Caviar’s time, she would have started a prohibitive favourite on three occasions. Indeed, it’s doubtful The Everest concept would have got off the ground in the Black Caviar era, such was her dominance.

There are also those who suggest that the full Everest prize-money should not count towards a horse’s earnings, as the negotiated nature of the slot race means that the slot holders take a share of winnings. It’s an idea with some merit apart from the fact that the terms of any deal are not publicised, so it makes it impossible to calculate what the horse has actually earned for its owners.

Any discussion of the relative greatness of Winx and Black Caviar, inevitably, in a 21st Century context, also needs to involve ‘she of the three Melbourne Cups’:  Makybe Diva (Desert King).

The star staying mare is currently the fourth highest earning Australasian-raced horse on $14.5 million.

Makybe Diva’s final campaign in the spring of 2005 proved her most lucrative season as she earned $5.4 million across five starts, which included four wins, in the Memsie Stakes (Gr 2, 1400m), the Turnbull Stakes (Gr 2, 2000m), the Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) and of course the Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m).

Had a horse had the same run of results in those five races in the spring of 2022, they would have earned $9.07 million, a 67.9 per cent increase on what Makybe Diva banked in 2005.

Meanwhile, the combined value of Makybe Diva’s seven Group 1 wins in the context of 2022-23 prize-money levels is $21.2 million, compared to the $12.9 million she earned at the time.

Looking at a list of the leading Group 1 winners in Australia, third behind Winx and Black Caviar is the legendary Kingston Town (Bletchingly) (14), who became the first horse to break the $1 million barrier in the 1980s. He ended his career with $1.58 million in prize-money.

Those 14 Group 1 wins alone, judged on 2022-23 levels, are now worth just short of $18 million, and that doesn’t count races he won which were subsequently upgraded to Group 1s.

And what about Phar Lap (Night Raid), the gold standard for any discussion of Australian racing? He earned £A66,738 in his racing career, which took place before the Group 1 era.

Looking at just the prizemoney of the 14 races he won which were subsequently upgraded to Group 1s and calculating their combined value on 2022-23 levels, they are now worth in excess of $22.5 million.

His iconic spring of 1930, which saw him win 10 of 11 starts, including four times at Flemington in Melbourne Cup week, would have netted him at least $11.7 million on current levels.  

Comparative Group 1 earnings and projections for selected champion horses

Horse G1 wins (or eq) G1-winning prize-money 2022-23 G1 p/m equivalent
Winx 25 $24,719,750 $32,867,700
Black Caviar 15 $6,140,186 $14,287,136
Makybe Diva 7 $12,941,910 $21,242,700
Nature Strip** 10 $14,617,200 $18,258,650
Kingston Town 14 ($1,575,990*) $17,970,700
Phar Lap 13 (£66,738*) $22,526,975

* career prizemoney

**includes The Everest

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