Winners are grinners, until you delve into the figures!

Forgive me for the length of this blog post as I set out to write about one topic and then I had a winner!

Yes, one of the fab four in which I hold varying sized shares rocked up at Ruakaka and showed the world what a Galloping Weka can do.  Wekaforce, a daughter of Showcasing and Spera, was introduced to me by Janine and Les Wallace and so I joined the large team (including several mates) which races her from Tony Pike’s stable.

Wekaforce showed she might have an interesting career in front of her with a smart winning effort at her first trial at Te Teko recently and hence she found herself today in a two-year-old race.

While Vinnie Colgan had been on board at the trial his unavailability today meant Michael “The King” Coleman climbed on board.  It had been a couple of decades since he last won for me, I reminded him via text last night. “Couple? Try three,” was his pithy reply – obviously my various trainers weren’t putting him on enough!

So, long story short Wekaforce showed she was well named and added to Showcasing’s ever-growing band of winners with a four and a quarter length victory.   Vinnie may have difficulty prising Michael off in the future!

As I’ve written previously, it’s always a huge buzz when you have a winner and great fun when you can share it with your friends.  However, as I’ve also written before we are all in this for the love of it and that excitement because the financial returns just aren’t there at the moment.

I feel confident as I write “at the moment” thanks to the promise of the Messara overhaul.  At last it feels as though someone might slash through all the wastage at the NZRB resulting in increased returns to those who are actually forking out to put on the show.

So, in a convoluted way that brings me to the original topic I had in mind before I got side-tracked by a winner!

Racing’s contribution to the nation’s economy has been laid out in some detail in the latest Size and Scope report produced by IER for the NZRB.

IER have a long-standing relationship with the Racing Board, having conducted research at Summer Festival and other key meetings over the past six years.  The company brands itself as a boutique business consultancy which specialises in the areas of research, strategy development, economic and social impact studies, and performance measurement in sport, racing, tourism and the entertainment industry.

I must confess that I did nag NZRB CEO John Allen as to when the document might appear online, having read that it was due around now.  To his credit within days the report surfaced exactly when promised yesterday afternoon.

Much of what is reported should be widely known by those at the coal face and, while I will focus on a few points here, I recommend checking out the original 90+ page document if you are interested in looking at how the industry is tracking in your own region or if you want more detail around the other two codes.

The big numbers are around the industry’s value-added contribution to the country’s economy which sits at $1.6billion – $1,633.5m to be precise.

We also employ 14,398 FTE, with 46% of these employed as a direct result of racing activity (take a bow NZRB, you’re likely to be top of the heap here, if not with numbers employed then definitely thanks to your wage bill).

When it comes to the other figures I have only concentrated on the thoroughbred code and, please note, the numbers relate to the 2016-17 season.

The total number involved in our code is 34,768 which is made up of 3,705 breeders; 15,951 owners; 1013 trainers; 228 jockeys; 2633 racing club and industry staff; 6475 staff employed by participants; and 4,763 volunteers.

During the period under review we welcomed 3,354 live foals, while there were 6,376 thoroughbreds in training.  The majority of these – which I am sure will come as no surprise – were in the Waikato, with 46.9% trained in the industry heartland.  The next two regions, which are each home to 12.7% of the total were Taranaki/Manawatu-Whanganui and Auckland.

During the past season in the wording of the Size and Scope study the “thoroughbred training activity is responsible for generating more than $274 million in expenditure impacts in New Zealand.”

Now remember, this is just the cost for those in our code and while I know we are all incredible optimists this figure just confirms it.  So, we paid $274m to get our thoroughbreds to the races and, at the end of the season, the money distributed to the THREE codes by the NZRB was $135m (according to the IER report) or $137.6m (according to the NZRB Annual report).

Apparently, we’re meant to be ecstatic to be racing for $10,000 minimums (yeah great, 30 years ago winning a $10,000 race paid your training fees for a year, I hate to think how quickly the winner’s share of today’s $10,000 race will be eaten up).

What I find really galling is the fact that the Board wants us to be grateful for that minimum level and the fact they are “giving” the industry $137.6m.  All this while they recorded operating costs of $136.3m last season.

We’re also meant to be grateful that they’ve reeled themselves in a little bit and dropped those costs by $5.1m (3.7%) from the previous season.

