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EXCLUSIVE: Full interview with Peter V'Landys

Peter V'Landys (Image: supplied)
Expert
7th April, 2015
5
4712 Reads

The full interview with Chief Executive of Racing NSW, Peter V’Landys follows.

(Editor’s note: V’Landys held the interview with The Roar in the days leading up to the big wet which forced the postponement of the races to Monday.)

Jason Cornell for The Roar: Hello Peter – great to speak – and just in regards to timing, I thought it was even better to chat to you just before The Championships and the Inglis Easter Yearlings sales. Obviously we had the NSW Election [last week], which is probably a very big thing for New South Wales racing because tax parity is an essential part of the strategy; a good result?

Peter: Look, it’s a good result. The Premier has made it well known during his campaign that the tax parity issue will be part of his budget and budget process. We believe we have a very credible case and we’re very confident that he’s going to implement it.

We’re looking forward to the new government being formed. We’re looking forward to the budget being set, and having New South Wales racing, for the very first time in history, being able to compete on an equal footing with all other states in Australia.

It’s unfair if Victoria gets – in thoroughbreds – $70-something million a year more than us, and $100 million more for the three codes across harness, greyhounds and thoroughbreds. It makes it hard for us to compete. If we can get that extra $70 million, we’ll certainly be increasing all of our prize money. The Championships will be a certain regular feature. It gives it certainty.

As we said from day one, we didn’t want a handout, we didn’t want a grant. We just want what’s rightfully ours, which is a greater share of the punter’s losses. We’re looking forward to parity coming very soon.

Editor’s note: Nationals leader and Deputy Premier Troy Grant was reinstated as Racing Minister, also taking on the portfolios of Police and Justice. The issue at hand is that at present, the NSW Government takes $3.22 out of every $100 bet on the NSW TAB while in Victoria, the state government tax rate is only $1.28.

The Roar: Do you have any inside information of whether or not you’ll have continuity of the same Racing Minister?

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Peter: No, we don’t know. I’m told that the Ministry will be announced before Easter, so hopefully in the next couple days we’ll know who our Minister is. We’ve been very happy with Troy Grant. Hopefully he might still get it, but we’ll just see what happens.

The Roar: Moving onto The Championship then. Obviously we’re on the cusp of that. I suppose from looking on the outside, a big change this year and a lot of the marketing has been around the Country and Provincial Championships.

Peter: Absolutely. Look it has, and it’s been extremely well embraced. I’ve been going around the countryside myself with my Deputy Chairman, Naseema Sparks. We couldn’t believe how much it’s been embraced. I’ve never seen excitement like it and how people have adapted to it.

It’s been terrific, which gives us that incentive to do it bigger and brighter next year.

Peter: Just one point on that, which is very important. The greatest measure or key performance indicator of this series is betting. We provide a product to the people and the betting has gone up 30%, 40%, 50% at these race meetings.

The punter, the customer themselves has loved the concept of the country provincial championships, and that’s just as important. It’s important to have our participants embrace it and engage it, but it’s just as important the customer embraces it. And we’ve never seen betting turnover jump like this. Even just from the weekend, Muswellbrook was up 40% or 50% on betting turnover. That’s extraordinary.

The Roar: Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s one of the great initiatives. Now, The Championships is a Racing NSW event, but it’s hosted by the ATC. With regards to who does what how does division of duty happen between the ATC and The Championships?

Peter: The situation with the ATC is that it’s a partnership. It’s not Racing NSW, it’s not the ATC; it’s the both of us. It’s an initiative of Racing NSW, but it’s a partnership with the ATC.

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We were very fortunate that the ATC already had those traditional races that need no introduction: the Doncaster, the Derby. Naturally we’ve included the Queen Elizabeth and made it a substantially high profile race.

But they’re time-tested races. In partnership with the ATC, we’ve just made them a series of races and what we refer to as the Grand Final of Australian racing. We’re the only ones that can actually have the Grand Finals because the horses are at a mature stage, and especially the 3-year-olds, and it’s at the end of the season.

Realistically, it is a grand final. In every sporting event, the pinnacle of that event, of that sport, is its grand final.

The AFL has the highest ratings and the highest attendance at the grand final of the AFL.

The NRL, same thing; netball competition; whatever competition you have, the grand final is the pinnacle.

