EXCLUSIVE: THE RACING INDUSTRY SEEMINGLY WENT FROM ONE DISASTER TO THE NEXT IN THE JUST COMPLETED RACING SEASON. WILL ANYTHING CHANGE IN THE 2016/2017 SEASON?

This article appeared in Queensland's Statewide outhouse assistant - The Courier Mail on 12/7/16. I've removed the associated photo of Racing Australia Chief Executive, Peter McGauran, that went with the article, in case it's copyrighted, but I've left the article headline and a couple of quotes from the story, along with the name of the journalist who penned the story. The second quote is attributable to Mr McGauran and it advises the newspaper's readers that the thoroughbred industry has had its house in order in respect of monitoring racehorses for
This article appeared in Queensland’s Statewide outhouse assistant – The Courier Mail on 12/7/16. I’ve removed the associated photo of Racing Australia Chief Executive, Peter McGauran, that went with the article, in case it’s copyrighted, but I’ve left the article headline and a couple of quotes from the story, along with the name of the journalist who penned the story. The second quote is attributable to Mr McGauran and it advises the newspaper’s readers that the thoroughbred industry has had its house in order in respect of monitoring racehorses for “two years” as they’ve had a “rule” in place in the timeframe. Given horses live for 25 to 30 years what is the general public supposed to deduce happened to racehorses pre-2014? Unfortunately the journalist didn’t ask the question of Mr McGauran. And how come the Baird government in New South Wales can pluck figures out of the air on greyhound wastage numbers, but thoroughbred and standardbred wastage numbers never rate a mention?

03/08/16

When one thoroughbred racing season ended and another started last Monday there was understandably a plethora of positive press about all the warm and fuzzy stories surrounding which respective trainer, senior jockey, apprentice jockey and stallion won respective premierships – and so on and so forth.

But through all that, no one seemingly took time to digest those same results. For instance I raised the topic on Monday morning that when a 54-year-old jockey can win the Brisbane senior jockey premiership, does that tell you the industry is 1) flying, or 2) has a problem – in that younger people, except one apprentice, never got hot in the premiership race? In Sydney Chris Waller predictably won the trainers premiership and ditto Darren Weir won the Melbourne trainers premiership, but in reality if you gave my granddaughter as many horses as those two trainers have on their books, wouldn’t she be a chance of winning a trainers premiership?

So mainstream media just report the information as to who won what premiership, which is all well and good, but why didn’t at least one of these highly paid people in mainstream media do a quality review – health check if you like – of the entire three codes of the racing industry at the end of the thoroughbred racing season to see where the industry sits? That story was obviously put in the “too hard basket” as I didn’t see anyone undertake that review, so I figured that I’d better have a look – as an outsider looking in – at what I’d preface by calling “the sad state of the Australian racing industry”. If you stand back and smell the roses and think it all through, what a mess it is in. Where would a realist, like myself, start to outline the problems that beset the three codes of the racing industry going forward? Well mainstream media itself would surely be a good place to start as it’s so passive and patronizing in the modern-day in racing, that it is really little more than a joke to someone like me. Racing journalists get paid good money to write stories that in reality anyone could write – generally the stories are just warm and fuzzy and are about a horse or a trainer. In fact I must say that it always strikes me as really strange that the big and negative stories involving the racing industry are often written by a non-racing journalist that no one has ever heard of, or they are written anonymously, with no journalist being credited with writing the story, which all begs the question, “Why wasn’t that particular newspaper’s racing journalist on top of that story”? The racing journalists, in the main, just write the easy stories. And racing radio and television interviews are so passively patronizing that I’m finding it embarrassing to listen to all the warm and fuzzy vomitable backslapping.

And still on the topic of mainstream media, it’s also a fact of life that the only way the Queensland harness industry can seemingly get a story put in the State-wide daily newspaper about them, is if the space is paid for by a sponsor. Now that sounds like a great way for a business to have to try to promote itself. As an analogy, netball can get itself full page exposure on both the front and the back page of Queensland’s State-wide outhouse assistant, The Courier Mail, on Monday, 1 August, yet harness racing has to buy its space. I guess that fact alone tells you where the racing industry fits in modern day society. There was a sell-out crowd at the netball of 10,312 last Sunday at the Boondall Entertainment Centre in Brisbane, in what the general public perceive is “a wholesome sport” – and yet the day before there was only an estimated crowd of between 2,000 and 3,000 at Doomben races, where the Brisbane Racing Club incidentally increased the admission price to $25 from $15 on the day because of some special drag queen event, or something similar, that the club promoted, which was totally unrelated to racing.

