‘There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done’
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
So sang Kenny Rogers in his 1978 hit The Gambler and right now there’s a high-stakes game of poker – one that has been running for many years – between the Racing NSW hierarchy of chairman Russell Balding and chief executive Peter V’landys, the NSW Labor government and a growing chorus of opponents.
Legislation to extend Balding’s tenure on the board of Racing NSW to a record 14 years, one that has already been twice granted beyond the initial eight-year and now ten-year statutory period, was announced on Monday by Racing Minister David Harris. It has not not yet been passed through Parliament.
V’landys has been the poker table bully for many years, going all-in and winning because the stakes have been too high for others to put all their chips at risk.
Now, however, the pressure is building. Can the new Minns Labor government, elected in March, withstand the backlash for going against good corporate governance and allowing Balding to remain or will they back down because the political heat became too much?
Arrowfield’s John Messara again went public with his opposition to his Racing NSW successor Balding continuing as the leader of the thoroughbred peak body until late 2025, garnering mainstream coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review, while Harvey Norman chief executive and Magic Millions co-owner Katie Page, the wife of large-scale breeder and owner Gerry Harvey, also questioned the judgement of the proposed decision.
Outside the racing bubble, Page and Messara’s public disenchantment probably won’t garner enough political capital to force a change on their own, but Hall Of Fame trainer Gai Waterhouse’s decision to voice her disapproval at Racing NSW and the government’s stance may well do.
Gai, such is her profile that she can be referred to by just her first name, transcends racing. The person in the street who reads her opinion may then consider it valid, thus putting added weight on Minns, Harris and their government colleagues to reconsider.
Will V’landys and Balding withdraw knowing they won’t have to show their cards or will they re–raise where it becomes a game of all or nothing?
It’s a fascinating scenario where it appears that there are just two camps: you’re with PVL and Balding or you’re against them and there’s nobody in between.
The question is, do their opponents have more chips to play and who folds first? Precedent suggests it won’t be V’landys.
General Beau (Brazen Beau) won as a September two-year-old and he also has the scalps of Anamoe (Street Boss) and Extreme Warrior (Extreme Choice) on his CV, but owner-breeder David Moodie remains a touch miffed that the now five-year-old stallion hasn’t yet found a home at stud.
The talented sprinter, a Blue Diamond Prelude (Gr 3, 1100m) scorer, won his first race since he was a spring three-year-old in the Always Welcome Stakes (Listed, 1200m) at Flemington last Saturday, the drought-breaking victory also his first at six furlongs.
Now Moodie and his co-owners, along with trainer Mathew Ellerton, will test the waters in the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) at Caulfield tomorrow in a bid to enhance his stud credentials.
“No one has ever wanted him and he was a bloody good two-year-old,” Moodie told us this week.
“He’s got certain traits, General Beau. It’s a guessing game and if you go on his two-year-old form he’s a stallion and you go on his resilience and his toughness and the nature of the horse, he’s a stallion, so who knows?
“He was unwanted in the market, so we just kept racing him, but he’s got to win something more than a Listed race to land somewhere.”
General Beau’s credentials and marketability may also be enhanced by the promising start of another son of Brazen Beau: Newgate Farm’s Tassort, who won a Golden Gift (1100m) and finished runner-up in the Silver Slipper Stakes (Gr 2, 1100m) before injury ended his racing career.
From just five first crop runners this season, Tassort has sired three individual winners including Emirates Park’s Gimcrack Stakes (Gr 3, 1000m) winner Manaal.
Moodie believes General Beau is capable of running well over 1400 metres. The entire’s chances were perhaps impeded after the barrier draw, coming up with 16 in the field of 16 plus three emergencies.
“We are going to back him up on Saturday, a Group 1 over 1400 metres. I’ve had to listen to all those scribes say that he won’t run 1200, he won’t run that, but the irony is, we’ve always reckoned he’d run 1400 metres at a different [slower] tempo,” Moodie said.
“All those experts on Racing.com who knocked him at 1200, we’re now going to run him at 1400.”
I attended Randwick on Cox Plate day, or Invitation day depending on which side of the border you are – declaration: I was a guest of Racing NSW in the Directors Room – and I was at Flemington on Saturday just gone, Champions day, on my own accord.
Both were great, thoroughly enjoyable days with excellent racing and I was watching from two distinctly different vantage points, but neither was disappointing. The opposite in fact. No doubt it’s preaching to the converted, but seeing good horses is a big part of the attraction – as is the thrill of the punt.
For Champions day I was on the Rails Promenade about the 500-metre mark just as the horses came into the straight. It was there you could almost see Jamie Spencer realising he may have set West Wind Blows (Teofilo) too much of a task in the Champions Stakes as Atishu (Savabeel) was coasting.
There were barbecues and a friendly atmosphere with many industry figures seen enjoying the show in a relaxed environment.
Cup week at Flemington may not get the 100,000-plus people per day it used to, but I don’t think it needs to. Those who were there on Champions day, at least where I was situated, will be back. You could move, it was comfortable and you could bring in your own food and drink.
It’s part of the charm of Flemington and the spring carnival as a whole – in Sydney and Melbourne – has (maybe through rose-coloured glasses) been like yesteryear.
At Randwick, I was overlooking the famous winning post as Espiona (Extreme Choice) lunged to win The Invitation and Star Thoroughbreds’ stablemate Chrysaor (Better Than Ready) won the next race, the Callander-Presnell in honour of two esteemed racing journos.
Family and friends, less engaged in racing than someone like myself, also gave both venues the big thumbs up and can’t wait to return.
And I don’t want to speak after the fact, so I also think the Melbourne Racing Club and Racing Victoria have got it right by pushing back the Thousand Guineas and Sir Rupert Clarke to this Saturday.