Australia is the only country in the world to have a public holiday for a horse race. We are known for loving a flutter.
Self-interest will be the death of horse racing in Australia.
While there’s no reason to think the industry is going to fall off the perch any time soon, alarm bells are starting to ring based on recent movements.
The most recent was the announcement by Racing NSW that it would have a $45-million spring carnival program to compete directly with Melbourne’s historic events.
Although there has been nothing scheduled to do battle with the Melbourne Cup, Racing NSW boss Peter V’Landys made it clear that he wants to make Sydney the capital of Australian racing.
Which is great if you are training a horse in Sydney and probably even good news if you are in Melbourne, but it’s not so great if you are in Queensland or South Australia.
Australian racing does not revolve around Victoria and NSW. Sure, they have always been the main jurisdictions for the industry, but the racing ecosystem has always revolved around having a competitive playing field in South Australia and Queensland.
More prizemoney in elite races in Melbourne and Sydney does not do anything for the sport. It doesn’t create more champions and it probably won’t attract a whole lot more newcomers to the industry.
But what it will do is effectively kill racing in Queensland and South Australia. It won’t be immediate, but it will do it over a long period of time. A death by a thousand cuts.
And when you kill off racing in two major states, you will actually harm racing in Victoria and NSW.
Look at the trainers and jockeys competing in Melbourne and Sydney this Saturday. It is not full of Victorians and New South Welshman.
There are a number of Cane Toads, Sandgropers and Croweaters. Even our biggest trainer is a Kiwi.
I was speaking to an old mate of mine from Mount Isa last week.
Andrew Saunders and his family have owned horses for years and have been one of the biggest players in the north-west Queensland non-TAB racing circuit.
His father Graeme is a renowned bookie and his mum Lenore was the listed owner of Le Chef when he won the Magic Millions 2YO race.
Racing in that part of the world is not far from being in dire circumstances.
You see, virtually all the horses trained out of Mount Isa, Cloncurry, Julia Creek etc are tried racehorses. Horses that couldn’t quite make the cut in Brisbane or Victoria and NSW.
Ten years ago, you could buy a tried horse from Ballarat and truck it up to outback Queensland for $15,000 and win a handful of races.
You wouldn’t get rich but you’d have some fun and probably cover your costs.
Now, with the prizemoney so high in the southern states, buying a horse from Ballarat might cost $50,000 and you just won’t see that kind of return when racing for $6500 to the winner.
This is what Andrew said last week: “It’s not just the prizemoney increases – it’s the fact they are paying down to tenth place down there.
“If a horse wasn’t winning races, owners would move them on and we’d be able to buy them at a decent price. Now they just keep them and run them around picking up cheques for finishing fifth and sixth.”
While there have been some great additions to the Racing NSW calendar – The Everest was a brilliant idea and is virtually self-funded – I don’t understand what Mr V’Landys is doing in Sydney.
Sure, we want to see more great races, but competing directly with Victoria makes no sense.
Punters want to see the best horses running against one another, not avoiding each other for easier shots at big prizemoney.
Victoria Racing Club chair Amanda Elliott spoke on the radio on Tuesday morning and wasn’t far off the mark.
“I’m getting to the stage where I am actually getting a little over the whole thing and a bit frustrated and a bit angry because we actually do have a responsibility to the sport of racing in Australia,” she said.
“At the end of the day, the Australian racing industry is the one we care about.
“So, this kind of single-minded determination to knock off Victoria infuriates me, to be honest.
“This glorious sport is in some way demeaned by this rather unnatural amount of prizemoney that is getting thrown at one or two races.”
Mr V’Landys fired back with: “The Victorian participants should be thanking NSW because without us all the millions of dollars in prizemoney increases in Victoria wouldn’t have happened.
“The Melbourne Cup and Cox Plate hadn’t moved up in prizemoney for years and all of a sudden they’ve realised they’ve got to return money to their participants.
“Out of every negative there’s a positive and the positive is that the participants in Victoria are now getting proper returns.”
The rich are just getting richer with this kind of thinking.
Top races don’t need any more money thrown at them. More money won’t increase the calibre of horses.
Don’t reward mediocrity, stop paying past fourth place and allow smaller racing states to be able to stand on their own feet and be competitive.
If you were Rob Heathcote, how could you possibly attract owners to race their horses in Brisbane?
Remember, the trainer of Black Caviar came from a tiny country town in Queensland. Most horse racing people don’t grow up in suburban Sydney.
The biggest threat to the Australian racing industry is itself and something needs to be done about it.