Opera House controversy over race advertising is overshadowing a more pertinent issue
Understandably, the lamentable live-on-air ambush that preceded the New South Wales State Government’s decision to allow the Sydney Opera House to be used as a billboard (with the speed-of-light agreement of the State Opposition) created controversy.
It is a pity Hugh Bowman did not cajole Winx with the vigour shown by veteran shock jock Alan Jones when he was ripping into Opera House chief executive Louise Herron about her niggling obsession with silly old “rules” and “charters”.
Alan Jones called for Opera House chief executive Louise Herron to be sacked. (AAP: Tracey Nearmy/Tracey Trompf)
If Bowman had wielded the whip as forcefully as Jones, racegoers might have been spared their anxiety as the champion mare rallied to win Saturday’s Turnbull Stakes.
However, the controversy about the means by which Racing NSW has chosen to advertise its premium product The Everest overshadowed a more pertinent issue.
Forget the Opera House. You could project The Everest field onto Kim Kardashian’s backside and it still wouldn’t make “The World’s Richest Turf Race” one of Australian sport’s most significant sporting events.
Or, to put it in simple terms, money can’t buy class.
Not just the classy horseflesh that will contest the $10 million race. But the class that follows when the public’s investment and long-term goodwill and an event’s cumulative history is far more significant than how it is promoted.
But, then again, perhaps that is The Everest’s counterintuitive, contemporary appeal.
On Saturday, thousands of racegoers will, yes, “flock to Royal Randwick” using the race’s expensively purchased reputation as an alibi to have a good time.
Which is pretty much what the vast majority of those who attend racecourses in Sydney and Melbourne during the brief, but spectacularly well-publicised, spring and autumn carnivals do.
The supposed credibility of The Everest as a sporting, as opposed to a social, event is only really important to those who need to feign the pretence the race is anything but a multi-million-dollar grab for attention to justify their own self-serving involvement.
In that regard, Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys has done a wonderful job convincing the Sydney media — and, more recently, an even wider audience — that his race is a sporting mountain not an expensive molehill.
Indeed, so earnest is some of the media coverage around this artificially contrived event you could be mistaken for believing the winner will get a green jacket, not just a carrot.
Obviously those breeders, owners, trainers and jockey who stand to collect a big share of the prizemoney needed far less convincing The Everest is racing’s new Holy Grail; just as golfers didn’t need a second invitation to play lucrative televised Skins games before the prizemoney at routine PGA Tour events exploded.
None of which is necessarily a bad thing for a sport/industry desperately clinging to its toehold on the wider sporting consciousness.
In this regard, racing has three things going for it — all of them amplified by the publicity generated during the Melbourne Spring Carnival, and now, notionally, The Everest.
Primarily, there is betting, which increases during the spring but which now faces a stern challenge from sports betting. (Although, thankfully, not yet to the point that the NSW Government has been browbeaten into installing a TAB in the Opera House.)
The promotion of the race would include projecting an image of the trophy, the barrier numbers and colour of the jockeys’ silks onto the Opera House sails. (Supplied: Sydney Opera House)
Then there is the “fun and frivolity” of the party scene during which women plant small shrubberies in their heads and grown men parade in broad daylight wearing Tellytubby onesies.
And finally there are those optional extras, the horses.
Racecourse commentators never tire of reminding Australians that they have “an abiding love affair with the turf”. Never mind that this tends to be more the Honey Badger kiss-and-run type of affair, rather than your grandparents’ 60-year marriage.
The brilliant careers of much-loved champions Makybe Diva, Black Caviar and now Winx have, in recent years, strengthened the belief Australians are nostalgia-bound, stable-sniffing racing traditionalists besotted by the “romance of the turf”.
And no doubt many pulses raced when Winx was under pressure in the Turnbull, just as there will be many eyeballs glued to her pursuit of a once unthinkable fourth straight Cox Plate.
It was closer than expected, but Winx (R) outlasted Youngstar to win the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington. (AAP: Julian Smith)
But such interest in a champion horse is, increasingly, an exception to general disinterest in racing itself, as opposed to interest in event-going and who-are-you-wearing fashion marquees.
Tellingly, The Everest field does not contain a single horse that is more noteworthy or eye-catching for the non-racing enthusiast than the prizemoney.
But then, most years, neither does the Melbourne Cup in which the fields are now almost exclusively comprised of “foreign raiders”, or imports re-badged as locals by their new Aussie owners and trainers.
It is easy to mock The Everest as the gauche and possibly short-lived brainchild of Sydney racing authorities desperate to compete with their Melbourne rivals; even easier when the race is used to turn a revered international landmark into a lamentable billboard at the screeching insistence of an influential shock jock.
But perhaps a multi-million-dollar buy-your-start race over 1200 metres advertised on a once-revered site at the vocal insistence of a wealthy, well-connected media insider is as reflective of contemporary Australia as a modest 3200 metres handicap once was.