Foreign raiders shattering Cup dream for locals
WHERE has the romance gone? On the 25th anniversary of Irish stayer Vintage Crop's historic Melbourne Cup win, there is criticism the internationalisation of the race has gone too far.
The northern hemisphere-trained stayers are here in record numbers this spring. In the latest Cup order of entry, there are 11 internationals in the top 24 with three more on the fringe of getting into the field next Tuesday.
It is also concerning there are only three locally-bred stayers in the top 24 trying to turn back the tide - Ace High, Youngstar and Runaway.
One prominent local owner who preferred anonymity, is a huge investor in Australian racing and is convinced the Melbourne Cup has been "turned into a benefit for overseas horses".
"It's a real slap in the face for all owners who support the industry week in and week out,'' he said.
"There will be little incentive to breed staying horses here when there is a procession of plane loads of (overseas-trained) stayers arriving here each year for their 'annual holiday'.''
The Melbourne Cup hasn't been the central focus like usual this spring carnival, either. The juggernaut that is The Everest attracted plenty of publicity then there was a huge concentration on Winx's fourth Cox Plate.
Even pre-post Melbourne Cup betting has been impacted because many punters find it difficult to assess the overseas form, particularly if a horse has not had a lead-up run in Melbourne during the spring.
Irish stayer Yucatan is the early Cup favourite with eight of the top 10 in betting prepared by European-based trainers.
The legendary Bart Cummings, who was the Melbourne Cup for so many years, was one of the first to recognise the issue and often called for a cap on the number of international starters in the Melbourne Cup to provide more opportunities for local stayers.
"The debate about capping the (international) numbers in the Melbourne Cup is an annual affair but it is not going to be pursued,'' Racing Victoria's Greg Carpenter said.
Vintage Crop's 1993 Melbourne Cup win has changed the race forever - but has it been for the better?
Will the Melbourne Cup now become the private domain of racing's rich and powerful?
Will we still see the sort of tales that has made the Cup so uniquely Australian like Darwin schoolteacher Wendy Green driving all the way to Melbourne to watch her stayer, the Cummings-trained Rogan Josh win the great race in 1999, denying Sheikh Mohammed's Central Park?
"Nothing stays the same,'' Dermot Weld, who trained Vintage Crop, said recently.
"I predicted at the time Vintage Crop's win would be the internationalisation of the Melbourne Cup so I am merely using the exact words I (said) 25 years ago and that is what has happened.''
Carpenter is adamant the internationalisation of the Melbourne Cup has only improved the race's quality and global appeal.
"The VRC pursued internationalising the race 25 years ago,'' Carpenter said. "At the time, the Melbourne Cup was not developing, it was pretty stagnant.
"But what has happened over the last 25 years has revitalised the race. It is an international race that now garners world attention.''
However, the suggestion of Hall of Fame trainer David Hayes that there needs to be more exempt-free races into the Melbourne Cup has merit, according to Carpenter.
"The VRC is on public record saying it will have a review on the lead-up races,'' he said. "Certainly Racing Victoria is encouraging the VRC to consider more exempt races. The Bart Cummings was introduced a few years ago and it has been very successful.''
Some may suggest that VRC racing manager and international equine recruiter Leigh Jordon is doing too good a job with northern hemisphere-trained stayers coming in ever-increasing numbers each spring.
But Jordon maintains the Melbourne Cup is only enhanced by having some of the world's best stayers in the field.
"The conditions of the Melbourne Cup are open to anyone that wants to run in the race,'' Jordon said. "It's a free-for-all, a handicap open to the best 24 stayers, both local and international.
"I would be more worried if the internationals didn't want to come because when they are here, they bring with them a world focus to the race.
"There is the obvious benefits from the racing perspective, but also tourism and what it brings to the economy. We have also seen the bloodstock investment in Australian racing from the likes of (Godolphin) Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Fahad (owner of 2011 Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden).''
Godolphin's Jim McGrath, the expatriate who has called England home for nearly 40 years, rarely misses a Melbourne Cup and he has a unique take on the debate given his racing experiences on both sides of the world.
"Listen, I think you need to appreciate the Melbourne Cup is an international race these days,'' McGrath said. "It is a very different race to what it was 30 years ago, and I should stress for the better.
"You also have to face the fact the best stayers in the world come from Europe. So, for that reason because we are in a smaller world if you want the best staying lines you need to go to Europe.''
McGrath said the onus was on the Australian breeding industry to produce better quality stayers. "What has to be done here is to encourage breeders to take more of an interest to breeding stayers, that is the key to it,'' he said.
Jordon feels the local breeding industry is starting to concentrate more on producing stayers with young sires like Fiorente, Lucas Cranach and Americain at stud down under.
"From a local perspective, I was encouraged to see the Moonee Valley Gold Cup have a full field, the Bendigo Cup is the strongest I've seen, the nominations for the Hotham Handicap are big,'' Jordon said. "It takes a long time to turn the ship around but I think it is happening, I feel it is changing.''