Thank god for the international horses. Some say they’ve ruined a great Australian institution. Fact is, they’ve saved it.


Last year, just one Australian horse finished in the top 10 in the Melbourne Cup. Its name was Niwot and it came eighth. The next Australian horse was Precedence in 11th spot, then The Verminator, in 13th. Between them, those three horses have since won just two of their 30 starts.

Clearly, our best local stayers are not world-beaters. They’re barely swift enough to be egg-beaters. This year’s local crop looks even weaker. Without the internationals, the 2012 Melbourne Cup would resemble a staying race at the bush picnic races.

When two international horses descended on Flemington for the 1993 Melbourne Cup, they were curiosities. The Irish 15-1 shot Vintage Crop won in commanding style, and there were cries of despair that no Australian horse would ever win the Cup again.

These proved premature. For the next decade or so, a solid contingent of four or five internationals arrived each year, most of them abject failures. The “raiders”, as the visitors were inevitably called, won neither the small gold trophy or indeed a lost ark.

When Media Puzzle made it two for the internationals in 2002, no one panicked. They were statistically overdue, and besides, the story of jockey Damien Oliver triumphing the same week his brother died was so heart-warming, they eventually turned it into a movie.

Then came three straight years of Makybe Diva dominance and all was still good in the Aussie-centric view of the equine world. Japan delivered its one-two punch in 2006, but then Efficient, Viewed and Shocking flew the flag for Australia the next three years.

The runners-up in each of those three years were imports. No one really noticed, but the northern hemisphere European trainers were beginning to get the hang of this Melbourne Cup thing.

For years, European trainers had made the mistake of sending stayers which grinded away and grinded away and grinded away. That style of running will win races in England. But you need a turn of hoof to win a Melbourne Cup.

Staying power, plus the ability to accelerate, was Makybe Diva’s weapon. That skillset is also the hallmark of the 2010 and 2011 Melbourne Cup winners, Americain and Dunaden.

Those two horses are in again this year, and there are others which may be their equal. Two of them, French horses Brigantin and Shahwardi, may not even squeeze into the final field.

It’ll be a travesty if they don’t, but rules is rules. Several Australian horses are ahead of them in the order of entry. They’re no hope, but if the owners cough up the $50k final acceptance fee, vanity will triumph over speed.

In a way, it’s sad the way the Melbourne Cup has gone. It used to be fun doing the form when it was just local horses. You’d still lose most years, but you had the glorious illusion you could crack the code.

Anyone who reckons they can line up the form from European racecourses like Longchamps and The Curragh against Randwick, Flemington and Matamata is either deluded or a liar.

Still, it’s probably not a bad thing that it’s not about us anymore. The Melbourne Cup is now a truly international event, which is good for the economy, tourism and the rest of it. It has also saved the race as as a spectacle.

Imagine if Bernard Tomic and the ageing Lleyton Hewitt were joint favourites for the Australian Open tennis. Wouldn’t be much of a tournament, would it?

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    • Mahhrat says:

      05:57am | 31/10/12

      All the best, but I’ve never found much joy in watching things race in circles.  I love cars, but not circuit racing.  Same with horses - they’re magnificent animals, but watching them run in a circle bores me to tears.  I just hope the horses enjoy themselves more.

    • Tim says:

      07:17am | 31/10/12

      I feel the same about people who lock themselves in their houses and play computer games. Horribly anti social.

      Each to their own I guess.

    • HappyG says:

      07:22am | 31/10/12

      @Mahhrat. Try having a bet. That livens it up considerably. I got on Americain a month ago for $100 at $19 so here’s one Aussie punter praying for an international win. If we want international prestige we have to make the race open to the best horses. Another contributing factor to our lack of success is that we don’t train stayers. Our big purses are for much shorter distance races unlike the Europeans.

    • Gregg says:

      07:55am | 31/10/12

      If you ever get to a horse race meeting Mahhrat you’ll find that the tracks aren’t quite circular and there’s usually plenty more entertainment besides.
      As for the horses enjoying themselves, that’s debatable.

    • Jason says:

      12:14pm | 31/10/12

      Well Tim, I actually play online computer games with my friends whilst talking to them through online voice chat.  I find it particularly social.  Far more than sitting on the couch watching tv.

      Each to their own I guess.

      Now what was this topic about again?  That’s right horse racing…..giddy up.

    • hawker says:

      06:25am | 31/10/12

      It’s not just the Melbourne Cup, but the Caullfield Cup too. A Kiwi horse won the Cox Plate, essentially beating a field full of milers.

