Could The Big Dance concept be more inclusive?

The Bjorn Baker-trained pair of Shameonus and Ita finished first and second in the Orange Cup and will be eligible to nominate for the $2 million The Big Dance later this year. Photo: Racing Photography.

Racing NSW this week published the eligibility and conditions for the $2 million The Big Dance race that is to be held at Royal Randwick on the first Tuesday in November, which is coincidently the same day as the Melbourne Cup at Flemington.

The field for the 1600m race, which will be run under quality handicap conditions, will be drawn from the winners and second placed horses of the 25 Country Cup races from across NSW (see eligible races in the table below), while The Big Dance wild card race will also be run at Royal Randwick on October 8, with the winner and second placed horse from the wild card becoming eligible for The Big Dance and exempt from the ballot.

Benchmark rating at the time of final acceptances will then be used to determine the final field from the pool of eligible horses, with the winners of eligible Country Cups receiving preference over any second placegetters.

Basically, what it means is that these selected Country Cups are now open slather for city and provincial stables, with no conditions in place to protect these races and country participants. 

With the $2 million prize attached to The Big Dance, Country Cups are no doubt set to attract even more horses, trainers and connections that wouldn’t usually target these country races.

Country Cup races have already been impacted since The Big Dance concept was released by Racing NSW in February, with the Albury Cup won by Mark Newnham (Harmony Rose), the Muswellbrook Cup won by Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott (Regal Stage) and the Orange Cup was quinella’d by Bjorn Baker (Shamonus and Ita). 

Not to mention the Wellington Cup field, which was subsequently washed-out last month, was made up of horses from leading Sydney stables and Friday’s Tamworth Cup is littered with city and provincial gallopers.

The eligible Country Cups included in the 2022 The Big Dance.

Unsurprisingly, there has been an outpouring of criticism on social media, with trainers, jockeys and supporters stressing their concern that country horses are now no chance of winning country cups.

Now, at the risk of being told that our platform has a set against Racing NSW, which we simply don’t, we firmly do believe The Big Dance concept has the potential to be one of the best things to ever happen to Racing NSW country participants, but the decision to host the race without industry consultation makes no sense.

Additionally, the eligibility and conditions attached to The Big Dance and the fact there is a wild card being held in the city instead of at a country meeting shows just how out of touch Racing NSW are when it comes to NSW country racing participants and what they want and deserve. 

The Big Dance, The Big Night Out and The Barn Dance

After canvassing multiple trainers and jockeys, NSW Country and Picnic Racing believe there is a way to make the Big Dance work, catering to both the top echelon of the industry, along with those country stables in the middle and lower brackets.

We feel The Big Dance should be split into three finals or ‘brackets’, one being The Big Dance worth $1 million, while there should be The Big Night Out worth $700,000 and the Barn Dance worth $300,000, which caters for each level of the industry, and most importantly, Racing NSW won’t have to spend a cent more in prizemoney to make it happen.

Broken down into prizemoney increments or brackets, The Big Dance would be run under the current conditions, and it would allow those top stables and leading country-trained gallopers to contest any cup carrying more than $100,000 in prizemoney. 

Those cups would then act as a way for connections to get their gallopers into the rich final to be held on the first Tuesday in November at Royal Randwick.

Then in the second category, or as we would call it – The Big Night Out – the race would carry $700,000 in prizemoney, and to progress to this race, gallopers would need to finish first or second in any country cup valued between $35,000 and $99,000. 

City stables would be ineligible to compete in these races, while provincial stables would be allowed to contest these races, as long as they were with horses that had not won in town. 

This would give the middle bracket of trainers, and those genuine country cup horses, a chance to race regionally, while the carrot of the $700,000 final might even attract better horses to country stables, both improving the quality of country racing, whilst benefiting country participants who invest in those horses.

In an added boost, this final could be run and won at Canterbury on the night before the Melbourne Cup and The Big Dance, adding more theatre to the Sydney racing scene at the busiest time of year, also giving Racing NSW a chance to wine and dine participants on the night before the biggest race day in the country. It could be brilliant for Sydney and NSW racing.

Then there would be the $300,000 Barn Dance, with the final potentially held at a country showcase meeting on the day after The Big Dance, making it a three-day carnival of racing, which would showcase the best that NSW country racing has to offer. 

To make this final, a galloper would have to run first or second in any country cup valued under $35,000. 

This would be a country-only scheme with city-winning horses ineligible, meaning the bottom end of town isn’t anywhere near as impacted, but there is the added incentive of trainers then wanting to carry a good open class galloper for a chance to make their way into the rich final.

With this bottom class added, more participants will benefit, more clubs are involved, and there isn’t that huge impact on the middle bracket of country cups. 

This can only lead to better horses being trained in the bush, bigger crowds attending race meetings and more money across all brackets of the industry, which would have a flow on effect, boosting the current Country Championships scheme and the quality of horse involved, while making TAB highways even more competitive, thus giving owners a reason to keep their good horses in the country.

Obviously the above concept would need tweaking and as with any idea, there is always pitfalls, but NSW Country and Picnic Racing firmly believe this would cater to a bigger audience and is more in touch with the current NSW country racing climate.