Back to the Future for Autumn


Back to the Future for Autumn

I was among those who supported the proposal to re-frame the Sydney Autumn Carnival with fixed dates and uncouple it from the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I am putting my hand up now: I do not think it is working.

It is time to go back to the future, reclaim the Easter dates and restore the historical sequence of race-meetings on Easter Saturday, Easter Monday, Wednesday and the closing Saturday.

Attracting and holding public interest in the Autumn Carnival over several weeks is proving too difficult, and the Easter Sale has lost the festive atmosphere that created a sense of excitement about the sport of racing horses and the business of buying them.

Pictured: The crowd on the opening day of Royal Ascot 2010. (PHOTO: Alice Messara)

Over the past 12 months I have attended three of the world’s major racing events, all of which feature compressed programmes of high-quality racing. All of them also provide high-quality spectator facilities, which as we know, are in the offing at Randwick.

First-up was Royal Ascot in June, the most valuable race meeting in Europe, and one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events, held over five consecutive days at the course founded by Queen Anne in 1711.

It is also Britain’s most popular race meeting. In 2010 total attendance was up 2% at 284,196 and the Tote’s on-course turnover posted a 7% increase. The appeal of Royal Ascot for me lies in its unwavering focus on the horses and the racing with everything else – even the pageantry, fashion, amicable socialising and splendid food and drink – secondary to what happens on the track.

Next came the centrepiece of the Melbourne Spring Carnival, those four marvellous days of racing during Cup Week at Flemington. Like Royal Ascot, it is a destination meeting – an event that attracts advance bookings and visitors from across the country and around the world. Derby Day and the 150th running of the Melbourne Cup were affected by indifferent weather, yet attendance across the four days still exceeded 350,000.

Then in March I attended the 16th Dubai World Cup meeting which presents on a single evening seven thoroughbred races worth a total of $US26 million. The attendance there was 80,000.

There was a multitude of high-quality events surrounding the raceday with a large contingent of overseas visitors in attendance.

The horses and the racing provided enthralling entertainment, and the new track at Meydan is breath-taking. It is built to serve Dubai’s racing needs far into the future, with every conceivable detail in place to make life easy for horses and humans. The tracks are magnificent, one turf and one artificial, and all of it is close to the hotels and CBD of Dubai.

The common theme here is that the signature meetings in those three countries concentrate prestigious racing and supporting events into a brief span of time. This helps to make a racing carnival a destination for local and international spectators. It becomes a ‘must’ to attend because the trip is made worthwhile by the rich feast of entertainment and competition over a relatively short period of time.

I believe that the current Sydney Autumn Carnival has forfeited its status as a destination meeting. It is time now to cut our losses and admit that we made a mistake. This may well require us to re-cast many of the Carnival races to create an irresistible menu of Group racing and related entertainment, while maintaining the integrity of the Pattern.

Held during the week between Easter Monday and the second Saturday, the Easter Sale could once again include evening sessions that can be attended by people from the city at the end of their working day. I believe this may be the only way for the Sale to re-capture and build on the buzz of days gone by.

And why is this important? Because the combination of the Easter holiday atmosphere and a week-long racing carnival, coupled with a premier yearling sale near the centre of Sydney, fuels the aspiration that drives our sport, through ownership, betting and attendance.

This Messara View was first published as a View from the Top column in Bluebloods , June 2011.

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