Cheat sheets and slot holder payments a blight on The Kosciuszko

Front Page and Tyler Schiller won The Kosciuszko in 2022. Image – Bradley Photos.

Opinion

The Kosciuszko is fast approaching, and with 14 lucky ticket holders set to be announced on September 6, owners and trainers are amping up campaigns to have their horses selected in the $2 million race, which will be run and won at Royal Randwick on October 14.

Billed as the world’s richest race for country-trained horses, The Kosciuszko has quickly become one of the premier races in NSW. 

Since Belflyer won the inaugural The Kosciuszko in 2018, some terrific gallopers have written their names in the NSW country racing history books, including Handle The Truth, It’s Me, Art Cadeau, and Front Page. 

With the total prize money jumping up from $1.3 million to $2 million in 2023, it means more and more stables are building teams around contesting weekly Highway Handicaps and the annual Country Championships, with the idea that they will unearth the next Kosciuszko contender. 

With so much money on offer, connections will go to extreme lengths to have their horses selected, and it’s no secret that in recent years, more and more slot holders have been tempted by the offer of added incentives to choose certain horses.

Now, I understand that negotiation is part and parcel of the process, but it’s on the slot holder to work out a fair prize money split, whether it’s 60/40, 50/50, etc. 

Still, added money shouldn’t be part of the process.  

In 2022, social media was rife with accusations of ‘purchased slots’ with offers of $20,000 rumoured to be enough to get a slot holder to select a particular horse. 

As mentioned, negotiating a percentage is fair enough, but the minute added incentives become part and parcel of the negotiating process, it takes the shine away from The Kosciuszko.

I’m probably a bit naïve to think that this race is also for the battlers, be it owners, trainers, and slot holders, and that big money or incentives shouldn’t dictate what horses get in. 

If this is the case, and added money is a negotiating tool, major syndications and owners will start to push the little guys out of the equation.

For mine, If jockeys need to ‘declare a sling’, surely any slot holder should have to declare a payment, as it is in the interest of the betting public to know if a slot holder has been paid to pick one horse over the other.

I suggest that Racing NSW step in and make sure that there are no added payments made to slot holders and that any rumours of payments need to be investigated to ensure the integrity of The Kosciuszko.

On the topic of a level playing field and transparency, NSW Trainer’s Association CEO Richard Callander might have put his foot in it with Racing NSW. 

During one of his regular plugs for The Kosciuszko on Sky Thoroughbred Central, he stated that slot holders will be given a “Racing NSW cheat sheet” of “30, 40, or 50 horses”.

This caught my attention and prompted an email to Racing NSW CEO Peter V’landys and Racing NSW Country CEO Brian Charman.

I asked, how is this ‘Cheat Sheet’ determined? Also, who’s in charge of compiling this ‘Cheat Sheet?’. I’m still awaiting a reply. 

There is no reason for Racing NSW to advise slot holders on what horses should or shouldn’t be picked to race The Kosciuszko. 

If, for instance, this list compiles only 30 to 50 horses, as indicated by Callander, there will be a lot of owners and trainers out there who will be wondering if their horses have been good enough to make the cut. 

If anything, this ‘Cheat Sheet’ is biased toward those on the list and can only negatively impact those omitted. 

It’s the responsibility of the slot holder to pick the horse. Whether it is their horse, a horse they like, or one dictated by the available markets. 

I, for instance, have a few horses in mind if I’m lucky enough to win a ticket (yes, I audibly laughed at the prospect of getting selected), and many others will be in the same position. 

If it does get to the point where a slot holder doesn’t know which way to go with their selection, or if they are struggling during the negotiation process, it shouldn’t be up to Racing NSW to offer a few horses they believe should be in the race.

This issue of bias towards certain stables and horses has been bubbling away for some time, with the governing body interviewing specific trainers with certain Kosciuszko chances over the years while others miss out on that advantage.

That shouldn’t be a Racing NSW ploy to gain traction for The Kosciuszko, and again, it is biased towards those interviewed. 

Promoting The Kosciuszko, regarding trainers and their chances, should be left to media outlets.

Racing NSW floods social media via their club’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

Racing NSW needs to leave it at that. When it comes to promoting trainers and their chances, it should be on trainers and owners to be creative and get in touch with local and major media outlets or use social media and other tactics. 

If media outlets want to do a story, that’s great, and that’s down to the individual journalist or platform. 

With the way it is at the moment, Racing NSW is doing all the heavy lifting for some while the remainder is left to fend for themselves, and while it shouldn’t be a surprise, it’s not fair. 

Author’s Hoofnote

I’m a massive fan of The Kosciuszko. If I didn’t think it was a great concept, I wouldn’t be plugging the race on my platform as often as I did.

With $1 million going to the winning connections, the race will be life-changing for those lucky enough to be involved. 

Still, as an independent journalist, not affiliated with Racing NSW nor reliant on their advertising revenue, it’s my responsibility to ask the governing body some of those challenging questions that the big media platforms should be asking.

Some will say NSW Country and Picnic Racing has an agenda, and that’s fine because we probably do.

We only care about NSW country racing having a voice and transparency from the governing body.