Australian’s love an underdog – it’s etched in our history and is a story trope that pervades Australian culture.
For starters, we have always been the underdog as a country, and year after year, our athletes, sport’s teams and gallopers have risen above all expectations and proven themselves against the rest of the world.
That underdog sentiment no doubt originates from our proud thoroughbred racing history, which really took a hold in Australia in the early 1800s.
There wasn’t a lot happening for hard-working country families and a day at the races was a spectacle of everything we have since come to love; the thundering hooves, the dust flying up behind the big field, the social nuances and of course the fashions.
Over the years, we grew as a punting nation and we have always loved a roughie or a longshot racing story, and win lose or draw on the punt, the Australian racing public love nothing better than seeing the little guy, who toiled away day-after-day, rewarded for his effort when taking on the big guns and experiencing his brief moment in the sun.
As a result, Country Cups all throughout Australia have long been a chance for communities to celebrate racing and life, and an opportunity for country trainers to experience the thrill of winning a feature race.
In a lot of communities all around the state, there are ownership groups that venture out to buy the right horse for their trainers, in a bid to one day lift their local cup.
It’s not the money or the glory these owners hunt either, but the pride attached to winning a hometown cup.
Only recently, I was filled with joy to see Bill Poulos and friends – most of whom are local to Moree – take out the Moree Picnic Races Boolooroo Cup with the Peter Sinclair-trained Fiocchi.
I know for Bill and many owners like him throughout the country; for them to say they’ve won the cup is the ultimate prize.
Now, in the blink of an eye, Racing NSW have deemed it necessary to take that chance away from owners by introducing The Big Dance.
Readers can click here to find out more about the concept, but in short, Racing NSW have introduced a $2 million final –The Big Dance – that will be held at Royal Randwick on Melbourne Cup day, and there are 25 qualifying Country Cups that trainers and owners can set horses for in order to qualify.
Unfortunately, the allure of a $2 million carrot dangling over these country races is simply too hard to pass up for already well-fed city and provincial trainers, who have since raided country races with good success.
While Racing NSW will deny the impact on country cups, with Peter V’landys already publicly stating The Big Dance won’t impact Country Cup fields, but the proof that he is wrong is already in the pudding.
Since Racing NSW introduced The Big Dance concept back in February, seven eligible country cup races have been run and won, with seven city or provincial trainers getting the bickies.
In stark contrast, prior to Racing NSW’s announcement in February, eight eligible country cups had been run and won, and only one of those races was won by city or provincial trainers.
Adding insult to injury, the percentage of city starters since the announcement have increased by a staggering number, forcing genuine country horses out of country cups.
Highlighting the issue even further is the simple fact that Racing NSW handicappers are now using their discretion and grading these country cups using city benchmarks, furthering handicapping country horses out of these country cups.
Despite everything we are seeing, Racing NSW continue to push The Big Dance down the throats of consumers.
Surely Racing NSW have received some backlash though, because every time they post anything ‘The Big Dance’ related to social media, there have been a plethora of critical replies, most notably from country racing participants.
I know for a fact that multiple participants have made complaints, either officially or unofficially, as they have shared this content with NSW Country and Picnic Racing, and the same issues are always being addressed.
There cringeworthy post-race interviews leave nothing to be desired, with once popular racing pundits now forced to give their race-to-race ‘The Big Dance’ spiel, which only cheapens what is usually a good product.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and Racing NSW seemingly do not care, but they will soon enough.
As I have already stated earlier in this article, Australians love an underdog but give it enough time and we won’t have those underdogs to cheer on.
There will be no such thing as a country cup king or queen, with our prized regional races now just easy targets for city and provincial trainers.
It’s a sad state of affairs, and it leaves this country racing tragic with an empty feeling.
I believe we can still have The Big Dance, but have it as more inclusive concept, and i’m sure there are better ideas, but something needs to change, and quickly.