By Keyser Soze
CO-MINGLING: SEIZE THE DAY! BUT DO THEY KNOW HOW TO, TONTO?
It’s distressing enough to be confronted with the challenges which racing faces on all fronts. Imagine climbing Everest and Kilimanjaro with little or no respite?
Racing’s lifeline, with its revenue stream under siege, like never before, is the compelling reason why opportunities which Co-mingling offers the sport just cannot be lost under any circumstances. Dangerously, that’s the way it’s heading, however, unless racing acts with a sense of urgency. It cannot simply plod along as if everything is hunky dory. The honeymoon period ended some time ago, yet, from what we see, instead of forging ahead, it’s puttering along on a tuk tuk.
The existing Co-Mingling arrangements with Hong Kong and Australia’s Tabcorp and the major states which they partner with – NSW and Victoria- are little more than an exercise in posturing on a grand scale. From an Australian racing perspective, Co-mingling appears to be treated with scant disregard by the decision makers down under. To them, it’s almost an unnecessary distraction deserving not much more than being treated as an inconvenience. Pay it lip service and it will hopefully go away. Or at least, keep up pretences with false promises.
It’s the only real conclusion which can be drawn when all the elements which would make it work, and are clearly not being actioned, are put under the microscope.
Take the coverage of the Shatin race meetings on a Sunday afternoon. The Sky racing coverage is abominable, embarrassing, and a lost opportunity for wagering revenue for Australian racing and for Tabcorp shareholders. In a word, how this is being mismanaged is dumb. And then gets dumb and dumber.
In what is a blatantly condescending, and from a financial perspective, baffling display of confused priorities, the decision to literally throw the coverage of Hong Kong racing to the wolves, and dependent on what is known in racing speak as the “racing clock”, completely slams the door on the financial benefits of Co-mingling. The coverage resembles a game of “Russian roulette”- an embarrassing hotch potch of channel surfing between Sky 1, the subscription only Sky 2, and after 6pm, on Sky Thoroughbred Central. Got all that? Just to watch some races?
And to add insult to injury, the low turnover and largely irrelevant remotely located harness and dog race meetings- and the odd race from Busan in South Korea- are given priority over Hong Kong Thoroughbred racing, which, given all the factors, has made this racing product one of the best in the world, shows gremlins and Oompah Loompahs at work. Shatin shut out for a race from Busan??? In Korea???
With it’s strong Australian presence through every facet of racing – Jockeys, Trainers and Horses- Hong Kong racing is a “honeypot” in waiting. Except it’s been waiting for what seems like a bloody eternity- and the wait is far from over.
When you have world class Australian jockeys like Zac Purton and Brett Prebble, the emerging talent that is Chad Schofield, world class Australian trainers like John Size, John Moore, backed up by David Hall and a very long list of Australian bred and expat Australian racehorses, it’s a god given recipe for success.
It’s a recipe aspiring Master Chef contestants would give their kitchens and utensils for. And that’s not even grasping the opportunities gifted by co-mingling to “quantum leap” wagering pools with the now all too familiar presence of Australian racing’s elite jockeys – Hugh Bowman, Tommy Berry, Blake Shinn- taking the overnight Saturday flight to ride at Shatin during the Hong Kong racing season.
Punters are creatures of habit, and certainty with racing vision, supported by a serious marketing campaign, promotion of the exotic wagering products, access to quality form guides like the South China Morning Post form guide, concise and critical familiarisation information relating to jockeys and trainers outside the expat Australians, should be a front and centre mandatory strategy for Tabcorp and Sky.
Tabcorp’s recent introduction of the early quaddie and “big six” wagering products on Hong Kong racing without any marketing and promotion is a shining example of gross commercial neglect.
To not support “new” products with marketing and promotion campaigns just would not happen in the business and corporate world. Yet, Australia’s largest and most successful wagering and pari-mutuel operator, chooses to neglect an almost life changing opportunity to not just grow its revenue, but to create a trans-national mega racing product and pool, which could potentially rival the hugely successful Lottery products, worldwide.
Just imagine for one fleeting moment how any one of the corporates would handle Co-mingling? It would be game changing and game over. It is the very reason why Racing and Tabcorp should be scared. Really scared. The corporates have changed wagering forever, marginalized pari-mutuel wagering operators and the their wagering model to the degree where it’s just a matter of time before the roles are reversed and pari-mutuel operators become mere bit players in the wagering landscape. That is unless one or more of the corporates, either individually or through a joint venture, buy out the pari-mutuel operators and turn the wagering model on it’s head.
Until Tabcorp and Sky stop playing lip service to Co-mingling it will be business as usual. And that doesn’t work anymore in the 21st century, in case Tabcorp and Sky hadn’t noticed.
THE CHAMPIONSHIPS DESERVE BETTER
It was refreshing to listen to a podcast of an interview conducted on RSN in Melbourne by Michael Felgate with ATC Chief Executive Darren Pearce. Unlike some of his counterparts at Druitt Street, Pearce was candid and honest, minus the tiresome and blatantly obvious Kool-Aid spin which has become a trademark at the executive levels of Australian racing.
He acknowledged the problems with the track surface, expressed disappointment at the 22,000 odd crowd which went through the gates, and promised to review ATA marketing as well as admitting the debacle of no International participant.