If the chairperson of the board is to be believed we’re all idiots and we simply don’t understand why they’ve had to spend so much over the years.  Witness this little snippet from the NZRB’s Statement of Intent 2018-2020 – “The reasons for the historically increasing trends in NZRB’s operating costs over the decade to 2014 have not been well understood in some sectors of the industry,” she said.

Rather than explain to us plebs why it was necessary to spend so much instead we get the old policeman tactic of  “move along folks, nothing to see here” and  Glenda tells us: “However, the key point now is that the current Board and management are succeeding in reducing NZRB’s year on year normal operating costs.”

If that is the key point then the Messara report can’t come soon enough!

In the meantime I shall raise a glass to Wekaforce and the Galloping Wekas team – we might not get rich but we are anticipating plenty of fun based on today’s debut win.

Is Messara our messiah?

Is the light finally appearing at the end of the tunnel?

Last week’s announcement that John Messara would be reviewing the New Zealand industry’s governance structures before providing recommendations for its future direction had many industry stalwarts celebrating.

Messara, based on his efforts with Racing NSW and Racing Australia, is seen as New Zealand racing’s potential messiah. He has certainly shown himself to be incredibly astute in the operation of Arrowfield Stud, having employed several talented Kiwis!

While he is familiar with our industry he also lacks the parochialism which seems to stymie any local attempts to drive the industry forward. What will be interesting is how Messara will consider the needs of three conflicting codes. That is something which proved a bridge too far for previous chairmen of the NZRB who, for every financial contribution to one code, were then faced with the other two, hands out and demanding the same amount!

According to the Racing Minister, Winston Peters, Messara’s review – which is expected to be presented to government by the middle of the year – will “also assist the government in determining if the current Racing Act 2003 and the proposed Racing Amendment Bill are fit for purpose.”

The 2003 Act gave us the poorly written Section 16, the cause of much gnashing of teeth at the absolute absurdity of it all. For the benefit of those who have never actually read Section 16 it states as follows:

Amounts of distributions to codes


The Board must, as soon as practicable following the end of a racing year, determine the amount to be distributed among the racing codes for that year from any surpluses referred to in sections 53(2) and 57(2), or any other source whether capital or income.


Unless a majority of the racing codes otherwise agrees in writing, the amount referred to in subsection (1) must be not less than the total of the surpluses referred to in sections 53(2) and 57(2) for that racing year less the total amount credited to reserves for that year from those surpluses.


Unless a majority of the racing codes otherwise agrees in writing, the amount referred to in subsection (1) must be distributed among the racing codes in the same proportions that the Board considers are the proportions to which the codes contributed to the New Zealand turnover of the Board for that racing year.


In subsection (3), New Zealand turnover of the Board means the total gross amount received by the Board from racing betting placed in New Zealand on races run in New Zealand.

While on the subject of the Racing Act, Section 16 and the like, I have often been astounded at the number of people who work within the industry yet have no idea of the responsibilities of the various bodies.

The NZ Thoroughbred Breeders’ has come to the party with a fabulously simple explanation in their latest Bulletin, so big ups to them for the following:

Anyone who is a little confused about who does what when it comes to the Minister, NZ Thoroughbred Racing or the NZ Racing Board should check it out.

While their explanation included Section 8 (c) “The objectives of the Board are – to maximise its profits for the long-term benefit of New Zealand racing” I probably would have hammered the point home a little more by including Section 9 (a) which reads as follows:

Functions of Board


The functions of the Board are—


to develop policies that are conducive to the overall economic development of the racing industry, and the economic well-being of people who, and organisations which, derive their livelihoods from racing:

If John Messara can deliver us a blueprint for policies which can do that then he may very well be remembered as New Zealand racing’s messiah.  

A flurry of omens and it looks like I’ve signed up for another horse!

I’m a sucker when it comes to omens.  I lay the blame firmly at the feet of my late paternal grandmother who was slightly fey – if not a witch exactly, then possibly something that rhymed with that.

Thanks to a handful of randomly occurring instances I now find myself with yet another (very small) share in yet another racehorse.  That takes the current tally to four.

I am not kidding myself that any of these ventures will bring with them great (or even moderate) wealth.  At the very most I expect there will be the odd win along the way, celebrated in fine style, but more than likely the journey to any victory will be peppered by disappointment.