Spring Carnival is a fantastic event and we admire it greatly. They’re fortunate because they don’t have any sports against them. They don’t have the AFL, they don’t have the NRL. The cricket has hardly started – they’ve pretty well got a monopoly on the sports face.

With the autumn unfortunately, we do have the NRL start-up … and we were just catching the AFL start-up.

We have all the sports against us, but what we have that the other states don’t have is the capacity to have it as the grand final. That’s what’s important to us, and that’s what we’re going to build on. Now with the Inglis sales as well, we’re calling it ‘Destination Week’. You’ve got the two pillars with Day 1 and Day 2, and then you’ve got the Inglis Sales in the middle.

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I don’t think you’ll get better racing anywhere in the world than the first of The Championships. If we do get [tax] parity and we can increase the prize money, it’ll just get bigger, and we’ll probably put more money into The Championships.

That’ll mean even be bigger events and bigger grand finals.

The Roar: You read in the press [last week] writers such as Ken Calendar and Max Presnell both writing today that I suppose it will be critical of the ATC in regards to marketing of the Golden Slipper and obviously Saturday’s BMW. Max makes some comments in regards to the marketing of food rather than the racing.

Just any comment in that regards how it have pans out this year?

Peter: They have to appreciate one thing racing’s done wrong over many years is that it hasn’t really attracted the younger demographic. The ATC is trying to rectify that situation by aiming at the younger demographic.

Although I agree with Ken and Max that the horse is the real hero, but you also have to get people excited to get to the races. Get the lure to get into the races. Once you get into the races, to have the product to be able to have them engaged. We are at Racing NSW this week, we’re purely doing the horse, so it balances itself out. We just did an advert for Sacred Falls, a three times Doncaster winner against Hallowed Crown.

We did the big ad that’s going in all the country newspapers at the moment. “Billabong Road – Do it for Mudgee” – “Do it for Wagga”

We’ve put an ad in every country newspaper about the horse all this week and next week. With the championships, the Racing NSW part of the budget will all be about the horse.

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The ATC complemented perfectly by trying to then attract the younger demographic with their campaign. It’s all it’s a partnership. They do one angle, we do another angle.

As I understand, Ken and Max have been around a long time, and they know they say the “The hero being the horse,” and I have no argument with that.

But at the same time, you got to get a sense of who the horse is, so you need to get them there in the first place. It’s a balancing act.

The Roar: Something that’s pretty close to my heart is owners. With the Cup Club, owners on the weekend were lucky to have a winner with Excess Knowledge. Those owners had a great time because there was space there at Rosehill.

Yet, we’re finding it hard to book for The Championships because it’s booked out – which is great. Hopefully in the future, it will have extended facilities.

I’m just wondering how hard is it for those owners of even horses that are running in the Country and Provincial Championships, to get a spot at The Championships?

Peter: A lot of them have are booked under these facilities 12 months ahead of time. However, in the ballroom upstairs, we’ve got a Racing NSW is hosting a function for over 500 people; people that we’ve mainly invited are the owners. There’s lot of owners of race horses that will be in that function. We’re just actually preparing a list at the moment to invite owners that are competing in The Championship races.

We are looking after the owners as much as we can. In years to come when The Championships being more successful, we’ll look at facilities especially for owners. At the moment, it’s only its second year. You learn from each year. We’ll learn again next year.

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The Roar: How many current owners are there in New South Wales – is there any segmentation of those numbers?

Peter: Look, it depends on which classes of owner, and if it’s an active owner or an inactive owner. When they have the 30,000, if you include all people in all syndicates, there’s a lot of owners in New South Wales.

That is decreasing because, unless they can get their expenses back what they put into racing, they go out of racing.

That’s the reason why parity is so important. We need to make the return to owners even greater, so they can absorb the cost that they’re paying out.

The Roar: I’ve asked this question before – I think apart from the 2, which are the key things I think for racing, which is wagering and integrity, and which I’m sure you’d agree with, there’s a number 1 KPI for a racing jurisdiction should be ownership; and have that as the KPI.

Peter: I’ve probably got a KPI which is the same. At the moment in Australia, we pay between 30% and 40% in returns to owners for the cost of what they pay to maintain the horse. That’s the KPI you got to look at. We should be getting it up to 70%-75%. In some jurisdictions like Japan, it’s 100%.

