Amidst a hyperbolic frenzy and a protest over billboarding of the Opera House sails, the world’s richest horse race on turf was run last Saturday – but what does it all mean? The organisers Racing NSW will tell you it was a massive success, attracting a bumper crowd at Randwick and considerable media coverage. They now claim they have an event to rival the Melbourne Cup and even surpass it as our premier horse race.
Clearly that’s not going to happen and it’s hard to see the whole nation coming to a halt for The Everest like they do on the first Tuesday in November for the world famous Melbourne Cup. A two mile race at Flemington, with 24 starters from around the world, a crowd of around 100,000 and a build up to rival the Second Coming is always going to overshadow a 1200 metre flutter at Randwick – regardless of the amount of money thrown at it.
Even the Sydney Morning Herald’s veteran racing journalist Max Presnell wrote that The Everest “just doesn’t do it for me, albeit there are $13 million reasons why it generates such support… Huge prize money doesn’t necessarily make a great contest but the promotion behind The Everest has exceeded any other for the industry.”
The State Government’s enthusiastic support for the event, endorsed by Alan Jones with his on air savaging of Opera House CEO Louise Herron, is typical of their obsession of promoting “big” events regardless of cost and consequence. These are promotions that they claim will lift the international profile of Sydney, inject millions of dollars into the local economy and maintain our dominance over Melbourne as the premier Australian city. Both Liberal and Labor have been guilty of this preoccupation in the past, with little transparency as to how much these publicity stunts actually cost.
Does anybody remember the ill-fated “Picnic On The Harbour Bridge” which saw the grass carpeting of the coat hanger roadway and supposedly attracted huge media interest around the world? Nathan Rees was the premier at the time and predicted that it would become an annual event, generating millions of tourist dollars. And what about the total bill for Vivid or the New Year’s Eve fireworks. Does the public ever get to see the final cost for these extravaganzas?
The Premier’s decision to allow the Opera House to become an advertising billboard for The Everest clearly backfired. She now knows there are at least 300,000 people (the number that signed the petition against it), who won’t be voting for her at the next election. Ironically when it came to world wide coverage, the kind that the Government loves to encourage, all The Everest received abroad was stories that focused on the billboard controversy and mocked Australia for allowing a national icon to be used for that purpose.
If The Everest is symptomatic of anything it’s the brash, money driven, opportunistic way of doing things that has forever defined this city. The actual trophy, which features a gaudy diamond encrusted horse, says it all. Compare it for example with the classic, dignified and historic look of the Melbourne Cup which clearly evokes the 157 year history of the event.
But wait there’s more. Last year Racing NSW hinted at the possibility of a horse race across the Harbour Bridge – a series of six races in fact to coincide with the running of The Everest. Hey sounds like a good idea to me – bound to attract billions of viewers around the world and see that carpet of turf once again reinstated. Forget about the current shambles with the light rail project and evoke the spirit of Francis De Groot who stole the thunder of Jack Lang when he rode forward on horseback in 1932 to cut the ribbon at the opening of the Bridge. There’s your name already – the multi million dollar ‘De Groot’.
Melbourne might have the best live music venues, a vibrant nightlife and laneway culture and the best known two mile horse race in the world – but Sydney has the ‘De Groot’ – a mad equine dash across the iconic Harbour Bridge. Bring it on Emerald City!