The buzz is deafening already for next year’s inaugural $2.1 million TAB Eureka

by Adam Hamilton

The world’s richest harness race has made its mark, 11 months before it’s held for the first time.

The $A2.1 million TAB Eureka – Australia’s first harness slot race – will be contest at Club Menangle in Sydney on Sept. 2, next year.

But the hype and anticipation is already huge.

The TAB Eureka was developed by Harness Racing Australian CEO Andrew Kelly, who had the unwavering and vital support of the HRA executive. That support was critical through strong early criticism.

Kelly and his executive are now living the dream mantra they planted when the race was first mooted.

“This is not a one-off big event, the success of the TAB Eureka will be built around being talked about 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year,” Kelly has said from day one.

He’s not one to boast, but no doubt Kelly is already sitting back and taking a moment to say, “We’ve nailed it so far.”

What happened to stamp the Eureka so far out from its inaugural edition?

Where do we start?

A few weeks back, the 10 inaugural slot holders were decided and announced, and they had to stump-up $A300,000 – that’s $100,000 a year for the first three years to secure their slot.

HRA was oversubscribed with applications for slots and had to cull to land on the final 10.

Vitally, they represent every harness racing state in Australia – another mantra of Kelly and the success of the race.

Just as importantly, the slot holders represent such a diverse cross-section of industry participants – owners, breeders, sponsors, participants.

That is a pleasant surprise when you consider there seemed to be almost as many against the Eureka concept as there were for it when it was first touted. The main beef was how a significant part of the funding came from a stallion levy. Some vocal breeders exploded.

But the storm has subsided and the reasoning for the race and the broader, bigger picture upsides become clearer.

Let’s focus on one major thing. One of the key factors behind the success of Australia’s globally huge thoroughbred racing industry is how “we” make our own stallions. Victory in races like the Caulfield Guineas, Coolmore Stud Classic, along with more recent additions like the Everest and Golden Rose can increase the value of a colt by 10-fold or more.

Sure, international stallions play a big role, but more and more it’s the “domestic” stallions who run the show Down Under.

It’s a very different story in Aussie harness racing (and NZ for that matter) where the top 16 – yes 16 – stallions on the current leading stallions list are from the northern hemisphere.

That is unsustainable.

In the Aussie thoroughbred world, an army of big spenders go to the yearling sale trying to buy a colt with a view to making a stallion.

As the stallion premiership table shows, that’s not an option in Aussie harness, but the Eureka will help turn that around.

Leviathan Aussie owner-breeders Rob Watson, of Soho Standardbreds, went very publicly against many of his breeding brethren and was outspoken in his support for the Eureka way back when it was first mooted. He put his money where his mouth is and bought a slot.

“How could you not be part of this?” he said. “It’s the best and most exciting thing to happen in the game here in my time in it.

“I’ve been screaming out for innovation, for efforts to make the sport great again, to build a race we all want to be part of and want to win. It’s taken a long time, but it’s here. The Eureka is that race.

“I jumped at the chance to grab a slot. Now I’ve got three years of doing the form and trading to try and get the right horse to run in my slot and for massive prize money. It’s fantastic.”

But Watson also sees the stallion-making argument.

“Hell yes. That’s huge. In fact, without it, what future do we have? We can’t keep sending all the money we work hard to make as an industry overseas to the stallion owners,” he said.

“We simply must make some of our own stallions and some of the top ones, too.

“We’ve planted the seed in the past couple of years with Soho Tribeca, Ride High, Poster Boy and the list goes on… They’re getting their chance to be success stories at stallions, but the Eureka can become our stallion-making race.”

You see, that’s why Kelly and HRA restricted the Eureka to only Australian-bred 3- and 4-year-old pacers.

It didn’t please everybody, but the mandate is clear… build and promote the Aussie breeding industry. Give people a reason to go to the standardbred yearlings sales and try to buy a future stallion – like they do in the thoroughbreds.

But there are more layers to why the TAB Eureka has already made its mark and in a big way.

Two of the most exciting young pacers in the land have had their entire racing campaigns over the next year built around trying to win the Eureka.

Leap To Fame is the hottest pacing property in Australia. He became the first pacer since Captain Joy back in 2009 to win the big three Derbys – NSW, Queensland and Victoria – when he romped home and smashed the clock in the recent Group 1 Victoria Derby.

His billionaire owner Kevin Seymour immediately changed plans after the race.

“Now we change everything to focus on the Eureka,” he said. “We’re going to bypass the Breeders Crown and only go to the Breeders Challenge then spell him.

“We won’t bring him back for the Chariots Of Fire or Miracle Mile early next year. Instead, he’ll have longer out and we will bring him back for the Queensland Winter Carnival and then go down (to Sydney) for the Eureka. It’s THE race we want to win next year.”

Top Victorian trainer Andy Gath has a similar approach with his young gun, Catch A Wave.

“We sat down a couple of weeks back and looked ahead to the Eureka and then worked our way back from there as far as what races to set him for and how to shape his next 12 months,” he said.

“We’re missing the Breeders Crown as well. He’ll come back for the Vicbred series over Xmas/New Year, then we’ll take him to Sydney for the Chariots Of Fire.

“The main reason for going to the Chariots is to give him a trip away and some racing experience around Menangle because that’s where the Eureka will be run.”

As a kid, you would always look forward to Christmas. As an Aussie harness fan, the TAB Eureka is now the sport’s Christmas.