The hunt for Red October: how the Everest brand was built in just two years
It’s a mere three years young but The Everest is already a household name. Neil Breen looks at the race that’s captured the national imagination, the $15 million horse that could win it again and why the buzz is already building for October
It can take generations to build a brand. It usually doesn’t just happen overnight. But ask anyone “What’s The Everest?” and nearly everyone will be able to tell you it’s a horse race.
It’s a horse race that has run only twice, yet already it is one of the biggest sporting events on the national sporting calendar.
If the Melbourne Cup is the race that stops a nation, The Everest is the race that captivates a nation.
“It’s already got a household name — The Everest,” says racehorse syndicator Michael Ward. “It’s quite extraordinary that it has done that in two years.
“I can’t think of another example where a race, or sporting event, has established itself like this in such a short period of time.”
He’s 100 per cent correct — there is nothing like it. Even the first NFL Superbowl in 1967 wasn’t a sell-out. Sporting events grow in significance. But not The Everest: it was big from day dot. The question is why?
The explanation is that it’s a combination of two factors.
First, racing is a sport dominated by history and tradition, but The Everest has attracted a new generation of fans from the information-rich digital age who can handle — and demand — things thick and fast, new and exciting.
Secondly, Sydney was crying out for a massive horse race at Randwick in the sweet spring weather.
For 100 years, a “gentleman’s agreements” between Victoria and New South Wales governed racing in Australia.
NSW would run its big races including the Golden Slipper, the Doncaster Handicap and the Derby in the autumn, and Melbourne would run the likes of the Caulfield Cup, the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup in spring.
This agreement gave a distinct advantage to Victoria. Their major races are run in October and early November in a five- to six-week block that fits neatly in the sporting sweet spot between the end of the football season and the proper start to the cricket season.
As the weather heated up, racing had a clear shot at the sporting calendar with no real rivals. This generated enormous publicity and interest. It also meant there was no competition for the sporting dollar.
In Sydney, the race clubs were staging their big races at Easter in direct competition with the start of the football season. That’s a nightmare, with competition for attention and the dollar at its heaviest.
Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys is a trailblazer. He launched a successful court case against corporate bookmakers, who were ordered to pay royalties to racing. He also lobbied the state government heavily for a fairer tax deal. He won big both times and established an enormous war chest for his sport.
V’landys immediately raised prize-money levels for racing across the state and revolutionised the way the sport was run.
But it wasn’t enough. V’landys wanted more. He wanted to win and he wanted to win big.
V’landys — always an ideas man — embarked on the biggest idea in racing in more than 100 years: a new race where individuals or companies pay big cash for “slots” in the race and negotiate with the owners of the best horses to run for them.
The race would be run at the sprint distance of 1200 metres at Royal Randwick on Caulfield Guineas or Caulfield Cup day. In Victoria this was considered a sacrilegious move.
The “slots” were sold for $600,000 each in the 12-horse field and they went like hotcakes. The wealthy bought the slots, and the owners of fast horses shared in the enormous rewards.
The race had prize money of $10 million in its first year, and $13 million in 2018. It’s $13 million again this year.
It dwarfed the $6.25 million on offer in the Melbourne Cup.
Randwick was full to overflowing both years. Record amounts were bet. The hype was off the charts.
V’landys and racing itself had an instant hit on their hands and the sport’s long-held conventions were thrown out the window.
Michael Ward and his brother Chris are among the best-known and most successful horse syndicators in Australia.
Their company, Triple Crown, purchases dozens of yearlings and sells them in small shares to the everyday person. The horses are trained by noted horsemen Peter Snowden and his son Paul at Randwick.
At the Magic Millions yearling sale on the Gold Coast in 2014, they spent $120,000 on a colt by the champion sire Snitzel out of a well-performed mare by the name of Millrich.
That sounds like a lot of money, but for a Snitzel colt it wasn’t over the top: Snitzel was making his mark as the next big thing in breeding and the Wards bought a few yearlings by him in the belief they would run.
That colt they bought could sure run. They named him Redzel and a rag-tag bunch of people bought shares, including a police officer, a teacher and a plumber.
Redzel began winning big races and was sought-after by slot holders for the first Everest in 2017. Bloodstock expert James Harron purchased a slot and, without a horse good enough to run himself, negotiated with the Wards for Redzel to run.
Redzel ran and won, with $6 million in prize money there to be shared by the plumber, copper, teacher and Harron.
The next year, Yuesheng Zhang, a billionaire Chinese businessman with a passion for racing, snapped up Redzel to run in his slot.
Redzel won again, and his owners shared $7 million this time with the billionaire from China who loves racing so much he spends millions on horses and breeding in Australia every year.
“The Everest brings racing to the masses,’’ says Michael Ward. “Every man or woman out there can participate and make it to the top.
“The spring is a great time of year in racing. There is a great window of opportunity. The Everest capitalised on it.
“It’s captured the imagination, it’s encouraged people to get into racing.’’
Redzel has now won $15,560,000 in prize money — $13 million from one race alone.
“The race propelled him to be the second-highest money winner in history [behind Winx],” Ward says. This year’s third instalment will be even bigger than the first two.
The $600,000 slots bought two years ago have been on-sold by some who purchased them for amounts of more than $800,000. So popular is the race that people who bought slots have made more than 30 per cent on their money for nothing.
The Victorian Racing Club, which stages the Melbourne Cup at its Flemington base, remains howling mad about the interruption to tradition. Its chairperson, Amanda Elliott, got personal about the changes this year, labelling V’landys a “silly little man with silly little ideas”.
It was a low blow and it backfired. Counter to the VRC’s stance, the Melbourne Racing Club, which stages the Caulfield Guineas and Caulfield Cup at Caulfield, has this year embraced The Everest.
The Everest is their direct competitor, but they partnered with the Australian Turf Club to run a horse in the race in the ATC’s slot.
So, this year, on Caulfield Cup Day, the MRC will hold their biggest meeting of the year and run a horse at Randwick in the rival Everest meeting. Astonishing stuff.
The MRC will enter the winner of the Schillaci Stakes in the race. It is a brilliant piece of cross promotion, and racing will dominate the sporting landscape up and down the Eastern seaboard.
That was V’landys’ vision all along — to get a piece of the action when the sport of kings is at its most visible.