Rac­ing pre­pares for change

Te Awamutu Courier - - News - BY DEAN TAY­LOR

The hot topic around the sta­bles and tracks of New Zealand is the con­tents of the re­port on the rac­ing in­dus­try, com­mis­sioned by Rac­ing Min­is­ter Win­ston Peters and pre­pared by Aus­tralian rac­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor and breeder John Mes­sara, which was re­leased in Hamil­ton last Fri­day.

The most com­pre­hen­sive re­view in the rac­ing in­dus­try’s his­tory con­tains 17 rec­om­men­da­tions on how to fix the ail­ing New Zealand rac­ing in­dus­try, con­cen­trat­ing par­tic­u­larly on the thor­ough­bred code.

The two hottest top­ics will be the clo­sure of 20 thor­ough­bred race­tracks around the coun­try and the like­li­hood the li­cence to bet on rac­ing and sport in New Zealand would be out­sourced to an over­seas, likely Aus­tralian op­er­a­tor, ef­fec­tively end­ing the New Zealand TAB’s con­trol of such gam­bling in this coun­try.

Mes­sara sug­gests track clo­sures as a way to cut costs as many clubs strug­gle to keep tracks up to in­dus­try stan­dard.

That has re­sulted in too many race meet­ings be­ing can­celled be­cause of poor or even dan­ger­ous rac­ing sur­faces, cost­ing the in­dus­try tens of mil­lions of dol­lars.

The re­duc­tion of tracks from 48 to 28 is planned to be fi­nalised by 2024.

Af­ter the re­lease of the re­port, many clubs would have been scour­ing the con­tents to see what fate was rec­om­mended for them.

In the Waikato Waipa¯ Rac­ing Club (based at Te Awa­mutu), Cambridge Jockey Club and Waikato Rac­ing Club (based at Te Rapa) looked to have es­caped the im­me­di­ate clo­sure rec­om­men­da­tion.

Waipa¯ Rac­ing Club pres­i­dent Mark Ir­win says that is be­cause it is recog­nised the club is well down the track on a joint pro­posal with Cambridge and Te Rapa — a new fa­cil­ity to be known as the Green­fields Cen­tre for Horserac­ing.

Ir­win says there has been a con­sid­er­able amount of work done on the project, but it hasn’t been re­leased to all mem­bers yet, so he can­not re­veal too much in­for­ma­tion.

He was part of a del­e­ga­tion which vis­ited a com­plex in Aus­tralia which the Waikato group is look­ing to model and says it was gen­er­ally agreed this is the way for­ward for rac­ing.

Ir­win says in the mean­time it is busi­ness as usual for Waipa¯ Rac­ing Club, which has a nine race in­dus­try meet­ing to­mor­row — first race 12.09pm.

The Te Awa­mutu course hosts seven meet­ing per year — two on Sun­days, but no Satur­day races.

Ir­win says 150-200 horses are worked on the track each day.

Af­ter 50 years in the in­dus­try, re­tir­ing trainer Graeme San­ders to­tally agrees with the move by Waipa¯ , Cambridge and Waikato clubs to de­velop a mega cen­tre in the Waikato where tri­als, train­ing and rac­ing is all in the same place.

“We need all weather tracks, with the best fa­cil­i­ties and lat­est tech­nol­ogy,” says San­ders.

“The only way we are go­ing to do it is by selling prop­erty.

“The clo­sure of Te Awa­mutu in a few years time will not af­fect the likes of the San­ders’ Rac­ing Sta­ble in Te Awa­mutu.

“It’s just a sim­ple mat­ter of go­ing some­where else,” he says.

And he agrees cut­ting costs and im­prov­ing stake money will be good for the in­dus­try.

Fel­low Te Awa­mutu trainer Robert Priscott says this is some­thing that has been mooted over many years and has been rec­om­mended in two pre­vi­ous re­views of rac­ing.

“The clo­sure of race­courses in it­self will not rec­tify all of rac­ing’s woes and needs sav­ings from the other ar­eas of the rac­ing struc­ture to have any af­fect,” says Priscott.

“As I’m in the twi­light of my train­ing ca­reer this will not af­fect me.”

Priscott said stake monies will only in­crease with ex­tra in­come sources and sav­ings from in­side the in­dus­try.

“I’m a firm be­liever that ex­tra stake monies does not in­crease par­tic­i­pa­tion as peo­ple go into rac­ing a horse for var­ied rea­sons, fam­ily, friends, ex­cite­ment etc not to make money that only comes later af­ter they have raced a horse.”

Priscott said the one idea that ex­cites him is the mega rac­ing and train­ing cen­tre in the Waikato.

“It’s a great idea but get­ting all clubs to agree, I’m hope­ful but not hold­ing my breath.

“Good luck to those who are try­ing to push this idea for­ward.”

