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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

How enticing is The Everest for Lucky Sweynesse?

It's in the nature of having the world's top rated sprinting horse these days that thoughts will immediately turn to The Everest at Sydney's Royal Randwick on October 14.

A 1200m turf race under weight for age conditions, a total prizemoney of $AUD 15 million. The world's richest race on turf, so what's not to like for connections of Hong Kong's Lucky Sweynesse?

After the four-year-old took out the Chairman's Sprint Prize at Sha Tin on Sunday - making him the first horse to sweep the 3-leg Hong Kong speed series since legendary Silent Witness performed the feat in both 2004 and 2005. That was worth an extra $HK 5 million bonus that brought his total earnings from Sunday's win to HK 16.4 million.

But what comes next? Some wondered aloud about a Royal Ascot trip in June but jockey Zac Purton seems intent on The Everest in his homeland.

The only overseas target for which the gelding is currently entered is the Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo in June, a race which would throw him into a first test at 1600m, away from home against strong opposition. His owners seem to be looking that way but trainer Manfred Man has seemed non-plussed by all the added variables involved in that one.

If the owners - who are happy to overrule the views of their trainer or jockey - are keen to undertake foreign targets in the name of a sporting quest, then everything is on the table and that would be the hope of the side for a Royal Ascot run, as the prizemoney simply doesn't cut it. The Platinum Jubilee is worth half of what Lucky Sweynesse won in the just the bonus payment on Sunday.

But the "above the fold" number for The Everest, well, that turns heads.

At least until you start to pick the details apart.

So, normally a total prizemoney of $AUD 15 million would mean a first prize somewhere from $7.5 - 9 million, but The Everest offers a lower-than-usual percentage to the winner.

Currently, a victory is listed as being worth $6.2 million, second $2.3 million, third $1.4 million, fourth $1 million, fifth $750 and sixth $500,000.

Beyond that, a minimum return of $450,000 is paid to all other runners, seventh to twelfth, and appears to have been taken directly from the winner's share.

And, if the HKJC or Royal Ascot or Dubai or even the Australian Turf Club, which stages The Everest, had a race where it was $6.2 million first prize, that's a very nice target for anyone - but there's the set up of The Everest as a slot race.

The talk on Sunday was that Lucky Sweynesse's owners have already had discussions about a slot and have a tentative deal on the table that Purton described in an interview as a good one.

But how good is a good one? Is it a 50/50 split between the owners and slot holder? Is it a 60/40? The slot holder has paid $600,000 per year, for 3 years, for the right to a slot, so we have to assume their motives are not totally altruistic.

As a 50/50 split, the prizemoney for first then becomes $3.1 million, or only a little more than first in the HK Sprint in December, for which Lucky Sweynesse will enjoy homeground advantage and, on current form, will be an odds-on favourite - with none of the other complications that come with travel.

The first of those is cost. I can't see any reference on The Everest page to whether travel costs - certainly more than $AUD 100,000 - are taken care of by the racing authority, the slot holder or the owner, or some combination thereof. If they're down to the owners, that's another haircut for the prizemoney return.

The only previous foreign-based runners in The Everest were the Aidan O'Brien-trained Coolmore horses, U S Navy Flag (ninth in 2018) and Ten Sovereigns (last in 2019, pictured), but each of them had the additional lure of increasing their appeal at stud for a good performance thus outweighing any travel cost.

Lucky Sweynesse is a gelding, so that's a potential he does not have. And Coolmore Stud owns its own slot in the race, so it wasn't sharing any prizemoney either.

The logistics of a run in The Everest on October 14 would mean Lucky Sweynesse will have to do two weeks of quarantine in Hong Kong before departing for Sydney, where he would have to do another two weeks before the race. So, he's in quarantine from early-mid September, with a flight in between.

The first day of the Hong Kong season - which was September 11 in 2022 but is often a week earier - has a feature 1200m sprint called the HKSAR Chief Executive's Cup, so it's possible that could be used as a preparation race.

But it is run under handicap conditions, forcing Lucky Sweynesse to carry top weight and give away a lot of weight to rivals who will not have the same distraction of a future target that he will have. He would risk a tough run in that or perhaps Lucky Sweynesse would leave Hong Kong without a prep race under his belt.

That would mean either leaving much earlier and having a prep race in Sydney or tackling The Everest first-up for the campaign.

Then there's the weather.

I lived In Sydney for 35 years and early October was not often wet but that has been changing in recent years.

The Everest has been run six times, three times on good ground, twice on soft tracks and once on heavy.

So, Lucky Sweynesse, who has never seen a wet track, is a strong chance to be looking at unfamiliar conditions underfoot in his first run for months, against the strongest sprint field in the world and for not much more money than he will be shooting for at Sha Tin in December.

And it's a horse race. You can still make the case for a winner but finish a brilliant second and the equation changes.

Of course, he could win both races.

Once he is done with The Everest, Lucky Sweynesse has 57 days to be ready for Sha Tin's sprint feature, the HK Sprint. He has no export quarantine as he leaves Sydney, so he could leave the next day, but is required to do two weeks of quarantine on his return to Hong Kong.

At that stage, it's the start of November.

As his next race at that stage, Lucky Sweynesse has one option, the Jockey Club Sprint on about November 19, then three weeks into the international meeting.

If that does not seem too onerous on paper, we have to remember that horses do not live on paper.

The process was way too much in 2020 for the only horse to have tried The Everest-HK Sprint double: the most impressive winner of The Everest, Hong Kong-owned Classique Legend, was a shadow of himself for the international meeting and finished eleventh in the HK Sprint.

As I said earlier, if Lucky Sweynesse's owners are into international targets for the sport of it, for the craic as the Irish might say, then there's no reason not to roll the dice.

But if a tilt at The Everest is all about that big headline prizemoney, you be the judge of whether it's enough.

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