The Everest and The Art Of The Deal: ATC slots in to deliver the difference

6 min read
The Australian Turf Club's role in shaping The TAB Everest extends far beyond just putting on the show.

The Australian Turf Club is an Everest slotholder like no other. As host to the world's richest show on turf, the $13 million TAB Everest on October 9 at Randwick, the ATC has a lot on its plate.

But its role in shaping the race extends far beyond just putting on the show. Led by director Phil Morley and assisted by the club executive, discussions have been rolling for over three months about which horse would get their slot for the big race.

The attention on the ATC's slot intensified when it became clear that they would be one of the final two slotholders to make the call.

"Some slotholders may have their sole objective to win the race but we’ve got the objective to improve the overall quality of the event," the ATC's James Ross.

But while the intensity built about the candidacy of horses such as Pierata {Pierro {Aus}), Kementari (Lonhro {Aus}) and Nature Strip, inside the ATC, the process was progressing as planned.

"It was interesting to see the way slotholders matched with horse owners," ATC's General Manager of Racing, Wagering and International James Ross told TDN AUS/NZ.

"But we ran towards a similar timeline to what we did last year. We announced mid-September last year."

Nature Strip has been confirmed as the ATC's slot holder for The Everest

"We took a view that it was always going to be important to ensure that there could be a differentiated approach. Some slotholders may have their sole objective to win the race but we’ve got the objective to improve the overall quality of the event."

The ATC confirmed on Tuesday that Nature Strip, the Victorian-based sprinter who has built a four-start winning streak culminating in last Saturday's G2 McEwen S at Moonee Valley, would get its slot.

Around the world

Ross explained that the ATC's duty to the quality and the status of the race meant it had to canvass a full range of international options before making a decision.

"We are committed to exhausting Northern Hemisphere opportunities, and that means you are evaluating a lot of races between May and the end of August as you are concurrently looking at domestic horses," he said.

"We were pretty comfortable in our timeline, knowing that we wanted to look at the amount of international form, to have ourselves satisfied there and to have the conversations we wanted to have locally."

The ATC's slot selections process does have similarities to other slotholders such as Inglis, in that it begins via an expression of interest.

"We see the rewards of having a horse that would have been on our shortlist selected by different slotholders," - James Ross

A process of receiving and seeking expressions resulted in a pool of about 20 horses, with a focus on ensuring that there was strong international interest in the race.

"We then did a bit of an assessment of horse performance, whether that be past performance or potential. We were using international figures or private rating figures to look at the horse's profile and make that assessment," Ross said.

Happy to lose out

Of course some of those horses were snapped up by other slotholders in the meantime, but that was not something that concerned the ATC, according to Ross.

"I don’t think we felt pressure at all. We see the rewards of having a horse that would have been on our shortlist selected by different slotholders," he said.

"Those horses were high-quality horses we wanted to see in the race. As long as other slotholders are putting those horses in the race, that's not a downside from our perspective."

The ATC is the second-last slotholder to make a decision on their Everest runner

The Everest got its first internationally trained entrant when Aidan O'Brien's July Cup winner US Navy Flag (War Front {USA}) was selected in Coolmore's slot.

As the other slots began to fill up, the ATC continued to canvas its international options, while locally, the momentum built for Nature Strip's inclusion.

"He (Nature Strip) has generated the most opinion and debate about any horse going into the race to date." - James Ross

Momentum key to Nature decision

The buzz over the slotholder process has been the true success story of The Everest and that was no more evident than with campaigning across traditional and social media for the 4-year-old to be snapped up by one of the remaining slotholders.

While clearly having the credentials to be included among the elite field of sprinters, it was the buzz around Nature Strip which proved crucial in him getting the attention of the ATC.

"He has generated the most opinion and debate about any horse going into the race to date," Ross said. "When the race is run, he’ll still be one of the great talking points of it."

"It’s hard to debate that he's not the fastest horse in the field." - James Ross

But the ATC needed to see him step up to the plate in the McEwen and capture his first Group success. He did that by not only winning but setting a new Moonee Valley 1000m track record.

"We saw the McEwen as a really important step he'd have to take in progressing towards The Everest," Ross said.

"I don’t think there was a pressure point, but it was an obvious crossroad or milestone for the horse and there was a lot of conversation around that and there still is."

"He's building a great record. He's a dynamic sprinter and it’s hard to debate that he's not the fastest horse in the field, albeit over five furlongs. So you are bringing a really interesting element to the race."

Selling the ownership dream

For the second year in the row, the ATC has gone with a horse trained by Australia's premier trainer Darren Weir.

Last year, the Japanese import Brave Smash (who will race in the Chris Waller Racing slot this year) provided the x-factor the ATC desired for the race. This year, it is Nature Strip with that something different, complimented by a large ownership group which Ross says highlights the best aspects of Australian racing.

Darren Weir runner, Brave Smash ran in the ATC slot in 2017's The Everest

"We think there is an interesting dynamic with the ownership group, which includes the coach of the All Blacks (Steve Hansen)," Ross said.

"The larger ownership groups are part of the fabric of Australian racing now. We’ve got people representing all aspects, including some small shareholders as well who are enjoying a great ride."

"It really ticks a lot of boxes for us."