THE QUEENSLAND RACING INDUSTRY IS FULL OF NEWSPAPER AND RACING RADIO NEGATIVITY BUT “WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH

10/12/15

So yesterday’s story on this website reinforced what everyone in Queensland racing industry knew which was, “Houston we have a problem,” which I referred to as “a speed bump”.

The first step in fixing any problem that we encounter along the path of life, either individually or as a group is to accept that a problem exists in the first place. That’s positive, as at this present time, the one thing that everyone agrees on is that the racing industry in Queensland has a problem.

As the racing participants of Queensland acknowledge that we have a problem let me suggest some ways to fix the problem. But before I do that, let me give readers an overview of events of recent days, according to mainstream media, in respect of comments that have been made by industry participants who are obviously all entitled to their view, the same as you and I are.

Queensland’s Monday to Saturday daily fish and chip wrapper, The Courier Mail virtually daily since last Friday has come out with all guns blazing taking the popular line to stick it to the State government. That newspaper gave the Labor Party no hope of gaining office at the election in January, so as newspapers do, they now slam the Labor Party on any issue. Let me comment publicly on some of those participants who have been quoted in The Courier Mail.

On Monday 30/11/15 the headline read, “Call for pollies to get on track,” which was retiring racecaller Alan Thomas wanting, “Queensland politicians to show their faces at the races to get a first-hand understanding of the problems confronting the sport”. Let me say that whilst the idea is noble, the same paper also used to write up the fact that we’d never see the former LNP Racing Minister/s at the races, so given that I estimate only about 10% of the adult population are interested in racing why would politicians en masse be suddenly interested in racing in 2015. So we can kiss that one goodbye.

Former Brisbane premiership winning trainer Rob Heathcote, who you may recall a couple of years ago banned the media after he was fined by stewards for writing something on a website, lifted the ban after I wrote an article on this website saying he needed to lift the ban, as people like myself had helped him get where he is today. Heathcote has seemingly gone into meltdown over the proposed prizemoney cuts. He’s advised, “This Government is killing us. It is a political assassination and retribution for the work of the last government who created progress and harmony not seen in 10 years”. However if he reads my article from yesterday he will be able to see that the “progress and harmony” of the “last government” were based on future and as yet unproven increased Ubet turnover figures.

Current Brisbane premiership trainer Tony Gollan called the changes “unfathomable” in last Saturday’s The Courier Mail. Again by reading Justracing yesterday the “unfathomable” becomes fathomable.

Last Saturday’s The Courier Mail headline read, “Jockeys threaten to strike”. Gee that’s pretty revolutionary – that should fix any problem the industry has. The article started off with the words, “Queensland jockeys are threatening to walk off the job in protest at prizemoney cuts which have the state’s racing industry in a rage.” What a lot of crap – being “in a rage” won’t solve any problems from prizemoney cuts in the racing industry to being behind the wheel of a car or being cranky with the spouse. Walk away and take a few deep breaths and smell the roses and come back a few hours later when you can make a rational decision. In the very same article, the newspaper got the thoughts of “Queensland’s biggest harness racing owner Kevin Seymour”. Given Seymour has had what I would describe as “a very influential position in Queensland harness racing for a couple of decades,” even with all his alleged business acumen, in reality he hasn’t been able to do anything much except stand back and watch the demise of the once wonderfully vibrant harness racing industry in Queensland, which the last time I checked is down to two TAB harness racing tracks (in letters so there’s no confusion here that’s the number 2) and it has no harness racing track in the entire State of Queensland south of Brisbane or north of Redcliffe, which by my car’s speedometer are about 36 (again in words so there’s no mistake here, that’s thirty six) kilometres apart. In the article Seymour is quoted as saying that, “the loss of jobs will be significant if prizemoney is cut and as a consequence participants lost to the industry”. Surely not – as no one in the last yonks number of years either in government, or that has sat on Racing Queensland harness boards and the like, has seemingly been worried about that, so why should it suddenly be important now when nearly everyone has left the harness racing industry and many hundreds of pacers and trotters have been sent to the abattoirs as both TAB tracks and non-TAB tracks closed down all over the State one after the other?

