Imagine if Lance Franklin, Gary Ablett and Nathan Fyfe vanished from the AFL tomorrow never to return.
The game would be drained of colour and excitement and left trying to replace a hole as big as the MCG.
Yet in the sport of kings this doomsday scenario is part of life, with many of its brightest and most promising stars, the horses, retired in their prime and whisked off to stud.
The impact is sweeping and no more obvious than now, as Melbourne’s spring carnival begins to gather steam.
The Melbourne Cup may be the race that stops a nation but for the racing purist nothing comes close to the weight-for-age battle of Moonee Valley’s Cox Plate.
Yet sadly, it’s hard to recall a period in the sport when its weight-for-age stocks were so lean as the talented up-and-comers are pulled out of competition.
Cox Plate betting is headed by Dissident, Fawkner, and Sacred Falls, all talented horses but none of them in the class of champions like So You Think or Northerly.
In the past couple of years racing has lost several of its biggest drawcards.
The immortal Black Caviar went off to be a mum, John Singleton’s outstanding mare More Joyous called it quits after eight Group 1 victories, and Mark Kavanagh’s untapped superstar Atlantic Jewel succumbed to injury.
The retirements were sobering but in every case easy to accept as part of the caper.
Not so when it comes to the track departures of glamour colts Pierro and All Too Hard a year ago when widely considered the best horses in the country.
From the moment they hit the turf the precocious youngsters began building imposing records, Pierro taking out the Golden Slipper in 2012 and All Too Hard making a name for himself with a win in the Caulfield Guineas later on that season.
Pierro raced 14 times and took home more than $4 million in prize money, while All Too Hard collected almost $3 million from a dozen starts.
All Too Hard, owned by floundering mining magnate Nathan Tinkler, was sold for $25 million to Vinery Stud in a bid to ease his debts.
Vinery raced him for a short time before putting him out to stud.
Pierro was snapped up by Coolmore Stud for a rumoured $30 million.
On figures alone, it’s hard to blame owners for selling up in the face of a $25 million carrot.
If All Too Hard had raced on and been reasonably successful he could have potentially added another $5 million to his purse.
His numbers at stud mock that amount.
In his first year he served 150 mares at $66,000 a pop. That’s just shy of $10 million.
Pierro is charging even more at $77,000 for a one-time dalliance with his revolving door of mares.
If their progeny prove successful in a couple of years’ time the price will only skyrocket, like it has with pin-up sire Fastnet Rock, who was charging $275,000 a service at last call.
But hold on to your horses for just a second.
What about the impact to the racing industry left to pick up the pieces?
Racing is just like any other sport in that it relies on marketable stars to sell its product and heroes of the equine variety are its bread and butter.
All Too Hard and Pierro had only just begun to build profiles and sadly weren’t given the chance to crossover into the mainstream and become household names like Phar Lap, Makybe Diva, Octagonal and co.
Black Caviar showed what a special horse can do, capturing the imagination of the public like no other in recent times.
Pierro and All Too Hard should have been given that chance and the industry is still paying the price.
Instead of battling out in Cox Plates on the track and creating a new set of turf memories, the pair is vying for top honours in the breeding barn.
“If Pierro and All Too Hard went on [racing] they would have had some great clashes in the spring and autumn,” champion trainer John Hawkes declared at the time in an SMH report.
“That’s good for racing, but the commercial dollars has taken over.”
While young horses have always gone off to pursue lucrative careers at stud it appears the current thirst to create these money-making machines is bordering on dangerous.
The recovery period can be brutal and finding a new set of champions takes years.
The racing industry as a collective needs to band together to investigate the issue and look at ways of bucking the trend.
The AFL is deeply protective of its product and does everything it can to build the game.
It threw money at rugby converts Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau in marketing exercises.
When Victorian football was in dire straits not long ago it cried foul.
Fixing the racing issue might well be a pipe dream but surely racing can take some action to canvass ideas on stemming the flow.
What about offering some incentives for horses to race on? Or coming to some sort of compromise with studs.
Even if both colts had raced on for just another year it still would have given the public another handful of stirring memories to cherish.
The impact of their loss is arguably greater than all those millions of dollars when you consider racing is fighting an ongoing battle to attract a new generation of fans and remain relevant.
Unfortunately, the glitz and glamour of the spring carnival has a romantic way of smoothing over the cracks.
Girls don their frilly frocks. Booze overflows. Unknown foreign raiders roll into town and Gai and Bart steal the limelight.
The only solace to the predicament is racing’s ability to regenerate through the injection of youth and the almighty unknown.
In a stable somewhere right now there’s a two-year-old, probably still unnamed, who’s going to be our next champion.
Let’s pray to the heavens it’s a gelding or a filly.