The relentless campaign to undermine TVN from within and without continues unabated. Last week came the revelation that Chairman in waiting John Hartigan had jilted the TVN Board at the altar. He gave TVN a five start spray which has reverberated through the upper echelons of the NSW and Victorian racing industries and sent the “rats” on the TVN Board into overdrive as they continue their strategy to undermine and ultimately dismantle TVN as a separate entity and gift it to its sparring partner in one of racing and sports most bitter “marriages of inconvenience”.
In racing, in particular, divisions and hatreds run deep. They will resort to the lowest forms of behaviour to exact vengeance from their perceived opponents. The duelling is primitive, memories are long and feuds are never forgotten. It’s straight from the handbook of the underworld – the rules of the Godfather is supreme. Dissent in any form cannot and will not and will never be tolerated.
The odds against TVN remaining an independent broadcasting entity with the prized broadcast rights safely ensconced with the racing industry was always going to be as difficult as convincing EL Qaeda that the USA and the free world was its friend and not foe.
The end game has always been the same, and the Australian Financial Review, not a regular commentator on matters racing got it bullseye right on Wednesday in an editorial piece entitled “TVN turmoil means SKY has the upper hand”.
The crux of the article could prove prophetic. “There is a growing feeling in the industry that the internal turmoil coupled with several highly publicized scandals surrounding TVN gives weight to the argument for the industry owned channel to roll its operations into Sky, not the other way around”.
The Fin Review has nailed it. The campaign to undermine and ultimately derail TVN has been in place for a very long time, and there are a host of influential heavy hitters in the NSW racing industry and their allies across the border in Victoria who sole aim is to “gift” TVN to Sky and its owner Tabcorp. But that is just a part of their end game. Rolling TVN into Sky, undermining the authority of the ATC and Racing Victoria and the Race Clubs across the border would be ramped up to the next level and these separate and important entities in Australian racing would buckle and roll over. A revamped Australian Racing Board under a name change and new constitution would take over the decision making for Australian racing, and the centre of gravity which has been gradually shifting, according to plan, to NSW would be fast tracked.
Under this scenario, the new ARB would be a newer and more powerful offspring of Racing NSW. Forget the power and authority of race clubs. These vestiges of the antiquated notions of independence will be exorcised from the landscape. If they are spared the sword of the executioner and exist at all it will be along the models that we are already seeing installed in Newcastle and Kembla where their survival is conditional on a radical restructure and Board positions are allocated to nominees of the regulator. Can’t let democratic principles ever get in the way of authoritarian ones can we?
The strategy is simple and it is no surprise that the NSW and Victorian Race Clubs and Racing Victoria have not come out swinging. When it comes to gutter tactics, their opponents have got it all over them But then again, let’s not forget where they come from.
RACING ATTENDANCES – FROM ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER
The two feature race meetings last weekend in Sydney and Melbourne, told very different stories, and yet provided a very revealing and somewhat disturbing insight into the future of horse racing as a mainstream spectator sport in Oz.
Moonee Valley’s spectacular Victorian farewell to Black Caviar night had everything that horse racing could wish for, in this, the twenty first century. It was racing under lights at its absolute best. Grandstands and lawns chock full of racegoers – die hards and the not so regulars. Every demographic came through the turnstiles in numbers not seen since the inception of night racing. They came from near and far – from all over Melbourne and Victoria and from interstate and across the Tasman.
The lawns and grandstands were a sea of salmon pink and black, so many embraced the spirit and wore the Black Caviar colours. Looking up from the lawns into the grandstands Moonee Valley was lit up like Happy Valley on a Wednesday night. And there were people, 25,000 of them. For once it seemed Moonee Valley night racing was populated. It appeared to have more people last Friday night than Happy Valley. And that most certainly is a one-off.
As exciting and spectacular as Moonee Valley was last Friday night, and let’s give credit where it is well and truly deserved, it was very successfully marketed and promoted – for months prior to March 22; let’s not stray too far away from the reason and the sole reason for its success. It’s USP was Black Caviar. And she did what she has continued to do for racing over the past two years in particular – she has made horse racing a headline again, and for the right reasons. Black Caviar has taken the stench out of the race fixing and administration of drugs allegations that have plagued racing over the past year or so.
