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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Here's hoping richest turf race attracts very best runners

Photographers at Randwick on Australian Derby Day. In October the Everest is sure to attract plenty of interest
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The Everest was little more than a grand idea six months ago but later this year it will become the richest turf race in the world worth A$10 million (£6m).

The 6f race will be run at Randwick in October and officials are hoping to attract the best sprinters from around the globe to Sydney.
I first floated the idea of Sydney hosting a world super sprint three years ago and I’m delighted Racing NSW have run with the concept to create a race more valuable than the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

When the race was mooted it arose because of the peculiar situation in Australia where they produce many of the best sprinters on the planet yet all their most valuable races – the Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup, Queen Elizabeth Stakes – were for stayers.

There seemed to be a gap in the market for Sydney (or Melbourne) to lay on one big prize which would act as a sprinting world championship, attracting all the top Aussies, the leading players from Hong Kong, South Africa and Japan and the occasional speedball from the US and Europe.

With its enormous prize pot, the Everest could become that world championship for sprinters, although the organisers are trying two new concepts in tandem – the idea of a sprint world championship and the innovative funding arrangement – which could cause teething issues.

The first thing that came under scrutiny when the Everest was announced last week was the cost of buying into the race, with the price suggested to be beyond the means of the syndicate groups who own many of the top sprinters in Australia.

The Everest is set to use a similar funding arrangement to the richest race in the world, the Pegasus World Cup, with owners required to stump up AUS$1.8m (£1m) to buy one of 12 slots in the line-up, with each slot lasting three years.

The lofty ticket price and three-year tie-in could put off owners from overseas, who would have little inclination to be tied to a slot for three years and have to factor in the additional risk of travelling.

The Pegasus World Cup faced similar scepticism over the high ticket price but organisers managed to allay all fears and shift all 12 tickets (costing US$1m each) by May last year.

However, unlike the Pegasus (for which the target horses are all based in the US), the Everest organisers are thinking internationally, which might be where the idea of a world champion sprint and a rich
buy-in race fail to mesh.

The problem with Sydney’s The Championships, first run in 2014, was the lack of major names from overseas and Racing NSW intend to address the international issue with their new venture, saying they want the leading sprinters from Europe, Hong Kong and Japan.

As with the Pegasus, there is the option to trade, sell and lease the 12 Everest slots, which gives organisers the opportunity to fiddle and cajole the best horses into the starting line-up if they can attract overseas interest. However, once they’ve sold the tickets it’s not really up to them.

The benefit of a standard entry system is that you can invite and subsidise whichever horses you want to turn up. Group 1 winners running in Japan, for example, tend to come away with a tidy profit no matter where they finish because the JRA want them there.

But when you sell tickets in advance to unnamed horses, as with the Pegasus and Everest, you’re effectively handing over recruitment duty to the slot owners, who will have no specific agenda to recruit overseas talent.

Another small stumbling block for the Everest is its place in the calendar as it’s set to be run on October 14 this year, which puts it bang in the middle of the northern-hemisphere championships season.

The date was chosen to avoid clashes with rugby, cricket and Aussie Rules schedules and seamlessly slide into the Australian sprint programme, but it does clash with overseas races like the Prix de l’Abbaye, British Champions Sprint and the Sprinters Stakes in Japan (part of the Global Sprint Challenge), all of which fall within 13 days.

You have to admire Racing NSW for having the vision and drive to put the race on. I’m sure they will sell all 12 slots and put on a solid race in October. I just hope the berths manage to find their way to 12 sprinters worthy of running in the richest turf race on the planet.

The Everest announcement wasn’t the only ground-breaking development last week as France Galop have decided to give a 2kg (4.4lb) weight allowance to female jockeys in all Flat and jumps races below Class 1.

The allowance will come in next month and is intended to give women more opportunities. It could take on an international dimension as France may become a popular destination for top female riders looking for a major opportunity to make their mark.

With its enormous prize pot, the Everest could become that world championship for sprinters

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