Thursday, April 26, 2012

Renewal Down Under

--Christina Bossinakis

   As some of you may already know, I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Australia. I traveled down under to experience Australia’s marquee race for 2-year-olds--the G1 Golden Slipper--and to cover one of the top yearling sales in the world, the Inglis Easter Yearling sale in Sydney. The timing for my trip, at least on a personal level, couldn’t have been better. I left the U.S. in the middle of the bitter backlash precipitated by an expose that ran in the New York Times, which was intended to inform the nation on the state of horse racing in the United States. Many in this country have already read the story, and for those who missed it, all I will say is it wasn’t all kittens and bunnies. In fact, it was more of a black eye. To be clear, I do not intend to get into the truths or misrepresentations in the story, but more to offer a look at the other side of the game, offered from my own perspective.

   Not long after my arrival in Australia, I was able to venture out to Rosehill for the Golden Slipper, and what a breath of fresh air it was. The press leading up to the day was remarkable (akin to the final few weeks before the Kentucky Derby) and the local folk certainly knew what the fuss was all about. On Slipper day itself, whether one was situated in one of the suites, dining rooms or among the general public, everybody was sporting their finest (the Aussies are HUGE on the race day fashion shows!) and ready to enjoy a great day of racing. I met many people that day, and the excitement was contagious.
   The buzz spilled over to the Inglis Easter sale, which was staged later that week. In the days preceding the sale, the great nation was ablaze over the half-sister to local sensation Black Caviar, who was going to be offered up for sale during Wednesday’s second session. One of the local racing networks TVN (akin to HRTV in the U.S.) televised the sale. Apparently they have done this for several years, and I was told it has been very popular with viewers. (A side note: I know we featured a domestic sale on television at least once before, and if I remember correctly, it wasn't very popular, but maybe it's something we might consider revisiting. However, this time around, we could collaborate with our Australian friends who, quite honestly, offer a truly refined product.) In the days surrounding the actual sale of the A$2.6-million filly by Redoute’s Choice (BC3 Thoroughbreds ultimately bought the fairest damsel of them all), you couldn’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without catching a snippet about the yearling. Welcome to Australia.

TDN's Christina Bossinakis & Peter Moody
   Without a doubt, many of the biggest operations in the world were represented at Inglis again this year, including Black Caviar’s trainer Peter Moody (who bought the final session's topper; a A$1.2 million Street Cry half-brother to Makybe Diva); Coolmore’s Demi O’Byrne; BBA’s Adrian Nichol (who is appropriately called the ‘King’ down there. He signed the ticket for a A$650K Fastnet Rock filly on Day 1); Shadwell’s Angus Gold; members of the Yoshida family...the list is endless.

    During my time in Oz--earlier this January for the Magic Millions sale and this time around for Inglis Easter--I had the pleasure of getting to know John Messara, the master of Arrowfield Stud and the new Chairman of Racing New South Wales. For those who have never met the man, he is a veritable force of nature and, without a doubt, would be a valuable asset to any racing jurisdiction anywhere in the world. During one of our friendly chats, I mentioned that we needed to get him over to the U.S. for a visit, sprinkled with some sharing of ideas. His response was, “You have everything in America that we have, and more.” I deeply considered his statement for several days and I finally came to the realization, “Do we?” 
   We have supposedly set the standard for many countries to follow, be it in breeding, racing, sales or administration, yet all too often we seem to get caught up in power struggles, which usually only serve to undermine the thing we should be fighting for collectively--the racing industry and its well being.
   Yes, it’s true, my visit to Australia coincided with the prestigious Sydney Carnival, which provided the very best that particular market has to offer. I’m not naive enough to believe other racing jurisdictions don’t endure their fair share of problems and don’t have significant obstacles to overcome. However, one thing that is abundantly clear is that Australians love to punt, they rarely miss the chance to get all dolled up to go racing, and they enthusiastically support their racing stars. With a few exceptions, they seem to get it.

Day 3 Topper - $1.2 million Street Cry colt

   In fact, Australians have several things to feel positive about over the course of the next few years, including a court ruling giving Racing NSW a significant shot in the arm--to the tune of A$120 million--which will result in substantial purse increases in the state in the near future. Additionally, plans are in the works for the renovation and development of several Australian Turf Club racecourses, most notably Randwick in Sydney. Yes, the world economy is still shaky, but Australians certainly have reason to be upbeat and you can feel the excitement when you speak to many of them.
   While the Inglis sale, and the Australian racing industry itself, have not been immune to the effects of the world economy, they people continue to have hope for the future and appear to look forward to it.
   What about the U.S.? Do we have reason to look favorably to our future? Are we capable of stepping back and finding real solutions to our problems or are we doomed to throw the baby out with the bath water?
   Of late, many have been quick to outline all the things wrong with our industry, but the truth is, we have several things going for us. The U.S. still is the source of one of the most respected, and sought after, commodity worldwide; North American bloodlines. And no matter which racing and breeding jurisdiction you may operate in, the majority of knowledgable horsemen and women place a significant value on our stock and its foundation. Additionally, several racecourses around the world are in some way modeled after North American tracks as are the principals used to operate them. Also, in something that is near and dear to my heart, we have made significant advances in equine retraining for careers following racing and retiremement. Yeah, maybe we're not 'there' yet, but we have certainly been moving in the right direction over the past few years and, I can confidently say, we surpass most other major racing jurisdictions worldwide.
   Finally, from my perspective, the high level of respect I was granted during my visit to Oz was not only because that is simply the way of the natives, but it is also due to their high regard for the American racing institution. I guess the question remains, despite all of our shortcomings, if so many others are able to recognize our value, why can’t we?

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