THE HIDDEN AND ALARMING REALITIES FACING NSW RACING POST MARCH 30
There is no escaping the impact on NSW and Australian Racing, of the unanimous decision by the High Court in favour of Racing NSW’ ability to legally charge Corporate Bookmakers and Betting Exchanges a 1.5 per cent Product Fee based on turnover. And we repeat the Optus ability to pirate AFL vision for FREE off what was thought to be a watertight broadcast rights agreement between the AFL and its broadcast partners – the Seven Network, Foxtel and Telstra, sent seismic shock waves through all sporting codes and Governments of all persuasions, which even the richter scale had difficulty coping with. The shock waves crossed international frontiers. The fallout from upholding the Sportsbet and Betfair challenges would have been felt for generations to come. Globally.
That said, it is useful to delve a little bit deeper into the darker side of the prize money announcement trumpeted by Racing NSW and its media mouthpiece and spin doctor – the Murdoch rag the Daily Telegraph as the biggest thing to happen to NSW racing ever. They got that one right and to be fair, the prize money spread is fair, reasonable and extremely responsible. It has the imprint of sound business logic by both John “The Messiah” Messara and Peter “Toffee Tongue” McGauran. They haven’t gone down the path of profligate spending which has characterized the financial management of Labor Governments in Australia. They should be applauded for that. It would have been so easy and attractive to have gone down the path set out by Racing NSW CEO Peter “The Not So Great” V’Landys, and upped the Saturday prize money minimums to $100,000, which he famously set the bar at, “if we won the court case”, and engaged in a divisive and debilitating stakes race with Racing Victoria.
There would have been no winners and plenty of losers. As a highly successful businessman – Messara, and McGauran, an experienced ex-pollie, knew the risks associated with such a pointless exercise. It was a time for consolidation, we figure they reckoned and they were right. In his victory speech following the High Court victory, Messara made all the right noises. The NSW racing industry was battle weary. V’Landys’ “50,000 participants” were hurting really badly and for too long. It was time to take a deep breath and get back on track. If V’landys didn’t get the full meaning of that message loud and clear, he is in denial…and we don’t mean the river in Egypt.
But while the prize money announcement was the “pleasure” and centre stage, and “spun” to obscene levels by them majority of the heavily Racing NSW-influenced racing media in our beautiful harbour city, the “pain” was the palpable disappointment that is starting to set in among the provincial and country race clubs and their customers – the trainers and owners who use the training facilities and whose wish lists for infrastructure spending to bring most of their racetracks and training facilities out of the last century, have been put on hold. Messara has made it clear that such decisions “won’t happen today or tomorrow, but it will happen”.
So much for the distressed cries for help from the provincial and country sectors- the sectors that are “such an integral part of the economic and social fabric of rural communities”. Wonderful words, wonderful spin. The inconvenient truth is that Racing NSW just does not have the money to increase prize money across all sectors and undertake the essential and long overdue infrastructure works to bring racetracks and training facilities up to date, at the same time. Simple as that.
And why – when the grandiose promises were made by Racing NSW, that unlocking in excess of the conservative $170 million held in trust from corporate bookmakers product fees pending the High Court decision, it would enable everything from prize money to infrastructure upgrades to take place and restore NSW racing to its pre-eminent position in Australian racing?
The answer is as simple as it is yet another inconvenient truth in the spin by Racing NSW. Buried in the victorious media release of March 30 by racing NSW is the line that gives the game away: Bullet Point Number eight: “RACING NSW HAS UTILIZED A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF THE FEES COLLECTED TO MAINTAIN THE EXISTING MINIMUM PRIZE MONEY LEVELS TO DATE”.
You could ask, how did this telling line escape the coverage of the NSW racing print and electronic media? How did it escape Sky and TVN? Yet it explains everything about why the provincial and country clubs and their customers (trainers and owners) and even metropolitan tracks have been big time losers in how the bounty has been distributed.
