x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The hurdles of exchange

According to Danny O'Brien, the Australian trainer, international exchange rates are a factor for trainers and owners while considering where to run horses.

NEWMARKET, ENGLAND // Danny O'Brien, the Australian trainer, said international exchange rates are one factor considered by trainers and owners as they decide where to run their horses.

He blamed the exchange rate between the Australian and American dollars for not racing in Dubai since 2009, when Valedictum contested three races at the old Nad al Sheba racecourse.

"I'd love to race in Dubai again," O'Brien said. "The Carnival is a great meeting. But when I first went the Australian dollar was worth about 60 cents to the US dollar; now the Australian dollar is about 1.10, so next time we go we will be racing for half as much money.

"You don't think you focus your decisions around exchange rates but it does come down to that for Dubai."

O'Brien has brought Star Witness from Australia to England to contest the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot on Tuesday. The four-year-old colt joins fellow Australian challenger Hinchinbrook in the Group 1 sprint over 1,000m and the pair are bidding to become the fifth Australia-based horse to win the race in the past nine years.

The 2011 Dubai World Cup had 312 initial entries from 18 countries, but only David Hayes entered a runner from Australia, Rebel Soldier. For the Dubai Golden Shaheen, which offered US$2million (AED7.3m) in prize money, there were three entrants from down under, out of initial 213 entries.

So why has O'Brien travelled all the way to England to contest the King's Stand, worth just £300,000 (Dh1,79m)?

"If we were racing [in Australia] for the sort of money we have here [in England], then our pool of owners would shrink dramatically," O'Brien said. "It becomes a question of how much money you've got and how much you are prepared to lose.

"We would all love to see more prize money up here. English racing is lucky that it is supported by such wealthy owners who are attracted to the prestige of racing horses here. We are also lucky enough to have healthy participation from Sheikh Mohammed's Darley in Australia.

"But with a colt particularly, there is so much more than prize money to be gained. If Star Witness could win a Group 1 here it would send him to stud with a fantastic record. People are always going to race here because these are the races everyone wants to win." The performance of Black Caviar, the unbeaten Australia sprinter, in the Newmarket Handicap at Flemington in March was ranked as the joint-top performance in the world alongside Frankel's 2000 Guineas romp.

Star Witness has held on to Black Caviar's coat-tails in three races so far, the latest of which was in the Newmarket when noise from the nearby Top Gear roadshow disturbed his pre-race preparation resulting in a seven-length defeat.

"He just lost his composure completely," O'Brien said. "For sure, he would be a lot more interesting if he had won his latest start, but he's won two Group 1s.

"Very early in his career we thought he would be good for the trip. He likes straight tracks and five to six furlongs.

"If he runs like he did during the Melbourne Carnival he'll be very hard to beat. He's six months older now, too."