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.

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