It is why the bounty which was conservatively, openly and definitively set at $170 million and shooting north, suddenly took a dive southwards to $100 million. And no, it was not NSW Racing’s version of the GFC. It was not invested in some dud investment scheme or dubious stock market trade. “A significant amount was utilized to maintain the existing prize money levels to date”.
So there you have it! Can you believe it? Racing NSW was forced to raid the till to maintain prize money levels. It gets worse. Racing NSW was accessing funds which were held in trust pending the outcome of the High Court challenge, funds which they would have been forced to return to the corporate bookmakers if they had lost the challenge.
It is anything but a good way to run a business. It would not be tolerated in the commercial world. It is plainly a very dangerous and equally a very bad business practice. Is it any wonder that V’landys declared “ there is a God” when the High Court decision was handed down in his favour.
We’ll slam our balls on the table and bet both testicles on the line and suggest if Messara had been Chairman and McGauran CEO, this would not have taken place. As a successful businessman, Messara surely would not have allowed such business practices under his watch. And McGauran who served in the Howard Government, which was renowned for its financial scruples, would not have been silly enough to roll the dice with such a high risk strategy. It is all the more reason why we have always believed that it is only a matter of time before Peter McGauran takes over as CEO of Racing NSW.
The bottom line is that despite all the promises made by Messara and V’Landys in their travelling road show through NSW provincial and country regions, they won’t be able to deliver on the infrastructure funding for some time yet. The Provincial and Country Clubs, the trainers and the owners whose horses are based at these centres, will be entitled to feel that they have had a “Gillard” done on them. And when it sinks in, the pressure will be ramped up again.
To be fair, we think Messara was caught in the middle. He had no option but to go along with the “spin”. After all, he had just taken over as Chairman, an appointment that attracted an avalanche of criticism, including from us. And we don’t resile from any of it. But to be fair we think that, in this instance, he was wedged well and proper.
The problem facing Messara and his Board is quite simple. Every Provincial and Country Race Club has put their hands up for funding for infrastructure funding. Every submission for funding has a legitimate basis and Racing NSW will not have the luxury of prioritizing one submission or one club over another. It is a recipe for disaster.
There is only one solution: The sale of Canterbury, long favoured by many of the players from the big end of town in racing. The sale of Canterbury will generate over a billion dollars. It should not be sold. It is the best racing surface in Sydney. There would be an outcry if Racing NSW puts the sale of Canterbury on the table. But then again, we believe, the softening up process is about to be kick started. The “spin” will soon be activated. Canterbury will begin to be demonized, and the provincial and Country Clubs, the trainers and owners will have no option but to support it. Perhaps, it was always planned this way. In racing as in politics in NSW, anything is possible.
A VERY UNUSUAL SUSPECT IN DUBAI
What in heaven’s name was the rising nine year old American bred Unusual Suspect trained in Victoria by Mick Kent doing at the World Cup carnival in Dubai last weekend? Surely Mick Kent could not have been serious about his chances at that level of competition? Surely it was not based on his performance in last year’s Caulfield Cup, which arguably was one of the weakest for many years? C’mon Mick did you really believe he could mix it with some of the best stayers in the world? Was it your owners’ decision to take him there or was it yours? More questions than on the ABC TV’s Q&A program.
And the whole saga was like an equine version of a “D” grade soap opera. After his “surprise landing” in Dubai, we heard press reports that the horse had not settled in properly, that he was “lonely” and had lost plenty of condition. Lonely? With such a “spiffy” trainer and “ladies man” like Mick Kent as his mentor and whose mere mention makes sparks fly? And flies fly?
Surely, Mick, you could have provided the company and comfort Unusual Suspect needed? And then we heard the next instalment in the saga, with news reports that The Kent was aborting Unusual Suspect’s dubious Dubai campaign and, wait for it, heading to the stables of Luca Cumani in the UK for a staying racing campaign during the 2012 English flat racing season!