Taking the problems separately, the Randwick racing surface was a disgrace. No sugar coating on this one. Randwick was once Australia’s best racetrack, but that’s all changed. It has never recovered since the hordes of catholic youth trampled their way through the course proper during the Papal visit. Perhaps it was God’s way of wreaking vengeance on NSW racing and gambling? But Randwick’s problems are also a legacy of misplaced priorities.
The most fundamental non-negotiable for a racing carnival is a first class racing surface. More so for a carnival which has been hyped and “spun” like no other, with obscene levels of unjustifiable prize money thrown at connections. The solution is simple: Racing Minister Troy Grant needs to revise his tax parity handout, and quarantine whatever is needed to fix up the mess that is the Randwick course proper. If prize money needs to be lopped off some of the outrageously high Group Ones, so be it. It certainly won’t impact field quality. The negative publicity that Randwick has attracted is yet another nail in the coffin of an industry in freefall. And society these days votes with their feet when negatives dominate the media.
To think that as of yesterday, with a 30 degree temperature on Wednesday, that the track rated in the Heavy 8 range says it all about what was once Australia’s best racing surface which could withstand a flood during the week and still come up trumps.
The attendance figures last Saturday were insulting to a race card which is going to be near-impossible to better this calendar year. Winx deserved better. So did Chautauqua. The Doncaster and TJ Smith were of international Group One standard.
To play to 50 per cent capacity speaks volumes of the quality, or lack of it, of the marketing and promotion for the Championships. The ATC must be fearing their worst nightmares this week, despite another eleven out of ten program. Sydneysiders appear to be continuing to vote with their feet giving the Championships, its outstanding turf heroes and champions a wide berth. These days it’s all about substance. Spin is easily exposed and once “outed”, it’s back to square one for the “spinners”. The long road back is a very arduous rescue mission. Just ask Dorothy and Toto.
The debacle of closing Canterbury to serve as a quarantine station for the anticipated planeload of international visitors for the Group One races, Meetah Rourke and Tatu, none of which got onto the tarmac at Mascot Airport, was another major embarrassment for NSW racing and for the Championships.
The “no shows” clearly damaged the aspirations of the Championships and sent a powerful- and negative-message to potential attendees. Hyping the Championships as a world class international racing carnival attracting a serious roster of well-credentialed international horses was premature at best. An international racing carnival does not happen overnight, and to hype it up as one has not only been exposed, but damaged the brand. And for the media to join the party and hype the Championships as having achieved “grand final” status, reflects a glaring lack of depth and analytical expertise amongst a sizeable section of the Racing media.
A Grand Final in any sporting sector which can attract a crowd struggling to reach 22,000 can only be described as an epic failure despite the quality of the equine talent competing in the Championships. So please guys, stop messing around with your nether regions and call it for what it was.
THE CHANGING FACE OF AUSTRALIAN RACING
This week’s Easter sales confirmed the radical changing face of Australian racing. Australian and New Zealand breeding, once regarded as an international backwater, has taken giant strides over the past quarter of a century with the import of international bloodlines, the shuttling of stallions and international investment taking Australasian breeding to another level and capable of producing world class racehorses.
An analysis of the Easter sales is compelling evidence of the internationalization of Australian racing, with a dramatic shift in the buying bench away from Australian buyers and towards, in particular, Asia and the Middle East, among the internationals dominating the top end of the market.
The increased Arab presence was a major talking point at the sales with both Shadwell and Sheikh Bin Khalifa major players embarking on a buying spree, supported strongly by the “usual suspects” based in Hong Kong and Mainland China.
For the breeders, it was a collective first division lottery win. They couldn’t wipe the smiles on their faces. Million dollar sales were exceeded several times on each of the three days, and the middle to upper end from a half a million dollars to the magic seven figures held up exceptionally well.
Ever heard of Jim Rundle? You’re not alone. Not even many Queenslanders have heard of the former Rockhampton-based trainer who, late last week, was appointed to a new four person Board of Racing Queensland, bewildering even members of his fellow racehorse training community across the Sunshine State.
The Queensland trainers, it appears, were “shocked” at the appointment described by the Brisbane Courier Mail newspaper as a “controversial choice”. According to the Courier Mail, senior members of the Queensland training fraternity had described him as “not the desired person for the job”.
Well, Rundle’s appointment must be a contender for the shortest term ever served on a Board. Rundle’s term lasted just two whole days. Stop laughing. He quit after being outed for what the newspaper described as a series of “seemingly anti-Islamic posts on his social media account”.
Racing Minister Grace Grace (yes the name is correct) is reported as being scathing of Rundle’s anti-halal posts actions labelling them “unacceptable and divisive, and we need to send a very clear message that they have no place in modern Queensland”. Grace Grace should be applauded for forcing Rundle to fall on his sword. But it begs a more important question; how in heaven’s name did Rundle slip through what should have been mandatory and extensive due diligence checks before being appointed to such an important position?
Sadly, it reflects the hopelessly dysfunctional state in which Racing across all three codes in Queensland has been for the past several years, beset by political interference and change every time a change of Government occurs in the sunshine state.
With more whips fines in Sydney after last week’s races and the suspension of Tommy Berry to take effect after the final day of the Championships this Saturday, it seems a near racing certainty that NSW jockeys will take industrial action – a move which could be backed nationally. The hostility among jockeys nationwide to the new rules- basically, overnight rules by people who have never ever sat on a horse- are getting stronger- and rightfully so. As we have said, one doesn’t spend a lifetime fine-tuning their craft to then be told to change it- now.