Then in the racing industry over the last season we’ve had a myriad of cobalt positives all around Australia that have embarrassingly dragged on for longer than War And Peace and Days Of Our Lives put together. Then even when we find numbers of licensees guilty of cobalt offences the industry hierarchy has to often let them all off, because the laboratory where the samples were tested weren’t accredited. How utterly pathetic is that? Surely someone in charge could have utilized basic common sense and checked they were working with accredited laboratories, albeit I must admit from what I’ve seen over the last 20 years of running this website that “common sense isn’t very common in the racing industry”.

The next problem we encountered pretty much on a daily basis somewhere around Australia in the thoroughbred industry was that we unfortunately have numerous jockeys who sadly cannot count to five. One would think it’s pretty basic Grade 1 stuff. It goes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Yet trying to teach some jockeys to count to five before the 100-metre mark is as difficult as trying to solve the Rubik Cube blindfolded whilst standing in a pit full of cobras. So the stewards habitually gin around and keep fining the offending jockeys, but in reality from where I’m watching, until stewards start introducing far tougher sentences like suspending the offending jockeys for a month on their second or third offence, the stewards will never constructively introduce measures that address the problem. It would hardly be rocket science to conclude that fines are not suitable deterrents, as for starters who is paying the fine, the offending jockey, or the owner of the horse who told the jockey pre-race that they’d pay the fine if they had to over-use the whip to try to get the horse home? Thinking it through logically, if numbers of jockeys can’t count to five, maybe “they” need to ban the whip totally, going forward, then they won’t have to worry about jockeys knowing how to count? Yet even allowing for the really negative publicity involving the racing industry post 4 Corners in February 2015, now amazingly “they” are considering allowing increased whip use. Gee that should be a winner with the general public and in particular with young people who are already being raised in a vacuum, yet aren’t those same young people the ones who are supposed to be the future of racing? Dream on if “they” think increased whip use is a winner – I fancy all “they” did was just backed another loser.

And in the 2015/2016 racing season, the thoroughbred racing industry struggled yet again to provide accurate overall times for its races. Put a stopwatch on the Doomben 1600-metre races from 23/7/16 or the Doomben 1615-metre races from last Saturday and you won’t get within about one second of the official electronic time that was issued by the club. I’ve emailed the club on the topic in the past and their response is they are happy with the times that they issue for races run at or around the 1600-metre distance at their track. They would have to be kidding. Where else in Australia is the hand time of a thoroughbred race out almost one second with an electric time, certainly nowhere that I’ve ever seen in clocking horses for over a decade.

As we enter into the 2016/2017 racing season we still stick with what I’d call “a totally stupid track rating system numbered from one to 10” that most thought when it was introduced was the bee’s knees. What a joke this current system track rating system is. So it’s not ancient history, it’s been well documented that we lost all races at Sandown a couple of Wednesdays ago, except Race 1 on an alleged “good 4” track. Then two days later the officiating stewards had to abandon a race at Ipswich on a “good 5” track on a fine 28-degree day due to the state of the track. The club blamed some trees – the same trees have been there for decades. Those trees obviously had a big growth spurt in the week or two between one race meeting and the next?

And on the subject of tracks, the thoroughbred industry consistently causes itself, its participants and punters, major grief via Track Managers assessing a track rating to some TAB tracks without the stewards visiting the track at say 6am on race morning to check the track for the day’s racing. Why aren’t a couple of horses put over every TAB thoroughbred track at 6am on every race morning before a meeting at least for Saturday city meetings and provincial TAB meetings? Surely that’s just more basic common sense stuff? The industry coffers could pay a trainer say $150 per horse, for two horses to work on the track and two senior jockeys could get paid $150 or whatever financial inducement was agreed upon, to be on tap each race morning to ride the two supplied horses in front of a paid independent track walker and a senior steward, as after all, accurate track ratings are surely simply an integrity issue. We expect humans on the silly current one to 10 track system to be able to correctly guess to 10% what the right rating is, yet guessing anything to 10% accuracy in life is nigh on impossible, as demonstrated by those aforesaid races at Sandown and Ipswich being abandoned on “good 4” and “good 5” tracks within the last 14 days.