Those who choose to dabble in racehorse ownership quickly become accustomed to disappointment.  The slightly off-track which hindered your chances; the momentary hold-up at the crucial second; coming up another athlete which is just that fraction better on the day; or even an inexplicably bad performance for absolutely no discernible reason (we are, after all dealing with an animal with a mind of its own).

You rapidly learn to become a good loser when you own even the tiniest hair of a horse’s tail.  If you don’t then you won’t be around for long because, unless you luck into an absolute superstar of Winx proportions, there are usually more lows than there are highs.

So why keep going?  It is a question I have been asked many times by those on the outside and one I struggle to answer.

Of course, we all aim to be the one who races that champion racehorse.  The horse which achieves giddy Group One heights and takes us along on the ride is the dream of every owner.

When the first horse I raced won at only her second start some 31 years ago the feeling of elation was indescribable.  I was shaking so much I could barely walk down the stairs to the birdcage but all I could think was, “I want to feel this again.”

She was always going to be very special to me as the daughter of a mare my grandmother (the slightly fey one) had bred and raced, but as my first runner and first winner she was now truly memorable.

From 15 starts she only managed two wins but the die was cast, no matter what else happened in my future there would always be a horse.

And there pretty much has been since then.  Even when I wasn’t working full-time, taking time off to have a family, I managed to organise enough freelance work to cover my ownership “fix”.

At one stage, having been part of a plan to do something to attempt to stem the drift of horses and owners from the Central Districts, I found myself establishing and running a massive syndicate which initially comprised around 12 horses with six different trainers. Managing the expectations of hundreds of others was the most daunting aspect of that task, yet I must’ve been a sucker for punishment as I later set up a similar syndicate in the North.

Most nerve wracking was the day our first runner lined up at Trentham and, guided by the very youthful emerging talent which was Michael Walker, romped home by two and three-quarter lengths.  The nerves evaporated as I watched that same look of elation I had experienced with my first winner reflected back at me.

We had two-year-old stakes winners, Cup winners and even a runner in the Group One Auckland Cup.   I got great enjoyment out of those runners and winners but, as the syndicate manager I felt a huge sense of responsibility, and the enjoyment was tempered by that.

Throughout the time leading up to forming these syndicates I had continued being a part of the beautifully named Ywuree Syndicate.  Our horses usually did just enough to keep us hopeful of the next win and then, in 2000 a horse we called Basil made a pretty promising debut.

I still remember watching him loop the field after settling last and storm home to be just pipped on the line.

Rodin – named to reflect his breeding (Masterpiece-Fine Decision) – had arrived, and I was excited thinking we might have a horse who could win us a race or two.

By the time Rodin aka Basil retired in 2007 he had lined up 57 times, won 12, amassed 18 minor placings and given us a hell of a ride.  He even provided us with the Group One glory so many seek and never achieve.

Since Basil there have been the usual run of ups and downs and now I find myself with shares in two horses which have made it to the races (one has even captured that often elusive maiden win); another which may make an appearance as a late two-year-old; and the most recent addition, my omen horse.

Most are at that stage of their career where dreams of future glory are still a possibility (one might yet be banished South!).  That is surely one of the greatest things about racing a horse – the hours of future dreaming where you still have the potential to win a Derby, an Oaks, a big Cup race.

That, and that indescribable winning feeling!

Some aren’t buying the “Now you’re in the game” advertising message

My intent when I started this blog was to celebrate the great things about racing.  The kind of things I would’ve liked to see celebrated in our mainstream media.

Unfortunately, I had a bit of spare time on my hands one day and decided to peruse the Racing Board’s annual reports. There I saw the extent of the profligate spending which has seen the industry bogged in the mire as the six-figure salary club expands.

Particularly galling is the fact that some of those pulling in the big bucks are actually charged with getting those great racing stories out to the general media.  Galling, because they regularly fail to deliver.

Sure, we might get some media interest when it comes to our high days and holidays.  Those race days when even the general media are aware there is a meeting on – thanks to the money the respective clubs have thrown into promoting the event.

These major events are the low-hanging fruit though – the likes of the NZ Derby is always going to get some mainstream media acknowledgement, the Wairoa Cup maybe not so much.  In rugby terms, the All Blacks doing anything is going to get media in a frenzy when compared with say, a local club rugby final.  But throw a good media hook into that club rugby match – duelling families; a front row made up of triplet brothers; fundraising for a local stalwart needing urgent medical assistance and things might change.

