This past week has only confirmed it. We’ve lost the Melbourne Cup.
With the growing influx of foreign raiders and imported stayers, Australian horses will struggle to even make the $A6million Group 1 race in coming years.
You have to go back to 2009 to find the last Australian-bred horse to win our great race, when Shocking saluted.
But even Shocking’s credentials are shaky. Sired by an Irish horse out of an American dam, he just happened to be born in Australia.
On Tuesday, the nation’s hopes rested on the Ciaron Maher-trained Jameka.
Shockingly, she was the only Australian-bred horse in the field to win the Cup.
And while Jameka won the $A3million Caulfield Cup, she faded to finish 14 lengths behind the winner – German-bred Almandin – in 15th place.
The failure of Australian horses to even win a spot in the Cup points to a deeper malaise. The economics of racing are against breeding good local stayers.
There are quicker and more lucrative returns in breeding quality sprinters for Sydney’s autumn races than stayers for Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival.
It takes less time and money to prepare a two-year old sprinter than the slower maturing stayer.
So, unless there are renewed incentives to breed local quality stayers, the spring’s major cups will be taken out by foreign imports and raiders.
The rot set in long ago.
With the Kiwi-born, Sydney-based trainer, Chris Waller, Almandin owner and five-time Cup winner Lloyd Williams has led the push to import stayers for Australia’s major races.
They recognised the declining standard of local stayers and began buying lightly raced, reasonably priced European horses.
The strategy makes good business sense.
There are many more staying races in Europe. Even a second-rate European stayer can be good enough to win a Group 1 race Down Under.
The Caulfield Cup and Melboune Cup winner Dunaden was out-classed in Group 1 European races, but proved successful on Australian and Hong Kong tracks.
This year’s Cup carnival saw the usual influx of foreign raiders.
The Dubai-based Godolphin stables sent a fleet to try and lift the Cup. The Irish were also out in force. Since Vintage Crop’s victory in 1993, Irish horses have always been in the mix and it’s not surprising.
Last year, the British Thoroughbred Association (TBA) estimated that Irish-bred horses comprised over 50 per cent of British staying stock.
It is this stock that Australian owners and trainers have tapped, instead of breeding local stayers, and it is having an impact in the north.
According to the TBA, a contributing factor in the decline of stayer stocks in Britain are exports to Australia. The TBA emphasised that more must be done to keep these horses in Britain.
The demand from Australia stems from the shift to breeding sprinters. Mares with good racing blood are sent to sprinting sires rather than stayers, and it’s a sound business strategy.
The head of Darley’s Australian racing operations, Henry Plumptre, recently remarked: “It is recognised globally that Australia produces the best sprinters and much of the programming is tailored as such.”
This strength is now shaping Australian races.
Distances in the Brisbane and Perth Cups have dropped from 3200 to 2400 metres to fit with the new breed of horse.
And way more Australian horses are being bred for the $A3million Golden Slipper at Rosehill than the Cup at Flemington.
Before this year’s Melbourne Cup, the Andrews Government allocated $A10million to the construction of the new $A135million members’ stand at Flemington.
Rather than throwing public money at a private members’ club, it would be better spent rejuvenating Australia’s staying stocks.
Because if they continue to flag, it won’t be the Melbourne Cup that stops the nation.
It will be the Golden Slipper.