On Monday 7 December 2015 the article which was partly headlined, “Owners looking elsewhere after Queensland prizemoney cuts” started with the words, “A top Queensland syndicator says he and his clients have no confidence in Queensland racing, and he plans to deploy all future yearlings to be trained and raced interstate”. The syndicator who was named as “Grant Morgan” said he thought he’d “probably buy” about “11 yearlings” this year. Well with respect of those 11 yearlings, on the balance of probability, some of those 11 will not make it to the races anyway for various reasons that beset livestock, so he’s free to make any decision he so desires as to where his horses get trained, but in any event, from a numerical perspective, whether 11 horses all made it to the racetrack in either Queensland or in Timbuktu would matter little to the thoroughbred industry in either centre.

And interestingly whilst Saturday city prizemoney in Brisbane is noted in The Courier Mail as being “reduced from $65,000 per race to $60,000 for six races and $50,000 for the other two races”, what the entire Queensland industry needs to understand is that Brisbane is certainly the easiest place to win a standard race along the eastern seaboard on a Saturday afternoon. Let’s look at a couple of trainers who I mentioned above – Rob Heathcote and Tony Gollan – and to that end let’s just cast our mind back to only last Saturday so that it’s fresh in everyone’s mind. Tony Gollan’s mare Traveston Girl beat Rob Heathcote’s Hopfgarten in a photo in the Brisbane Handicap. Interestingly Traveston Girl was incapable of winning a race anywhere in Australia for 16 months until she won at Doomben on 21 November 2015 and after winning last Saturday she’s has won her last two starts in Brisbane both in $100,000 total prizemoney races. And both her latest Brisbane wins have been at Listed level, so she’s now earned valuable black type when also beating the males. Yet when she was taken to Melbourne to race her own gender in the Maybe Mahal at Flemington on Oaks Day during the Melbourne Spring Carnival, she got lost and ran fifth. For his part Hopfgarten was taken to Melbourne for the Spring Carnival also and he went missing in action at his four starts there, returning to Brisbane with the ordinary form of 12-10-6-6 after those four runs. And in two of those Melbourne starts he was even asked to carry only 54kgs. So it would be fair to conclude that Brisbane Listed grade is both his go and also Traveston Girl’s, as both need the weaker company at this point of their career, as they clearly couldn’t cut the mustard when taken south. And Traveston Girl and Hopfgarten aren’t the only two that benefit from Brisbane’s weaker racing. Look at a horse like Perplexity, which alleged “champion trainer” Chris Waller couldn’t win a race with. The horse comes to Brisbane and wins three Saturday city races in a row. So is former trainer Chris Waller an ordinary trainer, or is new trainer Chris Munce a genius, or is Brisbane easier to win in than Sydney in Saturday city company? Again you only need to go back to last Saturday. Kembla Grange based trainer Bede Murray can’t win a race anywhere with horses like Gold Horizon, yet the gelding came to Doomben Saturday city company last Saturday with form of 0-9-2-7-0-6-6-3 and got the cash. Prince Mayted couldn’t win even a Sydney mid-week race and came to Brisbane with form of 5-3-4-5-3 yet he won a Doomben Saturday city race on 21/11/15. And on the same day at the same track, Red Letter Day came off a Kilcoy Class 2 win by a wart and looked like Bernborough charging home to win. Then on 31/10/15 Magic Dallas arrived from the Warwick Farm stables of John Coyle to compete in a Doomben Saturday city race. Before the race his form read: 6-4-6-3-9-0-5-7-4-1-9-9-9 yet he got home also. So the moral of all the aforesaid is that we all need to stand back and smell the roses and not get any grandiose ideas as to where Brisbane Saturday city racing fits class wise into the general score of things.

