By Ray Hickson
From July 3, Racing NSW introduces the $100,000 Midway race to the Saturday metropolitan meeting and as far as Kembla Grange trainer Robert Price is concerned it’s the shot in the arm that small to medium sized stables need.
It’s a unique concept where eligibility is not only determined by the class of the race each week but by the status of the trainer under a points system devised to help shield stables with less firepower from the leviathan operations.
And it’s something that Price, classified as a provincial trainer as he and son Luke have stables at Kembla and Nowra, is sure will develop into an attraction to not only retain owners but gain new ones.
“It’s hard to showcase ourselves and these little changes could be the start of something,’’ he said.
“When they brought in the Highways it was a great idea, and I was a country trainer at the time, but the thing is you can lose clients.
“We’d quite often get a phone call saying ‘can you go in the highways’ and we’d have to say no because we are classified as provincial. This gives us a chance to compete up there and not lose the client, that’s the hardest part of the game.”
When Racing NSW chairman Russell Balding announced the Midway races in February, with $4.8 million set aside for the year, he said the initiative would do just that - assist smaller metropolitan and provincial trainers to attract horses into their stables.
To be eligible a trainer must have accumulated less than 100 points under the Midway system that takes into account metro, provincial, country and Group and Listed wins. From July 2021, eligibility will be based on points accumulated to 31 May 2021.
In future years eligibility will be determined by points accumulated in the previous financial year.
As it was when the Highway races were introduced in 2015, Price said it may take some time for trainers to get accustomed to how the Midway races work but it’s something he’s looking forward to navigating.
“It’ll all be easy to work out once it gets there, I’ve got plenty of faith in the handicappers,’’ he said.
“They’ll give that horse that’s won a couple at the provincials and a midweek a chance to race on at that level. And I’m sure the handicappers will look at other things.
“A lot of horses find themselves handicapped out of provincial racing and not good enough for the midweeks, as you see when there’s a Benchmark 64 there’s a lot of nominations, so this will be a big help.”
Warwick Farm trainer Richard Litt is no stranger to success at the top level, through the deeds of Castelvecchio, but his limited numbers mean it’s hard to compete with the major stables.
He says that comes with the territory and it does make you strive to be better but the Midway races will afford his owners the opportunity to have more of a presence on Saturdays.
“Numbers wise we have a quarter of the horses of the likes of Chris Waller, Gai, the Snowdens and you’re competing against them every day,’’ Litt said.
“You beat them sometimes, but they beat you most of the time, that’s all part of it. I feel we hold our own most of the time, whether they are winning or just running well. I’m always pretty happy when they run well.
“We haven’t had a lot of Saturday runners really, it’s not easy to win any race but a Saturday race is very difficult to win.”
While Litt does have a potential headline horse in his stable in the shape of $1.9m yearling Profondo a large percentage of his team are tried horses.
He’s had success with the likes of Wander, Sedition and Lancaster Bomber and has recently added ex-Godolphin horses Dynamited, Knickpoint and Altimeter plus a former Chris Waller stayer Master Shuhood to his team.
He said he hopes there will be a staying race or two among the Midways but, like Price, is looking forward to seeing how the concept works.
“Since I started training, about four years ago, every year it gets more and more difficult,’’ he said.
“It has to be the most competitive racing in the world, you can travel anywhere now and you’re coming up against very good trainers.
“I’ll be trying my best to run as many as I can in these races.
“Racing NSW is amazing when it comes to thinking outside the box. The Everest, the TAB Highways, these new Midway races, The Gong, it’s giving everyone a chance.”