Today, 15 July 2018, marks 40 years since the first New Zealand women rode against men at a totalisator meeting.

Last week, through a happy quirk which sees me now working in the same faculty, I asked former National MP Professor Marilyn Waring about her recollections of how things played out back then.

“I remember lots of it,” she said, adding that Linda Jones, who was the face and driver of the movement to get women licensed, had come to her as a constituent of her Waipa electorate.

“Linda had applied two or three times for a licence to the Racing Conference, she’d ridden miles of trackwork and she wasn’t the only one,” Professor Waring said.

“She showed me the correspondence they’d had and the main reason the Conference gave every time was that there was no separate toilet and changing facilities and racing clubs couldn’t afford to put them in.”

Here, she paused to allow those words sink in, before saying wryly, “As we said, how much did it cost for a curtain, if they were really that fussed.”

What played into the hands of Linda Jones and the other women wanting to ride was an election promise from National in the 1975 election.

“The National party had a commitment to establish a human rights commission,” Waring explained.

“And when that draft bill was ready, I sent a copy with a very polite letter – and it was – to the NZ Racing Conference which had always been split on the matter.  There were a couple of good guys in there but they kept being out-voted.”

“I drew the attention of the organisation to the equality in employment, or discrimination in employment clauses in the bill and suggested, that given their treatment of women who were applying to have licences, they should have a copy of the bill because they would probably need to make a submission if they wanted to continue with their particular position,” she said.

“Linda tells me that, at the meeting of the board, the letter was received and almost immediately someone said, ‘well we’re not going to have any choice are we, so we might as well move to do it now’ – and that’s what happened.”

At the time, as a local MP, she said attending race-meetings was something she did regularly because it was where people were.  She also remembered a number of studmasters and trainers being within her electorate.

These days she is a little more removed.

“It’s not like I pay a great deal of attention, but I get a thrill whenever they’re top of the table,” she said.

When the history of women earning the right to compete against men is recalled the part Waring and Linda Jones played is, rightly, to the forefront.  Likewise the fact that licensed Canadian Joan Phipps put a burr under the saddle of the NZ Racing Conference when was brought over to compete in 1977 – they couldn’t deny her a licence and she struck a blow for the movement by riding a winner while she was here.  

Then 15 July 1978 rolled around and the first of the Kiwi girls hit the track.  

First up on that auspicious day was Joanne Hale riding in a hurdle race at Waimate.  In what is now an awesome piece of synergy the race was won by King Bard ridden by Jim Collett, father of this season’s premiership winning jockey Samantha.

Jockeys are renowned for having elephant-like memories when it comes to their winning rides and, Jim Collett had no trouble recalling that day at Waimate 40 years ago.

Those watching our often depleted jumping ranks would probably find it amazing to know that 14 hurdlers went to the start that day.

Collett said there was little or no stick given to Hale, “jumps riders are a bit different, they’re a bit quieter and they tend to look after each other,” he said.

Another interesting fact he dredged up from the day was that there was a false start in the race.

“We had to go back and jump the first fence again, because a gate didn’t open,” he said.

Collett could give chapter and verse about the brilliance of his ride to win the race, but today is all about the women!  My memories are centred around Jo Hale and the fact that about six months after that momentous day I was lucky enough to get to know her.

At the time I was (allegedly) attending Canterbury University but, in reality I was hanging out with my best mate from secondary school who was working at Barrie Taggart’s stables and flatting with Jo Hale.

She had an impact on both of our lives at the time.  My friend remembers just how much: “She picked me up on Riccarton racecourse when I was just a kid potentially headed down a bad path and taught me the value of hard work; the need to be smart; that class didn’t really account for much; how to look people in the eye and the power that comes from that and that you should always be picked on talent, not gender or whatever else.”

Those were pretty big life lessons for a teenager, and as my friend added, there were a whole lot after us that she inspired too, including her own daughters.

My strongest memory is that she pushed me so far out of my comfort zone I found myself doing something that, at that age, I never would have anticipated.  She made me get over my timidity and actually believe I could stand up in front of a crowd and speak….it wasn’t pretty and no one but Jo could have given me the self-belief to do it.

