GLITZY SIDESHOW THAT SAYS A LOT ABOUT SYDNEY
DREW Ginn, the Olympic rower, recalls falling into the Yarra River while training as a schoolkid. Not the “most pleasant water”, he explained this week, as “anyone who’s ever been in it knows”. Ginn, a Victorian kid, can say that. As can any winner of the Australian Open or anyone who has dived in and fished out the remains of two gangland figures, three oBikes and seven Birdman Rally contestants. Big-heads from NSW cannot. Racing NSW chief Peter V’landys said recently the Yarra was “smelly”. He said our weather was “dreary” and Melbourne had “nothing going for it”. Perhaps V’landys has never been to Melbourne. Because no one except him disputes that Melbourne has at least one advantage — superior horse racing. Melbourne commands a prestige, crowd numbers and spectacle that Sydney cannot buy. Although it has tried.
V’landys’ comments were surprising, for in reigniting the boring Melbourne/Sydney argument, he is the first person north of Wodonga to have acknowledged a rivalry in decades. Then again, he has cause to be insecure. “His” horse race, the Everest, is being staged today at Royal Randwick, which is just like Flemington, if you put Flemington in Geelong. The Everest is Australia’s richest race, as the promotions go, much as Sydney’s Point Piper is the nation’s wealthiest suburb. But it is not among the most well-regarded, much like some of Point Piper’s better known residents, such as the late Rene Rivkin. The race has been splashed on the Opera House, as Rivkin was pictured on the Harbour Bridge, in a kerfuffle that says as much about racing’s loss of goodwill as the debasement of an icon.
Here is a sport that has suffered for its excesses. Corporate bookies now shout out the ruminations and the anecdotes. Racing doesn’t seem to be about people and animals, anymore, or quirks and fears. It is numbers and results.
The Everest talk has been about the talk, rather than the event, which in Sydney means a lot of hyperventilating. The race, and what it represents, also invites every cliche about the Melbourne/Sydney divide.
There are more than 70 Group 1 horse races in Australia each year and the Everest is not yet among them. Entrants buy places in the race, at $1.8 million over three years, which they can on-sell. Spots in grander races, such as the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup (a handicap, mind) are not for sale.
The Everest precludes the fairytales. Battlers cannot show up sheiks, in the kind of turn-ups that drive horse racing’s romance. Punters embraced Takeover Target, whose trainer/owner lived in a caravan before the pair went to Royal Ascot and showed up toffs. Yet Takeover Target probably wouldn’t start in the Everest — too poor. A horse race that reduces the sport to the asset speculations of the super wealthy? How charming. How Sydney.
Last year, Randwick hosted 33,512 people for the inaugural Everest. That is more than an average NRL crowd (which is less than an AFL Grand Final team training run) but less than the number of times the average Sydneysider gets asked where they live and how much they earn on a Friday night out.
Sydney has many charms (one of its stinkiest venues, the Pyrmont Fish Markets, among them). It’s a great place to live and work. For years, living there, I marvelled as an outsider at the bald ambition that thrives as Sydney’s cultural pulse and helps explain the city’s premier status on global maps.
Yet those attributes are no substitute for elegance and tradition. They do not underpin horse races.
The Everest stands apart as a curiosity, a sideshow cynically scheduled during Melbourne’s prime time of racing, a spoiler that lacks the heart to be anything more.
It should have been called the Rivkin.