Going forward into a new racing season, the racing industry has to continue to endure television coverage that’s still back in the dark ages, in terms of showing us where horses are in the run, or what race sectionals the field has gone out in – and so on. If those things can be achieved in other countries around the world, as in what we see from say Singapore, why is Australia so far behind in the technology? We spend a fortune on getting the latest whizz-bang timing systems in place at tracks like Eagle Farm and yet it was well documented that a number of overall times were way out on opening day. How can that happen? To that end we spend millions upon millions of dollars and after great fanfare open Eagle Farm and yet all the industry did was show the world how useless the course proper is currently, as recently as last week, even after a spate of fine weather. So we have all sorts of thoroughbred tracks spread all across the country that are simply not up to scratch and many have associated disgraceful bias. In some cases the tracks are so bad – like the Kensington track in Sydney has proven to be in recent years – that it has to be torn up and done again.

Despite cumulatively employing thousands of staff across Australia TABs can’t seem to think up any new exciting and dynamic forms of betting to boost their turnover, even though it is universally accepted that that turnover is the lifeblood of the industry. Thinking it through, when was the last time any TAB around Australia thought of a new bet type that has proven to be a success story in improving holds? I for one can’t think of one in the last few years. Yet the TABs despised enemies, the corporate bookmakers, at least come up with some different bet types, such that a client can bet on odd numbers winning a race or even numbers winning a race and so on. If the current Racing and Betting Act doesn’t allow TAB to use such bet types, then the TABs need to lobby governments to change the Act, to allow them to compete, as the more turnover that is generated, the more taxes governments will collect. And on the subject of TABs, we have what I deem “a terrible veil of secrecy” surrounding fixed odds betting, which I believe is a product that probably single-handedly is destroying the very foundations of the entire racing industry across its three codes. When TABs refuse to advise the general public 1) what the fixed odds holds are for each race across the three codes and 2) what the return to the racing industry is from that particular bet type, the “veil of secrecy” is not a good look for an industry. I can find out pari-mutuel holds on any bet type on any race across any of the three codes in a heartbeat – except for fixed odds betting. I understand that there’s a clause that allows the TABs to not have to disclose the fixed odds information, but as holds on this bet type continue to grow from one racing season to the next, it’s most important that the industry as a whole can get educated on what the return to the industry is in dollar terms from the bet type. Any huge turnover business like a TAB that operates with an associated “veil of secrecy” is leaving itself wide open to all sorts of negative press.

And still on TABs we have a club in Brisbane like Easts Leagues Club which has over 300 poker machines but that same venue doesn’t have Sky Channel 2. How the hell can any industry expect to maximise its TAB turnover which is the lifeblood of its participants, if it doesn’t have Sky Channel 2 for its patrons? Then other outlets with TAB facilities, like pubs, just close at night whenever some employee gets the urge to turn the TAB machines off.

And this old chestnut (not horse) has been around for decades and it goes on year in and year out and never gets fixed, yet I reckon I could fix it in no time flat. Every time a jockey falls off and sustains an injury, the industry runs around like a chook with its head cut off and launches a fundraiser. As I’ve written here probably a dozen times in the last 20 years, if TAB taxes were increased by a measly .10 of 1 percent and those monies were channelled to an overseer group administering a licensees distress fund, the racing industry would self fund those that have fallen on tough times due to race falls or whatever – and fundraisers would be long forgotten. The current system whereby some can get hundreds of thousands of dollars via a fundraiser and others receive just a pittance, is simply a disgrace in my opinion.

Whilst I can’t comment on other States, there are certainly what I would call “major security breaches” happening in the thoroughbred code at numerous Queensland TAB tracks. I’ve raised the issue before with Racing Queensland and Racing Queensland then fixed the problem – for about five minutes – but soon after everyone just goes back to their old ways. At some point, senior Racing Queensland integrity staff need to do random audits on racetracks across the State during race meetings. They’d be amazed at what I could point out to them that goes totally unchecked if they’d like to pick me up on the way past.

