Perhaps, amidst all of the fanfare and hype that has raised the profile of The Everest to such lofty heights, it was trainer John O’Shea who put his finger on the real pulse of the race and why it taken the Australian racing scene by storm.
“That (connection to the racing public) is the key to this race,” said O’Shea, speaking to Sky Racing at The Everest barrier draw. “That’s where other races have fallen by the wayside or lost notoriety because people don’t understand the form with all the internationals coming down but, with this race … everybody has been following all of the horses for twelve months. They know every inch of every horse. That, and the fact there are only twelve runners, lends itself to people gaining a greater understanding of the form.”
And there you have it.
From waiting and watching for possible contenders to emerge from the shadows to take on established stars, to monitoring the intrigue as stables flaunt their wares in the hope of seducing a slot holder, to paying particular attention to each possible Everest runner’s performances and seeing how their preparation is taking shape, to seeing the rise and fall of elation and disappointment from those who win a place in the race to those who lose out, to analysing the final field, to witnessing the trumpet and fanfare of the day and, of course, to being enthralled by the big race-day action … it is all very much something to feast on for any hungry racing enthusiast.
It is a long lunch, if you like, and all the better for the length of time over which the whole meal is served.
Fair to say that The Everest has got bigger in standing every year. Gaining a slot is at a premium as there is never a doubt that all slots will be filled. A tremendous amount of work has gone into ensuring that would be the on-going standard, but that was by no means always a ‘given’ … as is shown by the contrast in the paths taken by The Everest and the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes since the inaugural running of the two events.
The Pegasus was the first race of its kind to put the type of ‘buy in’ conditions in place that we now associate with The Everest.
When the concept was first put forward, Frank Stronach, whose company owns Gulfstream Park where The Pegasus is contested, said, “I think we could elevate the sport on a much higher level. The horses themselves, the jockeys, they’re great athletes. It doesn’t matter what it is — might it be sport, might it be theatre — when something extraordinary happens, people take notice or try to be involved.”
The cost to purchase a place in the starting line-up for the first running of The Pegasus in 2017 was US$1 million with the carrot being a US$7 million first prize.
The race was an absolute success first time out, and had a most worthy winner in Arrogate, to the degree that the total prize-money for the race was lifted from $12 million to $16 million for the 2018 edition of the event with Stronach’s company putting up the difference themselves … but then the health of the race suffered a significant relapse with the prize-money for the 2019 running dropping to US$9 million. (In fairness a new race was created at the time taking away a good portion of the Pegasus prize-money, but that did not change the fact the prize-money for The Pegasus itself was under siege).
And then The Pegasus prize-money was down to US$3 million in 2020.
That freefall drop in prize-money was accompanied by a huge rolling change in entry payment conditions which went from the US$1 million payment required in 2017 and 2018, to US$500 000 in 2019 to free entry nomination in 2020.
It seemed the high rollers had left the building.
Obviously, writing from a distance, it is difficult to know or pin-point all the underlying factors that might have contributed to the fairly rapid demise of The Pegasus from its initial status … and those factors are sure to exist … but, whatever those reasons might be, the contrast in performance between the stutter and stall of The Pegasus to the high rev performance of The Everest when tackling the same project has got to stand as a credit to the endeavours of Racing NSW and to the burgeoning, on-going support and enthusiasm of the Australian racing fraternity as a whole.
The Everest is on Saturday.
Come rain or shine … it is going to be a cracker of a day!