NSW COBALT SAGA GETS EVEN MORE MURKY (IF THAT’S POSSIBLE)
Yesterday’s hearings into the Sam Kavanagh, pictured below, cobalt positives got into even more murky territory with the level of sensational evidence and allegations making even the most rational and tolerant persons in racing in Oz question the worth of having a passing interest in the sport.
It wasn’t just the dark side of racing on display, a dark side that sadly is being exposed in more and more sports. The evidence and allegations, many of which are yet to be fully tested, are- there’s no other word for it- disgusting. Racing NSW and Ray Murrihy cannot do anything less than seize the opportunity to take the blow torch and draw a line in the sand with the integrity of racing. It is an opportunity to totally change the culture of racing, and with a non-negotiable zero tolerance policy to all licensed persons and any member of the community who threatens the integrity of racing.
The influence of an underbelly of undesirable elements, inside and outside of racing, engaging in activity that is in clear breach of the rules of racing must be eliminated with a zero tolerance policy front and centre of its penalty regime.
Racing’s ever growing band of critics can no longer be blamed for hardening their views on the sport. To say that the community is growing increasingly frustrated and restless about the integrity of racing and its impact on equine welfare, is stating the bloody obvious. Ominously for racing, its advocates in the decision-making echelons of society, and among the tiers of Government are also losing patience with racing and its inability to effectively manage the integrity of the sport.
The greyhound industry has witnessed, first hand, how it has lost the confidence of the community, and as a consequence, its independence and ability to determine its future. The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear for racing.
WILL PARITY SAVE NSW RACING?
It’s always been bad business to put all your eggs in one basket, particularly in a sports entertainment industry such as horse racing, which, despite the nostalgic urgings of many of its leaders trapped in H.G Welles’ Time Machine, is struggling to understand and survive the intense challenges from competitors.
These are competitors who have undergone the mandatory makeovers to resonate with a more demanding consumer environment, where the consumer is spoilt for choice and is king and queen, and judge and jury. They have gone back to the future and returned.
Where racing has fallen behind and still struggles to make serious inroads into conversations among the generations coming through is firmly the fault of its stultified and outdated thinking and immunity to change.
Where racing still dresses up in period costumes, its competitors are wardrobed by some of the world’s best fashion designers and houses.
Whilst racing is all about survival- and has been in survival mode for decades- its competitors are all about the future. They are about knowing their customer, inside out. They are about developing strategies, products and campaigns that cut through to the hearts and minds of their expanding customer and fan base.
The tax parity argument in NSW mirrors perfectly where NSW racing is at. It is so reminiscent of the state of the Australian manufacturing sector and the soon-to-be-extinct Australian motor industry. Crippled by increasing costs and inefficiencies, and almost totally dependent on subsidies, handouts and protection, their demise has been inevitable.
Like NSW racing, they shouted from the rooftops about “level playing fields”, or the lack of them, as the root cause of their failure to be competitive and survive. But there is a limit to the life span of posturing and spin in a society which, with the benefits of the technology revolution, has become so much more sophisticated and increasingly intolerant of industries and sports that cannot help themselves and are forever in survival mode, beset by problems and devoid of solutions.
If the proposed take out rates from racing in NSW are reduced to levels enjoyed across the border in Victoria, it will make available many millions of dollars to be pumped into NSW racing. But, if the bulk of this money is given to Racing NSW as a open cheque handout to discriminate towards Sydney racing and Championships prize money, it will be a disaster. It will merely perpetuate the problems and long-term drift towards elitism, which threatens to further widen the gap between NSW and Victoria.
If Premier Mike Baird and Racing Minister Troy Grant, below, are serious about helping NSW racing, they need to strictly control how the extra funding is allocated and how it is used.
The problems faced by NSW racing have never been about funding and funding alone. It’s always been about management, leadership and the structure of governance.
Get the structure, management and leadership right, and the journey can then begin towards a successful future. But will that ever be allowed to happen when the rot has set in and immovable objects feast at the table of the yobs? Another wafer, sir? A small one?
THE FORGOTTEN BREEDERS LEVY
Remember the loud noises made not all that long ago about, heaven help us, racing’s protected species – the breeders- and the push to impose a breeders levy, similar to the product fee imposed on corporate bookmakers?
Not surprisingly, given the unhealthy imbalance and heavily conflicted interests among the decision makers at the highest tiers of governance and administration in NSW racing, the breeders levy, like many of Racing NSW’s strategic plans are gathering dust deep in the archival Old Mother Hubbard’s bowels of Druitt Street.
Hypocritically, the hysteria about corporate bookmakers being gifted a massive financial free kick by not being forced to pay a rightful fee for using race fields to make obscene profits out of racing, pales into insignificance with the deafening silence surrounding the initial loud noises made about the free kick breeders have continued to enjoy since the birth of the thoroughbred industry down under.
For breeders, and particularly our mates in the Hunter, it’s lotto time, over and over, again and again. They just cannot believe their continuing good fortune. It’s the gold mine with endless deposits of the precious metal. And with astute and legitimate manipulation of Australia’s dysfunctional tax system, the rivers of gold just keep flowing into their bloated bank accounts. Who can blame them for waking up every morning and doing The Dance Of Lurve? It’s all a bit like the Sixties and free love.
Whilst the blow torch was turned full whack on the corporates, and they were demonized and called out for anything and everything, our dear friends in the breeding industry continue to reap the massive rewards, year in year out at the weanling, yearling and broodmare sales, and from exorbitant stallion fees, and pay zilch to the industry from which they accumulate their massive profits.
Worse still, some of the biggest breeding operations are wholly foreign-owned and export their massive profits offshore – often to tax free havens.
