The Spring is officially in the air with the group one Makybe Stakes meeting at Flemington on Saturday.
South Australian Jockey Club’s decision to abandon jumps racing at Adelaide’s only metropolitan venue has rightly caused a furore among jumps racing owners, trainers and supporters.
And not only in South Australia, but across the country.
While there is dismay at the decision itself, what has fuelled much of the fury is that the SAJC’s justification appears to not be based on jumps racing per se. Rather, the decision has been rationalised as a purely commercial one.
SAJC has claimed that holding a handful of jumps meetings at Morphetville is so monumentally detrimental to the SAJC “brand” that it warrants the abandonment of jumps racing altogether.
In an interview immediately following the announcement in August, CEO Brenton Wilkinson said that the SAJC Board “made a decision a couple of years ago that we don’t believe that it’s appropriate to hold jumps racing at Morphetville”.
Mr Wilkinson acknowledged that the “statistics from jumps racing have improved greatly, and the stewards over here do a good job managing the trainers and the jockeys and the horses,” but nevertheless he and SAJC continue to believe that jumps racing is “detrimental to our brand”.
What does this mean, in practical terms? According to Mr Wilkinson, corporate entities who were thinking of holding functions at the club for their staff and clients declined to continue “because we have jumps racing at Morphetville”.
No wonder the jumps racing fraternity is incensed. Those who work in the industry, devote their immense skill, expertise and entire working lives to it, along with the many passionate enthusiasts who support jumps racing throughout South Australia, are not considered as important as corporates. These are people who have no connection or interest in racing, but are simply looking for a room to hold a lunch.
But this part of the SAJC justification has not angered the jumps fraternity as much as Mr Wilkinson’s tacit admission that the club has essentially caved in to the efforts of a small but vocal minority of anti-jumps racing protestors.
This is especially galling because when a two-year moratorium was agreed between SAJC and Thoroughbred Racing South Australia [TRSA] over the future of jumps racing at the city venue in 2012, SAJC was adamant that it wasn’t, and wouldn’t be in any way, influenced by anti-racing lobby groups in its thinking. And yet it would appear to be the case, from Mr Wilkinson’s interview, that these very groups have won the day – at the expense of the many racing professionals and enthusiasts who are passionately committed to the industry.
Those involved in jumps racing at all levels quite justifiably feel abandoned by a body whose entire raison d’être is, after all, horse racing.
To remove jumps racing from Morphetville for the sake of a) turning our only city racing venue into yet another corporate function centre, and b) to placate groups who will not be placated until all horse racing is banned altogether, seems not only a betrayal but extremely short-sighted, and one that will have further ramifications not only for jumps racing, but all racing in the state.