Tell the truth about this one. When you think about a ‘spring carnival’ in the world of horse racing, do your thoughts turn automatically to the Melbourne Cup and the city’s array of high-profile associated contests led by the Cox Plate and the Caulfield Cup, which takes this weekend with its now usual international line-up?
However, there is more than one Spring Carnival in Australia, and as valuable as it is, the Caulfield Cup is nowhere near the most valuable race down under this weekend. Which is hardly surprising, since Sydney’s rival attraction, the fourth running of the Everest at Royal Randwick, is actually the world’s richest turf race with a prize fund of A$15 million (£8.2m).
At $5m (£2.76m), the Caulfield Cup is hardly to be sniffed at – especially not when one considers a double-figure field featuring the likes of Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck, Melbourne Cup stalwart Prince Of Arran, top stayer Dashing Willoughby and star racemare Verry Elleegant among others.
But the plain fact is the famous mile-and-a-half handicap doesn’t even make the Top 12 in global terms. The Everest, on the other hand, stands at number three, behind only the Saudi Cup and the Dubai World Cup.
In three short years the six-furlong event has shaken up the Australian racing scene, and while it has yet to truly attract the international attention its creators were hoping for, the new race has had an effect beyond national borders insofar as it gives ample reason for domestic sprinters not to travel to Royal Ascot when there is a massively lucrative prize a few months later on their own doorstep.
Just look at the complexion of this Saturday’s race. Although Godolphin and Coolmore are both involved, there isn’t a single northern hemisphere-trained horse in the 12-runner line-up. Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore have had a couple of goes in the past – US Navy Flag was ninth in 2018, Ten Sovereigns totally outpaced in last 12 months later.
Generally speaking, though, this is a domestic affair – but what a domestic affair, this year featuring another field chock-full of Australia’s best sprinters, a plethora of Group 1 performers.
Emulating the original entry conditions of the Pegasus World Cup, the Everest requires owners – or, more accurately, ‘slot holders’ – to pay A$600,000 (about $330,000) for a guaranteed place in a 12-runner field. Given that the Pegasus entry fee was a cool $1m, and has now been abandoned, it is fair to say the Sydney version has had greater success with the ‘pay-to-play’ blueprint established by what was briefly the richest race on the planet in Florida.
Where the Pegasus has stuttered over its short lifespan – worth $16m as recently as 2018, down to $3m for 2021 with its novel entry system abandoned – the Everest has thrived.
“It’s the pinnacle sprint race in the country these days,” says Godolphin managing director Vin Cox. “You need an absolute top performance, your best ever performance, to be winning a race like that.”
Sprinting is Australia’s most competitive division, and those involved are often durable types, coming back season-after-season. Four of last year’s first six are due back again, which doesn’t hurt in terms of public recognition.
Unlike the Pegasus, the Everest also seems to have got it right where the money’s concerned. Worth A$10m at its inception amid much fanfare in 2017, the six-furlong dash is now up to A$15m.
Moreover, in a short time the Everest has become a game-changer. It is no exaggeration to suggest this relatively new event is already second only to the Melbourne Cup in terms of public profile in Australia; the first edition in 2017 immediately eclipsed the Golden Slipper as Sydney’s biggest betting race.
They’ve also had a fair bit of luck with the results, though perhaps ‘luck’ is the wrong word given the nature of the Aussie racing scene, yet to be entirely dominated by racing’s behemoth concerns. Not entirely dominated, that is – Godolphin have a huge Aussie presence mainly with James Cummings, while last year’s Everest winner was Yes Yes Yes – part-owned by Coolmore.
The first two Everests, though, went to Redzel, trained by Peter and Paul Snowden and owned by a large syndicate featuring among their number construction worker, a bus driver, a council worker and an electrician. A proper ‘everyman’ syndicate, in other words, full of ‘Ordinary Joes’ – and there was delicious irony in the fact that Redzel’s slot in the 2018 race was paid for by a Chinese mining/hotels magnate in Yuesheng Zhang.
It was reported that the latter paid up in return for a 50% share in any prize-money, so he got a good deal, as jubilant electrician Damien Yates reflected after the six-year-old gelding’s second success under Kerrin McEvoy in front of a 40,000-plus crowd.
“The Chinese billionaire?” said Yates. “He can’t speak a word of English but what he does know is dollar signs. Thanks Zhang!
