Countdown on for Racing Industry Bill submissions

As we count down to the final date for submissions on the Racing Industry Bill it is becoming clear that few of those expressing a view on its contents have actually read it.

Distressingly, those same people also seem unfamiliar with the contents of the Messara Report thus it is incredibly simple to flannel them into believing that the proposed Bill delivers what Messara promised.

One of the results of this is people posting misinformation on racing chat sites which is then swallowed as gospel by those who have neither read nor understood any of what was originally proposed.  The old saying about a lie travelling halfway round the world before the truth has its boots on, has never been more apt.

During the past week the RITA roadshow has been chugging around the country to ease the fears of the racing industry when it comes to the contents of the Bill.  Unfortunately, that task has meant they have had to work to defend the indefensible.

No one with skin in the game would believe that those with racing’s best interests at heart would have supported the mangling of some of the clauses of the current Bill to the extent that the intent of the Messara Report has been neutered.  So if the Racing Minister, who delivered us Messara, and the RITA Board, which the Minister appointed to drive those recommendations through, had the right intentions, the derailing of those intentions has to lie with DIA.

The DIA officials can be forgiven for not understanding the intricate workings of the racing industry, there are some who pontificate loudly through online chat rooms who have still yet to learn the differences between the code bodies and the former NZRB/current RITa set ups!

But where they have failed us all, is by continuing down the nanny-state knows best line and, presumably against the urgings of the RITA Board, over-riding those concerns by applying multiple Ministerial handbrakes.  While they might have felt that level of Ministerial involvement in the inner-workings of the industry (appointments to the TAB Board, and approval of any joint-venture partnering of the TAB for example) was necessary, it is diametrically opposed to the fundamental thrust of the Messara Report.

Let’s not mince words, what we have now is broken.  Patching it back together with cherry-picked portions of the Messara Report and a solid dose of random sections of the old Racing Act is not going to get this industry off life-support.

But while it is widely agreed that the Bill is not fit-for-purpose in its current state, it is not beyond redemption.  The codes and RITA continue to work on reaching agreement on a number of clauses, as outlined in the handouts at this week’s RITA meetings around the country.  In addition to this, there is a surprising level of agreement around the country, cross-code and at all levels of involvement, as to which areas of the Bill fall into the non-negotiable area.

With a tick over two weeks left before submissions close on Tuesday 11 February everyone with an interest in the future of the racing industry in New Zealand should be putting pen to paper (or better still go here and click on the green button which says “I am ready to make a submission” and submit online).

Your submission doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, just clearly express your concerns.  If you, like me, are worried that the Bill in its current format, has lost the essence of the Messara Report recommendations then say so.  Your submission should also include some detail around your involvement within the industry – owner, breeder, trainer, jockey, stablehand, administrator, punter – many of us can tick a number of those boxes.

I would especially encourage those in the younger brigade who are at the early stages of their careers to make sure they submit and also to make sure they state they also wish to make an oral submission.  The grey-heads will be out in force – mainly because most have lived through a similar process in 2003 and realise the importance – but the Select Committee needs to hear from those who need this industry to survive if they are to have a career in it.

We have an opportunity to get this Bill back on track, it is our responsibility to see that the Select Committee is aware of our concerns and  the need to address them.


Industry blueprint unrecognisable in Racing Industry Bill

Towards the end of last year, I was gently scolded by a gentleman who has been a constant presence in the industry for as long as I have been involved.  He wanted to know what had happened to this blog, why I wasn’t writing and whether I had been effectively “gagged.”

To be honest what had really happened was that I had lost motivation, as I could see things beginning to evolve following the release of the Messara report and the passing of the Racing Amendment Act, the industry did appear to be progressing.  While the pace of the progress was not ideal, I was prepared to err on the side of the old Mainland cheese advert, “good things take time.”

Given the time between the release of the Messara Report (30 August 2018 for those who need reminding) and the appearance of the Racing Industry Bill I was expecting a well-crafted document.  Unfortunately, what did finally emerge looked as though it had been put together by a bunch of people with little familiarity with the industry; how it currently works; and what Messara intended.