In England it’s 20%.

In England, there’s a lot less returns to owners than there are in other jurisdiction. That’s important to us, and that is to make sure that the percentage of return to owners is covering their cost.

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At the moment as a group, owners in New South Wales lose $200 million as a group, because it costs $350 million just to get their horse trained and maintained. We give them $150 million in prize money and other incentives, like BOBS et cetera. They’re losing $200 million a year, and that doesn’t include the capital cost of the horse.

That’s only about a 30% return of what they’re putting in. We need to increase that to a higher percentage, so we are absorbing some of their costs.

The Roar: In Victoria there’s a pretty successful owner’s card program; every owner gets a card. Is that something that you are considering for New South Wales?

Peter: Yeah, absolutely. You can do a lot of things when you get $70 million a year more than us. Absolutely – we have a few things that we were looking at if we get parity.

If you don’t have the funds, you try to balance your budget as much as you can to be kind to everyone. At the moment we get $70 million less than Victoria, so they can do a lot more than we can do.

The Roar: The relationship with Tabcorp, obviously it’s very strong, especially that Tabcorp has exclusive sponsorship rights in New South Wales. I’m going to get in a little bit here to the media deals. It’s been suggested that Racing NSW potentially may allow corporate bookmakers to have vision?

Any comments in regards to I suppose the deal with Tabcorp and Vision?

Peter: The deal with Tabcorp on digital is non-exclusive. We’ve always said that we would look at doing a strategy on digital. We need to sit down with the ATC and country and provincial clubs and determine. That’s when we’ll decide who we’re going to give streaming rights to – the board of Racing NSW hasn’t considered the matter.

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All we’ve done at the moment isn’t sure that it’s going to be non-exclusive. It’s got potential to reach out on the new platforms. There’s only one real service provider to the pubs and club – even when TVN was around. That’s Sky; we’ve done that deal.

With Foxtel it used to be two suppliers. There used to be Sky and TVN. Now we’re just doing exclusively with Sky on Sky Thoroughbred Central. The last pillar is the digital, and as I say, it’s not inclusive to Tabcorp. They haven’t got it exclusively. We’ll be looking at providing it to other operators. That will be done in the next month or so.

The Roar: You’re obviously talking about the digital platform there. Do you think that that would extend the sponsorship? I know that corporate bookmarkers…

Peter: Without getting into commercial sensitivity, they’re going to fixed-term contract. It’s not forever; it’s only for a number of years, which is not many left. We’ll look at that at that particular point in time. When that deal expires, we’ll have a look at it.

The Roar: I won’t go into any details about TVN and the politics, or the politics of Australian racing, but I suppose I’ll just ask you to comment. Do you think that things will be very cordial at the Australia Racing conference in Brisbane in May?

Peter: Absolutely. Look, there’s no personal problems between the states. We get along famously with Bob Roulston and Bernard Saundry. I’ve known Bernard for over 25 years. He’s a very good man, good administrator. We’ll always be friends. If you disagree on an issue, it doesn’t make you mortal enemies.

We’ve disagreed on the wagering aspects and the vision aspects, but we agree on 90% of the other things. It’s not as thought we’re at war with each other from it – we’re still very close.

The Roar: Things like scheduling? It Kind of a pushing point this year where we had the Randwick Guineas and the Australian Guineas on the same day?

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Peter: We’re working on that; we’ll work on that with them. We’ll come to a resolution. It was an unfortunate clash this year, because they wanted to ensure that we had the first two weeks in April. My chairman John Messara is working with the ATC and the VRC and et cetera. I’m sure there’ll be a solution reached very soon.

The Roar: One of the other I suppose criticisms of New South Wales Racing has been the race fields. One of the things that I’ve always thought with New South Wales Racing, we don’t have an authority figure as the chief handicapper. Is that something that you think could potentially help race fields, and just in regards to communicating racing?

Peter: No, I don’t think so. At the end of the day, it’s not about one person. There’s a multitude of reasons why race fields are… and the biggest one in New South Wales. The Victorians have got a big advantage with race fields, is because we get an hour out of Melbourne, you have so many centres. Here in New South Wales, we have got a great geographical area. It’s hard to get all the horses to come from all the different areas, whereas in Victoria they can get them from anywhere with an hour’s radius.