Jo didn’t talk much about that first ride – it was more about living in the moment – but I do remember one conversation we had about wanting to be the first to do something.  She said that was part of what drove her and found a newspaper clipping which quoted her to that effect. 

My time in Christchurch was short-lived and later contact with Jo was through the ubiquitous Facebook.

In the intervening years and now known as Jo Giles, she had remarried; had a family; represented New Zealand at pistol shooting; competed in motor-sport; entered rock ‘n roll contests; run for parliament; started her own local body political party; run for mayor of Christchurch; and presented a TV programme on Christchurch TV.

In February 2011 she was one of the victims of the Christchurch earthquake in the CTV building.

Her contribution to racing is commemorated with a plaque at Riccarton racecourse. Those who she inspired remember her regularly as the larger-than-life character she was – we thought she was indestructible.

Photo: The writer “horsing around” with Jo Hale in Christchurch in 1979.

 

 

 

 

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Remembering a milestone racing anniversary

Missing the mark with media

If ever you needed an example of how far below the radar New Zealand’s racing industry is travelling, there was a glaring one on Newshub’s AM Show this morning.

While talking politics with, surprise, surprise, political reporter Tova O’Brien, host Duncan Garner queried the connection acting prime minister Winston Peters has with racing.  It would appear that, like the racing minister, the industry itself has little relevance when it comes to this show.

In the past there have been cringeworthy interviews around the NZ Derby meeting – focus being fancy hats and how much the trophies are worth.  Prior to the yearling sales there was a confused introduction of Sir Patrick Hogan with Garner claiming he was about to have “one last crack at the Karaka Million.”

Racing, once part of the nation’s fabric, is de trop and something which retains the stigma of back-alley betting shops and aged beer-swilling smokers, at least with this news outlet.  So much for the marketing and communications efforts of the six-figure salary earners in Petone!

Every step of the way those charged with promoting the industry have missed their mark.  They have failed to mark out a place for an industry which contributes $1.6 billion to the economy.  Their sole focus with media is on top end events.  Hospitality for media types at these events is more about the food and booze in isolated marquees rather than checking out the stars of the show and giving them an authentic experience.

It’s probably not their fault as one would expect few of those who work at the Racing Board have had an authentic racing experience themselves.  They certainly have no grasp of the industry’s rich history.

For example, here we are, coming up to the 40th anniversary of the first day women rode against men in New Zealand (15 July 1978).  Today females make up around half the riding ranks, some are even second-generation jockeys and there are numerous fantastic story opportunities.  If we are relying on anyone from the NZRB to lead the way when it comes to celebrations and some media acknowledgement to mark the occasion then, I imagine, we will be left disappointed!

The incredible story around “letting” women ride against the men has been there since day one and this one could even appeal to Duncan Garner and the AM Show crew – well, maybe not Mark Richardson!

While the industry hierarchy may have had to been bitch-slapped into allowing women to apply for licences once they took that step they ensured there was no discrimination when it came to pay scales.  From day one – 40 years ago – female jockeys have been paid the same amount as their male contemporaries.

Given the cacophony in the general media around gender equality – especially in the area of pay equity – this is one story which the industry should be shouting from the roof-tops.

I imagine there is a reason that the six-figure earners at the NZRB aren’t trumpeting this one (apart from the fact that any reference to pay rates might focus more unwanted attention upon the $60 million in salaries which the organisation siphons out of the industry).  Most likely it is that they probably don’t know (and don’t care) because they are so far removed from the industry they work for they wouldn’t have the first clue what jockeys are paid.

I can’t imagine any of them have ever used any of that six-figure salary to enjoy a share (or two, or three) in a horse and therefore are aware of the actual costs of racing a horse in New Zealand.

It is no wonder then that media outlets like Newshub continue to think of racing as some misty, murky relic of the past – populated by the likes of Winston “and his mates.”

Those who are charged to do as follows – via the Racing Act 8 Objectives of the Boards  The objectives of the Board are – (a) to promote the racing industry – have failed dismally and will not be missed upon their (hopefully imminent) departure!