In Victoria things got pretty dramatic in late October last year when the house of the Chief Steward of Racing Victoria was shot at. One would wonder how, given some of the atrocities that have occurred in the thoroughbred racing industry in its long history in Australia, why security cameras were not compulsory at the home of such a high profile racing official prior to the incident.

Closer to home and even though I’m accredited Racing Queensland media, I got asked to leave the enclosure at both the Ipswich Turf Club and the Brisbane Racing Club during the just completed racing season. No doubt that wouldn’t have happened if I’d have been prepared to take the what I call “passive and patronizing” line towards both race clubs, but there’s not a snowflake’s chance in hell on that score, as in the case of Ipswich I took photographs of an unattended enclosure security gate on a TAB race day and displayed the photos publicly, whilst in the case of the Brisbane Racing Club I was proudly able to exclusively advise the racing fraternity of Australia just how bad the Eagle Farm track was going to be when it reopened – and of course it’s history now that the Brisbane Racing Club and the Eagle Farm track didn’t let me down. So I make no apology for being right. The facts are simply the facts.

Then during the 2015/2016 racing season we had the incumbent NSW government advise that it wants to ban greyhound racing in that State from July 2017, using totally unaccountable figures of wastage to bring down that industry in that State. Yet subsequent to that statement from Premier Baird regarding the intended closure of the greyhound industry, the thoroughbred code has advised the Australian public that it can apparently come up smelling roses. Journalist Ray Thomas wrote an article entitled, “Racing CEO says there’s no cruelty,” in Queensland’s The Courier Mail on 12/7/16. Given the fact that Thomas is based in Sydney, “they” obviously wanted this story in as many sister newspapers as possible. The aforesaid article started off by stating, “Racing Australia has denied claims from an animal welfare group that thousands of thoroughbreds are put down each year because they are uncompetitive”. The article went on to quote “Racing Australia chief executive” Peter McGauran as saying, “Racing introduced a rule two years ago compelling owners/trainers to notify Racing Australia of the fate of their retired racehorses”. Oops hold it right there. Can anyone actually advise me the relevance of a rule introduced “two years ago” when a racehorse would generally be expected to live to 25 or 30 years of age? So Mr McGauran has advised that the thoroughbred industry has been on top of this wastage problem since “two years ago”. Why then didn’t the investigative journalist ask Mr McGauran if he have any comment to make on what numbers of thoroughbred and/or standardbreds may have been sent to their maker prematurely, because they were too slow, too old, or whatever, from say “two years ago”, that would be back in 2014, back to say 1995, as after all the vast majority of thoroughbreds and standardbreds born from 1995 inclusive onwards still should be living a life of leisure somewhere, as a horse born in 1995 would only be 21 years old currently if it was a thoroughbred and 20 if it was a standardbred? It seems hellishly strange to me that the New South Wales government can pluck figures out of the air in respect of the numbers of greyhounds being euthanized in the last whatever number of years, yet even though thoroughbreds and standardbreds live twice as long as greyhounds, we amazingly have no figures from the horse racing codes. All we know is that “two years ago” the thoroughbred industry put measures in place, hoping that would see it smelling like roses, when, not if, the proverbial hit the fan. Or is it just that the greyhound industry is an easy target for a government to come out looking strong in the eyes of the general public? I fully realize the greyhound industry footage that aired on 4 Corners was the catalyst for all the subsequent fallout, but at the end of the day the three codes of racing all form part of the one industry. High ranking officials coming out saying they’ve had the problem under control for “two years” is unlikely to satisfy the “animal welfare group” that was referred to in the article. In fact it’s my considered opinion that all that statement will do is provide ammunition for them.

So when one stands back and smells the roses, all I can see is the racing industry continuing to fumble its way from one unmitigated disaster to another – irrespective of a change in the racing season. God only knows what “unmitigated disasters” will beset the racing industry in this current 2016/2017 racing season that we have just entered, albeit I accept the fact that the new standardbred season doesn’t start until 1 September, which in itself is totally stupid if you think that through, but rest assured there will be some huge “unmitigated disasters” just around the corner. And what’s more – you can take it from me that they will start to hit sooner rather than later.

Now wasn’t that a far more educational article than who won a trainer or jockey premiership?

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