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The Roar

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How much racing is too much?

(Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)
Expert
5th August, 2014
10

Racing Queensland should be applauded for their initiative to declare Tuesday as a non-racing day, and other states should take note.

For the 2014/15 season, there will be no thoroughbred racing in Queensland on Tuesdays from September onwards. It essentially gives their industry the day off – something New South Wales and Victorian industry participants have not been afforded.

Queensland already does not host race meetings on Monday so their industry basically gets two days off each week. Tuesday’s races have been allocated to other days, which means larger race cards on fewer race days.

Where racing has been the lifeblood of smaller communities in the past, those days are over. Attendance figures are dismal and the rise of corporate bookmakers has local bookmakers heading the way of the dodo.

The demands of participants within the racing industry to meet race day requirements are extraordinarily high.

Days commonly start at 3am. With race meetings on 363 days of the year (Good Friday and Christmas Day the exceptions) in the larger states, a day off is seldom found in Victoria or New South Wales because racing means turnover, and the industry thrives on turnover.

For this reason, the explanation behind Racing Queensland’s decision raised an eyebrow – racing on Tuesdays simply wasn’t profitable for them.

This begs the question, if it’s not profitable for Queensland, how much more profitable is it for Victoria and New South Wales? To answer this suggests there is a dollar worth placed on the wellbeing of industry participants.

The well publicised mental health issues faced by leading trainers Lee Freedman, John Sadler and Tony Vasil have turned heads both in public and behind the scenes.

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On August 18, Racing Victoria will be opening their doors to all Victoria trainers where operations will be explained to those attending. Headlining the day is BeyondBlue chairman Jeff Kennett, who will address some of the mental health issues which trainers have faced over recent times.

This veiled admission of the issues faced within the industry is a start to alleviating some of the pressures which trainers face, but there is a long way to go. Kennett has called for less activity in the 24/7 industry.

“It’s bringing them down in droves, the pressure on them, and not only in their mental health but their financial position,” he told The Herald Sun in June.

“It’s all because the gaming bodies want product seven days a week but it’s killing the industry.

“Sports betting agencies won’t reduce it and the industry hasn’t got the strength to do it, so the government will have to step in reduce the number of racing days.”

It will be interesting to see if Kennett retains these views on August 18. With no programming changes to the Victorian 2014/15 season to the extent of Queensland, Racing Victoria would not risk being left red-faced if Kennett were to side with trainers again on the day.

Victoria’s November state election creates an opportunity for government intervention but Labor leader Daniel Andrews has signalled zero intent of interfering with Racing Victoria.

Due to betting turnover tax contributing so much to state revenue, it is unlikely any government will have the guts to interfere with their state’s racing administrator.

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Betting turnover continues to increase as broadcast rights widen, and this technological era makes betting a little too convenient. Amid these increases, alignment between turnover and trainer dividends could be an avenue considered to alleviate the financial pressures faced by trainers.

Outside of Victoria, we have seen dismal field sizes in New South Wales throughout winter. We repeatedly see acceptances extended for Saturday meetings due to small field sizes. Last Saturday, six of the eight races on the card at Rosehill had eight or less runners. The first race had just five.

The Saturday before that, Randwick (Kensington) was not much better. Five of the eight races jumped with fields of eight or less.

It is a situation which has embarrassed Racing NSW, who changed the conditions of two benchmark races at the end of August to make those races more attractive. These changes come at the ire of trainers and owners who targeted those races over the preceding months.

Small field sizes, frustrated trainers and angry owners. It paints an ugly picture for the racing throughout the winter months.

Hong Kong is arguably the world’s most well managed racing jurisdiction. Prize money is phenomenal, the quality of racing is excellent, turnover is good and their attendance figures are healthy.

They race just two days per week and have a two-month break in between seasons.

Hong Kong however, is unique to the rest of the world because there are relatively few horses. That’s due to ownership being restricted to Hong Kong Jockey Club members and membership itself being restricted (read: very expensive!).

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Veering in the direction of the Hong Kong model, Racing Queensland’s decision to give the industry a day off is an encouraging step towards industry welfare. The size of our industry means we will never have a racing calendar as efficient as Hong Kong but more can be done for the trainers who wake up at 3am every morning to ensure race meetings go ahead 363 days of the year.

It will be fascinating to see if Jeff Kennett retains his view that the national industry requires a regular day off when he addresses Victorian trainers on August 18.