There is little doubt that the infusion of overseas horses into our spring carnival has done much to showcase Australian racing into Europe and Japan. With more than a decade now behind us, it’s a good time to consider the pros and cons of these imports.
Race results show that European and Japanese stayers are superior. With little exception, our local breeders simply do not offer the same quality of stock. Not much has changed in this area over the decade so the influx of these foreign horses has provided us with superior racing than we experienced a decade ago.
Unlike ten years ago, we now have more local trainers capable of preparing stayers. It could be argued that with the exception of Bart, few were skilled at, or perhaps, had the patience to train stayers. Now with the likes of Waller, Maher and Eustace, Lees, O’Brien and others, more trainers are capable of preparing middle and staying breeds.
The gradual decline in locally bred foals cannot be attributed to the estimated 500 imported horses arriving from Europe and Japan each year. While breeders may argue that every dollar spent to acquire an overseas horse is lost to the local market, it is difficult to justify when sales prices locally have enjoyed a steady rise. On balance, I would argue there has been little impact on economics our breeding industry from imported horses.
The lifeblood of our healthy stakes money is gambling. In the last decade, the landscape has changed dramatically. Both corporate bookmakers and the TAB have had to adjust to new taxation and contribution regimes as well as a shift towards sports betting. Until the Caulfield Cup this year, betting turnover was, on a year by year basis, up for races featuring the internationals. Without being privy to the details, we also know that our local clubs benefit from the sale of coverage rights into foreign markets. It is hard to make the case that betting has suffered as a result of these unknown raiders.
It could be argued that the costs of encouraging the imports to campaign in Australia is hard to justify especially when many take millions of dollars back to their home country – money that would otherwise be reinvested in the Australian racing economy. This year for example, over five million dollars will go back to Japan. If a Japanese or European owned horse wins the Melbourne Cup and/or the McKinnon, that could easily rise to ten million. However, given there is about $50m to be won over the Caulfield, Moonee Valley and Flemington Carnivals, a maximum potential loss of 20% of prizemoney is a relatively small percentage of prize money that could leave our shores.
Ideally, given the superiority on the European staying horse, the best scenario is for them to be purchased by Australians and transferred to an Australian trainer after their last race overseas. Although it does little for our breeders, this year Maher and Eustace with Southern France, the Lindsay Park team with Constantinople and Rostropovich, Lees with Mustajeer and Busuttin and Young with Mirage Dancer are poised to win the Cup with Local owners. It is a far, but most welcome, cry than ten years ago.
While we can all find something to complain about, I believe that on balance, the current arrangements to attract international competition works well. Racing’s profile and economic performance are all the better for it.