Is it time to have a serious debate about the level of Group One prize money for some races in Australia? Are there a few races where the amount paid to the winner has become completely out of kilter when compared with what the average racer will earn in the city? And, is it really so crucial or vital that one or two races are worth so much money; does it really bring a certain prestige or is it, perhaps, retarding the sport in other areas?
Although most regular readers are dyed-in-the-wool greyhound fans, I imagine there are plenty who have an interest in horse racing and/0r harness racing. I would happily wager a few dollars that if I asked what the current first prize money amount for the winner of the Melbourne Cup, Golden Slipper or Cox Plate at the horses or the Inter-Dominion or Miracle Mile in harness racing is, not more than one in 10, if that, would be able to give an accurate, informed answer. I would also wager that most horse and harness racing fans would struggle to answer me accurately. I can assure readers I haven’t got a clue about any of them, other than hazarding a ballpark guess.
Right now, as most greyhound followers are probably well aware, the richest race on the Australian greyhound calendar is the Golden Easter Egg, worth a whopping $250,000 to the winner. I would think most greyhound fans are well aware of this figure. Yet, if the GBOTA announced they were reducing it to, say, ‘only’ $150,000, do you honestly think the cream of the racing stock from around the country would suddenly ignore the event?
What about if the Melbourne Cup was reduced to a similar amount for the winner, or less? We all know the answer. The sheer prestige of these Group One races makes them magnets for the very best racers around the nation, every year.
Is it about time the people in charge put a cap on the amount the winner of a single race can collect? Would a prize money cap at the top end of the Group racing scale lead to a further drop in the overall quality of our racing greyhounds? Or, if the money that was saved went into a concerted breeding bonus program, would that lead to an improvement in the numbers on the ground and therefore available to fill fields at the enormous number of meetings we conduct each year?
I’ve posed a lot of questions here already, and, to be frank, I’m not sure of the answers. Yet, a simple look at past history and a comparison with the present I think is illuminating.
Let’s start with some figures. In September 1971, an average city class race at Harold Park was worth $600 at a GBOTA-conducted meeting and $660 at Wentworth Park, where the NCA was in control. At that time, Sydney city prize money was easily the highest in the country. That said, the richest race in Australia was the Australian Cup, run at Olympic Park, and won in 1971 by Black Diro, who earned $12,500 for his connections.
In November 1989, an average city class race at Wentworth Park was worth $2,000 to the winner at a GBOTA meeting and $2,500 at an NCA-conducted meeting. By 1989, the Melbourne Cup was now the richest race in the country, and when Fair Sentence took the event he earned $50,000.
In 2011, prize money for an average race at Sandown or the Meadows stands at a healthy $4,370, while Australia’s richest event earns the victor $250,000.
Putting these figures into perspective, in 2011 an ordinary city race winner would have to be successful 57 times before he or she could earn the equivalent of what Radley Bale picked up in the 2011 Golden Easter Egg.
In 1989, it would have required 20 ordinary city wins to reach Fair Sentence’s one-off amount. In 1971, it would have taken just under 19 city successes to match the Australian Cup’s winning cheque.
So, between 1971 and 1989 the first prize for the richest race in the nation was worth between 19 and 20 times that of an average city victory. Yet, right now, that margin has blown out by a massive 185 percent, from 20 to 57. Surely this is not sensible.
Even the Melbourne Cup, worth $175,000 to the winner, equates to just over 40 average city wins at either Sandown or the Meadows, while the Australian Cup’s $150,000 is slightly more than 34 times the average city win.
I would argue that placing a ceiling on what the biggest races can pay to the winner is sensible long-term management. Making that ceiling at 20 times average city prize money (currently, a maximum of $100,000) would mean a few other high prize money events could be improved in terms of what they pay to the winner. Yes, only four events currently pay more than $100,000 to the winner, but on today’s figures the industry would be able to save $315,000 which could be directed elsewhere.