Reflections on VRC Sprint Classic Day

Melbourne did it a very good representation of winter for the final day of VRC’s 2019 Melbourne Cup Carnival but still 57,268 turned out and they were rewarded with two good final Group 1’s of the week with skill and expertise on display as befits the week.

Chris Waller has turned Nature Strip into a serious sprinter at the highest level and James McDonald skilfully handled that talent to win the Group 1 Darley Sprint Classic (1200m) towelling the rest. Even McDonald was surprised by the final gear that Nature Strip clicked into and when they covered the 600m in 33.08 no one was going to get near them and they did not, with the margin 3 1/4L.

Nature Strip being a gelding has options for Waller to plot. No need to rush this fellow anywhere except the race track and with 20 race day starts there is plenty left for the mature racehorse to tackle both here and internationally should Waller and connections so decide. They should as they could literally plan their destinations.

Magic Wand (IRE), the winner of the Group 1 Seppelt Mackinnon Stakes (2000m), could give tips on destinations having raced this year in the USA – on three separate occasions – UAE, UK, Ireland and Australia. All at the highest level and finally she was able to claim her own Group 1.

The wonderful product of the Aidan O’Brien team was too classy with Ryan Moore placing her perfectly to run out the distance, before a charging Melody Belle (NZ) could reach her. Moore had the race won with 200m to go with his mare too much for the hero of the day, Hartnell (GB).

Both received accolades as they came back with the inclement conditions not preventing the crowd from displaying their appreciation of what they had just witnessed. The nine-year-old Hartnell, also given a great ride by Hugh Bowman, just could not match the five-year-old Magic Wand, but he did not stop trying for a stride. Salute, thank you for the memories and a very pleasant retirement indeed.

Ryan Moore brings Magic Wand (IRE) back a Group 1 winner, picture

The final meeting of the week gives the opportunity for retrospection and a call for a mature industry debate on pressing matters.

The crowds were down over the Melbourne spring and indeed wagering. This is a product of known factors; poor weather over the past week except for Cup Day, post-Winx as a crowd pleaser, POC tax biting and squeezing the lemon hard although margins might be up, too many non-descript Benchmark races on Carnival days diluting excellence and making for meetings that are too long.

The economy is flat with consumer spending making retail a struggle, tickets prices are high harking back to a booming economy of the past and horse welfare a major issue for the industry no matter how it has been brought to the attention of the public.

It is there and must be dealt with on an industry wide scale with coordinated work between all racing jurisdictions. On the train to Flemington on Saturday there were horse welfare activists walking the train carriages, well dressed and polite, handing out professionally produced pamphlets. The issue is not going away.

Then there is the industry wide issue of what is best for Australian racing, not just what is best on a State by State basis. A flat economy and lower wagering are signal calls for collective action. Spilt channels of broadcasting are an indulgence of the past when the very best message must be sent out as one for the entire country. The attention of those interested must be kept on a national basis as well as the careful measurement of the current costs of split broadcasting against what the industry can afford and should funds be better diverted to raise rewards at lower industry levels.

Carnivals are about excellence, crowds attend for excellence, waging responds to excellence, the very make up of the industry foundation through the Pattern is built on excellence.

This column has commented in the past about the Pattern being played with in a fast and loose manner with the rise of massive bonuses on offer and non-black type races with unjustified stakes. An industry that values the attention span of its public needs to offer only the very best at all times supported by all.

Back to Flemington and kudos to the VRC for putting on a Carnival that was unlucky with leaden skies. The experiment of the Oaks being a twilight meeting should be continued and with actual spring weather the meeting could be most successful in the time slot. As previously mentioned tweaking the programmes to eliminate unnecessary races including on this day can be investigated.

Finally, there should no distractions elsewhere to ensure the best of the best compete with the best, and that goes for all Carnivals in all jurisdictions as it is not just one way traffic.

Time to travel, Nature Strip, picture