In New South Wales, there are also barrier trials, which they don’t really have in Victoria. I know they got jump outs, but nothing like New South Wales. There’s the compressed weights, which is certainly affecting us, with the jockeys minimums going to 54 kilos when they used to be 47kg. The weighs are compressed, so it’s really favouring the top weights and the bigger trainers.

It’s not just one reason. I think that having a personality for a handicap will make absolutely no difference.

The Roar: Apart from once we get through The Championships, and question in regards to tax parity as such, what are the other priorities of Racing New South Wales, and maybe even more importantly, what are the priorities of Peter V’Landys?

Peter: Look, the priority’s always going to be integrity and getting everyone on a level playing field. We’re going to invest a lot more money in integrity. When a punter has a bet, he knows that he’s got an equal opportunity as every other punter.

That’s what I enjoy about racing. It’s a competition, not only for participants with their horses, but it’s also a competition between punters.

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That is, Jason Cornell and Peter V’Landys sit down, read the form, you know who’s the better reader of the form: Jason or Peter? There’s always that big variable; that’s integrity. We want to make sure that Jason and Peter have got an equal chance to bet on a horse through its form, and nothing else.

Same with participants. When a participant doesn’t use drugs and et cetera for the horses to improve, the person that doesn’t should not be disadvantaged.

We want to have everyone on a level playing field, be it participant, be it punter. Integrity is paramount and paramount in the future; that’s one thing we’ll concentrate on.

Look, The Championship’s growing, it is going to be a big factor, and also looking at making country racing more viable. There’s a lot of things still to be done in the next few years.

The Roar: I know you’ve got a background in harness racing. I suppose some of the things that are happening in the Queensland at the present time, I don’t think the right model is to have harness racing, thoroughbred racing and greyhound racing together. I also wanted to ask whether or not you’ve been an owner of a thoroughbred before, or if you’re a current owner at the present time?

Peter:Look, let me answer the first question first. I totally agree with you. Having all the codes together does not work. You need to have segregation. We don’t want other industries’ problems.

With the greyhound problem at the moment – they have substantial problems. We believe it’s not broken, and it doesn’t need ‘fixing’.

In New South Wales, I think we’ve got the best integrity system anywhere in the world for thoroughbred racing. Changing it could destroy that model that currently exists. That will lose a lot of people and following. Integrity, as I said, is number one.

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Now onto your second question – I was in harness racing but I haven’t been in harness racing for 11 years so I’m not really a harness racing person anymore. I can’t remember the last time I went to a harness racing to be honest.

In regards to thoroughbred ownership – my wife certainly owned a thoroughbred earlier in the piece. I bought a horse at a charity auction. Bart Cummings, the great man, donated a certain percentage of his share for kids’ cancer. When no one was bidding, I bid for the horse and I, unfortunately (laughs) ended up getting it and I then got other people to be in that horse. It wasn’t very successful!

But in harness racing I bred horses, I owned horses, I raced horses. I know the plight right from the beginning of conception right through the racing career.

That’s the best way of learning; it’s to be at the coal face of these things. I did the same thing when I was on the race course. I did all the jobs; being a judge, being a collector of manure in the stable area, and all the others.

You do everything so that when you talk, you talk with credibility.

The Roar: That’s good to know. Another personal question – have you been to many overseas races, perhaps while on holiday?

Peter: Look, I don’t go on holiday very much; that’s one thing! Yes, I’ve been to Ascot, I’ve been to the US, I’ve been to Santa Anita, I’ve been to a number of tracks in America. I haven’t been to a Kentucky Derby but I’ve been to the races in Hong Kong, Korea. I’ve been to a lot of race courses. I’ve been to Ascot for their major June carnivals. I’ve been to Japan, but not to a Japan Cup. I’ve been to a lot of those race courses throughout the world.

The Roar: Well, I think certainly Racing NSW is doing a great job with internationals. They had the Japanese horse win the Group 1 two weeks ago, and then to run second to Hartnell on the weekend and we have The Championships coming up over the next couple of weeks.

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Peter: I think the Japanese horses will be very, very prominent within The Championships. They’re a pleasure to deal with, the Japanese people, they are true gentleman. They haven’t been a problem, they’ve been fantastic guests, as has John Moore with Dominant, and as has Ed Dunlop with Red Cadeaux.