Where we go wrong with the six-figure numpties is that none of them appear to have a clue about what makes a good story and even less of a clue about the myriad of great stories under their noses.

A recent visit to the races uncovered one of the big earners actually on track and flitting around ever-so-importantly.  As befitting one of such stature there was also a cheer-leader who loudly (well, it had to be loudly as we managed to hear the full exchange half-way across the room!) informed those at the table who had been earlier blessed by the presence of the important one, that this person was indeed VERY important.  They had a VERY big job, but had also previously had a VERY big, important job.

The bit which nearly made me choke on my drink was the piece that followed.   The cheer-leader then proclaimed – I am assuming in response to a question, but the questioner was not shrieking so it was difficult to tell – that the very important person from the Racing Board absolutely did NOT bet.

So, the job of the very important person is to spread the news about the wonders of the Racing Board, but god forbid they actually get down and dirty and maybe put two over three on Goodtime Sugar!

What happened to “Now You’re In the Game” the latest TAB marketing catch-cry?

All this brings me, rather convolutedly, to the fact I have been re-reading sections of the TAB’s 50th anniversary vanity project Two over Three on Goodtime Sugar (did you see what I did there?!).

Interestingly, back in the very bad old days, when TABs hid down alleyways and no loitering was permitted, “advertising could only relate to racing itself, not to betting.”

This was thanks to the 1949 Gaming Amendment Act which meant the TAB was not to “induce” anyone to have a bet.  Even when this was overturned by the Racing Act (1971) the TAB continued to keep a low profile.

What did appear to work back in the mid-1980s was “the principal theme in all advertising was that racing was fun; an entertainment for the family and a great day out. It was focused more on racing per se than the TAB.”

We’ve now come full circle with the TAB’s “Now you’re in the Game” advertising all about the betting.

It obviously hasn’t been captivating enough to ensure their own staff feel compelled to have the odd flutter!



Karaka announcement a fizzer

Underwhelmed – was the prevailing reaction to the much anticipated announcement from Racing Minister the Right Honourable Winston Peters at Karaka on Sunday evening.


There was a touch of Trump in Peters’ opening remarks where he claimed he had never promised a “big announcement.”  That should have been a clear precursor to what was to follow in his bid to make racing great again.


Peters cherry-picked from NZ First’s 10 point racing policy – primarily revisiting taxation to encourage investment.  Reacting to the impact of numerous meetings being lost over the past season due to a combination of outrageous weather and poor track management, Peters also promised an all-weather track.  


To get across the line the track, at a yet-to-be-confirmed location, although touted to be the Waikato; at a yet-to-be-confirmed cost, though quoted in some media sources to be in the vicinity of $10million; still needs to be approved come budget time in May.


The one sentence which could well have met with universal approval would have been a commitment to “urgently review the operations and costs of the New Zealand Racing Board.”


The fact those words were not included in Peters’ speech makes me question the NZ First definition of “urgently”.


It was an opportunity missed.  Readers of this blog will be familiar with the excesses of the NZRB when it comes to richly rewarding the multitude who work there while the ROI to the industry stagnates.


Yesterday, as National party politicians Stephen Joyce and former racing minister David Bennett were enjoying hospitality at the yearling sales their leader Bill English, reacting to the proposed all-weather track, was questioning the need for taxpayers to contribute.


While English recognised the importance of an all-weather track he said he believed the industry should be able to fund it.  Perhaps that might have been an option if the NZRB wasn’t providing so many of its largely useless staff a six-figure lifestyle funded by the sweat of industry participants.


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when addressing the taxation proposals told Newstalk ZB yesterday that the industry was facing rising costs and diminishing returns.  She added that the coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First included a commitment to support NZ First’s Racing policy.


“In areas where we are relative to other international industries, if there comes a disincentive to invest in your domestic industry and more incentive to invest overseas, then you have to look at your competitiveness,” she said.


While those with skin in the game were debating the location of the all-weather track, online feedback on many news sites saw plenty taking swipes at what were largely described as handouts to the “wealthy” racing industry.


“If it’s such a multi-million dollar industry then why are taxpayers paying half?” was a common theme.


The perception of the industry from the outside is that it is populated by high-flyers.  Why wouldn’t they think that when, for the week leading up to the sales at Karaka, racing and breeding make their annual appearance on mainstream TV?


