It has been going on for 160 years now. Like two squabbling sisters, the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry between those controlling the sport in the two major jurisdictions in Australia has intensified so much in the past year it threatens the otherwise good health of an environment that faces similar welfare and funding challenges to the rest of the racing world.
Family feuds over generations have nothing on this. Check out tomorrow’s racing and you will see a A$14m sprint, The Everest, run at Randwick, Sydney — billed as the world’s richest race on turf — and the A$5m Caulfield Cup, contested in Melbourne the same day.
Nothing wrong with that, surely? Except that The Everest, in its third year, has gatecrashed the weekend that traditionally belonged to the mile-and-a-half Caulfield Cup, first run 1879, and long ranked only second to the Melbourne Cup in terms of national prestige.
Yes, the races take place at tracks 600 miles (1000km) apart, and are scheduled to be run one hour apart, but Sydney has raised the stakes by launching a publicity drive that argued The Everest is about to overtake the Melbourne Cup as Australia’s premier race.
Imagine the horror in Melbourne circles when The Australian, the Rupert Murdoch-owned national newspaper, ran a front-page lead story complete with massive picture, quoting high-profile trainer Tony McEvoy’s claim that The Everest is now ‘Australia’s big race’.
Taking into account how difficult it is normally to get even a few paragraphs on racing on the back page of the newspaper, questions have been raised on how a piece, commonly known in journalistic jargon as a ‘beat up’, found its way to such prominence.
McEvoy was basically pointing out that the dominance of European bloodlines in staying races, such as the Melbourne Cup, have pushed many owners towards buying sprinters, who potentially get their big pay day in The Everest.
Whatever means have been used, Sydneysiders must be gloating over the media frenzy that has been whipped up by a six-furlong sprint that is still to be accorded Pattern recognition. And, while it remains a conditions race, it is modelled on the Pegasus at Gulfstream Park in January, with stakeholders then able to sell or use the slots they have purchased for a total of A$1.8m over three years.
The big global stables are represented, Coolmore arranging for Aidan O’Brien to send Ten Sovereigns, winner of the G1 July Cup at Newmarket, while they have also bought into local colt Yes Yes Yes, trained by Chris Waller.
Godolphin have lined up their classy mare Alizee, winner of the G2 Missile Stakes earlier this campaign, to fill the slot they purchased themselves, while stablemate Trekking, also prepared by James Cummings, won his way into the Melbourne Racing Club’s slot by winning last week’s G2 Schillaci Stakes at Caulfield.
Yes, it is intricate, particularly when a Melbourne club buys a berth in a Sydney race, which is seemingly in opposition to its meeting on the same day!
Favourite is Santa Ana Lane, a multiple G1 winning sprinter who is a late swooper. He is trained by Anthony Freedman, whose horses are in cracking form, and he surely will go very close to winning the prize.
By comparison, the G1 Caulfield Cup is far more straightforward to explain. It is the world’s richest handicap over a mile and a half, and, with a full field of 18 runners, it looks as open as any in recent years.
Waller sends out the favourite, Finche, who still races in Prince Khalid Abdulla’s famous colours, though 75 percent of the gelded son of Frankel has been sold to Australian owners. He has had the perfect prep for this, but in the back of the minds of connections there is the A$8m G1 Melbourne Cup next month, for which his long-striding galloping style will almost certainly be better suited. Also, he has drawn very wide in 19, which makes it a difficult task in a helter-shelter race.
Mer De Glace, a Japanese raider who has won his last five straight, is the most interesting runner, but Queensland Derby winner Mr Quickie and the former Hong Kong resident Gold Mount, now trained by Ian Williams in the UK, could also figure in the finish.
There is always a bet for omen punters, and, on this score, look no further than Mr Quickie, whose pedigree lists his great grand dam (on the distaff side) as Stella Artois … who just happen to sponsor the Caulfield Cup. You could not make it up.