Nice try Mick. Luca Cumani, one of the great racehorse trainers in the world today and a legend of the turf would need much more than your unintelligible, motor mouth gabble to convince him that he should find a place in his stable for a rising nine year old stayer whose best may well be way past him, if he ever had it in the first place. Perhaps it was an opportunity to have a regular open line to the beautiful Francesca Cumani, and if that’s the case, we’re with you bro. She’s a real glamour, indeed.
Moving on with The Kent, the saga did not end there. Checking the fields out for World Cup night, we could not believe our eyes when Unusual Suspect’s name appeared in one of the feature races. We though it was an early April Fools day joke. Not only was Unusual Suspect a fully paid up member of the equine “lonely hearts Club”, and suffering from a loss of condition courtesy of his loneliness, an acceptor, but not surprisingly his saddlecloth number was not posted in the place getters semaphore and he ran down the track.
The mail we have received from several of the Aussies who were at World Cup night suggests that the Dubai Racing Club was just a tad “pissed off” with the whole saga. Not only were they less than impressed with much of The Kent’s unintelligible motor mouth gabble, but he is another fully paid up member of the “blame game club” – that exclusive club in horse racing that always looks for excuses, for someone or something to blame when things don’t go their way, or when, to use a racing phrase, they “pull the wrong rein” and have difficulty accepting responsibility. The Kent must be related to Hong Kong’s John Moore.
Perceptions can count for a lot and from what we were told at Rosehill last week, The Kent has a highly misplaced and grossly over inflated opinion of himself, interpersonal skills are not among his handful of strengths. The fake Blues Brothers ‘look’ that he appears to favour, sunnies and all, is a giveaway.
ORTENSIA DOES AUSTRALIA PROUD IN DUBAI
She’s a class act, Ortensia. Her last to first Group One win in Dubai was stunning. Her previous trainer, Melbourne’s Tony Noonan, must be having recurring nightmares. Not only was her first Group One win in Sydney, when trained by Noonan, taken off her for returning a positive due to contaminated feed, but Noonan eventually lost the mare to up and coming young Sydney trainer Paul Messara (son of the Messiah), when she was brought into training after a premature retirement.
Since taking Ortensia over, Paul Messara has won two Group Ones with this highly talented mare, including a coveted International Group One. The next stop for Ortensia and Paul Messara is Royal Ascot and possibly more International black type races.
And though we are proud to tout the success of Ortensia, why is the Aussie racing fraternity so reticent to talk about the gigantic flops of Helmet and Sepoy? Fair and fair, share and share, people. Failures and glory often go hand-in-hand.
THE JECKLY AND HYDE SIDE OF HONG KONG RACING “FANS.
Hong Kong racing fans are a peculiar lot. For days and even weeks before the running of The Dubai World Cup, we received texts, emails and tweets from many in the city telling us how Hong Kong will DEFINITELY win The Dubai Duty Free Cup. Some said, it was a straight quinella- Hong Kong’s Ambitious Dragon and California Memory while others went one further and suggested a Hong Kong trifecta in the same race. Cityscape burst that bubble.
As we all know by now, only the amazingly durable Lucky Nine and, especially, Joy And Fun, waved the flag for Hong Kong. Yes, these were “brave” performances, but words like “brave”, “honest” and even “unlucky” mean nothing and fall on def ears when the horse or horses don’t win. It reads like a cop-out and mindless words which an be a worse turn-off than the horses losing.
Speaking of which, those same Hong Kong racing fans wrote back to us after the running of the Dubai races to tell us that the Hong Kong horses were “crap.” See what we mean by being fickle and probably talking through their pockets.
Were the Hong Kong horses “crap” and “not up to standard”? We really doubt that. As Ronald Arculli, the former Chairman of the HKJC who was in Dubai to watch his Red Jazz come third in the Godolphin Mile, said, “There are a small number of horses who are able to travel, that’s the trick, the best horses don’t necessarily travel well.”
