WHAT FATE AWAITS TVN?
There was always a sense of inevitability about the outcome of the Mexican standoff between TVN and Sky Channel over the value of NSW and Victorian racing vision – a standoff which has become an all too defining feature of Australian racing.
When the wedding bells started ringing out of the hallowed residences of Racing NSW and Racing Victoria over two and half years ago proclaiming the newly discovered spirit of cooperation over TVN, a new Board and a solemn matrimonial vow to take each other for “better or for worse”, we weren’t fooled.
It was a marriage of inconvenience, with the third party – Sky Racing, the potential co-respondent- always a hard ball player, waiting in the wings and capable of making irreconcilable differences a reality to a marriage that was on the rocks before it even started.
It was a similar scenario with the composition of the TVN Board. Given the frosty relationship between Racing NSW and the ATC, between Racing NSW and Racing Victoria papered over only by spin, the animosity towards and mistrust of “you know who”, pictured below, by many of the Board members and their constituent Clubs, it was always going to need a “dealmaker” or statesman to broker a peace plan to make it work and prevent the dysfunctional farce which the Australian racing industry has been subjected to over the past two and a half years.
No, it’s not laughable that the stand-off over the value of the vision is still unresolved. It’s plain fucking tragic for Australian racing and for the many punters and participants who should be sharing in both the considerable financial benefits that would flow from both an aggregation of rights and, critically, from a proper and reasonable fee for those rights from vision and media rights providers.
If the deal and fees that Sky Racing is reportedly digging its heels over is accurate- and there has been no disputations as to its veracity- then, Sky appears to be holding a gun at the head of not just TVN, but also at the heads of the NSW and Victorian racing industries.
Interestingly and significantly, the commentary and language coming out of both State governing bodies – Racing NSW and Racing Victoria- relating to the dispute provides vital clues into the REAL reasons why the Race Clubs and, quite clearly, the Victorians appear to have drawn a line in the sand with their unequivocal stand in throwing their considerable weight behind TVN.
In what can only be described as uncharacteristic, Druitt Street appears to have assumed the role of moderator, a role one does not usually associate with “you know who”, pictured below, reportedly working behind the scenes at seeking a resolution to the issue. Perhaps he is auditioning as successor to Ban Ki-moon’s role as Secretary General of the United Nations?
In stark contrast, a detailed and blunt statement on the Racing Victoria website, below, explicitly exposed the extent of the ambush that Sky Racing and its parent organization Tabcorp was attempting to inflict, not just on TVN, but specifically on Victorian racing, and, ultimately Australian racing.
The protracted TVN/Sky dispute is not just about a haggle over the extra $10 million that TVN is seeking from Sky for the NSW and Victorian vision. It’s much more.
For Victoria, it’s about bundling digital rights, penalties for Victorian expansion of its free to air coverage over and above the existing 25 race meetings- penalties, again for Victoria if Sky no longer had exclusive international rights for their racing- and, wait for it, locking in penalties for any future increases in race fields product fees for Victorian racing.
While some of these demands are no doubt part of the negotiating and bargaining process, the bigger question from a NSW home state perspective is simple: Do these same demands apply to NSW and where does Racing NSW and the ATC stand on these fundamentally critical issues to the NSW racing industry?
Will Racing NSW and the ATC buckle to the demands of Sky and Tabcorp? Think we know the answer to that question, don’t we?
Whatever happens, sadly, the fat lady has well and truly sung for TVN.
If the ATC and Racing NSW pull out of TVN as we believe they might, then it is curtains for TVN.
It would be an extremely unlikely scenario for Racing Victoria to bankroll the operation of TVN on its own. But the bigger question for bleak city administrators is how they handle their broadcast rights- and with whom.
In light of their very pointed and provocative statement fingering Tabcorp, it leaves little to the imagination as to their next move.
Reading between the lines, it will take all of Ban Ki-moon, his predecessor Kofi Annan and any other world class mediator to broker a peace deal with Tabcorp.
Pity. It will be a proverbial dog’s breakfast with the prospect of two separate channels carrying separate vision for NSW and Victorian racing.
So much for the empty words of cooperation and unity between NSW and Victoria. But then again can mortal enemies ever co-exist?
Is it any wonder why the reputation of Australian racing is on its arse among its own backyard constituency, let alone its global counterparts?
YOU’VE DODGED A BULLET, CHRIS WALLER.
Not for one moment would we dispute Chris Waller’s explanation that the Lasix positive for which Junoob was disqualified for his Metropolitan win last October was the result of a mix-up by a stablehand, and was accidentally administered to Junoob and not the one for which it was intended. It’s not the first time a mistake has been made and it won’t be the last.