Surely it is an appropriate time for Premier Baird and Racing Minister Troy Grant to include the imposition of a breeders levy in their review of NSW racing and put an end to this blatant free kick, which has conveniently been hidden under the radar by the power brokers for far too long? And if not, why not?
VRC DODGES ANOTHER BULLET
The VRC aka Dodge City aka Tombstone Territory and it’s Chairman Michael Burn dodged a bullet last week by their announcement appointing Chief Strategy and Finance Director Simon Love as their new Chief Executive, and retaining one of their senior executives Julian Sullivan in the main supporting role.
It was a “thirteenth hour” decision well past the midnight hour and which reflected very poorly on Chairman Burn and his divided Board.
The Chief Executive’s position, vacant for over 12 months- TWELVE MONTHS- had been literally hawked around senior business management circles and head hunters during that period with ridiculously inflated packages dangled at senior executives in the commercial world to lure them to the VRC.
The process has been an unmitigated PR disaster for “Dodge City” and for “Marshall” Michael “Doc” Burn. The cost of hiring two sets of well-known head hunter organizations would have been prohibitive and has not gone unnoticed. And to make matters worse, their new Chief Executive was sitting, for fucks sake, right under their noses.
Both Simon Love and Julian Sullivan command widespread respect in racing circles with both men tasked with challenging roles in modernizing the VRC and maintaining its position as Australia’s premier racing club.
The next challenge for the VRC and its Chairman is to stop procrastinating over the media rights issue. The risk and ramifications of exclusion from the industry-initiated choice of Seven West Media for the VRC are massive, particularly in light of the Victorian Racing Minister’s public endorsement of the Racing Victoria choice of Seven West Media and support from all the clubs- except the VRC.
The Minister has been quoted in the Melbourne press explicitly calling for a united response from the Clubs. Taking on city hall should not even be a consideration. Not for the VRC and Chairman Burn, especially after its expensive bungled and lengthy executive search for a Chief Executive, which has raised many pertinent questions about the competence of the decision makers at the Club responsible for the “race that stops a nation”.
RSN’S BOYS HAVE ONE SERIOUS MELTDOWN!
Listening to RSN, the dead people’s racing and sports radio channel last Monday, and Shano’s jury duty – a misnomer if ever there was one- was excruciating. The discussion around media rights degenerated into a rabble, with Shano, the Herald-Sun’s Matt Stewart and Fairfax’s Michael Lynch engaging in verbal fisticuffs with Bette Davis-type histrionics.
Taken aback for a sec when “The Lynch Mob” blurted out that Hong Kong was “also the centre for illegal bookies in football”, something which will not go away, the boys in the band collapsed into a cacophony of sound- talking over each other with tempers clearly frayed and the discussion bordering on the irrational. It was radio at its very worst, and probably brought dear “Jenny” back from the dead to dance to Janis Joplin’s music once again.
It demonstrated, convincingly, how completely out of touch the racing media, like many sections of the racing industry itself, are with the community and society, in general, and stuck in an almost permanent time warp.
RSN is increasingly a complete embarrassment to the Victorian racing industry. It is almost contemptuous of its dwindling audience and ageing- and dead- demographic. Ask major sponsor Browne Brothers- with an “e”- and the other funeral homes that turn the station into Dead Men Talking.
If RSN has got one aspect of its operations right, it is its decision to exclude itself from the quarterly radio ratings surveys. Take away “Jenny”, all those “bloody idiots” and those about to meet their maker, is doubtful if it would even reach solitary figures when it comes to listenership. It is heavily subsidized by the racing industry and therein lies its problem.
And on the media rights issue, it is quite bizarre to read and hear critics of the Seven West Media free to air channel option raise content as a concern. Bizarre because the Seven Network is just that – a television network, acknowledged as the most successful in Australia, with a long history of successful sporting coverage of a diverse range of sport from Olympics, Tennis and AFL to name just a few.
Not only could the Seven network use the Foxtel model and run repeats of some of their current popular free to air programs on the new racing channel, but they could target specific lifestyle programs to blend with the racing demographic.
Content, though an important subject and dangerous in the hands of hardcore racing people, would be the least of Seven’s concerns. It would be naïve in the extreme and bordering on the delusional to believe that the Seven Network would allow the bureaucrats and amateurs in racing to control the destiny- and content- of a free-to-air channel with which they are heavily involved. If anything, it’s an important default position for the Victorian racing industry.
The conversation around the on-air roster of presenters and personalities on the new channel has also made one particular individual of the Racing Live team very, very nervous. Hear the teeth chatter? And Nervous Nellie, he should be. Why? He is way out of his depth as an anchor, and his growing unpopularity and distrust among many in bleak city racing circles makes his role, at best, very difficult.
TRAINERS GONE BAD (AND BEHAVING VERY BADLY)
It hasn’t been a good week for Australian trainers. First was the outing, photographically, in the Melbourne Herald-Sun of Peter Moody swimming naked somewhere in the Mediterranean. Not a good look for an individual very much in the public eye for reasons, both good and bad, let alone the sight of what looks like a beached Orca The Whale bobbing up and down in an ocean somewhere in the northern hemisphere.
Then came the page 3 story in the same newspaper of Wayne Hawkes (aka FONC), part of Team Hawkes, reportedly doing a Chippendales impersonation at a Trivia Night organized by the Parents Association at the school attended by his children. Oh dear. FONC apparently did his Chippendale routine stripping down to nothing more than a G-string. Pity the children. Scarred and scared for life.
To no one’s surprise, when events such as these degenerate to such lows, violence rears its ugly head, and, according to reports, that is exactly what took place. FONC apparently and fortunately was not involved. He left with his nuts intact.
Hardly a good look for both Moody and Hawkes. Moody is anything but a men’s magazine centrefold, and FONC wouldn’t get past first base auditioning for the Chippendales. Fugly stuff all round.