The Top Of The Prize Money Tree
Written By Duncan Stearn Wednesday 4th May 2011
With the 2011 Golden Easter Egg run and won and yet another $250,000 paid out to a single greyhound, I thought it might be worth going back in time to see just which races have been recognised as the richest in the nation down through the years.
The 2011 event had the added synergy of also featuring Australiaâ€™s highest prize money winner, High Earner, who made it through to the final, won in brilliant style by Radley Bale.
Of course, the honour of being the first greyhound to win such a staggering sum in a single race went to Cosmic Rumble, the winner of the 2010 Golden Easter Egg.
Ever since the start of the TAB and the distribution of monies to the racing codes in the early 1960s, prize money has increased to almost astounding levels. In this article I have tried to cover the growth of the prize money bubble by noting which was the richest single race in Australia year by year since the start of track racing in May 1927.
Major races werenâ€™t exactly thick on the ground in the early years of the sport, but possibly the first richest race in Australia was run in October 1927 when Sky Chimes won the Newcastle Cup at the opening meeting of that course. The best-eight race was allocated Â£90 ($180) first prize.
Between then and 1939 it is difficult to pin down any specific event as being the richest. Certainly, in the mid 1930s the 320-yard Kedron Handicap in Queensland was arguably the richest with an unconfirmed Â£400 ($800) to the winner. The race definitely attracted entries from all over the country.
When Mr Whackles won the 1939 Hobart Cup for trainer Les Brett, he earned Â£500 ($1,000). This was easily the biggest prize ever offered in the 12 years had been in existence. By 1947 when Young Sign took out the race, known across the country as the Hobart Thousand, he literally collected Â£1,000 ($2,000) for the win. The Hobart Thousand retained its place as the richest race in the country until the late 1950s.
It was briefly supplanted by the Vic Peterâ€™s Memorial Classic, with the 1957 running of that event earning the winner Cantee Â£1,900 ($3,800). This level of prize money could not be maintained and two years later the winner collected only Â£1,000 ($2,000).
From 1960 onwards it is possible to be fairly sure about which was the nationâ€™s richest event. The Australian Cup offered Â£1,400 ($2,800) to the 1960 winner and for 16 of the next 17 years it remained the richest race in the country (apart from 1963 when it wasnâ€™t run). The 1977 final was worth $25,000.
The Melbourne Cup took the reins in 1978 with $35,000 first prize money, collected by Tangaloa.
In 1979 both the Australian and Melbourne Cupâ€™s shared the honour of richest race, handing out $30,000.
In 1980, 1981 and 1982 the Melbourne Cup again went to the front with $35,000 to the winner but from 1983 to 1989 inclusive the Australian Cup regained the mantle, this time with $50,000 to the winner.
In 1990 the mercurial race secretary Bill Dwyer held the first $100,000-to-the-winner race in Australia when he conducted the Dapto Classic. This TAB circuit held the prize money record between 1990 and 1994, but in 1995 it shared top billing with the Golden Easter Egg.
In 1996, four races became worth $100,000 to the winner: the Dapto Classic, Golden Easter Egg, Australian Cup and Melbourne Cup.
In 1997, Victorian sprinter Bahama Image earned $120,000 for his win in the Golden Easter Egg, which took the richest prize title for the first time on its own.
By 1998, the biggest prize available was back to $100,000 and five events shared top spot: the Australian Cup, Melbourne Cup, National Derby, Golden Easter Egg, and Dapto Classic. The following year, the first four from 1998 remained at $100,000 for the winner and were joined by the Topgun, which supplanted the Dapto Classic.
The five were the same in 2000 but in 2001 the Topgun offered $105,000 to the winner to narrowly stake its claim as Australiaâ€™s richest race.
Between 2002 and 2009 the Melbourne Cup once more returned to the top with the winnerâ€™s stake climbing from $140,000 in 2002 to a whopping $175,000 in 2008 and 2009, the 17th year in its history it had either been the single or joint record holder.
So we reached 2010, the 84th year of racing behind the mechanical lure, and for the first time in history a race became worth a quarter of a million dollars to the winner. It was the seventh year the Golden Easter Egg had been at the top of the table, but only the second time it had held the record unopposed.
Nonetheless, the Australian Cup, with 29 years at the top, remains the race with the longest time at the pinnacle of the prize money tree, a mark that might never be equalled.