THE CORNER WITH GARRY CHITTICK

Last week’s Corner was penned prior to the encouraging news our primary source of
income has managed to minimise the reduction in the payout to the codes to only
$15m.


What an achievement. Now I know we have been through difficult times, our
government has increased the money supply by $60b. We NZ’ers had nowhere to
go, I know we had a period without our sport but we were encouraged to push on,
continue to invest in the racing product from wherever and yet we are unable to
secure our share of the confetti in circulation.


To be fair, the combination of Covid and disappointing raceday cancellations must
frustrate the Board and executive, but the track management issues are
unacceptable. Easy to say, I know, but this game has been played for a long time
and it may be that horses were required to cope with a more diverse range of
surface conditions in the past. The welfare of the horse requires the average track
reading four on the penetrometer. No doubt laudable, but it leaves track
management on a knife edge with any weather changes. Fortunately, we can at
short notice cater for off-course demand but difficult to maintain turnover at required
levels.


The $15m reduction is no doubt a reflection of the last six months of the 21/22 racing
year. The first six months was a struggle with a 7% reduction on the equivalent the
previous season. The following six months I don’t have but obviously is following a
similar trend.


Our end of the business is difficult to determine. Are we as breeders the start or the
end? This is the old chicken or the egg. We believe to encourage people to breed
there has to be an end result, not just being a winner, but a financial reason to keep
breeding. Then of course who puts on the show, are the owners the reason we have
a wagering enterprise?


My point, I am labouring to make sense of: Who should be the focus of our concern?
No owners – no need to breed. No breeders – no horses to race. No punters – no
money. When Chairman of the Racing Board I attended my first meeting of
Combined Racing Industry Group (CRIG). A four-hour meeting discussed the most
inane concerns you could make up. I wasn’t Chairman but informed the meeting I
would attend no more unless we addressed the matter of no money in the bin. This
focussed the attendees, and it was agreed by the three codes in attendance
however possible we had to maintain the interest of the owners or there was no point
in our existence.


Now you seven may disagree but dwell on it for a minute. The punter is important
and can wager on a variety of sports, but our TAB was designed to provide the
wherewithal to maintain our industry.


The founding codes were Thoroughbred and Harness, Greyhounds a later addition.

There is the grey area as to ownership but there is no doubt as to the intent. My
issue is I doubt there is under our current leadership a recognition of the importance
of the need to focus on the original purpose of our wagering agency. Our TAB really
depends on Board members understanding and advocating the above. They may,
how do we know? But, the composition of the Board, regardless of their ability, does
not engender confidence within the industry.


I was encouraged a few years ago to meet with a couple of the executives of the
TAB, it was an interesting afternoon, but I can tell you we were poles apart. They
saw themselves as a wagering agency who, regardless of the wellbeing of our
regional race clubs, were focussed on turnover. Their ideal model for NZ racing was
six venues, Wednesday and Saturday racing, the remaining five days to utilise
offshore products to be purchased at favourable rates allowing for the margin to fund
the Wednesday and Saturday events. There was no acceptance of the need to retain
the spread of events, their belief was higher stakes would drive the breeding,
ownership model. Aha, you say. Isn’t that just what you have been saying? But it
isn’t. The recognised administrator of Australasia, Peter V’landys, on top of his
feature events is pushing funds into provincial racing. He knows there are big
breeding operations, but they don’t sustain Australian racing. Of the 15,000 mares
mated in Australia, small breeders collectively are the majority. His model is not
replicated anywhere else in the world, we don’t have the scale or funding but his
principals we should aspire to.


Now, rumour has it our TAB is about to embark on another of those inspiring
rebranding exercises, rumour suggests a mere $12m is the budgeted target. If so, I
will put up a bottle of my 2010 Coleraine that this fruitless exercise will of course not
stop at the $12m. More importantly where is the focus of this bold new direction?
Now I don’t know, but my point is we in our industry should know. They may not
believe it, but it is our money. Let’s assume as a wagering agency they believe the
future is in growing sports betting. I have raised this before, but sports wagering is in
direct competition to our product. Yes, we get a margin, it looks like 14% of the
margin we receive on our product. Money for jam, maybe, but in a low population
such as NZ without the gambling nature of our Aussie cousins, every dollar sports
attracts will be at our expense.


So, keep an eye on our provider, remember it’s about us or there won’t be us.


Cheers,
G

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