EXCLUSIVE: WELFARE ISSUES WILL HAUNT THE RACING INDUSTRY UNLESS IT ACTS NOW…..Part 2

16/04/15

Yesterday I advised that the racing industry needs to take big steps right now to do something constructive for the industry into the future “from a welfare perspective”. So here are my thoughts as to how we take some “big steps”.

The greyhound industry in Queensland has been penalized with a $1.6 million levy on prizemoney to pay for increased welfare to that code and inquiries into the code – and so on and so forth.

The thoroughbred code was under fire – again – just a couple of weeks ago in an ABC television story over whip use. That “whip use” aspect obviously flows over to harness racing.

So the other two codes needn’t sit around idly and think that controversy is only a problem for the greyhound code. Whip use has haunted both the thoroughbred and harness codes for some years and nowadays race day stewards are forced to implement stricter whip rules that were only introduced a few years ago. But that’s all just the start of the problem. You can bet guineas to gooseberries that “wastage” in both codes will be next on the hit parade. And once “they” start, God knows where they’ll finish. As an analogy take the anti-smoking lobby. Even those that don’t smoke would have to shake their heads at some of the stupidity that has been invoked in society regarding smoking. Governments don’t want to ban smoking because there are huge revenues by way of taxes associated with smoking, but soon “they” will have the public believe if you simply walk past a packet of cigarettes in a shop that you could get lung cancer, as currently many in our society obviously believe that even if you are walking in an open air mall that you could get lung cancer from someone who is smoking there. Have you ever heard anything so stupid in all your life? I haven’t – and I don’t smoke. So it seems to me as an outsider looking in, that once the 1% of the population start extolling their ideas to politicians – the other 99% are automatically affected.

So whilst the “$1.6 million” that the greyhound industry has been slapped with might look harsh, going forward, it’s simply a no-brainer that the concept is actually well worth introducing to both thoroughbred and harness racing.

Greyhound racing has had a GAP (Greyhound Adoption Program) going for many years. On face value, the strategy appears good, but try as any entity may, demand, for in this case greyhounds, will never remotely keep up with supply. In its most simplistic terms, adopting a three-year-old retired greyhound requires roughly a 10-year commitment from the person who is re-homing the greyhound, given that most greyhounds live to say 12 or 13 years of age. Understandably a lot of water will pass under a bridge in 10 years. The current system is that the person who has been approved to re-home the greyhound pays the GAP Program for certain expenses incurred prior to taking delivery of the said greyhound. Put simply that system is ridiculous and needs to change, for if you take one step back and smell the roses and think about it, the person who is re-homing the retired canine athlete should be in fact rewarded financially for their kindness and not penalised financially. If I was running racing in Australia, which sadly for the industry I’m not, the racing industry would pay for all re-homing costs and the person re-homing the dog would be paid a set amount, say $500, on receipt of the greyhound and they would also get a cheque for $500 annually, which equates to about $10 a week to help with food costs until that greyhound turned say 10-year-old. A full time field officer would be appointed by the governing racing body of the State and he or she would call in once a year to see the re-homed dog and its owners and pay them the cheque for $500. That annual visit with a cheque for $500 obviously allows the field officer to physically check the health of the dog that has been re-homed first hand, so that he or she can confirm it’s still alive and for all intents and purposes, is healthy.

Thoroughbred and harness racing retirees could be treated exactly the same way. Instead of the prospect of the horse going to the knackery, there could be say a HAP (Horse Adoption Program) available and the new owner of the re-homed horse would get paid say $2,000 upon taking delivery of their new horse and the new owner would get paid say $1,000 a year until the horse turned 15 or 20-year-old. Again a field officer would call personally on the new owner and pay the $1,000 cheque annually so that he or she would be able to see that the horse is being looked after. The $1,000 a year payment equates to roughly $20 a week – per calendar year – so that will buy two or three bales of half lucerne/half Rhodes grass bales of hay a week to help pay expenses.

