A famous but irreverent Irish trainer once called the Melbourne Cup “the best bumper race in the world”. A bumper race is a flat race for hurdlers or steeplechasers that usually attracts a low grade field over a decent distance.
The comment was clearly meant to be derogatory, implying the internationals only ever sent second and third grade stayers “down under” to contest the Australian Group 1 race over two miles. But a recent decision by the Australian regulatory body in charge of the race has now placed all future international participation in the race in danger.
The Melbourne Cup is without a doubt the biggest and best race in Australia each and every year. But these new changes to race eligibility for horses outside Australia will almost certainly see the race lose its appeal at home and abroad.
The new Melbourne Cup recommendations put forward by Racing Victoria, mean that international horses will need to jump through plenty of hoops to get a start in the race that stops the nation.
It puts into perspective that without international runners, the Melbourne Cup could quickly become just another Group 1 race if we are not careful. All the once-a-year punters have Cup day circled on the calendar each year, and for those more socially minded it is basically as an excuse to get “dolled up” and enjoy a big day out at Australia’s Flemington race track with friends.
But could the new recommendations bring the Cup back to the field?
Will the likes of the fellow Australian races like the Cox Plate and The Everest go past the showpiece event in this country?
The Cox Plate is already referred to as “the best two minutes in Australian sport” and The Everest, despite still being in its infancy; is the race is the richest sprint turf race in the world and attracts plenty of interest globally.
We then have other Australian Group 1 races like the Doncaster Handicap, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the Golden Slipper and the Newmarket Handicap which each year attract some jaw-dropping fields.
The Melbourne Cup will forever hold a special place in Australians hearts, but these races are quickly gaining traction as must attend events that attract the cream of the antipodean thoroughbred.
The All Star Mile at Moonee Valley this year showed that if Racing Victoria can keep the race at “The Valley” it will certainly become a must-watch event each and every year.
Outspoken owner Ozzie Kheir has said that “we should just rename the Melbourne Cup, the Sydney Cup” as Wednesday’s news will see a dramatic downturn in the quality of Melbourne Cup fields. Australia’s “other” two mile race, the Sydney Cup; attract a laughably poor field of stayers even by local standards.
“I would not have brought out Sir Dragonet last year” Kheir said, affirming that he would not have wanted his star runner to be sedated and undergo all these necessary scans that would be required for 2021 internationals in the middle of a racing preparation.
What sets “The Cup” apart from every other Australian Group 1 race, is it attracts the best runners from right around the world; and if Australia is not careful it is a privilege that will be hard to recapture once lost.
The Melbourne Cup is in grave danger of losing its position at the pinnacle of racing in Australia, and may just have slid a little further in reputation behind other “bumper” races.