Four months ago, when The Championships were unveiled, few knew what the concept was about.
In a short period of time, though, they have come to be known as two days of world-class racing at Royal Randwick, featuring the country's best horses, international raiders and jockeys, with no less than $18.2 million in prizemoney on offer.
It’s no Melbourne Cup. Maybe not even a Cox Plate. But it’s a very good start, and something racing officials and the NSW government are heavily banking on.
“It’s imperative for Sydney racing, but it’s more than that,” Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys said. “For too long, Sydney has been robbed of events. For too long, we’ve run second on events to Melbourne, from the Australian Open tennis to the Melbourne Cup. This is going to be, in the future, Sydney’s major event.”
Four group 1 races - the Australian Derby, Doncaster Mile, TJ Smith and Inglis Sires' - will be contested on Saturday. The following weekend, another four group 1s are up for grabs, headed by the $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Injury has robbed the carnival of Gai Waterhouse’s Melbourne Cup winner Fiorente, but the best horseflesh in the land - as well as acclaimed gallopers from Ireland and Japan - fill the void.
The racing is only part of the story, with an expected $60 million to be injected into the NSW economy over the two-week carnival.
“The big thing will be what the government does in the future,” V’landys said. “Premier Barry O’Farrell is a man of vision and has been supportive all the way through. The only way NSW can go ahead in staging events is with vision. If you don’t have vision, we’ll stay mediocre like NSW has been.”
And therein rests the fundamental question.
The O’Farrell government poured in $10 million to help boost prizemoney to attract the best possible horses, but the turnstiles could determine if such funds become available again.
Australian Turf Club officials are hoping for more than 30,000 fans on each Saturday, something that could be determined by the fickle April weather.
The way V’landys sees it, the government money being injected into The Championships is coming directly from the punters’ pockets anyway.
“This is not a government grant,” he said. “In NSW, the racing industry and government shares the punters’ losses. The $10 million they’ve put in is their share of punters’ money. If you want to invest in the racing industry, give the punters what they’re paying for, and that’s a show. And what better show than what we’ve given them.”