So going forward, it’s all well and good to say that the racing industry is going to have to work out a way to look after its “wastage” much better, but how will it fund the project? Justracing not only raises the important matters in racing across its three codes – he also advises the industry how to fix the problem financially. To my way of thinking, the obvious way to help pay for the innovations mentioned above is to scale back the what I’d call the “obscene” prizemoney that is paid out on some of our Group 1 races. For instance, the Melbourne Cup will attract the same field if it’s worth $6 million or $5 million, so divert $1 million from that race straight to the welfare fund. Ditto the Cox Plate – make it worth $2.5 million, not $3 million and the $500,000 prizemoney saving goes to the HAP welfare fund. Ditto the Stradbroke becomes worth $1.5 million dollars, that’s heaps for what the race is – and again the $500,000 saving goes to the welfare fund. The TABs are an obvious entity to get involved and say .10 of 1% of all turnover from every TAB that operates in Australia goes to a welfare fund. So in essence, the racing industry funds its retirees. And if you think it through sensibly, that would only seem fair, as people that drive motor cars, trucks, or motor bikes have to pay annual registration fees to drive on our roads and part of those registrations fees go towards the upkeep of our roads – which only those that drive damage. So in other words, it’s a “user pays” system. Those persons that don’t drive motor cars, trucks or motor bikes don’t pay for our roads – and why should they? Those people who want to fly overseas in a plane have to pay a “departure tax”. Those that want to keep their feet firmly on the ground never pay a cent of “departure tax” – nor should they. So why shouldn’t the racing industry, across its three codes, be solely responsible for paying to re-home its retirees? I fancy it’s just a no-brainer if you think it through logically.

And to show how “obscene” the prizemoney level of Australia’s top races is currently – have a go at the crew that starred in the $6million Melbourne Cup last year, the 2014 $3 million Cox Plate, or the 2014 Stradbroke. Protectionist won the Melbourne Cup by as far as you could throw a Frisbee in a cyclone, now the cat can’t even run a place since he’s been permanently dumped on our shores. Adelaide won the 2014 Cox Plate and he only narrowly beat the ambulance in last Saturday in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at his next start after he also was permanently deported here. In 2012 we had that donkey Green Moon win the time-honoured Melbourne Cup and he hasn’t won a race since. In fact he’s had 14 starts since he was victorious in that Melbourne Cup and he’s run just one placing. Now unfortunately they’re going to bring him to Queensland for the Brisbane Winter Carnival and that news in our state-wide fish and chip wrapper, The Courier Mail, is sadly so exciting for the local industry that it commands three-quarters of a page in today’s edition. What a dreadful waste of space. The 2013 Cox Plate was also worth $3million and to show what a joke that race has become, a Maiden called Shamus Award won the race by half-a-head from Happy Trails. Cumulatively from that day to this, the quinella pair has won just two more races. Last year’s million-dollar to the winner Stradbroke Handicap was won by River Lad from Temple of Boom and Srikandi. Cumulatively the first three home in the 2014 Stradbroke have run just one placing since that day.

So rather than all metropolitan clubs around Australia trying to out-do each other in terms of their say Saturday city prizemoney level, what we as an industry should be doing is marginally scaling back the Saturday city prizemoney and putting that saved city Saturday prizemoney into country non-TAB races. Yes I accept that’s in a sense simply rewarding mediocrity, but unfortunately the way modern society is – the racing industry is better rewarding mediocrity than being constantly in the media over animal welfare issues.

In Sydney recently we had the Country Championship Final and it was worth $300,000 in total prizemoney. Most thought the concept was terrific. It’s the old story. Person A says it’s great in the media, then before you can blink, Persons A to Z all agree and soon we have an out of control bushfire for the concept, with lots of allied backslapping. To me, $300,000 for a bunch of bush horses to race in the city in one race is “totally absurd”. In my opinion, from a welfare perspective one or more slow bush horses were probably, on the balance of probability, being transported to a knackery, when the $300,000 race was being run in Sydney. Had that $300,000 been diverted to country prizemoney, it would have obviously funded 20 races worth $15,000 each in total prizemoney. Again only one or two owners, trainers and jockeys benefit from the $300,000 prizemoney – and the vast majority of jockeys that rode in the race were simply “Saturday city” jockeys anyway. The “country” jockeys didn’t get much of a go at all, albeit a bush jockey, Mitchell Bell, won the race.

