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The Roar



Rising tides, board shorts and designer thongs - racing’s ideas man at it again

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18th March, 2023

In his almost 12-month tenure, Andrew Jones, CEO of Racing Victoria, has offered up a number of interesting (troubling?) insights into his thinking about the strategic direction of the racing ‘industry’ (let’s forget its sporting origins). I’ve identified four main themes, and there may be others I’ve snoozed through.

Chief amongst these is the dedication to a gambling-led fan proposition. RVL’s increasingly cosy relationship with corporate bookmakers, to the detriment of ‘responsible gambling’ sits front and centre. New facilities for laptop-toting punters was the new GM of Gambling (Matt Welsh)’s first call to re-invigorate ‘modern’ fan engagement – all 20 of them, all with corporate bookmaker accounts.

Targeting the 18-34-year-old ‘bet-with-mates’ cohort was another Welsh gem – remember the footy analogy? This, despite RVL knowing this cohort is the most at risk of gambling-related harm. Responsible or exploitation?

A look at RVL’s flagship and fully owned RSN ‘fan’ channels demonstrates just how far the horse fan-gambling proposition has swung. Nowhere on could I find coverage of the newsworthy Birdsville jigger affair but odds, or tips for Ipswich, Warwick or Townsville ‘bought to you by’, has you covered.

I could even post a screen shot of a racing page that shows no reference to Victorian racing… on a flagship Saturday. I’m just not sure how that aligns with the RVL board’s original intent to “make Victorian thoroughbred racing accessible to more people in more places”. Nowhere did they say to make interstate gambling more accessible.

Then there was Jones’ reference to the aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” when defending the spirit of direct prize money-driven competition for horses, jockeys and trainers between NSW and Victoria.

Kerrin McEvoy onboard Deauville Legend during trackwork at Werribee Racecourse on October 25, 2022 in Werribee, Australia. (Jay Town/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

Kerrin McEvoy onboard Deauville Legend during trackwork at Werribee Racecourse on October 25, 2022 in Werribee, Australia. (Jay Town/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

Any study of the physical or social sciences (and the Australian economy) shows just how lacking that perspective is.


In racing, the prize money distribution data for the last 20 years shows that those not fortunate (or risk tolerant) enough to own a super maxi are spending much more time bailing out their ‘tinnies’ just to keep afloat. I wonder how many trainers who have downsized in recent years due to industry structures and conditions agree with Jones that they are enjoying the fruits of record tides?

If the increasing ‘true’ costs were actually factored in, many more would be floating belly up – and not in a good way. Think shark bait.

When you’re talking many millions of dollars – even small ‘tidal’ (percentage) differences translate into massively different fortunes. This was perhaps most starkly shown in the distribution of 2022 Victorian spring black type riches – which had benefited from an increase of $15 million in 2022 prize money allocations. Just three stables accounted for 53 per cent of all black type prize money. The top five, over 64 per cent.

The top three stables took home about $8 million of the increased distributions – more than all the increases allocated to all the country races for an entire year.

This tells me that but for a few, the majority of owners, trainers and jockeys are located a continent away from Jones’ ‘rising tide’. What’s that other saying – one man’s high tide is another man’s…

More recently Jones launched RVL’s Equine Welfare Strategic Plan. Neither very strategic nor much of a plan. Even worse, 99 per cent of the KPIs in that plan could be met – and not guarantee a single improved health or wellbeing outcome would be observed for the equine population, unless you’re religious.

Watch a couple of episodes of Utopia and you’ll get the drift. You might even wonder what ‘horse first thinking’ really means.


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The latest offering at the international racing conference by Jones was the suggestion that dress standards of board shorts and thongs would bring racegoers back to the track in their droves. Perhaps a tidal surfing pool in the Flemington Members car park would help – after all, the car park sits empty 98 per cent of the year.

His analogy of non-existent dress codes at restaurants (MCC restaurants do and that hasn’t diminished crowds) is so wide of the buoy as to be funny. What Jones ignores is that “potential” racing fans have already decided on their clothes for the day before anyone mentions “dress standards”.

So, after 12 months of a new CEO’s insights, has the health and wellbeing of the Victorian racing industry benefited?

Instead of pointing to the same shiny mega-yachts anchored in the RVL harbour and giving featured prominence in all RVL advertising outlets, perhaps a better test is to look at the large number of ‘tinnies’ that are in danger of being swamped by even the slightest of waves.

Perhaps it’s too late but I cant help but think what racing might look like if the industry strategy was realigned to one making it as easy as possible to be a fan of horse racing rather than a fan of the punt?


After all, what recent history (data) tells me is it’s easier to make a punter out of a fan than a fan out of a punter.