And Black Caviar has singularly transcended everything negative about racing in the community. She has brought people to racing, she has introduced people into. She has been subject of conversation across a wide demographic range. She has also proven that racing promotions and marketing can only work if it based around champion racehorses, special and themed racing carnivals and events and the female gender.
While the atmosphere at Moonee Valley on Friday night was electric and memorable, Rosehill the next day was almost the polar opposite. Despite having an outstanding race card, far superior to Moonee Valley and two absolute champions in Pierro and More Joyous and some wonderful Group One races, a disappointing 11,438 people went through the turnstiles. The ATC deserved better and so did NSW racing. As one prominent racing identity observed, when More Joyous and Pierro find it difficult to get the turnstiles buzzing, Oz racing is really struggling.
For Sydney racing, the one saving grace is the sense of anticipation and excitement that the “new” Randwick has generated ahead of its grand re-opening. It will have Sydney and Sydney racing buzzing for quite a while. And heaven knows how desperate we are for an X-factor for Sydney racing. With the expected presence of Black Caviar in the TJ Smith on April 13, the ailing Sydney Autumn Carnival may yet get the X-factor it needs.
But the problems for racing extend far beyond the Autumn carnival and Black Caviar. The wonder mare is a heartbeat away from her permanent exit, and then where to for racing? We read somewhere that Victorian racing’s font of wisdom and intellect Racing Victoria CEO Bernard “the plodder” Saundry declared that racing had now look to its next set of equine heroes to take over from Black Caviar. Really, Bernard?
Have you ever thought that colts like Pierro and All Too Hard, arguably the next band of racing heroes, may exit the racetrack for the breeding barn before Black Caviar? And the next set of colts will also have a limited career on the race track because of the reality of maximizing their residual value?
Black Caviar, Bernard, is once in a lifetime. Neither you nor I, nor any of the current crop of ageing racing administrators will live to see the next Black Caviar race, if there is one. In the meantime mate, just keep plodding away and keep your trap shut. Leave the marketing and strategy to those that are capable of chancing their arm at it. Then again, Australian racing is completely devoid of such creatures, so the likes of you and your mate in NSW drive into territory that you know sweet fuck all about.
CAVIAR CONNECTIONS GET A RAW DEAL
The “tall poppy” syndrome and Australians can never be separated at birth. The ridiculous bile thrown the way of Neil Werrett and his fellow owners of Black Caviar by sections of the racing community over their alleged demands for free ticketing and a separate space to entertain their families and friends at Randwick, demonstrates the enormity of the challenge facing Australian racing to develop its own set of heroes and reach out to mainstream Australia.
The mentality is simple: if a tall poppy emerges then he nor she or they must be cut down, humiliated and ridden into the Randwick turf or the turf at any race track for that matter. Allegedly Werrett and his fellow owners “demanded” 220 tickets to Randwick for their families and mates and a separate space to entertain them. The impertinence of it all! Forget that their wonder mare has singularly kept the turnstiles ticking over and bequeathed racing tens of millions of dollars in publicity and headlines. Forget the millions of dollars generated from admission, hospitality, wagering on race programmes when she has competed, forget the publicity for Australian racing and for Australia itself when she competed at Royal Ascot! No lets just quibble about 220 lousy fucking admission passes to Randwick and setting up a marquee or proving a room gratis and throwing in some food and beverages for connections of this world champion mare to enjoy with their families and mates! Yes, how fucking petty, small minded and cheeky.
Does it also not demonstrate how the racing community is clueless when it comes to promoting racing? Should not the ATC and Race Clubs elsewhere, for that matter, go out of their way to make Black Caviar’s connections feel a tad special?
Contrast this scenario with Moonee Valley last week. Clearly, the Race Club went out of its way to make heroes of everyone connected with Black Caviar. They had a procession through the famous Moonee Valley tunnel with banners separating Black Caviar’s owners and Peter Moody and his family following the field for the race being announced on to the track. And with the sea of salmon and black spots, it was an uplifting sight for racing, something that racing seldom experiences if ever. Sadly, racing has an appetite to devour itself, as we keep constantly getting reminded.