A mishmash of cut-and-paste from the existing Bill and garbled interpretations of what was a very clearly articulated blueprint of how things should look, there appear to be so many fingerprints on this Bill it would be difficult to pin the crime on one culprit.

That lengthy preamble is what passes as an explanation as to why I have breathed life back into this blog.  I am motivated to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of the yawning difference between what Messara created and what the bureaucrats have delivered.

I keep coming back to the fact that in the Messara Report we had a blueprint.  The Minister then applied due diligence appointing the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to run a ruler over the Messara Report.  Subsequently we ended up with RITA, the Racing Industry Transition Agency which was intended to maintain BAU as the industry moved from the horrors of the past to a brave new world.

My fellow blogger Brian de Lore provided a handful of the Racing Minister’s better comments from his speech in Hamilton at the launch of the Messara Report and I recommend you read that here.  However, there were a few others which provide a reminder of how the Minister saw the industry at that time.

“If you think I’m a harbinger of doom of gloom, read the Racing Board’s annual report out this year,” he stated.

“Here is a fact. This year a three-year revolving debt facility was established to supplement the NZRB balance sheet.

And total equity is budgeted to decline by $15.6 million this year.”

So that is where we were and what John Messara gave us was a map out of the NZRB-created maze into what promised to be a utopia.  Armed with that document one could be forgiven for thinking there was a glimmer of light at the end of the interminable tunnel we have been negotiating. And then the tinkering began and with the release of the Racing Industry Bill it was apparent that the wheels had well and truly fallen off.  Somewhere along the line the Messara Report had been hijacked and it would seem that whoever stuck their oar in was limited in knowledge of the industry, how it functioned and why Messara flagged the changes he did.

A very wise racing administrator, on first viewing of the Racing Industry Bill, told me his one recollection from his school days and his Tech Drawing class was that when one started to remove elements from a blueprint then it impacted on the integrity of the structure.  And that is what the gang of Bill writers, or those who influenced them, achieved.

What we have now bears a resemblance to the Messara report in much the same way that Bold Personality bore a resemblance to Fine Cotton.

Those with a desire to see this industry grow and thrive need to familiarise themselves with the key clauses of the Racing Industry Bill and how they create a very different final outcome to that predicted by Messara.  And please, don’t just read the Explanatory Note at the beginning and think you’ve got it covered.  It paints a picture so different from the Bill that it is clear the writers of each had possibly never been introduced.

Once au fait with the Bill and how it is written compare the significant areas around code functions, governance and appointments to the TAB, not to mention government interference, with the intention of the Messara Review’s recommendations.  A simple submission could be created purely around those issues.

The industry (not to mention others who believe themselves impacted) has until 11 February to make submissions.  It also must mobilise and unite as never before to ensure their local MP (in this election year) is well aware of our views.


The jumpers are why I love this time of year

A few years back I had a regular gig on a sports show on a Taupo radio station where one of my co-hosts was renowned for asking “have I told you how much I love this time of year?” before going on to proclaim it his absolute favourite.

What you could gauge from listening to the show that it really didn’t matter what the season, or the major sporting event of the time, they were all his favourites.

At the risk of channelling him I do have to confess that this is one of my very favourite racing weeks. Of course, in the 2019 version it is a little more streamlined than the mid-winter week of my youth when Trentham hosted three days of racing over a week.  School holidays being structured differently back then, this also necessitated wagging school to make the mid-week day – the excuse being I was visiting my grandfather.  The fact I was visiting him in the owners and trainers bar at the racecourse was glossed over as something the nuns possibly didn’t need to know.

Three days of winter racing at Trentham meant straw in the birdcage to mask the otherwise knee-deep mud and out on the track it was the survival of the fittest.

While I have vague memories of traditional steeplechases, by the time we had moved back to Wellington the figure-eight course was in use and everyone soon learned the top of the old public stand was the best place to watch the drama unfold.

According to the holder (in his head) of all Wellington RC history the one and only Des Coppins, the first Wellington Steeplechase to be run over the figure-eight course was in 1973 and won by Destino, trained by Bob Autridge.