“I thought it was exciting last year,” he went on. “I’ve got no words this year, my body’s writing cheques it can’t cash. If I get home before Wednesday it’s way too early. What a thrill.”
‘Battlers and a billionaire climb Everest,’ offered a subsequent Forbes News headline. If it wasn’t for the enormous sums involved – the Aussie TAB backs the race – you’d say you couldn’t buy such publicity for the sport. Either way, the Everest clearly offers a challenge to Melbourne’s hitherto unquestioned supremacy and therein lies one obvious motive factor for its creation: the never-ending rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, as prevalent in racing circles as it is anywhere else. Seemingly this is a case of never the twain shall meet.
Although there is a degree of caricature in the descriptions, when everything else is dead and gone, what will always remain is an intense rivalry between down-to-earth Sydneysiders with those snobbish, toffee-nosed Melburnians. After all, they can’t even bear to race in the same direction: they go anti-clockwise in Melbourne, clockwise in Sydney.
Domestically speaking, Sydney used to be able to claim something approaching parity; abroad, though, it has always been a different story, with the Melbourne Cup and attendant Spring Carnival registering in Richter-scale proportions on the international scene.
The advent the Championships at Randwick in April went some way to addressing that inequality but Racing NSW and the Australian Turf Club weren’t content to rest on their laurels with their multi-million-dollar autumn series.
While running the race on precisely the same day as the Caulfield Cup feels like an annoyingly unnecessary clash to those of us outside Australia, it can hardly be construed as a coincidence.
What is more, the Everest is by no means a one-shot deal. Alongside the world’s richest turf race – supported on Saturday by the Kosciuszko, a A$1.3m event for NSW country-trained horses, if you can believe it – Sydney has completely revamped its autumn schedule with a raft of big-money races such as A$7.5m (£4.15m) Golden Eagle – held at Rosehill on Victoria Derby day, the Saturday before the Melbourne Cup.
The tanks have been parked fairly and squarely on the Melbourne lawn.
EVEREST 2020 – THE TOP CONTENDERS
Classique Legend (slot holders Bon Ho)
Trainer: Les Bridge
Yet to win at G1 level and charged home after being blocked in the straight when only sixth last year but this improving five-year-old catapulted to favouritism when he returned this spring with stunning victory in the Group 2 Shorts over a half-furlong shorter at Randwick. Brave defeat subsequently when racing wide behind Libertini.
Les Bridge: “He’s good; he’s the best horse I’ve ever trained. Some have four cylinder motors, he’s got a V8.’’
Nature Strip (TAB)
Trainer: Chris Waller
Four-time Group 1 winner is reigning Australian Horse of the Year after an outstanding autumn campaign in Sydney featuring emphatic win over several Everest opponents in course-and-distance TJ Smith Stakes. Beaten favourite both starts this season, though a respiratory infection can’t have helped.
Chris Waller: “We know that we've got a very good horse. I'm going into Saturday's race fairly confident that he can run up to his best form."
Trainer: Gordon Richards
Adelaide-based star known as the ‘Giant Killer’ of Australian sprinting after surprising a top field in the Lightning Stakes, the best among a string of consistent efforts in the autumn. Back in action last month when he floored Nature Strip in a Group 3 at Randwick.
Gordon Richards: “The horse has come back in terrific order. We really couldn’t be happier with him, he’s matured again, he continues to fill out and I think this is going to be the prep he really announces himself as one of the best – if not the best – sprinter in the world.”
Libertini (James Harron Bloodstock)
Trainer: Anthony Cummings
Brilliant victory two weeks ago in near-track record time for her third Group 2 win over course and distance in Premiere Stakes led to bidding battle to secure 4yo filly for the Everest – hardly surprising as she beat the favourite Classique Legend by two lengths with Nature Strip further away.
James Harron (slot holder): “She couldn’t have been more impressive and if she can repeat that performance on Saturday week she will be very hard to beat.”
Trainer: James Cummings
Top 3yo sprinter last season when he beat Everest winner Yes Yes Yes in the Golden Rose and outpointed older horses under Saturday’s partner Glen Boss in the Newmarket Handicap at Flemington. Raced wide on first start of 2020-21 season when third to Classique Legend last time.
Vin Cox (Godolphin managing director): “He is absolutely scintillating on his day no question, and we’re getting Glen Boss back on board and reuniting the Newmarket Handicap-winning partnership, if we can replicate that on the day I think we will be hard to hold out in the Everest.”