Steve Moran

Time to save the world – and horseracing in the process!

I will be so emotive as to suggest that watching Save The Children ads, which focused on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, during Channel 7’s coverage of the races last Saturday was confronting. 

However, I won’t be so pious as to suggest that it wholly distracted me from the rather frivolous and indulgent (but fun) activity which we call the punt. Shame on me given that around 21 million people, including more than 11 million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen (population around 29 million).

But it did get me thinking. At the risk of being melodramatic – perhaps we could save the world, or at least make a significant contribution to a plethora of worthwhile causes – and save horseracing in the process. 

Perhaps this could be branded “gallops for good” – the implication being that we’re here to stay and so we should given all that is great about racing and the “good” we do for charity and community at large. 

From purchase of the horse to the punt, our sport-cum-industry is entirely built on discretionary income and benign taxation. We happily accept the deduction from betting pools and the commission paid to sales houses et al. 

Why would we recoil from another tiny imposition which could revolutionise charity fundraising and reinforce all that is good about racing at a time when opposition grows louder via certain extremist groups and anti-gambling sentiment rises?

The Greens recent proposal to ban horseracing may have been swiftly and rightly rebuked, but to blithely ignore that racing and gambling are seen as pernicious in some parts of the community is to be simply foolish.

Governments, you say, will never relinquish the millions of dollars generated by racing gambling. Probably not but who’s to say? While the reasons behind Prohibition were more complex than simply banning alcohol, it was done despite estimates that it cost the US federal government a total of $11 billion in lost tax revenue and more than $300 million to enforce. 

Notwithstanding what is already done it is surely a “no brainer”, now more than ever, for the horseracing industry at large to set up an all-industry model of sustained financial support for organisations such as Save The Children or whichever group/s might be considered worthy. 

The very simplest starting point may be for the TAB and all other betting agencies to ask punters if they would agree to having a small percentage of any winnings donated to this one fund. I would imagine the TAB and other betting operators have the sophistication in their software to do this very easily and the resources to have someone manage such an undertaking. 

Given the reputation of racing industry people and punters to rally to a cause, I’d be shocked if the majority of betting customers did not agree to such a tax; say one per cent of any collect. Am I going to care if my collect is $99 rather than $100? The detail would be worked out by smarter men than me, but such a levy could amount to a huge sum per annum given the number of betting transactions and collects on any given day. 

At a time when horseracing faces various pressures as mentioned above, and when many in the community view as obscene the money spent on yearlings, it would certainly be the right thing for it to do. How many yearling vendors post-sale, Group 1 winning owners, or the stallion owners of the same would oppose a tiny levy? 

The key is that it would be entirely voluntary. Click the box to opt in or opt out. That’s how most things work these days – subscribe or unsubscribe. 

I don’t know whether the racing or gambling industries have ever been petitioned in the past, or whether organisations such as Save The Children would be reluctant to be aligned with racing and gambling. 

While gambling obviously has its negative connotations, in horseracing it is chiefly a managed entertainment for many Australians (especially older Australians), and not as insidious as some other forms of gambling nor the saturation of sports betting advertisements.

Some charitable organisations may jump on their ‘high horse’ but, in truth, the links are already there. 

In FY20, Tabcorp contributed over $12 million to charities and community organisations. In Hong Kong, the contribution from the Jockey Club (HKJC) to charity and community was HK$4.5 billion (approx. AU$81,100,000) in 2020-21.

However, I’m sure there’s more we could do individually if appropriately invited and organised by industry stakeholders.

Perhaps the Melbourne Racing Club could seed the fund with $42,000; $1,000 for each of the 42 100yearold trees it recently felled in a move which further alienated racing from the broader community regardless of how transparent the Club claims to have been. 

Let’s do something grand, something momentous. I’m not sure my limited skill sets would be of much value but I will happily volunteer to assist, gratis. 

I’m not being alarmist, nor do I think racing faces extinction, but every bit of goodwill we can muster can only help in the current environment and a structured, rather than ad hoc, small donation from a collect on the punt seems a pretty obvious way to start. 

Salute to Murray Baker

The announcement of Murray Baker’s impending retirement was, unsurprisingly, low key. 

However, it ought be recorded that the 75year-old has been unquestionably the most successful New Zealand trainer on Australian soil, and that record might be further improved before he hands the reins to co-trainer Andrew Forsman at the end of April. 

While some debate still smoulders as to whether Baker’s 22 Group 1 wins (including those in partnership with Forsman and son Bjorn) in Australia is the most by a New Zealand-based trainer – ahead of John Wheeler – his record in one race, the ATC Australian Derby, sets him apart. 

He’s won the Sydney Derby five times with Nom Du Jeu, Dundeel, Mongolian Khan, Jon Snow and Quick Thinker and finished second twice with Madison County and Harris Tweed. 

That tally matches the deeds of the legendary Bart Cummings and is second only to Tommy Smith (who were competing in their own backyard). For some perspective, Baker’s five Derby wins came between 2008 and 2020 and in that span Aidan O’Brien won the (Epsom) Derby on just one more occasion. 

“Winning five Australian Derbys in Sydney and finishing second twice is probably my greatest achievement,” Baker told journalist Danny Power in a recent interview. 

His CV of Australian major races won includes the Caulfield Cup, Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Futurity Stakes, Emirates Stakes, Crystal Mile, Memsie Stakes, Underwood Stakes, Victoria Derby, AJC/ATCDerby, ATC Oaks, Randwick and Rosehill Guineas’, Spring Champion Stakes, Sydney Cup, Brisbane Cup, Prime Minister’s Cup, Tulloch Stakes, Gloaming Stakes, Ranvet Stakes and South Australian Oaks.

Baker has trained 56 Group 1 winners.