IS ROSEHILL IN DECLINE?
If the attendance numbers at Rosehill are any measure, then the inescapable conclusion is that racing’s jewel of the west is in serious decline. Last Saturday’s race card was all quality – one that NSW racing could have been justifiably proud of, with the feature BMW a race of the highest calibre Group One weight for age staying contests in Australia this season. And the support card stood up very well.
Tellingly, this was the first year of experimentation with the Autumn Rosehill component of Sydney’s Autumn racing carnival, which took the BMW away from Slipper day and staged the race a week after the Slipper, with a two week break from Slipper day to the first day of the Championships.
It was a decision fraught with danger, and some very reputable and credible wise heads among the NSW racing fraternity did not rely on hindsight or hiring clairvoyants to issue “red light” warnings with sirens blaring.
It was clear last Saturday that these particular individuals, who unquestionably have the best interests of NSW racing at heart, gained no satisfaction from being proven correct. There were no “I told you so” responses- just sheer frustration at how NSW racing is being administered, and at the decision-making process.
Learning later in the week that Victoria’s feature Saturday race meeting at a provincial venue at Mornington attracted a significantly larger attendance than Rosehill was extremely galling.
While Rosehill struggled to get 8000 through the gate, Mornington attracted in excess of 10,000 patrons. It is unacceptable, and both the ATC and Racing NSW MUST take responsibility for it.
Sydney’s west was racing’s heartland. Once. It is one of the fastest growing regions in Australia. Racing has an unbelievable opportunity to secure a strong footprint in this region. It can only do this if it puts an end to the clear messages that it has been continually sending of preference and bias towards Randwick and the eastern suburbs set towards whom the marketing campaigns for the Championships are clearly targeted.
Is it any wonder that the NSW racing community is increasingly of the perception that there is a deliberate long-term strategy to move the Slipper- and all the important Group One races-away from Rosehill and bundle them into the Championships program?
If that were to happen, it would be the blackest day in NSW racing.
Racing cannot afford to disenfranchise any part of greater Sydney or NSW. It cannot afford to discourage a generation that it should be encouraging to give racing a “fair go”.
If the Championships are to succeed and revive Sydney racing and NSW racing, it will not-and cannot happen- overnight or in the short term.
It needs a carefully planned long-term strategy with achievable goals along the way.
It requires the best strategic and marketing minds to be head-hunted from outside racing as part of the solution.
Racing the world over lacks such talent and expertise within its ranks. It must go outside and recognize that if you offer peanuts you end up with monkeys.
One of the biggest threats to NSW and Sydney racing is what appears to be a deliberate, dangerous and hopelessly flawed strategy of embracing the elitist model for racing.
World’s best practice is not and has never been robotic. It is evolutionary and aspirational.
Hong Kong is the model, demonstrating the absolute necessity in getting all the critical fundamentals right before achieving all the benchmarks and KPI’s which validate world’s best practice is a reality within an organization or industry.
Much as they might be uncomfortable in accepting it, the NSW racing industry and Racing NSW can only benefit from adopting the Hong Kong strategy and model and achieve a real level of sustainability for the long term.
RACING NOW GETS “GASSED”.
Racing NSW’s warning issued to trainers on Wednesday that two little known gas substances – xenon and argon gas- are prohibited substances under the Australian rules of racing has prompted a predictable “where will it all end?” response from many in racing.
Coming on the heels of the on-going cobalt scandals across many Australian states, the xenon and argon gas warnings have sent alarm bells and shudders collectively through Australian racing .
The whispers about the use of what has been previously referred to as just “gas”, which now has a couple of names, has kept getting louder over recent months in Sydney and in Melbourne:
As usual, the rumour mill kept finger pointing at stables enjoying a sustained run of success with horse demonstrating new-found endurance and producing performances beyond their exposed form and capabilities.