The general public see people racing for $1million stakes; glossy yearlings being paraded and sold for six (and occasionally seven) figure sums; overseas buyers being wooed with fine wine and sumptuous food.  


What they don’t see are the go-round meetings where we are still racing for stakes which haven’t increased exponentially with the cost of having a horse in work.  They don’t see the vendors in the later days of the sales struggling to get a bid, or the legwork being done by trainers to fill bargain-basement syndicates.


The reality of the industry is largely hidden.  Take a look at the financials of most racing clubs and it doesn’t make pretty reading.  At the end of the day a bunch of volunteers – who are incidentally, becoming more and more difficult to attract – are battling to keep racing afloat.


We have fundamental problems which have failed to be addressed due to a lack of funds.  In the meantime staff expenses at the NZRB still total in excess of $60million. They are down from 2016’s $66m down to $63m – at that rate in another dozen or so years they might have salaries about where they should be!


The Racing Minister also gave us a reminder to be positive.  That would be a little easier if we knew he was going to make good on the one policy point which could see some serious money return to the industry.  


Urgently review the operations and costs of the New Zealand Racing Board – sooner, rather than later please Winston!




Jewel in breeding crown to change hands

Iconic is a word which is, in my humble opinion, rather overused. Yet, when it comes to Cambridge Stud what other description is there?

Today’s news that Sir Patrick and Lady Hogan’s property will change hands next April left me feeling somewhat melancholic at the approaching of the end of an era.

We all realised Sir Patrick wasn’t going to be at the helm forever but there is a sense of finality in the fact he is stepping down and handing over the jewel in New Zealand’s breeding crown to Brendan and Jo Lindsay.  Obviously, not “literally” handing it over – the money involved would not be insubstantial and Sir Patrick could probably still teach lesser mortals a thing or two about the art of the deal!

I had cause to visit Cambridge Stud recently after a substantial lull – I think the previous occasion was the launch of Sir Patrick’s biography many years earlier – and there was still that feeling of history combined with familiarity.  The magnificent drive, the stable block which in early days the occasional visitor mistook for a residence, and just the sense of place that this property has carved out over the years.

A couple of years earlier, through a comedy of errors which I will claim were totally intentional, an old friend and I managed to seal our own part of Cambridge Stud history when purchasing a yearling from their draft.  To prove that the magic pixie dust comes as part and parcel of the CS brand, said yearling evolved into yet another of the Group One winners to be reared and sold under their banner.

Long before this though, Cambridge Stud was part of my daily life as I worked at BloodHorse magazine and the NZ Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association.  These were the glory years of Sir Tristram and his phenomenal offspring.  They were heady days as the Group One winning tally climbed and the desire to own a son or daughter of Sir Tristram saw the magic $1million mark broken at the yearling sales.

Sir Tristram was, in journalistic terms, the gift that kept on giving as each new Group performer allowed us to write yet another chapter in his remarkable history!

The Sir Tristram juggernaut rolled on as his sons and daughters also dominated at stud – his dynasty was well and truly established.  And then along came Zabeel.  Continuing Cambridge Stud’s fairy-tale story, in March this year Zabeel overtook Sir Tristam’s benchmark of 45 Group One winners when Lizzie L’Amour took out the Bonecrusher Stakes.

“I doubt very much if there will ever be two stallions, a father and son standing at the same farm, that can leave 45 and 46 Group One winners in New Zealand again,” Sir Patrick said at the time. “It’s a tremendous achievement.”

It is also a rather large feather in the cap of the man who selected first Sir Tristram as his foundation stallion in 1976 and then chose exactly the right son in Zabeel, to take over his sire’s mantle.

Sir Patrick not only gave us two of the all-time greats he also put an indelible mark on the way we sell horses in this country. In every area from professional marketing to hospitality and staff livery he set the bar.

In the history of New Zealand thoroughbred breeding Sir Patrick Hogan’s Cambridge Stud was epoch-making.  Next April a new era will begin.

More climb aboard the NZRB gravy train

In my job in the real world I joke with one of my academics about a certain media topic being “the gift which keeps on giving.”

“The gift” is one of those stories which is continually evolving and of which the media is never going to tire.  Pretty much how I felt when, just days after writing my last post about the salary excesses of the Racing Board, an email was circulated announcing some new appointments.

