“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair”
I last used Charles Dickens’ immortal opening in a doomed Lions’ Youth-of-the-Year Quest in 1982.
Thirty-four years on, I found myself in Anzac observance at Flemington, basking in brilliant autumn sunshine and bathing in the buzz of a race meeting with verve.
My emotional and professional attachment lay with the programme at Randwick, yet Flemington’s public holiday offering, with its Saturday prizemoney and St Leger feature was immensely more fulfilling.
Why were we, in the Emerald City, stripped of our Holiday showcases? Sydney Cup day and Metropolitan day are but cherished memories from the distant past.
Both cities conducted dense Saturday cards two days prior. Yet Sydney’s horse racing enthusiasts were offered a lacklustre Monday meeting with the nadir of split-sex maidens notable for their failure to face the starter in town at their most recent appearance.
Victorian punters, based on the local TAB win pool, wagered 40% more on Flemington than their NSW counterparts bet on Randwick.
Sydney’s comparatively poor turnover is mitigated by an inferior surface, lower prizemoney and VicTab’s bolstering by other states’ betting flowing into their pool.
Nonetheless, we have the better horses, and, ostensibly, the poorer horseracing product. Borne out by the respective comparison on Thursday last.
NSW raced at Beaumont, a provincial course with access to city horses and riders. Victoria scheduled their meeting for country Wangaratta, in the far north of the state. And Wangaratta was forced to compete for contestants with the other NSW meeting at Albury, less than an hour away.
Yet the lowly southern programme held 30% more on its eight races than its Novocastrian counterpart.
The NSW jurisdiction compares unfavourably with Victoria for a number of structural reasons.
Foremost, in my opinion, is geography. The Great Dividing Range is true to its name, and populous NSW centres are relatively far flung. Thus the “tyranny of distance”.
By contrast, Victorian towns are relatively adjacent, and additionally linked by a more sympathetic topography. Victoria’s regional framework is not only comparatively, but in reality, vibrant.
Proximate in significance is our access to the apex of the breed. Catering for the best horses, likely trained by illustrious horse-people, and steered by elite riders, makes the task of presenting an evenly-graded contest unenviable.
Adroit programming is required to overcome this handicap.
One of the earliest Midweek programmes I attended was on March 9, 1983. Bob Hawke had just swept to power and the STC staged a 9 event card at Canterbury with 134 acceptors. Prizemoney for each race of $8,000 equates to $24,000 in today’s money.
Six and a half years later on November 29, 1989, the STC can still attract 122 acceptors for a 9 race Wednesday card at Canterbury. Prizemoney has inched up to $11,000 per race, valued at $22,000 today.
Contrast those with the current Canterbury midweek offering of seven $40,000 races. Acceptors a mere 73. Standard fare in the modern era.
The Canterbury cards from three decades back starkly differentiate from the contemporary programme not just in races and runners. THERE WERE NO MAIDEN RACES.
Quite simply, maidens are a turnoff for enthusiasts. Throughout the course of my lifelong passion for the turf, fellow devotees have bemoaned the presence, initially at the provincials, then in town, of multiple maiden events.
Punters despise Maiden races for their lack of grading and winning profiles. The maidens for 3yos last Wednesday attracted TAB win pools of just $40k.
I referenced earlier the Anzac Day maidens. Texas Rebel was the only contestant to have STARTED in the metropolitan area in the three months prior.
Why would the retailer ply his customers with goods they don’t like and don’t want?
I propose we replace maiden events with races for those who are yet to win a race at the current level or beyond, thereby offering openings to winners from inferior circuits, keen to try their luck against the unproven at the higher purse.
Midweek maiden races would then become events for horses who have not won a race worth $40k. Provincial maiden contests are now for those yet to win a race worth $22k.
And a new Saturday race type beckons entrants who have not won a race worth $85k.
In Rosehill we trust
Yet another benign surface greeted punters at Rosehill last Saturday for a solid collection of competitive events. After the vagaries of the Randwick track, Rosehill offers dependability and trustworthiness.
I was intrigued as to how those with last-start Randwick runs would perform, theorizing that the group might over-achieve on the firmer, faster ground. The hopeful thirteen produced only Hetty Heights in the winners’ stall when 2 firsts may have been expected, although Unequivocal and His Majesty were near misses.
The analysis may persist into the next Rosehill fixture.
I deemed the 3yo contests to be of prominent interest on the card.
Race one comprised the reincarnated Reincarnate versus predominantly Waller resumers. Notably the favourite lost his control, up in grade and back in distance, and percipient layers were amply rewarded by his plain performance.
Meanwhile, Waller bookended the race, Sir Bacchus demonstrating a devastating turn-of-foot that will carry him far while the strangely untrialled Wudang Mountain derived valuable match practice of the on-pace variety. Alas, his father is his greatest liability.
Imposing Lass continued her revelation in Race four. She sprinted sharply after setting a moderate tempo, leaving her fancied but dour filly rivals in her wake. Falkenberg and Chandana are clearly destined for longer assignments.
James McDonald may have learned from his ride on Moher, a horse he might best have driven to the lead given its one-paced proclivity. Forty minutes later he took no prisoners on Muy Bien, perhaps recognizing the virtue of your rivals being off-the-bit and chasing.
Heady rides will be of considerable value as we head into winter, and those with acceleration head elsewhere.