But, this is not the first time that Waller has had to front stewards over a positive.
Just last April resulting from a feed mix-up, Chris Waller found himself facing Ray Murrihy’s panel- and on both occasions found himself lighter in the wallet for a mix-up in administration- an accident or just plain negligence.
Call it what you like, but is it too much to expect better from Australia’s leading trainer?
C’mon Chris, you are bloody lucky to have escaped with a fine and not a suspension, particularly in NSW where Racing NSW and, for that matter, the Australian Racing Board, have forever bombarded all with endless, and often meaningless bollocks to keep racing drug free – a Group One oxymoron in itself.
Yes, constantly reminded is how racing in NSW is within a hair’s breath of being world’s best practice with their so-called tougher than tough drug rules- tough enough to send the heebie jeebies through any dodgy trainer, stablehand or any one contemplating giving a go-fast or go-slow to a racehorse.
And our dear, dear oh dear old mate Peter “toffee tongue” McGauran, Australian racing’s handsomely paid unofficial roving ambassador of Good Vibes, in his present incarnation as CEO of the Australian Racing Board, has reminded all, equally frequently, that Australian racing will do what it possibly can to rid itself of drug cheats and achieve a nirvana-like drug free racing jurisdiction.
No doubt this was the reasoning behind a series of far-reaching changes to the Rules of Racing in recent times, in particular, banning the use of any form of anabolic steroids either in or out of competition; extending the pre-race medication rule to midnight on the day before a horse was scheduled to race; the introduction of thresholds for the use of cobalt; tens of millions of dollars into research and detection of sinister substances, and introducing some very harsh penalties – suspensions and disqualifications for Trainers who break these rules.
At the time of their introduction, we recall Racing NSW and the Australian Racing Board stridently refusing to include an escape clause where cases such as the Junoob case would be treated differently- where incidences of accidental administration were involved, and excluding any form of deliberate intent.
The NSW Trainers Association, quite rightly, was one of these strident critics along with some of Sydney’s prominent trainers.
But the reality is that rules are rules and Chris Waller is one lucky trainer to have escaped with a $30,000 slap on the wrist- a fine which would not have even made a dent on his hard-earned prize money earnings and general income from racing.
If the mood among trainers at Randwick last weekend was any indication, the topic of Junoob and Chris Waller’s fine evoked a range of apoplectic responses.
The bottom line as always is perception, and in this instance, the perception is that the level playing field does not apply in Sydney, and particularly to penalties for breaking the rules of racing, notwithstanding the circumstances.
Imagine the feeling among these same Sydney trainers when they read Kenny Callander’s column last Monday, which opened with this extraordinary statement: “How lucky are we Chris Waller was fined and not suspended after his horse Junoob returned a positive in the Group One Metropolitan. If he had been outed we might have fields with two or three runners instead of five and six”.
Yes, you read it right. Dear old Kenny, for whom we do have the utmost respect, must have been having a serious senior moment.
Surely Kenny, you can’t be serious??? Yes, we know you are on the Board of the Chris Waller fan club- and you are not alone. Chris is a fine trainer and his best is ahead of him.
But give us a break, Kenny. Field sizes have never- and should never- determine penalties for breaches of the rules of racing. You are drawing a very, very long bow, Kenny. And yes Kenny, you’re on the money here: Chris Waller has been propping up Sydney racing for too long. But that’s a separate issue.
Equally intriguing about this whole bizarre episode was the revelation by Fairfax racing writer Chris “the rooter” Roots of the “stable’s (Waller stable), use of the drug (Lasix) routinely used on horses before they work fast”.
According to his piece, the horses are treated at 3.30am to reduce their chance of bleeding and add to longevity.
Yes, it is no secret that Lasix is administered to racehorses to prevent bleeding- but apparently with greater frequency than many realize in all Australian states?
Australian racing frequently gets on its high horse, takes the moral ground and chide the American racing industry for its race day medication rules. Puhleeeze!
For Chris Waller, the lesson is as clear as crystal: He has no option but to personally change his operational practices at his stables.
The size of his stable is no excuse and Racing NSW should demand he do so. If he wants to get up close and personal with prospective owners and tell them how much he would like to train their horses and keep increasing the size of his stable that’s his prerogative.
But with it comes responsibility to ensure negligence and recurring mix-ups and accidents, call them what you like, are no longer pleas for mercy.
Many Sydney trainers have lost their clients to the irresistible lure of the continuing Waller success story. Their whingeing and whining is misplaced. Training winners is the only guarantee to retaining your client base. Nevertheless, they’re pissed off big time. And the $30k fine for Junoob doesn’t help.