Op-ed: A three horse field

3 min read
Will Johnson takes us through his thoughts on Wednesday's G3 Blue Sapphire S., in which only three horses will take to the gates to contest the race. He draws upon the increase in pattern racing and the drop in foal crop to explain his view on the strength of stakes racing due to this trend.

Confusion took hold as acceptances were released for tomorrow's G3 Blue Sapphire S. A quick double check was required to see if it was a field for The Curragh or Newmarket before realising there is $400,000 prizemoney and the race will be run at Caulfield.

Whilst tomorrow's three horse field may prove to be an anomaly and more similar in nature to the match race between Man O’ War (USA) (Fair Play {USA}) and Sir Barton (USA) (Star Shoot {Ire}) 100 years ago to the week, and 28 years to the day since the Let’s Elope (NZ) (Nassipour {USA}) and Better Loosen Up's (Loosen Up {USA}) match race at Caulfield, there is evidence to suggest a trend will follow.

The Australian foal crop of 2007 produced 16,693 live foals eligible for racing in the 2009/10 racing season that had 554 ‘pattern’ (stakes races) programmed. Fast forward to (2020/21) and there are 601 stakes races scheduled including restricted sales race - with the 2018 crop (2-year-olds of racing age) yielding 13,092 live foals, with a significant declining trend over that period.

In general percentage terms, the foal crop has fallen 20 per cent whilst the number of stakes races has increased just over eight per cent. Less horses are now competing for more ‘pattern races’ which calls into question the strength of many stakes races across Australia.

"Less horses are now competing for more ‘pattern races’ which calls into question the strength of many stakes races across Australia." - Will Johnson

With fewer horses running for more programmed stakes races, it is interesting to delve into the amount of 1000-1200 metre races programmed for the year and more specifically, the months of September, October and November. Of the 171 stakes races for 3-year-olds and up over 1000-1200 metres, there are 19, 24 and 13 respectively.

Derby Day can often fall in October or November so it is safe to say that between mid October to mid November, there are 23 such races. There are simply too many stakes races for consideration on offer to a dwindling foal crop.

The Everest is not included in that tally, nevertheless has scaled its own heights and whether the fineprint permits it, has already gained the recognition of a Group 1 in status amongst industry participants and the captivated public.

Regardless of whether you are currently locked down in Victoria, beaching it in New South Wales or not letting relatives visit you in Queensland, there is no question that connections want their horses peaking in spring and thus, the most amount of stakes races should be on offer.

However, as evidenced by the Blue Sapphire S., the equilibrium between the pattern and the horse population is well out of balance. Unless of course, the industry wants the strength of that very pattern undermined. Races such as the Blue Sapphire need to be re-evaluated.

COVID-19 has brought about change, streamlining and adaptation. The pattern has become the worst house on the best street. When has there ever been a better time to gut that house and design something special for the future of Australian racing?