Why the Wellington Cup is in danger of losing its prestige
OPINION: Maybe it was a dream that should have remained a fantasy.
There was a big elephant strolling around Trentham yesterday. Everyone saw it, but it was so taboo that few dared talk about it.
But the crisis talks around the dire state of the Wellington Cup field should be on the agenda and the first question that needs to be debated is the race distance.
The Cup reverted back to 3200m in 2016 following seven years at 2400m and, so far, it looks more problematic than progressive.
The move back to the Cup’s traditional two-mile distance was met with much fanfare and the odd cautionary tale.
Truth be told it was probably idealism. Just because we all wanted it to work, did that really make it the right move?
Three years in, the trend is only going one way. Something needs to change and the distance looks the logical place to start.
Wellington Cup greats Castletown and Great Sensation would have been turning in their graves had they seen the field for the 145th running of the race.
The bottom half dozen runners in the book had ratings that ranged between 64 and 69. Eleven of the 16 runners had won five or fewer races. Two of them had only won one race.
The quality of the field since the change in distance has been questionable but 2018 was a new low.
Yesterday’s winner Magic Chai (rating 77) and Patrick Erin, who was so brave under a ridiculous weight, are promising types on the way up but there was not much depth behind them.
Nobody expects the race to be what it was in its glory days, no race in New Zealand is, but it’s in danger of losing its prestige.
To be fair, the fields in the race through 2012-2015 were not hugely strong but if the race cannot pull a decent field at 3200m, surely it would be more sustainable to have a bigger pool of quality horses at 2400m.
A revamped schedule at Ellerslie has not helped the Wellington Cup’s cause.
The 2017 Wellington Cup was demoted from Group II to Group III status following its failure to meet the race rating criteria in the three previous editions – two of those at 2400m.
Almost every staying race in New Zealand is under pressure to retain its classification, that’s no secret, but it’s common knowledge the Wellington Cup had a better chance of holding its Group II tag at 2400m.
When it was demoted, Alasdair Robertson, chief executive of Race Group, which run the racing side of the Wellington Racing Club, was confident the quality would be improved in 2017 and beyond because the change in distance had come too late for some horses. But that has not happened. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but if the quality of the race cannot be improved then maybe it is time to wave the white flag and revert back to a mile-and-a-half. Maybe as soon as 2019.