      While there is huge money for faces like the Golden Slipper and it’s demented cousin, the Magic Millions, there is no incentive to develop stayers. Make no mistake, while this (particularly the northern states) obsession with throwing obscene amounts of money at speedy two year olds continues, we’re only going to be breeding horses that wouldn’t get 2000m plus down a mine shaft.

      It’s only getting worse.

    • Thirsty says:

      06:46am | 31/10/12

      I agree whole heartily
      I think it was one of the Freedman brothers who first said 10 years ago that the whole staying spring carnival races should be changed, as the Melbourne Cup had become just an over hyped mid week quality handicap
      His suggestion was to switch the Cox Plate and Caufield Cup dates, and make the Caufield Cup and Melbourne Cup weight for age
      We would then have a series over 3 weeks where the best staying horses in the world could come here for an extended period, in effect, we could create the worlds No 1 event for distance horses. Imagine if horses like Frankel could have been brought to Australia for 3 ever increasing distance weight for age super races

    • SM says:

      07:57am | 31/10/12

      Frankel isn’t a “distance horse”.  The longest race he ran in was 2100m (once), and the majority of his starts were over 1600m

    • Steve Putnam says:

      06:04pm | 31/10/12

      That was before Makybe Diva was dropped into Freedman’s lap like a ripe plum when David Hall went to train in Hong Kong. Everyone remembers his “find the youngest child you can” comment after the Diva’s third win. He wasn’t talking the race down then was he?
      I would love to have seen Frankel run in a Cox Plate!

    • Tim says:

      07:15am | 31/10/12

      Ant,
      It’s a handicap, the whole idea is to get in light.

      Any horse that doesn’t make the field have only their owners and trainers to blame.

      The serious Australian race was last week. Nz horse first, Australian 2,3.

    • ibast says:

      07:38am | 31/10/12

      I thought Cumming’s comments were pretty stupid.  If the Australian horses were any good, they’d be winning.  If they make it harder for the Europeans to qualify there are going to be a whole heap of second rate horse running in the race and maybe one or two Europeans kicking their arses.

      Instead the the critism should lay at the feet of the sprint oriented (and young horse oriented) racing industry in Australia.

    • Steve says:

      09:07am | 31/10/12

      Bart’s comments have to be taken with a very large grain of salt - after all, he had Illo (from Germany) in the Cup last year, will have Sanagas (from the US) this year and is trying to qualify Dare to Dream (from Ireland).  He’s just cranky because none of the horses he’s been given are much good (Dare to Dream will win races, but I couldn’t have him in the Cup)

    • Gregg says:

      10:39am | 31/10/12

      I haven’t been up with any comments by the Cup King but certainly, there is something in the sprint orientation of the local racing industry.

      It is not new news that this is the case solely because of financial considerations, the investment/return expected earlier with sprinters than what it is for stayers.
      So effectively, it’d be normal to need quite a few $$$  behind you to support a stayer and then hope you have a goodie or just plenty of $$$ and in it for the thrill of having a horse in the cup.

      The cases of there being a group syndicate finding that one in a million horse to have Cup success are likely much fewer and a lot further apart.

      Meanwhile, us mere paupers will just look on, often from afar, and actually, it would have been the year before last I had the trifecta ( re my own post )

    • ibast says:

      01:08pm | 31/10/12

      Gregg, he basically said that the Europeans are getting in too easily and if it keeps up no Australian horses would be left.

      He might have a point if the Europeans weren’t winning, but quite frankly they are making the Australian industry seem second rate.

    • George says:

      08:15am | 31/10/12

      I’m all for a bit of protectionism at times but I remember one bloke was a bit angry at me for betting on Delta Blues, a Japanese horse, which won, at about 20-1. Plus it won the the Cox Plate or Caufield Cup at about 20-1.

      A good year for me.

      Who cares it’s just a stupid horse race at the end of the day. The winnings is only 2-4m? A lot of effort, risk and overheads for that money I reckon.

    • Steve says:

      09:04am | 31/10/12

      Delta Blues ran 3rd in the Caulfield Cup at 100/1 (or maybe more) before winning the Cup.

    • Gregg says:

      08:16am | 31/10/12

      I’d not say that the internationals have ruined nor saved The Cup Ant.
      They can certainly add more of a challenge to backing a winner though last year was the first I ever scored a trifecta with a box selection of five horses and wouldn’t you know, it paid miserably, a mere $300 and with my box I scored about $100, still better than a kita I suppose.

      I reckon that whether or not we had Internationals, The Cup will always be that race that stops a nation, be it because of tradition or just people wanting to have a bit of fun and a flutter as well.
      I’ve been a few times and last was on one of MDs wins, either second or third and crowd was enormous, so enormous that you can no longer just decide to go and get a combo train/entry ticket but need to book in advance and ticket price is soaring.