Obviously those 488 permanent employees mentioned in my previous post weren’t cutting it when it came to government and industry stakeholder engagement.  The email in question stated that NZRB had reviewed that area of its communication earlier this year and after an extensive recruitment process claimed they now had the right team to work more closely with stakeholders.

Faced with that task is a team of five. Yes, you read that right – five people to focus on that area of communication.

It was another of those jaw-dropping moments which made me ponder how many people at the Racing Board it might take to change a lightbulb.

Of course, they would probably need to undertake a review before any bulb was changed and quite possibly advertise externally to ensure they found the right people!

The cohort of five is headed by an Irishman Ian Long, who previously held a similar position at NZ Rugby and, like NZRB CE John Allen, also worked at NZ Post.

Given the onerous task in front of him, he is going to be “supported by” parliamentary refugee Bill de la Mare, who comes to NZRB from positions with various ministers, including former racing minister Nathan Guy.  Propping the other side of this front row will be James Wigley, who boasts a marketing background according to the NZRB email, though Green Grass Marketing Services where he was a Marketing Consultant for a number of years, does not appear to have any visible digital footprint.  Wigley also has two years’ experience as a senior marketing manager with the NZRB’s Event Marketing and Logistics team.

The final two making up the team both have interesting titles, with Pete Lane tagged as Operations Specialist and Dan Smith carrying the poisoned chalice as Strategy Manager – Calendar Optimisation.  Presumably the former will provide protection when the latter advises clubs of changes to their dates!

You’d think that just reading this email would be enough to confirm that NZRB is not even paying lip service when it comes to looking at ways to cut its costs.  But it gets better, or worse depending upon your level of tolerance for black humour.

While the email is signed by one Stephen Henry, General Manager Services, it is actually sent by an executive assistant.  I am always suspicious of people who need others to send their emails, they engender memories of black and white movies where women were in the typing pool while blokes did the “real work.”

It may well be that Henry is indeed too busy to deal with emails to industry stakeholders or maybe it is something which was common practice during his time at MFAT.  The last time I received an email from someone, but actually generated by someone else, it came from Henry’s CE, John Allen, who also came to the Racing Board via MFAT.

Given Allen proposed job losses of close to 300 when at MFAT (that was later reduced to a mere 79) one would be forgiven thinking he would be capable of bringing NZRB staffing levels back to a manageable level.

However, based on this latest announcement expect the following – come the annual report there will be savings of between $3-$5million in salary expenses and we will be expected to be grateful for a job well done.

Try and shake off the Stockholm syndrome, instead we now need to channel the crazy newsman from Network, meet outside those offices in Petone and yell:  “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”




Will Winston slay the NZRB’s excesses?

The race has been run, all parties have weighed in, correct weight has been signalled and the country has a new government. It is one which those in racing are now expecting to deliver on the ten point promise outlined in NZ First’s racing policy.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has also claimed the Racing portfolio, to the surprise of those who were unaware such a thing even existed, and expectations among those who were aware are high.

Prior to the election, there were two aspects of the policy which I did try and gain clarification around – without any joy. They weren’t major issues. I just asked some questions around timing and planning. Like everyone else, I will now sit back and wait for the policies to implemented and see just how my concerns are addressed.

One point which I hope the Minister will address straight out of the gates though is the following:

Urgently review the operations and costs of the New Zealand Racing Board.

About damned time really.

Earlier this year, with time on my hands, I delved into the NZRB annual reports online and charted the terrifying increase in staff numbers over the years, accompanied by an escalating cost to the industry in salaries.  By 2016’s annual report staff expenses totalled $66million – a fairly healthy chunk of the operating costs.

Those earning in excess of $100,000 – a mere 130-odd at the time of the 2016 Annual Report – were listed in $10,000 bands. For example, just 30 NZRB worker bees struggle along on salaries of $100,000-$110,000; 23 were finding it a little easier to afford their avocado-toast in the $110,000-$120,000 band – and so it went on right up the $350,000-$360,000 slot where there was just one lone body and then a leap to – presumably – the top man, all alone in the $650,000-660,000 bracket.

It was galling to discover there are apparently that many people employed at the NZRB who are considered to be doing enough to progress our industry to warrant that level of remuneration. Would it be more palatable if we were travelling better? Personally, I don’t think so.

So, because I had time on my hands I crafted an OIA request to determine how much they pay the other poor sods who are employed there. Possibly the ones who actually do the work!

