By Ross Stapleton

The VRC and its racecourse manager Terry Watson find
themselves being pressured – and yes, even threatened is not too strong a word –
over the final state of the Flemington track for tomorrow’s Melbourne
Cup.

How else can you interpret the
continuing need for the track to be watered, to the point where other entrants
have a right to believe they are being disadvantaged if the Lee Freedman and
Dermott Weld stables and connections get their way?

Not only did the trainers declare that they will not hesitate to scratch cup favourite and “people’s
champion” Makybe Diva and Weld’s champion Irish raider Vinnie Roe if either
is still not happy with the condition of the track tomorrow morning.

But Weld’s son Mark took the
brinkmanship a step further by noting that, given it’s likely to be a baking hot
day, his father could even scratch the horse just hours before the race if the
track hardened up after their earlier acceptance. “Believe me, if the track is still firm at 1pm on
Tuesday and if it had dried out significantly, he could be scratched even that
late,” Weld ominously warned on Saturday.

So the VRC is being massively pressured – to the verge of over-watering – to make sure no such eventuality presents itself.

Both camps seem to agree that their idea of an
ideal track is not just one with the “cut” taken out of it but a track that, if not
dead, is very much on the soft side. Putting aside their natural concerns about a
hard track, they are not, as I see it, arguing for a level playing
field but rather one that absolutely ideally suits their own runners.

Unless the track is hard, anything with some
“give” should be seen as both fair and acceptable. While these days there is
common agreement that rock hard tracks are no longer desirable, it’s fair
to ask if the VRC is not just being asked to take the sting out of the ground,
but to water the track to the point of it being soft or even “dead.” If we’re not careful, a good track will soon
be seen as unsafe.

In almost 300 years of the universal fraternity of
racing and punting, since when were dead tracks seen as an ideal racing
surface? After all, in a sport whose very
essence depends on trying to present a fair contest, why does Dermott Weld
deserve greater consideration for his notion of the track best suited to
his horse, than the even better fancied Japanese entry Eye Popper whose trainer
Izumi Shimizu, would much prefer a fast track?

The VRC says it will be watering to present a track that’s
fair to all, and if that’s really the case, while it won’t ideally suit Freedman and
Weld – and nor should it, that should be enough for everybody to run their race
without the dice being loaded.