Extremely well said, Ronald, and something for all those critical knobs to understand- all those knobs who own some cheap, also-rans and see themselves as “horse owners” and sit there and become armchair critics- and Hong Kong is full of them. It must be something in their diets.
Having said this, Ambitious Dragon never travelled- in the race- as he horse we all know it to be. Yes, it was up on the pace which we have not seen it run before, but when push came to shove and shove came to putting the pedal to metal, there was no gas. The horse was as flat as Twiggy on a rainy day whereas California Memory ran like a horse with a serious problem. Xtension ran an “honest race” which is a polite way of “saving face” and saying the horse didn’t have a hope in hell of winning. None of these horses seemed to have travelled well and Ronald Arculli’s words come back to mind. Those horses that have proven to be good travellers- Lucky Nine and Joy And Fun- did Hong Kong proud. They could not win, but they fared extremely well as did Singapore’s Rocket Man.
Ambitious Dragon? If you haven’t already, watch trainer Tony Millard being interviewed in Dubai and being asked about the chances of his charge in one of those very rare interviews he gave- and before the weekend’s racing.
He wasn’t exactly brimming full of confidence. It said much and we would have loved to have been a fly on the wall after the running of The Dubai Duty Free. We understand The Blame Game was being played out relentlessly- and perhaps added to why Ambitious Dragon returned after the race with a fever and probably a fucking huge headache.
DOES PREBBLE REALLY WANT MOORE?
Word is that Brett Prebble is pulling out all stops- and texts- and making a concerted and “heavy-handed advances” towards trainer John Moore in an effort to take over from the indefinitely side-lined Darren Beadman as stable jockey for “Jungle John.” Hell, always ready to open his mouth to the media, “Motor Mouth” Moore was quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying, “Brett has been texting me asking ‘can I help out?’ so I said that we should discuss it.”
This had to do with the jockey hunting for a ride in the Chairman’s Cup and winning it aboard Moore’s Admiration. But why, the trainer has to always open his mouth to the media and let everyone know about what might be private conversations- or private text messages- baffles us.It makes Brett Prebble look desperate and also makes “Jungle John” look like a right knob and someone whom we would never ever think of joining us in Vegas. What happens in Vegas will be splashed all over the newspapers the next day and we’ll be caught with our pants down and the world we know what we did to that chicken.
The formation of this new Mutual Admiration Society didn’t end here either. Under the really cringe-worthy headline in the South China Morning Post which screamed like a banshee in heat, “MOORE FULL OF ADMIRATION FOR PREBBLE,” both trainer and jockey made loud sucking noises. We had to wonder if any saliva was exchanged as we read all the heavy breathing and kudos going on. Better than kudos than turdos, we guess.
On a more serious note, a partnership between Prebble and Moore makes sense. The trainer cannot wait forever for Darren Beadman to return to the saddle- if he ever does- and though “The Dazzler” is irreplaceable, Brett Prebble is the only jockey Moore can turn to as he seems to have something against Zac Purton. Moore has some antsy owners who have paid big bucks for horses and need to see an ROI whereas there is now Richard Gibson to think about- a true-blue Group 1 trainer who is making giant strides by racking up winners and also attracting his own group of high-spending owners. Next season will see Gibson issue a serious challenge for the Trainers Premiership and John Moore has been in Hong Kong long enough to know how quickly “loyalty” can evaporate
Brett Prebble is simply looking after Number One. His relationship with David Hall- and something we never thought would happen after a few things which happened in Oz- seems to have run outta gas just as “Hally” seems to have run outta winners and also grabbing new owners with any real spending power.
The partnership with Caspar Fownes will always be there, but will it and can it last if he were to be Moore’s stable jockey? We doubt it, but, perhaps there can be some “part-time” gig and with Fownes always having the option to use Zac Purton, Tye Angland, Tim Clark and anyone he cares to use to suit his horses. Perhaps he and Douglas Whyte might even kiss and make up? Miracles do happen.