The breakdown, when it came, was pretty depressing. Given the letter was dated February 2017 the “categorisation of NZRB employees” was dated “as at 31/7/2017” – quite possibly they meant 2016, or maybe they were gazing into the future. Anyway, at whatever date we are looking at, the permanent full-time employees totalled 488; permanent part-time was 270; fixed term 37; and casual 78, giving a grand total of 873.

The majority of those fulltime employees fell into the $40,000-$59,999 band (116); 65 were in the $60,000-$69,999; 53, $70,000-$79,999; 53, $80,000-$89,999; and 32, $90,000-$99,999.

The response to my request also broke the staffing down into business units, listing job titles (but no numbers under each title) total staff and total salary.

Each business unit reports to the GM of that unit and seven GMs, along with the CEO, comprise the “Leadership Team.” One GM, according to the information I was provided, manages both the Customer and On Course business units, the others control just one area.

The breakdown just to pay the people the Racing Board deems it necessary to run our industry is as follows (and please note, this includes permanent, fixed term and casual staff of NZRB as at February 2017):

Betting – total staff 69; total salary $4,667,624.75

Customer – total staff 341, $15,117,582.02

Finance – total staff 42, $4,500,671.94

Media & Content – total staff 181, $10,767,257.49

On Course – total staff 43, $1,940,530.06

People – total staff 10, $926,298.72

Services – total staff 99, $6,962,574.40

Technology – total staff 61, $5,743,734.00

In addition to the positions listed there were an additional 20 jobs listed under “current active recruitment” – some of these were seeking multiple appointments.

If you haven’t read these numbers and had to pick your jaw up off the floor then I would respectfully suggest you are suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

For too long we have tolerated a bloated, blinkered organisation which has ignored the needs of the industry it was set up to serve. Even as it blundered along, all the time telling us things were fine, we were on the cusp of something great, it assured us we needed to trust it. If you still believe this then you are a textbook case of Stockholm syndrome!

I may have become more than a little obsessed with the salary levels it takes to run racing because, as the Board was cranking up its staff numbers and the dollars WE forked out to pay them, out in the real world companies were streamlining.

The industry I moved back into when I left employment in racing had faced huge disruption and, accordingly, was cutting its cloth to embrace those changes. Over a period of eight years restructures and jobs being “disestablished” became the new normal and fewer people were left to do more work. And forget about wage increases and incentive payments!

Interestingly, I wouldn’t have been anywhere else. There is something inspiring about learning new skills; adapting to overcome problems as safety layers were removed; and taking your staff with you on a journey to a new frontier.  That happens when you have a passion for what you are doing!

In the meantime accountable, seemingly to no one, the Racing Board was morphing into a cumbersome, lumbering beast suckling 800+ employees, many who seemed to be there purely for the money.

Will Winston be the knight in shining armour to slay the dragon of the Board’s excesses? There are more than a few with actual skin in the game hoping that will be the case.

Stay tuned!

Racing policies left in the gates

I had every intention of sharing and analysing the racing policies from each party in a timely fashion leading into Saturday’s election, but the pollies didn’t make it easy.


My initial requests were sent back in June. How hard could it be, right? My expectation was that there would be – at the very least – a document from the previous election. It could’ve been dragged out from wherever it was hidden away,  brushed off, tarted up and sent back out into the world. But no, it wasn’t that easy.


At this stage, I have to give a vote of thanks to the much-maligned Greens, who at least got off their butts and provided something in the way of policy.  Even if it did threaten to do away with the Racing Minister.


Interestingly, with the exception of Winston Peters, I believe that most of the other parties would (at least inwardly) support that move. They don’t really like racing people – it probably comes down to lack of understanding around the Racing Bill and how much government can actually do for them.  Answer: not a lot!


They also point to industry hierarchy opening encouraging the industry to support NZ First purely based on their racing policy. That policy hasn’t changed greatly in the past three years but, when I emailed some questions asking for more detail around how the stated goals would be achieved I was told the query had been forwarded to the senior media team.  


All I can say is that the senior media team must be pretty damned busy putting out all the fires in Winston’s wake because in spite of several follow-up emails I am still waiting.


Labour’s racing spokesman Kris Faafoi was pretty proactive responding to my initial request and, again after several follow-ups, the policy did appear.  He was also happy to address any questions around it.  I emailed some but again…still waiting.


