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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Base metropolitan prize-money needs a boost

Flemington: where Steve Moran's mare Zazparella was runner-up
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There's a great old (very old) gag about the fellow who finds a pay packet when out for a stroll.

"You're so lucky," his friend says.

"Lucky be buggered," is his reply as he examines the 'folding' and the accompanying pay-slip. "Look at the tax I'm paying!"

The point is that is exactly how I'm going to feel next Wednesday if the noble Troy Corstens-selected and -trained Hinchinbrook two-year-old Thunderdome, in whom I have a small share, happens to win at Sandown.

Why? Because he's racing for a paltry A$19,250 (£10,500/€12,100) first prize at a metropolitan meeting in what is supposedly one of the world's great racing jurisdictions.

That will leave us A$30,000 to A$40,000 short of covering costs for the year and yet we'll have won (hopefully) a city race.

Speaking on the matter

Successful trainer Mike Moroney weighed in on the matter this week when interviewed by Matt Stewart on RSN radio.

"It's getting harder and harder," he said. "The prices of yearlings keeps going up and while prize-money is going up slightly, I don't think it's keeping up by any means."

I am, I'll admit, still distraught following Thunderdome's second-up run at Moonee Valley where he was a beaten certainty - his momentum stopped cruelly and ironically by a stablemate.

That race was worth a much more fitting A$80,000 to the winner, not to mention a little flutter at 40-1 which won't be on offer on Wednesday when, importantly, he faces a similar if not stronger line-up.

Now, don't get all smug on me up there north of the Murray. It's just as bad there. You're racing for just A$21,970 at Warwick Farm on the same day - ironically the final day of the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale at the adjacent complex where hundreds of thousands will be paid in the hope of securing a city winner - midweek or better, which is fundamentally everybody's basic objective.

Meanwhile the taxes I'm paying via my not inconsequential betting activity will be partially funding a raft of races at the Championships in Sydney which carry too much prize-money.

Brilliant branding

I have no issue with the Championships, although you can spare me the tag that they are the grand finals. They're the grand finals of absolutely nothing but they are two fabulous days of racing and the Championships branding is brilliant.

It's already part of the racing vernacular. "When do the noms close for the Championships... or so and so will be set for the Championships," is now something you regularly hear from trainers.

The branding is certainly a furlong ahead of Victoria's lame "Festival of Racing".

But why not strip A$500,000 from races like the Derby, TJ Smith, Doncaster Mile, Queen Elizabeth and the plodders' Sydney Cup, which could then be redistributed to add A$25,000 to 100 individual city races.

It would make no difference to the quality of the fields or betting turnover. And, while we're at it, we could do likewise with the Golden Slipper, Blue Diamond and Caulfield Guineas.

This would make no difference to those races, nor to the top end of the yearling sales market. Colts are marketed on the basis of their stallion credentials, not on their prize-money earning potential.

Wearing thin

But surely we need the five, ten and 20 per cent investors as well as those playing at the top end. The trainers and syndicators need those investors and eventually the 'it's great fun' argument wears thin if there's no return. It wears very thin if your horse is city class and there's still no decent return.

So, who will champion my cause?

After all, it's quite nonsensical that we encourage people into racehorse ownership with the proviso that you'd want to be happy to put a match to the money. What other business does that? We'd do things differently if we were starting now with a clean sheet of paper.
It's unlikely to be the governing bodies. Racing Victoria's too consumed with integrity and litigation and Racing New South Wales wants to put all its money into one race it seems.

It's unlikely to be the race clubs as they're absorbed in the imagined prestige of their races and invitations to international race meetings.
It's unlikely to be the trainers as they're too fragmented and their association too weak.

It's unlikely to be the major stallion farms as they're happy to maintain the spin that everything's hunky dory.

Perhaps it could be Aushorse given it's push to encourage new owners. Perhaps, indeed, it could be Inglis and Magic Millions - understanding as they do the plight of trainers and syndicators. Even more so if outside economic factors start to impact the top end.

Perhaps it could be the TAB exercising some influence - given that they still majority fund the game and that their core customer is exactly the sort of person likely to buy a small share in a horse.
The sort of person like me.

A couple of years ago, I had a handy mare named Zazparella with the aforementioned Moroney. In one season, she won two races including a city midweek and ran second - on Saturdays - at the country's two major tracks Flemington and Randwick. That barely covered costs.

Hobby horse

So, yes this is a bit of a personal rant on a well-ridden hobby horse but I'd like to think they're views others would share, the core being that all standard metropolitan races need a prize-money increase. The bottom doesn't matter in the sense that if your horse isn't good enough you are resigned to losing your money and the top takes care of itself.

You wonder why every third or fourth handy two-year-old or three-year-old is sold to Hong Kong which, of course, eventually diminishes the depth of our racing?

Hopefully good ol' Thunderdome can win on Wednesday and the Hong Kong buyers come knocking at the door. You just can't win enough standard city races, even on a Saturday, to justify knocking back any half-decent offer. That's a bit sad I reckon.

A cut to major race prize-money would also have no negative impact on crowds. The punters know a good race meeting when they see one irrespective of the race prize-money or status.

The Championships, with a favourable weather forecast, should draw good crowds but undoubtedly the number will be well short of that who turned up to watch the trials back in 1966. Yes, the trials - as this clipping, sent in by a reader, shows:


The branding is certainly a furlong ahead of Victoria's lame "Festival of Racing"
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