Following on from the Racing NSW warning, the next day Fairfax Media’s Patrick Bartley- yeah, him again- broke the story which also identified that the Institute of Biochemistry laboratory at the German Sport University at Cologne had been established as an official testing laboratory for testing for these gas substances.
According to Bartley, xenon gas has “a similar action to cobalt” in that it has performance enhancing properties and can cause the body to increase EPO levels.
Bartley also reveals that pressure in mounting on Australian racing authorities to begin outlawing the use of low-oxygen chambers or tents following the discovery they were being used to enhance the performance of racehorses.
He further states that in his home state of Victoria there are several oxygen chambers at Flemington and Ballarat and “given that these chambers provide an opportunity for illicit xenon use, such chambers could be banned by the end of the racing season”.
While Bartley acknowledges that “other methods of boosting EPO levels, such as altitude training, exercising or sleeping in a low oxygen chamber are allowed. Racing analysts and sports scientists believe that xenon is being used in combination with low oxygen tents , where xenon gas replaces oxygen”, he points to Russian athletes being administered a 50-50 oxygen-xenon gas mixture which has been added to the World Ant-Doping Authority’s (WADA) list of banned substances.
The Racing NSW warning to trainers clearly has ominous undertones with an explicit “trigger” that samples stored at the Australian Forensic Laboratory, may, under the rules of racing, be submitted to be analysed for xenon and argon gas.
The retrospective testing of stored samples has been a contentious issue for a considerable period of time.
However attitudes have changed dramatically with a spate of inquiries into the administration of prohibited substances and the emergence of “new” performance enhancing drugs which have dragged the image of racing deeper into the gutter.
Retrospective testing for some of these “new” substances can potentially open an even bigger can of worms for racing- and for any trainer whose horses return positive tests to substances previously not able to be tested, or for that matter being prescribed as having performance enhancing capabilities and deemed to belong to the prohibited category.
The downside to a new rule banning the use of low oxygen chambers is that these chambers have been accepted for some considerable time as having a legitimate place for safely boosting the aerobic capacity of athletes.
Altitude training and hyperbaric chambers have been used by athletes in training for all types of human competition sport for a long time. They have been proven to boost endurance and, under proper supervision, use by sporting clubs are increasingly an accepted part of training regimes.
While the use of illegal substances for performance enhancing purposes cannot and should not be condoned and the guilty parties severely punished, racing must be careful not to respond in its typically reactive, knee jerk mode and implement a blanket ban on a sports science treatment which can provide legitimate therapeutic benefits in the training regimes for racehorses.
MOREIRA LANDS A FULL BOOK AT RANDWICK AND ITS “GLOBAL” EVENT.
There’s no doubting the impact Joao Moreira has had on Australian racing. In his few appearances at carnivals and feature race meetings in Sydney and Melbourne, Moreira, rather than the horses or trainers or his fellow jockeys, has dominated the headlines across all forms of media. His deeds have been the talking point.
Described by Robbie Waterhouse as the “best jockey in the world”, Moreira seems to be doing it all, seemingly, without even raising a sweat.
Like all champions he has let his riding do the talking.
Joao Moreira’s full book of ten rides on the first day of the Championships includes five rides for premier trainer Chris Waller and two for Gai Waterhouse with one each for John Sargent, Paul Messara and Lee and Shannon Hope.
Moreira’s full book of rides is indicative of the demand for his services, a demand replicated only by Sydney’s leading champion jockey James McDonald, who will inevitably make it to the ranks of the world’s best jockeys sooner than later.
Moreira and McDonald are two “hot” jockeys, and it would not surprise if between them, they dominate the first day of the Championships.
Ironically, while all the “spin” and hype around the Championships has centred around it being a “global racing event”, the reality is that while the Japanese horses may cause a ripple of interest, this hardly validates their self-proclaimed status of a “global event”.
The presence of Joao Moreira is more likely to have the turnstiles clicking than a handful of Japanese horses.