Asian Racing Conference presents opportunities – my 2020 wish list
The 2020 Asian Racing Conference will be held next month in Cape Town.
Like you, I’m not sure when South Africa became a part of Asia but that’s beside the point. This comes as no shock in a world where, these days, nobody agrees as to whether there are five, six or seven continents.
It could well be tagged the quasi-Australian conference with at least 18 Australians – from various parts of the world – set to speak.
Plus, there will be any number of other delegates and observers from these shores, which will almost certainly blow my chance of getting an upgrade on the 14–hour haul from Sydney to Johannesburg.
However, aside from any positive work from a global perspective, it will surely present an opportunity for an entente cordiale (and national strategic planning) between New South Wales and Victoria.
The speakers include Racing NSW CEO Peter V’landys and his Racing Victoria counterpart Giles Thompson. Interestingly, perhaps ironically, the duo are on the same panel to discuss ‘exploring innovative race concepts’.
Plus, we have Racing Australia chairman Greg Nichols and Tom Reilly, CEO of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia.
There’s a quorum, in itself, for lunch. I’m issuing the invitation and it’s my ‘shout’. What’s more, I’ll remain (relatively) sober to keep the minutes.
I’ll even draw up the agenda (see below), starting with the easy ones first. The ones which surely don’t demand much more than Thompson and V’landys simply agreeing and responding with ‘yes, OK’.
There are plenty of others who could tag along, including Victoria’s racing minister Martin Pakula, but the smaller the committee the more likely a positIve outcome.
The agenda is as follows (remember it’s the easy ones first):
- That I may watch NSW race and trial replays on Racing.com and Victorian replays on Racing NSW.
- That, on major race days, Racing.com and Sky Thoroughbred Central are permitted to broadcast races from both states, or at least the most significant ones.
- That some genuine review is undertaken of our Pattern races – especially the Group 1 contests. Introduce a Supreme Group 1 (SG1) so that the Underwood Stakes and the Cox Plate are not afforded the same status. And I could, of course, go much further down that Group 1 chain.
- That some cohesion be applied to the “innovative race concepts” that have already been introduced. For example, the Golden Eagle might lead into the Cox Plate, while the new four-year-old races are expanded and co-ordinated to legitimately encourage horses to stay in training. This would avoid clashes and establish natural links and pathways say, for example, between the Everest and the Manikato and/or the Darley Classic.
- That more than lip service is paid to integrity issues, with mandatory 24–hour surveillance of all stables and probity checks on owners. Likewise, to the alarming recent spate of jockey fatalities. At least 21 jockeys or track riders have died in Australia since 2000, with nine of the last 10 of those women.
- That the whip is phased out. Start the process now as its ban is inevitable. Those opposing a ban insist it’s just a tiny thing which makes a noise, so how significant can it be to performance?
- Do not ignore the sentiment that racing has lost its “charm”, with the dominance of a handful of major stables and the cacophony of corporate bookmaker advertisements.
- That maintaining a strong daily presence in the major newspapers, even if this is at the expense of the industry, is vital to ensuring that racing remains in the mainstream psyche. When I started at the Sporting Globe there were more than 30 people employed to cover racing in various capacities in the Herald office. Now there are one or two, depending on the time of year.
- That the onus on trainers to rehome horses has to be eased. It is an industry-wide responsibility which ought to involve the major stallion farms from which the majority are conceived. As I’ve previously noted, huge money has been pledged to animal welfare but what strategy will be set in place? What responsibility lies with the farms who produce these horses, and governments who enjoy great revenue from them, and who would be dealing with a massive employment crisis if the industry was seriously threatened?
- Consider that the lifeblood of the game still more than likely sits outside of the major cities with $5,000 to $10,000 ownership investors. As such, a more judicious spread of prize-money is more desirable than adding more and more to obscenely rich races. Maidens and midweek provincial and country feature races should be a priority, along with standard midweek and Saturday metropolitan prize-money which, while healthy, is still below where it should be. It’s still the great Australian dream, no matter whether you’re in the city or the country – ‘can it win in town?’
- Consider that racing’s administrators of the 1970s and ‘80s blithely oversaw a decline in attendances (as they were awash with TAB funds), and that you might be over-seeing, if not engineering, a decline in betting and general interest as you cannibalise each other.
- Consider that less can be more. The ‘later’ Oaks day experiment last year was ‘half arsed’, still with nine races. Is there a need to cap the number of meetings and races, recognising that quality engagement may be as important long-term as turnover, and therefore cap the numbers we breed to minimise wastage?
- Consider that if we want to continue to bring overseas horses to Australia in the spring and autumn we should get fair dinkum and link with Hong Kong and Japan in the region. This would allow us to take on the Breeders’ Cup and Champions Day in England. Attract the best.
- Examine the impact of the huge spend on international horses, especially those aimed at the Melbourne Cup, and promote alternative strategies.
- Do not discount making use of the ‘vacant space’ and better weather of late November and early December. Perhaps a 2000-metre race for three-year-olds, or a 1400-metre major contest to follow the aforementioned major 1200-metre sprints?
- Examine why clubs are so palpably supporting corporate bookmakers who do not return as much to the industry as the TAB and who offer tote products with impunity and generally offer poisonous place odds, not to mention driving us to the point of insanity with endless and inane advertising.
- Is it time for a comprehensive review of the wagering landscape given TAB pari-mutuel betting’s share of Victorian thoroughbred racing turnover has dropped from 44 per cent in 2015 to around 30 per cent now? You know, Tabcorp – the joint-venture partner of the state racing industry and its biggest source of funding.
- Consider that more fluid race programming is vital to field sizes and turnover. As a rule, race programmes are set in place far too early.
Just a few questions over which we could ‘chew the fat’ of a nicely marbled scotch fillet.
Perhaps not all my points are valid and this is certainly not an exhaustive list of issues. I’m sure there are more, so email me: email@example.com