Critics of the lack of opportunity for Australian-trained horses to get into the Melbourne Cup field will be mollified - if only partially - by the Victoria Racing club's decision to introduce another race at Flemington which will give the winner a golden ticket into Australia's greatest race.
The VRC announced on Wednesday that it will give an existing race, the Andrew Ramsden Stakes, a significant prizemoney upgrade, reduce its distance from 3200 to 2800 metres and give the winning runner a guaranteed start in the following season's Melbourne Cup.
The Andrew Ramsden Stakes (which was formerly known at the Duke of Norfolk Stakes) is run in late May.
Its stakemoney will be raised to $400,000 and the race, currently run as a handicap, will become a wieight for age event for three, four and five year olds to encourage the development of up and coming stayers.
The first iteration of the new Andrew Ramsden Stakes will be staged in May of next year, with the winner eligible for the 2019 Melbourne Cup.
This will bring to five the number of Australian races which guarantee the winner a start in the Cup, which was this year worth $7.3 million.
The others are the Caulfield Cup, the Cox Plate, the Bart Cummings (run in early October, on Turnbull Stakes day) and the Lexus Stakes, run on Derby Day.
Local trainers and some owners were more critical than ever this year of the northern hemisphere and European raider domination of the Cup, with just about half the field being trained overseas.
They have been mounting a vociferous campaign over the past few months for local authorities to introduce a few more ''win and you're in'' races for Australian gallopers to at least go some way towards balancing the numbers of European and Japanese raiders bidding for the rich prize.
This year the first three home were English trained, and although Finche, the fourth placegetter, will go down in the record books as trained in Sydney by Chris Waller the reality is that he only arrived in this country in the spring having spent his previous career in France and was having only his second start for the Sydney handler.
The fifth horse home was the Irish-trained Rostropovich. Youngstar, also from the Waller stable, was sixth, making her the first horse who had done all her racing in Australia to finish in the great race.
The locals' argument is that there are many more overseas races over longer distances through which challengers can pass the ballot conditions for the Cup: the concentration on sprints and 1600 metre races in this country makes it harder for locals to get a look in.
VRC chief executive Neil Wilson said the decision comes after consultation with key industry stakeholders.
“The VRC conducts a thorough review of racing at Flemington each year, and The Andrew Ramsden presented an opportunity to enhance the staying program at Flemington for Australian-trained horses,” Mr Wilson said.
“Unlike the other four Melbourne Cup ballot exempt races, the timing of The Andrew Ramsden outside of spring means the winner can have their program tailored towards the Lexus Melbourne Cup, something which owners and trainers will appreciate.”
Racing Victoria executive general manager racing & participant wellbeing Greg Carpenter said the announcement complemented RV’s commitment to providing greater opportunities to stayers in Victoria.
“The revamped race, which enhances the existing staying program both in Victoria and nationally, will provide an important opportunity for an emerging, locally-trained stayer to secure their place in the world’s leading staying event.”