On The Rails
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 February, 2014, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 February, 2014, 11:04pm

Idea for global 'Formula One' circuit fraught with risks

Horses are not cars while issues such as race rules, quarantine, prize money and sponsorship conflicts must be overcome


Alan Aitken has worked in all facets of the media and was the master of the famous AJC Punters Podium at Sydney racecourses for many years. He was one of Australia's most respected racing journalists over almost two decades with The Sydney Morning Herald before joining SCMP in 2001. Alan also has extensive magazine and radio experience and is a respected racing form analyst.

Snap, crackle, pop and there it was on Tuesday morning in a Sydney newspaper - an administrative heavyweight from Australia and the racing manager of a Qatari prince combining to push the proposition that a Formula One-style, global racing world series was the future of the sport.

There must be a whiff of something in the air in Sydney at the moment. First it was "The Championships" (surely the All England Lawn Tennis Club lawyers are having a look at that one); now the city's racing is to be an integral part of a year-long world championship series to decide the best horses on the planet.

One word, to start with, Sydney - quarantine. And somewhere within a day's march of the racing stage, thanks.

We could talk about "The Championships" all day, but this isn't about them, or it, or whatever.

This is about Back To The Future: Part IV, in which the influence and extreme wealth of a Middle Eastern royal, this time Dunaden's owner, Sheikh Fahad Al-Thani, gets behind a programme of races in different countries, with points scored as the elite gallopers take each other on throughout the year - yada yada yada, you know the rest.

The racing world has got better at travelling horses since Sheikh Mohammed's World Series but, just thinking aloud, what was wrong with this last time?

We mean the time when it kicked off with all the best intentions in 1999, sponsored by Dubai's airline, Godolphin got right into the spirit and actually trekked their best horses around the globe to take part and to try to win the thing. Fantastic Light and Grandera even carried it off, and Grandera did get as far as running in Australia, which probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.

But despite the money, an airline, horses, and loads of goodwill at the kick-off, it was already ragged by 2003. Before then, Emirates Airlines had pulled out for "business reasons", which may or may not have had a connection with the 2002 addition to the series of Singapore's best race, sponsored by its airline, and the Dubai World Cup withdrew. The series wobbled on for a few more years, amid promises of new sponsorship just around the corner, then vanished.

So what was it that didn't work out?

Just a few simple matters.

Horses: they just aren't Formula One cars that can be thrown on a plane 19 times a year and turn up sparkling.

Race rules: they are different in different cities and regions, let alone different countries.

Drug rules: to assist or not to assist and when and how and how much.

Quarantine rules: in truth probably one of the lesser hurdles, given the travelling horses do these days. Oh, unless you're including Australia.

Prize money: in the series concepts we have seen (the Global Sprint Challenge is apparently still going, too) wide discrepancies in stakes offered impact on the attraction to participate in cheaper legs.

Sponsorship clashes: see Singapore, or, if Emirates had been the sponsor still when Cathay Pacific came on board for the internationals here in 2004, what would have been the effect?

Stud values: do you really think the next Frankel will go in for this, risk having a bad flight or an off day in a far-flung field when he's worth hundreds of millions to keep home and protect his record?

Horses: again, because if the Frankels don't run then what does any of it mean to a public which knows the "world champion" actually isn't?


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