Lack of international entries threatens Australian racing fabric

Sunline showed the world how tough Australasian-trained thoroughbreds can be

THE Hong Kong International Races attract horses from all around the globe and it has always been a popular meeting for Australian punters, but the lack of Australian entrants this year is worrying.

When Australasian champion Sunline won the Hong Kong Mile in 2000, it was expected that the Australian contingent would rise in Hong Kong, but with only two Australian-trained runners at this year’s International Meeting, questions need to be asked as to why it’s lacking in popularity among Australian trainers and owners.

Australian racing is considered some of the strongest form in the world, but local racing fans are starved of seeing their champions on the world stage.

Black Caviar is one of a few stars which has taken the plunge in recent history, but its dramatic narrow win at Royal Ascot might have put fear into the minds of Australian connections.

Black Caviar was seen as an unbeatable force up against a field without the top Asian sprinters, much like the thoroughbreds we will see line up in the Hong Kong Sprint on Sunday, so when Black Caviar fell in to win, it might have forced Australian trainers to take a step back.

Australia is represented by Takedown and Rebel Dane in the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint this Sunday, but that’s not the best we have to offer and it’s a rather embarrassing representation of what Australian racing stands for.

We’re all about having a go and taking it to the world, so why aren’t our top thoroughbreds competing at one of the most high-profile meetings in the world?

Racing Victoria international scout Leigh Jordan believes there are many reasons behind the abandonment of Hong Kong entries.

“There’s a very quick turnaround from our spring to our autumn and Hong Kong sits in between, so it’s hard to justify,” Jordan said.

“Also prizemoney has gone up here in spring and it becomes the grand final, not Hong Kong.

“You can’t go over there as an afterthought.”

Why aren’t Australians contesting international races?

Australian horse racing is in a changing environment and there are pros and cons for both sides. The increase in prizemoney, predominately in Sydney, has changed the way trainers approach the game.

More and more European imports are being purchased to contest the mile and distance events in Australia and that’s their sole purpose. They are not being brought over to represent our product, but trainers simply can’t overlook the money on offer in Australia.

Travelling to Hong Kong to contest in the International Races isn’t an easy task. You need the right horse, the right preparation and a fair amount of gusto to take the risk, but at the same time we’re putting our history at risk.

Australia loves to back in the local hopes when they race overseas. Black Caviar attracted record interest when racing at Ascot in the wee hours of the morning and we can’t help but think Takedown and Rebel Dane won’t attract similar interest on Sunday.

We agree with Jordan in that the Hong Kong meeting falls in between the spring and autumn carnivals, so our best thoroughbreds would have to endure a lengthy spring campaign in order to take part.

Much has been said about the task set for Takedown ($9.50 at Sportsbet) after the four-year-old has raced in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and soon to be Hong Kong in within the last couple of months.

Rebel Dane goes in with a different tactic which would likely be adopted by any future contenders. It hasn’t raced since winning the Group 1 Manikato Stakes in October and it will race in the Hong Kong Sprint fresh up.

The risk can be worth the reward

We can’t see the current trend changing anytime soon, but we do want to pose a question to the owners and trainers of our industry.

We completely understand the viability of staying on home soil to target such races as the Doncaster Handicap and the Queen Elizabeth during The Championships, but the joy and prestige of winning a race on the global stage should be taken into account.

Using Sunline as an example isn’t overly fair on the current crop of Australian runners, but what it was able to achieve in 2000 should set as an example of the rewards venturing overseas can produce.

Sunline kicked off its 2000-2001 season with a win in the Group 1 Manikato Stakes before winning the Memsie and the Feehan (Dato Tan Chin Nam) Stakes later that campaign. It was then beaten in the Turnbull Stakes on route to its devastating seven-length win in the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley.

It then returned to New Zealand to win the Breeders’ Stakes at Pukekohe before heading to Hong Kong where it would produce one of Australasia’s greatest racing feats by beating local champion Fairy King Prawn in the Hong Kong Mile.

That was Sunline’s seventh run of the campaign, but that didn’t put a stop to it returning in the autumn, so we fail to see why Australian-trained horses can’t be taken to Hong Kong in December and be back in training again for The Championships in May.

Sunline returned to Australia in February when winning the Apollo Stakes at Randwick before embarking on a trip to Dubai for the Dubai Duty Free. The trip resulted in a third placing behind Jim And Tonic and Fairy King Prawn, but it showed that you can complete in four different countries within six months and still be competitive.

Having a large team of Australian thoroughbreds contesting the Hong Kong International Meeting looks all but a pipe-dream, but if we want to stay relative on the world stage, the high-profile trainers and their connections will have to start taking risks, otherwise we could fall into obscurity.

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