      Actually, my first ever time, back in late eighties was when I think the first international won, At Talaq or maybe it was just an international owner and that was a hell of a day in a good way, 6 am Chicken and Champers breakfast before boarding a bus and great catering all day and I backed At Talaq too.

      I’ll makeby do on most future times with a few hours at a pub, maybe a club function or just enjoying it at home.

    • JoniM says:

      01:19pm | 31/10/12

      Spot on Gregg !

      A quite ridiculous claim by Ant !
      Saved the Cup from what ? Who says it was under threat ?
      The Melbourne Cup has not been saved by the International horses !
      It may have gained a greater international status as a Race, but that is solely because of the huge prize money and rock star status these international interlopers crave, that they don’t get in Europe !
      In fact , the Melbourne Cup last year saw a drop in punting revenue, (which in turn flows back to our industry) of some 14%. Analysts attribute at least some of that drop to the fact that real punters are not familiar with the international form and not as willing to risk their money. It is expected that this trend will continue for this years Cup which is even more dominated by International horses. So is this a good thing ? Does this “save the Cup ” as Ant would have it?
      No way ! The Melbourne Cup is a cultural institution in Australia, and will never be threatened even if all 24 runners next year are selected from the Birdsville Race Club. They will have form and millions of Aussies will have either a decent bet ( if they are a real punter) or a token bet as a once a year punter or just throw into an office sweep ! But the Melbourne Cup was never under threat, and where the horses come from makes no difference except to local punting revenues or International race status. Which one do you prefer ?

    • JoniM says:

      01:59pm | 31/10/12

      Sorry Gregg !
      But I would say you need to brush up on your trifecta betting.
      Last years Cup trifecta in fact paid ( at least on NSW TAB) $4,555.00 for full unit bet.
      If you collected only a $100.00 for getting the trifecta, you must have only invested a very small amount on a flexi - trifecta or you had included many horse selections in that trifecta bet ?
      In fact the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cups & Golden Slipper are the perfect races to invest in trifectas as the pools are big and flooded with lots of “mug” punters money. The payouts may be down a little on previous years, not because of the International horses, but because of the TAB’s introduction of “flexi trifecta” betting, which has meant that many more people are now taking trifectas but for smaller percentages of the win dividend, compared to what was a minimum trifecta percentage wager of 50% of a unit, that was the norm till a few years ago. This meant you either restricted the number of horse selections or else it cost you a lot more to take even the minimum half unit trifecta bet. Now you can just nominate how much you want to spend, how many horses you want included and your percentage of the full unit dividend is claculated for you, from as little as 1 % of a unit.
      Anyway ! Its all good fun, as long as you don’t bet what you can’t afford to lose !

    • stephen says:

      08:26am | 31/10/12

      Tim Costello on ABC radio last week reckoned that horseracing should be banned.
      (He’d have more luck banning hats, I’d reckon ... which may not be a bad idea ; short tails like me can’t see nothin’ !)

    • SM says:

      09:28am | 31/10/12

      Ethiopia is a live chance for the locals this year

    • Punters Pal says:

      10:50am | 31/10/12

      Australian racing bodies are beholden to the might of the breeders and hence all which seems to get bred these days are the sprinters. Owners have no patience and they all want a two year old to win the Slipper or the Blue Diamond. Even the best Australian distance horses in recent times - Makybe Diva and So You Think were bred in UK and NZ respectively.

      We are not really helping our staying industry, when both Brisbane and Perth Cups have been reduced from 2 miles to 1.5 miles in recent years. Why bother train a stayers if there are no races for them. In Sydney, Sydney Cup is the only remaining 2 mile race.

      Internationals have neither saved it or ruined it, they have just worked out that you need a half decent horse to win millions and Australian trainers have just worked out that there are no decent stayers bred in this country and go abroad to buy them.

      I have no idea about this year, but I may have an each way bet on Dermot Weld’s horse Galileo’s Choice. At least the trainer knows how to win this race, having done it two times already.

    • Emery Bored says:

      11:42am | 31/10/12

      Stop the presses! A horse race has been SAVED! Halle-bloody-lujah!

    • Concerned says:

      12:48pm | 31/10/12

      Who gives a toot about the horses when you are trying to get drunk and laid? Who gives a damn when you are looking so pretty in your new dress and really hope the cute boy notices you?
      Just have the bloody Cup without the horses and save them the pain, agony and abuse they have to go through in their training just to find themselves at the slaughter house when they are too slow.

    • J Mc says:

      02:25pm | 31/10/12

      I’d sya thelast 2 years - the strong Aussie dollar has saved the Cup.

      2m AUD goes a lot further now overseas - than it did 3 years back. No wonder so many come down for our race.

 

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