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Passport please! Imports to dominate cup tests until mindset changes

Until the breeding industry changes focus in this country, imports will continue to dominate big races like Saturday's Australian Cup

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Passport please! Imports to dominate cup tests until mindset changes

By Michael Lynch9 March 2018 — 1:46pm

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Imagine if they put on a $1.5 million group 1 race at Flemington over the classic 2000-metre distance.

Imagine that the conditions stipulated that no Australian or New Zealand-bred or raised horses could take part. Cue outrage!

The Taj Mahal is part of the foreign contingent in the Australian Cup.

Photo: AAP

But in effect, that's what we have – virtually – for the Australian Cup at headquarters on Saturday.

Just three of the dozen runners for the 2000-metre event are locally bred or raised – a statistic that further illustrates the lack of bloodlines in the Australian gene pool that produce top-quality gallopers capable of running much past 1600 metres.

We are used to seeing the Melbourne Cup field these days dominated by foreign raiders or imports, but it is happening more and more.

While the bulk of horses bred in this country have pedigrees designed to make them excel at distances between 1000 and 1600 metres, the most richly endowed races are at distances of 2000 metres and further.

It's why Winx long ago stormed past Black Caviar in the earnings stakes, courtesy of victories in races like the Cox Plate (2040 metres) and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000).

Even on this Super Saturday, one of the biggest sprint races of the season, the time-honoured Newmarket Handicap (won in her pomp by Black Caviar, who set a weight-carrying record for a mare when she did so) is worth $1.25 million – $250,000 less than the Australian Cup, which is by no means the most important group 1 race over 2000 metres run this season.

The commercial imperative of producing precocious, sprint-bred horses ready to mature early and race for big money at the age of two continues to skew the market here.

For many it's simply easier to go and source a ready-made mature racehorse who has demonstrated some stamina – even if you are paying through the nose in Europe because sellers know how keen Australians are to buy such horses – than invest in yearlings by stamina influences from this country.

People don't want to wait for young horses who will need time to mature and grow before they can race over the sort of distances likely to show them to best advantage.

Unless things change, foreign gallopers – often some way below the absolute best in their own country – will be able to come here and take out the biggest pots.

Lloyd Williams was a huge supporter of Australasia's best staying stallion, Zabeel – who sired his 2007 Melbourne Cup winner Efficient – but in recent years has forged a valuable link with the Irish Coolmore group, bringing in many of what might be called their second-tier three and four-year-olds to mop up this country's big staying events.

The Macedon camp has two such contenders in the Australian Cup – The Taj Mahal and Homesman, along with the German-bred Melbourne Cup winner Almandin.

David Hayes saddles two imports – Ventura Storm and Harlem – while Darren Weir has the formerly French-trained favourite Gailo Chop. The latter's owners, OTI, also have ex-British-trained Lord Fandango in the race, while Godolphin's Hartnell is ex-English and Anthony Freedman's Ambitious is Japanese.

It's a global game. But it would be nice for Australia to have the occasional contender – Winx aside – in these events.

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Michael Lynch

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Michael Lynch, The Age's expert on soccer, has had extensive experience of high level journalism in the UK and Australia. Michael has covered the Socceroos through Asia, Europe and South America in their past three World Cup campaigns. He has also reported on Grands Prix and top class motor sport from Asia and Europe. He has won several national media awards for both sports and industry journalism.

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