The Nats, with our current racing minister David Bennett, should’ve been way more proactive. They are the guys with their fingers on the pulse and the minister should be across industry concerns.  I lost count of the interactions I had with his office (and the mind-numbingly moronic replies).


By the time I got the email advising me their policy was up online I had pretty much lost the will to live.


Meanwhile, Winston managed to steal a march with a story appearing online which erroneously claimed his was the only party with a racing policy. This was then followed by another story – which was basically a different version of the same story churned out every three years – where Sir Patrick Hogan extolled the industry to support Winston. Purely based on his “support” of the industry.


Just a matter of days before the election Winston is looking likely to – once again – be the Kingmaker.


Whether racing will be any better off is anyone’s guess.

If you do want to check out what Labour, National and NZ First have to offer check out their racing policies:


Greens would ditch Racing Minister

A seemingly simple request of our major political parties certainly confirmed that racing doesn’t really rate with our politicians. In fact, the Greens say they would go as far as disestablishing the Minister for Racing.

We are not entirely friendless in Wellington – NZ First proudly includes its racing policy on its website, but ask a few questions about possible implementation and clarification of some aspects and you’ll find yourself waiting.

Last month – and really early last month – I sent my questions around policy off to the relevant people at the major parties. Most responses were timely and promised policy would be forwarded once released.  In all bar one case, and that includes NZ First’s response to my questions, I am still waiting.

It was the Greens who were the first to come through.  To my initial request Barry Coates, identified on the website as their racing spokesperson, replied there was no standalone policy but promised extracts from other policies which related to racing.

The one-page mishmash of policies duly arrived acknowledging the fact that racing isn’t an issue on which the Green party has a high profile but that they recognise the role the industry plays in the economy blah, blah, blah.

Hardly surprisingly they have an interesting take when it comes to the funding of the industry and the one pager states: “The Greens believe any government assistance should go towards those parts of the industry which are struggling to survive, and not to those which are already successful.”

In the Greens opinion the government should:

“Require that some of the funds held by the Racing Board be released to meet the needs of racing in a fair and equitable manner before the taxpayer is called on to subsidise the industry.

“Stop the practice of funds from non-casino gaming machine gambling going towards premier race stakes, and divert such funding to the development of racing infrastructure particularly to support struggling and rural racing clubs.”

Rather than delve into how the industry is actually funded and provide any useful policy around racing the Greens would rather focus on the dangers of gambling; regulating to allow only those forms of gambling that research shows causes little harm to continue and amending legislation to ensure the primary focus is the elimination of gambling harm.

Based on the research I have read, including a recent paper linking domestic violence with addictions which included gambling, we would be kissing goodbye to pokies and any associated benefits for racing,

It was buried in the segment on gambling where the Greens labelled their intention to return to the days where racing came under the Department of Internal Affairs, and that Minister’s portfolio.  It was a time where racing was seen purely as a gambling medium where the greyest of the grey people in Wellington looked blandly oblivious when faced with the human aspects of the industry.

That is the gloomy era to which the Greens wish us to return. On the positive side, given recent developments, those forced out of the industry should be able to fib to Work and Income to ensure they milk the most out of any benefits they may have to survive upon.

The Greens also include policy around animal welfare in their one pager relating to racing which includes establishing a Commissioner of Animal Welfare. The Commissioner will have the power to review and report on animal welfare codes and regulations “to protect animals in Aotearoa New Zealand from suffering due to the direct or indirect actions of humans.”

The final area covered gives an insight as to how the Greens view our industry and is termed “animals in entertainment.” Under this clause the Greens will “require codes to make publicly available the numbers of animals bred, raced, injured, euthanized and re-homed or retired from racing through birth to death reporting.”

Perhaps if they were a little more au fait with the industry they could find most of those numbers which are a matter of public record, at least for the thoroughbred code.  Breeding numbers; racing numbers; horses injured or euthanized on race day; and horses at stud are all able to be found at the moment. In addition to this, NZ Thoroughbred Racing is currently developing its welfare policy and encouraging compliance from breeders, owners, and trainers to ensure once a non-breeding horse is retired from racing its future direction is tagged.


If nothing else the one pager indicates the Racing Board’s current government relations appointee either hasn’t found his way to the office of the Greens’ racing spokesperson or also has a tenuous grasp on the needs of the industry.


As we lead up to the election I will add the policies of the other parties as received.