If you look at the Queensland country circuit we continually have five races at a lot of these non-TAB bush meetings with six or seven runners in each event. If we diverted just say $3,000 from first prizemoney for each of the eight Brisbane Saturday city races we’d obviously have $24,000 – and that $24,000 would fund another four $6,000 total prizemoney races in the country. That simple strategy keeps horses racing longer and alive – and puts an extra race on at each of four bush venues that are racing on the same weekend.

And I don’t think the “Saturday city” owners, trainers, or jockeys would have any objection to the reduction in prizemoney $3,000 from the winner’s cheque as for starters in a 14-horse field there’s only one winner, so only one owner, or one group of part-owners connected with the winning horse is affected and if the next horse they buy is slow, which again on the balance of probability it will be, they will want their horse to have its chance out in the bush – if they truly love their horses. If my concept was explained properly to owners, trainers and breeders associations and they did have a problem, then they aren’t thinking the enormous current problem through – and are thinking solely about themselves – not their horses.

I attended the Marburg Easter Sunday harness meeting 11 days ago. Marburg is a non-TAB venue for pacers and trotters. Just like Ipswich is the end of the line for the Ferny Grove train service, Marburg is the end of the line in harness racing. It’s where the slow pacers and trotters go to race. After a non-TAB $1,501 total prizemoney race at Marburg there’s nowhere else to go. That’s the bottom wrung of the ladder. I sponsored a race on Easter Sunday. The benefit to me is absolutely zero. But life is not all about money, for if the sole purpose of a business is to make money, the business will go broke, as it’s not looking at the bigger picture. Put simply, I see the battlers and their horses as an integral part of the sport of racing. Some of the young people that attended the Marburg meeting are learning to train, other young people there were learning to drive. And for $8 a member of the public who enjoys an afternoon at the trots but who can’t drive a fairly long distance, in traffic, to Albion Park or Redcliffe can get admission to the Marburg track ($5) and get a professionally put together race book ($3).

But the Marburg harness meeting, which we all agree is full of basically slow horses, serves another purpose, namely that it forms an important part of the social fabric of the local community. The battling trainer with the slow horse knows they are pretty much wasting their time getting out of bed to work that horse the next morning. If he or she was to make a commercial business decision the horse would be at the knackery the week following the meeting, the same as the boss of a any business would move heaven and earth to get rid of a useless and/or sub-standard employee. But in racing “whilst there’s life there’s hope”, so if the trainer and owner can run that horse somewhere next week, his or her dreams stay alive – and more importantly, so does the horse. It doesn’t matter if the Marburg Pacing Association is struggling financially, or if the trainer knows his or her horse is as slow as a wet week in Tully, there must be, from a welfare perspective, race meetings coming up for that trainer and their slow horse. And importantly they don’t need to be $100,000 races. The owner and trainer have both shown that they are happy to race for total prizemoney of $1,501. The owner and trainer can’t afford to pay $50,000 to import a horse from interstate or New Zealand to race at Albion Park on Saturday nights. In fact if the truth be known, the battling owner and trainer cumulatively probably don’t have access to $50,000 unless they rob a bank. But if the owner and trainer decide to get rid of their horse because of a lack of race meetings for their slow horse – currently the options are hardly rocket science. Sure like the GAP program in the greyhounds some wonderful entities, like AFTER, which I also sponsor, try to re-educate the retired pacer or trotter to equestrian events, or what have you, but again the industry ought to fund that retirement.

And of course the upshot of all my plans outlined in this article is that if racing actually started doing something constructive on a grand scale to re-home and re-educate retiring equine and canine athletes, it might actually find that society in general would think the entire racing industry is much more palatable than it currently is.

Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there’s the second montage of photos from Doomben last Saturday. On www.sydneyracing.com.au there’s the story on Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Criterion, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au Victorian racing is perused.

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