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Where is horse racing at as 2021 closes out?

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Roar Rookie
8th December, 2021

If you’re an optimist, you’d suggest horse racing is on the verge of reclaiming some of the sporting mantle in the Australian psyche.

Optimists would point to record prize-money levels, record wagering levels, crowds returning after COVID lockouts, robust media coverage, new and novel ways to participate in the industry, major infrastructure investments and major (end-of-career) racehorse welfare ideas.

If you’re a pessimist you’d suggest it is on the cusp of irrelevance with underwhelming crowd reappearances, the end to the COVID-inspired revenue windfalls, declining public interest and acceptance, compliant industry paid-for media coverage, gimmickry displacing horses, equine welfare displacing equine health and own goals dwarfing goals kicked.

In recent days both the racing and breeding industry have publicised or speculated about future grand visions.

But like most grand visions that morph into white elephants, they are based on fuzzy concepts, fuzzy facts and fuzzy logic. Most would suggest this has to culminate in fuzzy outcomes (being the only constant).

Close up of a horse

(Image byJackieLou DL via Pixabay)

Racing Victoria is thinking about investing well north of $200 million in a new near-city racing precinct.

Is there an industry need for it? Is there an industry cost-benefit from it? Is there a strategic industry infrastructure plan? Is there a future industry workforce plan? That would be a giant black hole.


Similarly, Thoroughbred Breeders Australia outlined a grand vision for the future of thoroughbred welfare… well, post-racing career thoroughbred welfare, that is.

Like many visions developed by vested interests, you have to ask whose purpose it best serves.

Even the authors were unsure of the extent of the problem – beyond it being a PR problem.

Nonetheless, they went ahead and outlined a bureaucratic way to try and fix it (whatever ‘it’ is in reality).

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They offered a lot of recommendations written across a lot of pages, using a lot of big (impressive sounding) words like ‘accountability’, ‘evidence-based’, and ‘scientific’.


Funnily enough there wasn’t a lot of accountability, hard evidence and science underpinning the recommendations.

Or to put it another way, the first act of the horse welfare play is predicated on a Chihuahua-Great Dane cross. It might even look doable on paper – if you hold the images far enough apart (and close one eye).

To me though, with both eyes open, there seems inherent risk in following through on such a mating plan. It just looks like it could get a bit ugly to me… but perhaps I know too much about Great Danes.

In this welfare play, the authors propose that the lead (female) Chihuahua is played by the equine industry.

The Great Dane is necessarily played by state and federal governments because of the requirement for aligned state and federal legislation (good luck with that, I hear you say).

Alleboom ridden by Craig Williams wins the Schweppervescence Plate

(Pat Scala/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

We all know what will happen when the Great Dane gets aroused. The saying ‘be careful what you wish for’ comes to mind.


To borrow from another’s saying, nobody goes to sleep with a great idea and intentionally wakes up with a white elephant.

The drift occurs little by little, influenced by example, precedent, political incentive and human material.

But by then it’s too late – the seed has been sown, the DNA implanted. As history shows with various grand ideas, politicians are loath to listen to independent minds, let alone heed their concerns.

So while no doubt racing and breeding industry executives will head off to Christmas euphoric and light-headed about their future visions, I’m expecting to keep reading reports of trainers and jockeys fighting, jockeys and horses failing drug tests, horses being mistreated, jockeys and trainers being fined for various rule breaches and scuttlebutt that all is not well in the breeding barn.

The same credibility issues that dogged racing and breeding 20 years ago still dog it today.

Rather than being euphoric as they head off for Christmas breaks, racing and breeding executives should be down right worried about their credibility… and think twice about buying those Chihuahuas for the kids.