The Courier Mail also recently ran a story about how shattering it was that the Stradbroke Handicap prizemoney had been cut from its current what I call “totally ludicrous” overall prizemoney figure of $2million to $1.5million and that story featured a photo of Brisbane Racing Club Chairman, Neville Bell. Honestly I felt like getting the tissues out when I read that one, but I resisted and stayed strong which is not always easy. The thing that got to me on that particular story was that the journalist should have asked the Chairman a hard question like, “I’m sorry Mr Bell but am I missing something here. If you and your club are so shattered at the Stradbroke prizemoney drop, why don’t you just put in $500,000 of your club’s own funds and that would keep the prizemoney level at $2million. Surely after operating for over 150 years on land that’s been owned outright for a century or whatever, your club would have to have a lousy half million dollars to spare. Why would the government need to give you a financial handout”? But of course as happens in racing the journalist sadly didn’t ask the hard questions.

One of the key points in the 96-page “Tracking Towards Sustainabilty Plan” of last week is obviously that we need to arrest, as soon as possible, what Racing Queensland Interim CEO, Ian Hall, noted was, “Thoroughbred wagering turnover on Queensland racing decreased by $150.5m from FY (financial year) 14 to FY15.

Rather than just sit here and read all the newspaper negativity about everything that is happening I’ll do what I do best – namely put forward some constructive ideas here today that may help lead the Queensland racing industry forward. I doubt that The Courier Mail will ring me for an interview as I talk too much sense and they are immersed in a tidal wave of negatively currently towards racing in Queensland and RadioTAB won’t ring me for an interview as I got banned from there for calling it as it was as Ubet own RadioTAB and they get a bit precious when I give it to them publicly with factual material. And even if the usual bunch of website detractors think my proposals are crap, at least I’m doing something constructive to try to assist. So if everyone could come up with just one idea then I’m sure that we could overcome this “speed bump” we’ve hit, in no time flat, given “we haven’t been diagnosed with terminal cancer five minutes ago”.

So to increase Ubet turnover we could do what I suggested here some years ago which is have Ubet establish a Betfair style operation, meaning the punter could have a choice of laying a horse to lose, as well as lay a horse to win, as in essence when a punter has one win only bet in a 15-horse race, he or she is technically backing 14 horses to get beaten anyway. When I wrote the story initially there were the usual “integrity” concerns raised, but I wasn’t aware that racing was so squeaky clean now that the integrity of the sport could actually get any worse. Anyone who doesn’t believe there are boat-races run in both the thoroughbred or harness code around Australia would have to be living under a rock, which probably explains why greyhound racing betting is seemingly always showing growth. Just because stewards don’t see anything in thoroughbred or harness racing doesn’t mean that funny things aren’t going on. In fact I see things in replays that stewards don’t – for whatever reason. The Racing and Betting Act may need changing to accommodate my idea, but Ubet could have a “betting exchange” type operation, whereby one punter can back a horse to win and another punter wants to lay the horse to lose.

My next thought involves having mobile TABs at non-TAB meetings. I recently put up photos of a Queensland bush Cup out west that 2000-odd people attended. But those people can’t have a bet on Ubet and therefore have no option but to accept bookmaker odds that are offered on eastern States thoroughbred meetings and on-course bookmakers don’t offer exotics betting. That’s not good enough as valuable Ubet turnover is lost. We have a captive audience who want to have a bet, but they can’t bet at the TAB, or have a $200 Quadrella on the Melbourne gallop meeting, or whatever, as there’s nowhere on-course to have a bet.