 

Ups, downs and a technical glitch

One day you’re the rooster, the next a feather duster.  That’s the crazy ride most racehorse owners find themselves taking.  One day it’s champagne celebrations, the next it’s generic wine in a plastic cup – nothing compares with the ups and downs of racing.

If nothing else, owning horses gives you some serious lessons in learning how to be a gracious loser.  Just as well, because most of us find ourselves heading to the races with high hopes, only to be driving home after dusting ourselves off after another defeat and preparing for another day.

When I wrote my last post, there were high hopes for the gang of Galloping Wekas who race Wekaforce.  She had topped off a smart trial win with a dominant performance on raceday and so the decision was made to have a crack at a black type race.

We headed to the Castletown Stakes, a race I had won 19 years earlier with the Tracktalk Fillies syndicate’s Kinetic when it was held at Foxton.  These days the race is conducted at Whanganui, a track notorious for being one of those which horses either handle or they don’t.  We also faced a heavy track at the time of nominations, it later came back to a slow9, and we didn’t know how the filly would cope.

The answer came pretty much from the minute she muffed the start and began awkwardly.  At no stage was she handling the track and as she trailed the field home we owners held our collective breath hoping nothing was amiss.  Thankfully, a vet check revealed no underlying problems and it was off home to the spelling paddock with her and a short break before resuming in the spring.

Now, this is where the advantage of tiny shares in multiple horses comes in handy.  Just one week later another of my “gang of four” was at the races.  Suliman, a Redwood gelding somewhat reminiscent of a gangly youth still trying to get his brain and body act in tandem, had lined up twice this prep for two second placings.  That took his runner-up tally to five – a couple where he beat himself – and we were hoping he might add another win to his maiden success back in August.

The big boy, with an ownership group of hundred (possibly more!), delivered in style and – just like that – the disappointment of the previous week was forgotten.

I wasn’t on hand to watch his win, instead I had been enjoying checking out the facilities at Singapore’s Kranji racecourse and watched the replay online while toasting him with a coffee.  More about Singapore and the whole experience in a future post – I am still getting my head around it!

As I hadn’t got myself organised enough to sort the app I needed to ensure I could watch the race live I couldn’t watch it on the TAB app, so the first I knew of his win was a text message from a friend in NZ saying what a tough win it was.

Along with the text from my friend there was also a rapidly delivered email of congratulations from NZTR, along with a link to the replay.  Celebrations were in order and duly held.

Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, Suliman delivered again when he lined up last weekend at Tauranga.

This time I had every intention of watching the race – albeit online – while out at lunch.  Slight glitch with the TAB app and website though.  While I had been able to access them easily in the hour prior to the race, as soon as start time approached both went into meltdown mode and neither allowed me to open them.

Again, the notification that Suliman had delivered came via a text message from the same friend.  Cue bubbles but also questions regarding access to online viewing.  It’s not the first time that the app has proven to be non-responsive – usually this happens when trying to get a last-minute bet on.  It doesn’t differentiate between bog-standard 4G or wifi, no matter what the connection one is faced with whatever aggravating sports promo sits on the opening page while it does a fair imitation of dial-up.

Invariably I just give up, as I did on Saturday when I was wanting to watch the race.  It was concerning though that it was also impossible to log into the website at that time.  Had the numbers wanting to get online and watch that particular race combined to crash the system?  Was it a TAB problem, or due to the provider – in my case Spark?

It did make me ponder what might be the outcome next year when Spark will be streaming the Rugby World Cup games.  There might be one or two disappointed people should they end up with non-responsive connections then!

In the meantime, I can go into the depths of winter safe in the knowledge that I’ve had more wins in the past two months that some people have had all season.   Rooster or feather duster, it looks as though spring will bring with it some reasons to actually get to the races instead of relying on technology!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

(1)

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.

(2)

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.

(3)

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.

(4)

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:

https://www.nzthoroughbred.co.nz/site_files/13893/upload_files/blog/68426NZTBAonlineBulletin-Aprilrev.pdf?dl=1

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

(1)

The functions of the Board are—

(a)

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!”