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NSW breeders threaten legal action over Balding’s possible reappointment

Heat turned up as bitter power battle at the top of Racing NSW continues

Thoroughbred Breeders NSW has dramatically entered the fray in the increasingly bitter divide over a proposed extension of Racing NSW chairman Russell Balding’s term on the board, threatening legal action if legislation is passed allowing the director to stay on for a record 14 years.

In a further escalation of the ugly fight for power, the state breeders’ representative body wrote to Racing Minister David Harris on Sunday voicing its strong opposition to Balding being granted another two-year term beyond the statutory ten years allowed under the Public Service Commission appointment standards. 

TBNSW president Hamish Esplin confirmed to ANZ Bloodstock News last night that the organisation sent the letter to Minister Harris which outlines that it had sought legal advice on the issue.

The letter to Harris, drafted by ABL litigation partner Jonathan Milner for TBNSW, said that if a board member’s tenure is extended beyond the statutory maximum term without the assessment of candidates by an independent selection panel could breach the state’s Thoroughbred Racing Act.

“There are seven board members. Is it seriously suggested that the reappointment of Mr Balding alone will facilitate ‘continuity and corporate stability’?” the letter read, which was first leaked to the Australian Financial Review yesterday.

Esplin also confirmed last night that TBNSW wrote to Harris three months ago calling for a renewal of the Racing NSW board as it did two years ago to then state Racing Minister, the Nationals’ Kevin Anderson, who first instigated a two-year extension of Balding’s chairmanship.

TBNSW never received a reply to the first two letters nor has it had a response to this week’s statement of legal action, Esplin said last night.

Because of Harris’ refusal to hear breeders’ concerns over Balding’s proposed ongoing tenure, the industry body said it was left with “no option” but to consider its legal options.

NSW Premier Chris Minns and Harris have backed plans to introduce legislation to state parliament which, if passed, would be the third time Balding’s tenure on the thoroughbred body’s board has been extended.

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys, who will soon bring up 20 years in the job at the state’s thoroughbred regulator, is strongly advocating for incumbency to be maintained, a position the government is so far supporting despite the growing political pressure on the Minns government.

A spokesperson for Minister Harris yesterday told the AFR: “The current board led racing through the very difficult COVID period, and it is that experience that is needed with difficult economic headwinds.

“Russell Balding is an experienced and skilled Chairman who, along with the Racing NSW team, has revitalised racing in NSW. Racing NSW is in the middle of a period of success and the current board is doing a very strong job.”

TBNSW’s public statement comes after prominent industry figure and former Racing NSW chairman John Messara, the Arrowfield Stud founder, entered the public sphere speaking out against Balding’s reappointment, as did Hall Of Fame trainer Gai Waterhouse and Katie Page, the chief executive of Harvey Norman and co-owner of thoroughbred auction house Magic Millions.

Widden Stud principal Antony Thompson, the chairman of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia’s marketing arm Aushorse, has also been drawn into the feud after the leaking of emails from V’landys who accused the industry body of waging a campaign to damage his and the reputation of the chairman by backgrounding to certain journalists.

“What is most disappointing is that the NSW thoroughbred racing industry has many competitors but, rather than working together, some sectors seem intent on tearing it apart,” said a V’landys email reportedly sent in September and published in the AFR yesterday. 

“I am dumbfounded how anyone involved in the racing industry acting in a way that sabotages the NSW thoroughbred racing industry is good to your membership.” 

Thompson has strenuously rejected the allegations.

Under Public Service Commission appointment standards, by which Racing NSW is governed, it notes members’ tenures should not exceed ten years – unless change would be contrary to the public interest.

Balding has been on the Racing NSW board since 2011 and he was appointed as deputy chairman under Messara in 2015. 

Messara retired as chairman of Racing NSW in 2016, just one year into a three-year term, which led to Balding’s elevation as chairman. 

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