Similarly when I go to the Marburg non-TAB harness meeting, if there are 200 or 300 people in attendance or say 500 patrons at their big Easter Sunday meeting, the paying customer can have a bet at the harness meeting at percentages of 160% or 180%, but the bookies don’t even have a board set on three thoroughbred meetings that are happening in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The Marburg patron can drive down to the local pub and have a bet on Ubet if they so desire, but what a pain in the arse that is, as if the punter wants to have 10 bets during the afternoon and re-invest their wins and so on. Given it’s 2015 and we can park a Sky Channel van at Dingo and transmit pictures of a TAB meeting from there, why can’t Ubet have mobile TAB vans that punters at these non-TAB meetings can bet at? So if we have six non-TAB meetings next Saturday, why can’t we have a mobile Ubet outlet at each? More people would also patronize these non-TAB meetings also if they could compare Ubet and bookmaker prices and have exotic bets and so on.

My next suggestion is that if we are going to stimulate turnover at Ubet we need to come up with some innovative and interesting new bet types. The most recent one that Ubet came up with was the Triple Trio or some such rot. It’s was as exciting as a Fat-O-Gram, all as boring as hell. Why don’t Ubet offer financial incentives to punters to come up with new bet type ideas? Successful modern day businesses like Dominos pizzas adore getting unlimited feedback on new types of pizzas. Ubet need to do the same and reward people financially for any innovations that are adopted. They don’t even have to give them cash in the claw. They could give them a $5,000 Ubet phone account – then Ubet even get a chance of getting their money back.

As an extension of my Ubet idea of paying people whose points are adopted, Racing Queensland could work in conjunction with Ubet and do exactly the same and have a “suggestion form” at each Ubet outlet. The suggestions go in a box and the Ubet outlet forwards them into Ubet Head Office to be reviewed by a group of people like myself – who have some idea of what may work – and what we consider is worth taking further could be professionally presented to the Ubet Board for adoption, as they aren’t coming up with too many revolutionary ideas.

On the subject of Ubet, I’ve written stories over the years saying they need to have “silent shoppers” attending their PubTABs and agencies to gauge first hand such things as 1) what is the service like, 2) is RadioTAB on or is Sky Channel 1 audible, or is the football match broadcast meaning you can’t hear the races, like happened to me recently at a big club like Broncos in Brisbane. It’s just not good enough, so Ubet need to get their backsides out of their ivory tower and audit these joints regularly, as punters will get pissed off awfully quickly if they can’t hear the race because a karaoke competition is taking place 20 metres away, which can actually happen at a place like the Surfers Paradise RSL. And all these places that are selling the Ubet product need to have designated opening and closing hours advertised at the point of sale and they all need to have Sky Channel 2 monitors as a punter is not going to bet on a Sky Channel 2 race if they can’t see it.

And as I exclusively wrote here some months ago and backed up with the relevant photography, Ubet needs to get their brand name out there – at least on main arterial roads – and replace the old TAB signs with new Ubet ones, so the brand name is more recognizable.

Next up Ubet’s fixed odds betting needs to become far more transparent. For instance I can go in and get the pari-mutuel Ubet win and place hold figures, yet I’m no chance of getting fixed odds figures. That’s not right, given I’m their supposed “valued client”. It’s information that shouldn’t be a State secret, particularly when the return to the racing industry is far less from the fixed odds betting product, than it is off the pari-mutuel pool.

To help in the short term Ubet could approach their client base cap in hand and put their hand up and say “both we and the former Racing Queensland administration stuffed up, in that predicted hold figures didn’t increase, they’ve actually decreased dramatically by 150.5m(illion) in thoroughbred wagering turnover in Queensland according to Ian Hall from KPMG”. They could beg forgiveness and put it to punters that “Ubet will raise its take marginally from each betting product by say 0.25% of one percent for a 12-month period and that extra taxation element will come back directly from government to the racing industry”? That concept is saleable on the basis that 1) it would be a quick fix to getting the industry back on track and 2) any extra taxation take is only relevant if the punter actually backs a winner, as if the horse or greyhound the punter backs loses, it’s technically irrelevant whether the take from the bet type was 14.50% or 14.75%.