In­dus­try com­men­ta­tors say the Mes­sara re­port isn’t new in­for­ma­tion, and is in fact propos­ing the same solution rec­om­mended as long ago as 1965 by the Reid Com­mit­tee and en­dorsed in 1970 by the McCarthy royal com­mis­sion on rac­ing — namely, that New Zealand has too many race­tracks.

The the­ory is that with fewer tracks there would be more cash in the in­dus­try to im­prove prize money, pro­vid­ing bet­ter re­turns for own­ers, breed­ers and train­ers, and giv­ing New Zealand a stronger blood­stock in­dus­try.

The ul­ti­mate short-term tar­get is for rac­ing stakes, par­tic­u­larly in the thor­ough­bred code, to dou­ble, rais­ing the min­i­mum stake to $20,000.

Many in the in­dus­try be­lieve that level will be the ab­so­lute min­i­mum needed to keep rac­ing fi­nan­cially vi­able for par­tic­i­pants like train­ers, jock­eys, sta­ble staff and own­ers.

Mes­sara notes that rac­ing clubs are not the own­ers of the land they use and sug­gests these as­sets should be vested in rac­ing’s reg­u­la­tor for the ben­e­fit of the thor­ough­bred in­dus­try. Ir­win says Waipa¯ Rac­ing Club does own the land at fa­cil­i­ties in Te Awa­mutu and if the Green­fields pro­posal goes ahead, the plan would be to sell the as­sets to in­vest in the new fa­cil­ity.

Peters had al­ready promised the rac­ing in­dus­try three syn­thetic, or all-weather, tracks to help, with one cer­tain to be built in Waikato and the other two touted for Manawatu¯ and Christchurch.

They could cost be­tween $30-40 mil­lion for the three, with half that cost to po­ten­tially come from the Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Fund and the other half to be met by the rac­ing in­dus­try.

As for the changes to rac­ing gov­er­nance, Peters says a firm date is not known but in­di­cated he would like to have many of the changes sug­gested in the re­port at least un­der way by the Bud­get next year.

Ir­win also be­lieves it is in­evitable the TAB will be out­sourced, say­ing he has been at­tend­ing in­dus­try meet­ings for some time look­ing at pos­si­ble op­tions.

Out-sourc­ing the TAB’s gam­bling ac­tiv­i­ties will be any­thing but a straight for­ward ex­er­cise, as NZME un­der­stands the three codes — thor­ough­bred, har­ness and grey­hound rac­ing — in con­junc­tion with NZRB have al­ready tested those wa­ters af­ter sus­pect­ing it would be sug­gested in the re­port.

Two ma­jor over­seas play­ers are be­lieved to have been in­volved in those talks and the money of­fered up front for the rights to con­trol New Zealand’s gam­bling li­cence for 25 years as well as the guar­an­teed re­turns were un­der­whelm­ing.

Oth­ers have con­cerns about the im­pact on na­tional sports or­gan­i­sa­tions should TAB op­er­a­tions be out­sourced over­seas, mainly the im­pact on the money na­tional sports bod­ies re­ceive from the TAB.

That comes from a per­cent­age of bets placed by Kiwi pun­ters on New Zealand-based sports and over­seas com­pe­ti­tions such as the NBA, English Pre­mier League and Ma­jor League Baseball.

How­ever, the re­port makes no ref­er­ence to the cur­rent agree­ment where 34 codes re­ceive fund­ing, and Bas­ket­ball New Zealand chief ex­ec­u­tive Iain Pot­ter said his im­pres­sion was that would not change.

“The re­port says it would be busi­ness as usual,” Pot­ter says.

“I’ll re­ally just take that at face value.”

In the past five years, the TAB has pumped more than $32.2 mil­lion into the coun­try’s bas­ket­ball, foot­ball, ten­nis, cricket, rugby and league op­er­a­tions.

New Zealand Rugby League chief ex­ec­u­tive Greg Peters says TAB fund­ing was vi­tal for the sport in this coun­try and the or­gan­i­sa­tion would pay close at­ten­tion to de­ci­sions aris­ing from the Mes­sara Re­port.

“We’re adopt­ing a watch­ing brief on out­comes of the TAB re­view and once we know these, we can as­sess from there,” he says.

While there seemed lit­tle con­cern at los­ing vi­tal TAB fund­ing, Pot­ter said Mes­sara’s re­port was fo­cused on the three rac­ing codes, and with­out a sport­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the NZRB, the best in­ter­ests of sports may be over­looked.

The NZRB com­prises six peo­ple, in­clud­ing three in­de­pen­dent mem­bers, as well as nom­i­nees from the grey­hound, thor­ough­bred and har­ness rac­ing codes.

Pot­ter sug­gested ad­ding a sport­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive was es­sen­tial if sport in New Zealand was to con­tinue to grow and flour­ish.

Photo / Te Awa­mutu Courier Ar­chives

Jack­pot fever hit Te Awa­mutu when an es­ti­mated 33,000 pun­ters con­verged on the race­course for the Tau­maranui Rac­ing Club’s jack­pot meet­ing on July 29, 1972.

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