Hard to believe then, that this will be the 46th running over that course!  Of course, the race itself boasts a much longer history going back to the first running in 1884.

Looking back at past winners in living memory I found it interesting how I could recall so many of those races, yet I am often tested when trying to remember who won the previous year’s running!

My absolute passion for the Wellington Steeplechase probably started when Fleeting Moment won.  Trained by Jock Harris he was ridden by Mike Dombroski.

A keen hunter Mike once turned up at my parent’s place in Tauherenikau with a Captain Cooker piglet – I will spare the squeamish the reason why said piglet was motherless – thinking it would make a cool pet for me.  It did – until it outgrew our place and was moved across to my grandfather’s place and….well, you can probably guess the rest.  So Mike was something of an idol and, him winning the Wellington Steeplechase lit my interest in jump racing.

My grandfather despite, or probably because of, being a former jumps rider was very reluctant to train them, so he seldom had a jumper in the stable.

For me though, there is nothing better than watching a field of top-class jumpers stream over fences as they negotiate the twists and turns of the figure-eight course.  And of course, there is nowhere better to watch that than on top of the old stand at Trentham – the stalwarts will be there on Saturday for the culmination of my favourite week of the year!


Creating opportunities for women in racing

A random comment during a conversation last week with a young woman working in the racing industry was an eye-opener, and led to me taking action.

For some time now I’ve thought about creating a group for women working in racing which would allow them to network and provide mentoring opportunities for those new to the industry.  This week it happened. I mean, what else are you going to do when you’ve got a week off work, right?

The spark which finally lit the fire to get me motivated and doing something came last week with a reminder that misogyny is alive and well in racing.  Foolishly, I thought things had changed.

Apparently not, according to the bright, capable young woman I was chatting to, we’ve still got a way to go when the industry is seen to be embracing misogyny.

It was a depressing thought, but not an unfamiliar one.  I’ve fought it from day one, with my own grandfather telling me the stables was “no place for a girl.”  Despite his misgivings, that one was easily negotiated – where else are you going to find staff who will work for nothing?

In later years though the battle was real.  

I laugh about it now – the letter from a prospective employer which commenced “Dear Sir”; the sincere question from a Board member asking “who would be there to shake hands” should I attend an international meeting as the sole NZ representative; the request for coffee from “the secretary” when I was the person who had called the meeting; and so on, slights representative of a certain generation, or so I thought.

Having enjoyed a 10-year sabbatical working outside of the racing industry in businesses with very strong female leaders, where studying and developing one’s leadership style was encouraged, I foolishly thought racing might have also moved on.

However, it would seem our industry – despite its blinkered belief to the contrary – is still mired in the thinking of my grandfather’s era.  Or maybe that is a little harsh?

After all we have possibly the highest representation of female Vs male jockeys in the racing world and they perform admirably.  There is also no shortage of strong female trainers. Women are – with a few exceptions – reasonably well represented on racing club committees. Then there are the ones who are employed in positions throughout the industry.  But look at the leadership and the talking heads and you will find they are still predominantly male.  

It is more than how this looks, although the perception from outside the industry is of a blokey outfit, it is how it feels to the young women currently working in racing.

Having developed a high bullshit threshold over the years I am a little concerned to find it having been tested recently.  What has concerned me more, is that other women, young women wanting to forge a career in this industry and without my rhino hide, might be impacted by the level of misogynistic crap they encounter and chose an easier path.

I want the young females coming through our industry to be able to lean on and learn from each other and some of the more battle-scarred in the hope women in racing leadership might become normal rather than a rarity.  Hence the creation of Thoroughbred Racing Women’s Network, a closed Facebook group (we’ve also got a presence on Twitter too @TBRacingWomens1) to allow that to happen.

As someone who has benefited greatly from having some incredible mentors throughout my working life, the option is there for members of the group to either mentor others or be mentored.  Networking and social opportunities are also part of the master plan which will evolve as the group grows.

The only prerequisite for membership is that you be a women who is currently employed in racing.

And while I may have been initially apprehensive about starting a group which might not attract any members that fear was quickly put to bed with a message from one young member.

“Get me on board – I’m going to see how far I can get in this industry!”