Let’s call it the European Cup!… By Rob Young

Now that all the hype is over and all the cheering has died down, and without taking anything from a magnificent run by the least experienced horse in the field, it’s maybe high time that somebody asked a question or two about what is happening to the Melbourne Cup. Here’s an idea. Maybe we should rename it the European Cup.

Here’s the thing. Over the last five years, no Australian-bred horse has got near winning – and before you throw Prince of Penzance at me, please remember that he is by Pentire and was bred in New Zealand. The facts are simple, and very clear. This year, 11 of the top 12 finishers in the Melbourne Cup were European horses. In 2016, 8 of the top 12 finishers in the Melbourne Cup were European horses. In 2015, 6 of the top 12 finishers in the Melbourne Cup were European horses. In 2014, 7 of the top 12 finishers in the Melbourne Cup were European horses. In 2013, 8 of the top 12 finishers in the Melbourne Cup were European horses. Repetitive, isn’t it – and it’s becoming more pronounced!

So, we now have a situation where the most historic race in Australia, the “Race That Stops A Nation”, will most likely never be won again by an Australian–bred horse. Call me chauvinistic, if you like, but I think that situation is wrong, and the fact that we can’t even compete is simply appalling.

I have no brief against Lloyd Williams, more power to his arm. He puts the money and the effort into the game and he gets a commensurate reward. But is the Melbourne Cup now just a billionaire’s birthright? Whatever happened to the rags and riches stories of yesteryear? Do we just forget about the race, bundle up the Cup and send it to Mt Macedon on the first Tuesday in November next year?

In past days, and they are well past, Australian-bred horses were competitive in the Melbourne Cup. All we had to worry about were the Kiwis, and that was worry enough. But horses like Reckless, Saintly, Kingston Rule, Gala Supreme, Rain Lover, Galilee, Kingston Town, Piping Lane and many, many others all flashed down the Flemington straight in the Big One on the first Tuesday in November and finished top four. Doesn’t happen now!

Why not?

Simply because, for as long as the Golden Slipper has been a reality, Australian breeders just breed for speed. That’s where the money is. Australian racing has become all about instant gratification. Give me a precocious two year old that can win a black type motza before he is three and a bit, then go to stud and make me another motza so I can buy more precocious two year olds to do the same thing all over again. That’s all well and good, but what it all means is that the Melbourne Cup, still our only truly international race outside the Cox Plate, is no longer a race that truly represents Australian racing. Sure, it’s a spectacle, and a holiday, and a booze up, and a ceb-fest, but it isn’t our race anymore. It can’t be when Australian-bred horses are simply uncompetitive.

I think that it’s a sad situation. Australia used to produce sprinters and stayers. Way back in 1958, a grand old horse called Sailor’s Guide went to America and won the Laurel International – now the Breeders Cup Turf – over 2400 metres against the cream of the American stayers. Strawberry Road went to Germany and won the Grosser Preis von Baden over 2400 metres in 1984 and then raced creditably in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Better Loosen Up took out the Japan Cup over 2400 metres in 1990. And that’s pretty much where it stops.

True, we do well with sprinters at Royal Ascot. Think Choisir, Black Caviar, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti, Scenic Blast and the others. But we don’t even think of sending stayers, and even Winx is a middle distance horse, as yet unproven beyond 2000 metres, and, if she were mine, I wouldn’t even try her beyond that.

I can’t even think of an Australian stud that is focused on stayers. Why would they? When the buyers want speed machines that have the potential of a quick return as two year olds. Why would they when the billionaires and syndicators can source European stayers that are known, developed commodities? I take my hat off to the people who run syndication businesses that play in this space. Australian Bloodstock are probably the most successful syndicators in the Group 1 sphere, and they do the European & Japanese thing better than anybody else other than Lloyd Williams. It’s what they have to do if they want another Melbourne Cup or two to match the one taken out by Protectionist. The simple fact of it all is that syndicate members don’t want to wait for an Australian bred two year old to be developed into a four-year-old stayer. That’s not the name of the game.

But that means that the Melbourne Cup isn’t the iconic race that it was for Australian breeders. And when half the field is made up of horses no Australian racegoer has seen, it’s a glitzy shadow of its’ former greatness, and betting on the race becomes simply as stupid as expecting a single ticket in Lotto to deliver Division One.

Todays Melbourne Cup certainly has lots of flash, but how much substance? And, even allowing for the syndicates, it isn’t really the people’s race anymore and it is in serious danger of becoming the Billionaire’s Benefit. In my view, that’s a bit sad, but maybe I’m just a dinosaur!

Horse Racing Offers and Promotions

Stay up to date with the latest racing news
Follow our social accounts to get exclusive content and all the latest racing news!