A fair bit of noise around last week about the Caulfield Cup potentially switching to weight-for-age conditions.
Most criticised the idea, but it’s not that hard to see the dilemma the Melbourne Racing Club face on the race.
The issue for them is their premier race isn’t, of course, the Melbourne Cup.
The club rightly wants the race to be a jewel in the crown of the Spring Carnival – not the second-rate show it’s been reduced to.
Many of best stayers may well be in Melbourne in the Spring, but their focus is on Flemington rather than Caulfield.
Of particular issue for the Caulfield Cup is the weight penalty that the winner gets for the Melbourne Cup. In this era of precise training and focused campaigns toward a “grand final” on the famed first Tuesday, most are discouraged from having a concentrated crack at the once-treasured Cups double.
It risks leaving the Caulfield Cup cohort as a field of two halves: second-rate stayers who are there having a go, and the best stayers who (if they run at all) are basically using it as a jump-out in preparation for the Melbourne Cup. They’ll run around, but won’t dare win it – they don’t want to cop the wrath of the handicapper for their true target race.
It leaves a situation unbefitting a race of the Caulfield Cup’s standing and history.
In this sense the MRC should be applauded for thinking outside the square in a bid to return the race to what it once was, particularly in an era where there’s many examples of Group 1 races that are now largely meaningless warm-up events contested by fields of first-up runners. Group 1 used to mean Grand Final. That’s no longer necessarily so. I doubt anybody wants to see the Caulfield Cup become little more than a barrier trial for the Melbourne Cup.
Many have grumbled about the departure from history. Times change, and that has hurt the Caulfield Cup. Sometimes you need to evolve. The WFA switch may not be the answer, but it needs to be considered. The Caulfield Cup completely losing its lustre as a racing event in the wider sense would be an historic tragedy by comparison. As things stand, that process has already started, and will continue. Those same critics of this idea would be the first complaining when this once-proud day on the racing calendar becomes just another Saturday at the track.
Of course, the whole thing could just be an ambit claim by the MRC as they seek to have the weight penalty removed. In any case, racing is a sport that has too often not adapted to the times. Throwing up ideas for debate does no harm at all.