You’ll see a lot of those international horses in the next couple of weeks, and we’re looking forward to them.

The Roar: During what I suppose people call the TVN crisis; one of the criticisms of both Racing NSW and its board was the lack of communication. On the flip side, we saw an extended amount of communication directly form the board of Racing Victoria. Anything you’d like to comment in that regard? A further point too – when John Messara came on board as chairman, you brought out a notice from the board and you toured around the country. You brought out a semi-regular newsletter with messages from the Board. You haven’t had a regular update of that on any regular sort of terms?

Peter: Look, there has been, and we’re sending a participants bulletin. There’s one going out shortly actually, on the vision matter. (Editor’s note: See below for that release)

Look, there’s a lot of things that are commercially sensitive and commercially confidential that you can’t release.

Getting into the vision situation at the time we don’t think was appropriate.

We were dealing in a commercially sensitive nature. Releasing things from board meetings is not appropriate, and it should never be done. These are things that are confidential.

I can’t speak for Racing Victoria, but I think that we’ve acted professionally. We’ve acted in a way where we’re only looking out to the interests of thoroughbred participants in New South Wales at all times.

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Until we had something concrete, we weren’t going to go out to the marketplace. We haven’t had something concrete, and the participants’ bulletin is going out today.

The Roar: Thanks for you time Peter.

Racing NSW Chairman Detailed Report on New Racing Vision Platforms

Dear Racing Participant,

As you may be aware, there have recently been significant changes to the way participants can view NSW thoroughbred races. Racing NSW has taken the opportunity of restructuring the distribution of NSW thoroughbred race vision and we are confident that the changes will ensure that the coverage of NSW thoroughbred racing is superior to previous arrangements in terms of both quality and accessibility.

In particular, there is a new thoroughbred racing only station, Sky Thoroughbred Central, available on Foxtel’s basic package (no additional subscription required) which provides detailed coverage of NSW thoroughbred races, from the mounting yard through to interviews with jockeys and trainers post-race. Further, participants are now able to access live coverage, replays and video form of races on Racing NSW’s website for personal use, including through tablets and mobile phones, free of charge (data charges may apply via your internet service provider).

Racing NSW is pleased to provide you with the following summary of those changes together with a user guide to assist you in accessing coverage of our

We are pleased to advise that these new long term arrangements will generate improved revenue to our NSW race clubs, which own the vision.

Sky Thoroughbred Central

On Golden Slipper Day, Sky Channel launched Sky Thoroughbred Central which is channel 521 on Foxtel and Austar. In great news for racing enthusiasts, the new channel is available to Foxtel subscribers on the basic package without any additional subscription or cost.

Sky Thoroughbred Central is the perfect showcase for NSW racing with at least one NSW meeting being showcased on the channel each day. In a coup for NSW thoroughbred racing, on most days channel 521 will feature two NSW thoroughbred meetings (of four meetings in total) showcased on the channel. This is in addition to Sky Racing 1 which will still remain on the basic package. Please note that the previous TVN channel which was 522 will no longer exist.

Widespread Access to Vision of NSW Racing

Racing NSW recently announced that NSW thoroughbred racing became available for viewing live across multiple digital platforms.

Punters can now view NSW thoroughbred racing broadcasts live through the Racing NSW website www.racingnsw.com.au on any device – mobile, tablet or computer.

Racing NSW Website Provides Unprecedented Access to Video Form of NSW Thoroughbred Races

Punters have recently enjoyed access through the Racing NSW website to race replays soon after the finish of races. This is an addition to the integration of video replays of NSW race starts into the online form that is available through the Racing NSW website.

In a further development, barrier trials will be available for viewing through the Racing NSW website at both the results section of the Race Diary as well as being embedded in the form of upcoming race starters. Vision of metropolitan and provincial trials will be available by midday following the conduct of barrier trials that morning.

Finally, the NSW race starts and barrier trials can be accessed for any horse by typing the name of the horse into the search bar of the search panel that is prominent and in yellow on the home page of the Racing NSW website. This provides users instant access to vision of that horse’s NSW race starts and barrier trials.

Yours sincerely, John Messara AM