Another way we could assist in stimulating betting turnover is to increase the number of big jackpots that happen. Punters love betting into big jackpots, so how’s this for an idea that I came up with in about five minutes? Why not take a small percentage out of every exotic pool on every code on every day. I came up with 2.5% as a figure – but it could be larger or smaller than that. So say in the exotics pools 2.5% of every thoroughbred Trifecta pool for the week was automatically removed and placed into a jackpot component for the main thoroughbred race on Saturday afternoon at the Brisbane meeting? Ditto the First 4, Quadrella, Daily Double, Extra Double pools, Exacta, Quinella, etcetera, such that each Saturday we’d have a big pool to bet into for each of those exotics on the main race. The same scenario would unfold on harness racing and would culminate in those jackpots going into the main race at Albion Park each Saturday night and ditto at the Albion Park greyhounds on a Thursday night. Decent size jackpots habitually create excitement with punters, with pools growing out of all proportion, so we need to come up with a way of having more jackpots happen on Ubet meetings. Increased big jackpots on Ubet would mean added interstate and overseas interest via betting over the Internet into those jackpot pools.

The other possibility of course would be to look at undoing the current 30-year contract between Racing Queensland and Ubet, but whether that can happen would be up to smarter people then me to determine.

And it’s just a no-brainer that punters don’t want to bet on soft or heavy tracks from say a current 6 rated track to a 10 rated track inclusive. So to that end, how can the thoroughbred industry be so mentally redundant on the issue over the years? And on days where the track is soft or heavy, the scratchings generally decimate a meeting. So I came up with this idea yesterday to counteract that major problem to TAB holds. Isn’t it simply a matter of having a huge say 10 or 15-metre roll of waterproof cover invented, that can be rolled out behind a tractor, over the inside section “10 or 15 metre” section of the course proper such that when rain is predicted say Thursday and Friday before a Saturday race meeting, that a waterproof cover can get rolled out in no time flat? Then when there’s say a Saturday TAB metropolitan meeting, when Saturday race day dawns fine, the cover gets rolled back up and we have a good 3 track all day instead of an improving heavy 10?

So in summary some of my ideas that have been presented today are:

1 – Take mobile Ubet vans to non-TAB meetings where there is currently no tote.

2 – Increase the take on all Ubet types by 0.25% for 12 months to get back on deck. I could sell that concept to punters in about five minutes, as the federal government will increase the GST on all goods and services to 15% sooner rather than later and no one will have a say in that one – so what’s 0.25% at a TAB.

3 – Ubet and Racing Queensland need to both offer lucrative financial incentives to participants who come up with ideas and new bet types that are adopted to take the industry forward.

4 – Ubet need to look at strategies like a betting exchange Betfair style operation running in tandem with their other pari-mutuel and fixed odds bet types.

5 – Ubet need to divulge fixed odds holds so the industry-at-large can see the ramifications of fixed odds betting on their industry. At the moment 99% have no clue what’s happening. Ubet is our home TAB, so we want to know. If we don’t bet with Ubet they don’t have a business, so why is fixed odds information a State secret? Or is there some manipulation of pools here that we need to know about?

6 – Can the present 30-year Ubet/Racing Queensland marriage end in a divorce, as by the “28 million” black hole of Ian Hall’s, it seems to me that there is no “satisfactory performance” clause, with an accompanying “minimum annual growth” clause, or whatever, which is a strange way to do business in 2015.

7 – We need to stop watering tracks so as to recreate punter confidence. Currently we artificially create bias and drive punters away. At both Randwick and Sandown Hillside last Saturday, jockeys didn’t want to know the fence, yet Doomben raced fairly with a “firm 2” rated track late in the day. So just leave the rail in the true position 365 days a year and let the jockeys work out where they want to go.

8 – And as punters like betting on “good” or “firm” tracks we need as an industry to come up with a way to cover a course proper out say 10 or 15 metres from the rail before a meeting, so that it never gets past a say 5 rating track to stop TAB holds plummeting. The exact same strategy could be invoked days out from a race meeting to negate the possibility of a potential future washed out meeting.

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