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Opinion

Five ways to improve horse racing in Australia

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Expert
28th April, 2021
12

This week’s report into horse welfare at the Melbourne Cup, particularly for international visitors, has highlighted one of the major issues with the future of the sport – a lack of ideas.

Some of the changes that Racing Victoria will adopt are simply ridiculous.

There will be fewer international horses invited to the spring carnival and Werribee will be continued to used as the quarantine and training facility for those horses.

The report also suggested dropping the Melbourne Cup field down to 20 runners and ensure the surface is softer each year, but surprise surprise, those recommendations were rejected.

No one wants to see horses break down. But some of the changes that Racing Victoria has adopted simply won’t work.

Constructing a purpose-built quarantine training facility should have been the first step.

This should be a joint effort between Racing Victoria and Racing NSW as both stand to benefit in the long run.

Werribee is a goat track. It has been maligned by trainers and jockeys for years, yet we send our international guests there to train each spring. Go figure.

The other ridiculous recommendation, which has bewilderingly been adopted, is to ban international runners from having more than one start in Australia before contesting the Melbourne Cup.

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Imagine telling Bart Cummings that? He’d have you committed.

Racing is at a critical point in time as far as its lifespan goes and if key decisions are not made now, the sport’s future could be in jeopardy.

With the rise of professional sport around the world and the ability to watch just about any game from your living room or handheld device, the challenge for many sporting bodies is to stay relevant among the pack.

Horse racing is absolutely in that mix.

Melbourne Cup finish post

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

While I still love horse racing and want to see it survive for decades to come, I must also admit that I could just as easily not watch it on any given Saturday.

So if someone like me, who has grown up with racing and was perhaps once considered a ‘diehard’, no longer has that passion, then what hope is there to attract new blood to the sport?

Here are some of the things that I would do to get people get into horse racing, but also keep those who have been in the game for some time.

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5. Make all horses trial publicly before racing
It’s remarkable that this isn’t a rule in all jurisdictions in Australia, but it should be. Racing has become a sport that is completely reliant on the punting dollar.

And punters don’t want to bet in races with untrialled horses. Sure, it might benefit the owner if they can have a big bet on a horse they are confident about in its first run, but the prize money is so good these days that we are no longer in an era where connections need to ‘plunge’ a horse for a return on investment.

Personally, I feel like trial form can be a myth and sometimes it pays to ignore a good one or a bad one, but pools will no doubt be boosted if all horses are forced to trial at least once before racing.

This could be implemented overnight.

4. Have jockeys and trainers interact with the public
If I had a family and I took them to Randwick on Saturday, what would the chances be of the kids getting a picture with Hugh Bowman or Chris Waller? Slim, I’d suggest.

And that’s not because Bowman or Waller would knock them back, it’s just that tradition suggests that jockeys and trainers are kept well away from the punters on track.

Those in the know can get into the stabling area and try their luck, but I’d love to see youngsters be given the opportunity to get up close and personal with the stars on race day.

We saw the success of Peter Moody and Luke Nolen signing autographs on Black Caviar’s race days.

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If the jockeys want to be paid like star athletes, they also need to embrace being heroes and I’d love to see them mingling more in the public section.

The more heroes in racing, the more interest in the sport.

Hugh Bowman wins the Golden Slipper

Will more jockey selfies save racing? (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

3. Live bands after the last
You can’t do this all the time but if you want to get people to the race track, try putting on a good act after the last race.

The beauty about race clubs is that they are licensed, have great venues and are well equipped for crowds.

This is not a new idea, but it’s one that should be pushed more often. They get 50,000 to a Taylor Swift concert in Melbourne so why not get a big name performer at some of your secondary race meets?

Artists have been the biggest loser in this COVID world and it would be a good chance to support them, too.

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2. Merge the tote pools into one
Tabcorp and Tatts merged several years ago, but so far customers have yet to see any change. There are still three tote pools in Australia and punters are the big loser.

In my opinion, if Australia loses its tote power then racing will become a shambles. Fixed odds betting has become the latest trend and is here to stay, but it’s the tote that has the most potential.

If punters feel like they can bet into the tote with confidence and get better odds, then turnover will increase. The fact Tabcorp offers subsidies for big punters to bet into the pools is disheartening and it makes it nearly impossible to have a bet on the parimutuel without seeing the price change dramatically in the final 60 seconds before a race jumps.

It’s also important to have a strong tote for exotic bets. Most punters know they can’t walk into a TAB and put $10 on a horse to win and get rich.

But if they can pick a trifecta or first-four then they have a chance of turning that $10 into a few hundred or more.

1. Give away big money every Saturday
The TAB’s Big 6 simply has not worked for whatever reason. I think mostly because it was too hard to pick and even if you did get it, you normally had to take a small percentage to get enough horses on your ticket.

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My idea would be to kickstart it with $1 million and have punters buy tickets for $2 or six for $10 and be allocated runners in what would be a mystery bet-type scenario.

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That way a mum or dad could go into the TAB, buy a few tickets and perhaps enjoy the races. They don’t need to spend much to win a lot of money.

If no one gets the prize, the money jackpots each week. Imagine having a $10 million draw. It would be exactly like tattslotto, but instead of balls being drawn out, people would get to watch the races.

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Have the six races run over the best six races of the day and split them over several venues. Pick the races with the biggest fields.

I think the publicity would be enormous for racing and if there were guaranteed pools of big money, it would bring new people to the sport.