It may have its critics but no one can dispute the staggering impact The Everest has had on Sydney and Australian racing in its brief history.
The second running of The Everest, which is worth $13 million this year – making it the world’s richest race on turf – has captured the attention of the public in a way few other sporting events have been able to manage so rapidly.
Even with the controversy that hit the race his week over the use of the Sydney Opera House to help promote it, the race is still expected to grow and thrive. Despite protesters being unhappy that a gambling sport would be advertised on a cultural icon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian supported the right of the race to have a brief advertisement on the Opera House.
For some racing purists, The Everest has been the upstart challenger to what had been the comfortable established order of Australian racing. The time-honoured Melbourne Cup had long been at the top of the prizemoney list in Australia. But even with a substantial boost this year to $7.3 million – perhaps in response to The Everest – the prize money for the Melbourne Cup still trails the Sydney race by a hefty margin.
The lure and success of The Everest has been such that even critics and doubters within the industry are loathe to criticise it publicly.
So why is this race so unusual and such a big draw card?
Aimed at sprinters
To be run at Royal Randwick racecourse on Saturday, The Everest is unusual in that it is aimed at sprinters. Many top-line races here and overseas are middle-distance events of 2000 to 2400 metres.
However, The Everest is an out-and-out sprint at 1200 metres. Supporters say making it that distance recognises Australia’s strength in producing speedy horses, which are at their best over short distances.
Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys says the focus on sprinters was planned.
“That has been the strength of our racing. The horses who have had success overseas, such as Takeover Target, Choisir and Black Caviar, were sprinters,” he says.
“The top stallions here produce sprinters, that is what they are known for.”
So The Everest, which is jointly promoted by Racing NSW and the Australian Turf Club, had to be a sprinting race, he says.
“The plan is to make the race $14 million next year and $15 million the year after that. In time it could grow to $20 million, as we plan to keep reinvesting in The Everest,” V’landys says.
Getting into The Everest has also turned racing on its head. With almost all other races, trainers and owners search for the most suitable event for their racehorse and then enter their horse.
However, participation in The Everest is based on slots. Modelled on the Pegasus system from the United States, these slots are sold to the highest bidders. Owners of the 12 slots then decide which horse they want to represent them in the big race and then negotiate with their connections to furnish a horse.
Slot holders had to sign on for the first three years in 2017, at an initial cost of $1.8 million. In return for taking the original slots, those owners were guaranteed a position in future years if they wanted to remain in the race, or what is known as first right of refusal.
Racing, like all sports, needs to keep drawing young audiences if it is to sustain its status. James Heddo, executive general manager racing services and membership at the ATC, says there was a big lift in the under-35s last year.
Commercial links to The Everest are substantial. Managing director and chief executive officer David Attenborough of Tabcorp, says the business’ involvement is both as a slot holder and the race sponsor.
“We’re delighted to see the TAB Everest’s success. We expect well over $100 million in turnover on all racing on the day, making it the third biggest day in terms of racing for the entire Spring Carnival,” says Attenborough.
“Our customers were always front of mind when we purchased our slot. Following a successful promotion last year, we’ve conducted a similar competition this year that will see a group of customers have a share in our runner and win up to $1 million if In Her Time is successful.”
Michael Hodgson, general manager of business development and partnerships at The Star Entertainment Group, says The Everest is a great fit for its business.
“We attract more than 10 million visitors, operate a precinct that features some of the finest luxury hotels, restaurants and event venues in Australia and continue to invest in our properties in NSW and Queensland to increase our share in a substantial and ever-expanding tourism sector,” he says.
The Star wants to provide experiences that capture the spirit of a city, which is why The Everest is so appealing, says Hodgson.
“The Everest has demonstrated how innovative thinking, a bold new concept and a dash of international talent can quickly establish you on the major events calender.”
One of the spinoffs from such a big event as The Everest is it enables businesses to engage with customers in expanded ways.
Inglis chief executive Mark Webster says it is offering a co-slot in next year’s race to a buyer from its Ready2Race sale, to be held on Monday.
Securing that co-slot could reap that buyer up to $300,000, if the Inglis horse wins The Everest in 2019.
Inglis was one of the original slot holders because the horse-selling operation could see what a boost it could provide to the thoroughbred industry.
Webster says its investment allowed it to showcase an Inglis horse. Each year it will select a horse which has come through one of its sales, with this year Santa Ana Lane the nominated starter.
He is one of the favourites for the 1200-metre dash.
But it is not just an immediate return Inglis is looking for from The Everest. About 20 people from mainland China are in Australia for the Ready2Race sale and The Everest.
Racing is a social sport and big days like The Everest help to facilitate that social aspect, says Webster.
“We became involved in The Everest because we saw it as a way to grow interest in horse racing. Like the other slot holders, we have renewed for another year, it ticks the boxes for us.”
Some of the local slot holders had been part of the concept in the US. Global stud Coolmore says it was keen to get involved with The Everest from the beginning.
Principal of Coolmore Australia Tom Magnier says: “Coolmore had already enjoyed a very positive experience with a similar concept in the US via the Pegasus World Cup and we are delighted to have been able to support an event that puts racing on the front page of the newspapers.
“The Everest has gathered huge momentum in such a short time. It is a great window through which to further showcase Australian racing and breeding to the world. In such a short space of time, it’s become one of the most exciting races anywhere in the world.”
Coolmore will be well represented in the big sprint, says Magnier. Its runner US Navy Flag has stamped himself as a horse of rare ability, having made his mark in Europe.
Magnier says officials here have been very accommodating in getting an international horse in the field and he expects more overseas horses as the race’s international profile grows.
For V’landys, The Everest gives Sydney the highlight race it needs at this time of the year. As a result, the entire carnival has been renamed The Everest Carnival.
“That was an ATC initiative and it was a very good idea,” he says.
“There is less competition for racing as the football codes have finished and the cricket has not started.
“So spring is a great time for racing. We think The Everest will just keep growing.”