Time to find racing’s disruptor

How long can you keep doing the same-old, same-old and expect a different outcome?

Racing is a pretty simple sport.  Sure it has evolved over the years – in the days when my grandfather was plying his trade as a jockey, skullcaps were flimsy and offered no protection (probably because they were part of a jockey’s weighing-out gear), while body protectors were a long way off – but fundamentally little has changed.

Areas affected by technology have seen improvements – we no longer have to queue behind the tote to collect and bet types are many and varied.  Administration – at least when it comes to those choosing to be involved, rather than token government appointees – is still predominantly the domain of blokes.  That might explain why we are so stuck in the mire!

The TAB founded and initially funded by men with a passion for racing has, since the Racing Act 2003 was implemented, now become merely the betting arm of the excessively bloated Racing Board.  Despite repeated questioning from many quarters, no one has yet come up with a valid explanation as to why a cast of hundreds and a wage bill which surpasses $60million per annum is needed to run an industry which, at the grassroots, exists on the merest whiff an oily rag.  

We still, at least in this country, race on grass tracks. That is possibly due to the fact that no one can agree on a) what type of artificial track we should be building, b) where it should be and c) administrators have an attack of the vapours when the cost is revealed.

The jockey ranks now include a large proportion of females and, something which should raise a red flag when it comes to future-proofing the industry, an ever-increasing number of riders from other jurisdictions.  That is an indication that fewer Kiwi kids are being drawn to a career where, unless you’re a natural lightweight, starving yourself is part of the job description. Likewise, our stable staff are something of an endangered species – to the extent that capable trackwork riders are included on the government’s skilled shortage list. The ability to handle a high-strung thoroughbred combined with early morning starts is not a combination found in the average job seeker.

In New Zealand, in particular, it is possible to not attend a race meeting for a decade and find, upon your return to the fold, the same people in the same places – albeit a little more weathered.  Despite the glossy photos depicting youthful racegoers enjoying the thrill of thoroughbred racing, crowds of that type are generally only found at the well-promoted summer carnival meetings.

There has been tinkering around the edges, rating systems and how we rate our tracks for example, but I don’t remember a ground-shifting change in the past 20-odd years, other than the introduction of Trackside.

Interestingly, during the same time frame, we have been experiencing a downward spiral – dwindling numbers of horses bred, ever-diminishing race day attendance (why go when you can watch on TV) and fewer people following their passion to work within the racing industry.

What racing needs is a disruptor.  It could be argued that Trackside was a disruptor, but it only impacted on the way we view our racing – at home, bars or TAB agencies, rather than on-course.

There is talk that galloping (forgive me but when I speak of racing this is the only code to which I refer!) should break away and carve its own brave future.  While this would require more than a few tweaks to the current legislation it shouldn’t be disregarded, and it definitely falls into the realm of disruptor.

For those who might be a little hazy on just what a disruptor is, consider the impact when Sky entered our TV market – of course, things have moved along considerably since then with the likes of Netflix continuing the disruptor trend.  Uber came along to disrupt the taxi industry; Apple and iTunes impacted on the music industry; Airbnb ensures we look further afield than traditional hotel bookings, and so it goes.

In most cases, these new (most now pretty ingrained) ways of looking at things came about due to a certain level of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

So tell me those involved in racing are not dissatisfied?

I know that I have a serious level of dissatisfaction that, instead of being able to write about fabulous galloping achievements instead I am revisiting issues I regularly wrote about 20-plus years ago.

Let’s let go of the same-old, same-old and look out what we need to do to great the best results for the galloping industry, not anyone else, just thoroughbreds. And if we have to be disruptive to find our disruptor, let’s do it!


TAB app improvements on the way!

I found myself an interesting new email pal last week after I contacted the Racing Board to see why I missed out on the mea culpa email after the inglorious crash of the TAB’s betting system.


Credit where it is due, he did his best to discover why I didn’t get the apology, which was much appreciated.  While I had his attention I did use the opportunity to bring up another couple of pet peeves and – more kudos – he was forthcoming with information around both.


The first, raised here last week was the lack of information provided for runners on the TAB betting app.  Actually, interesting aside here, a couple of (male) friends I spoke to about said app had managed to confuse themselves thinking the mobile website was the same as the app – blokes! Anyway, my gripe is apparently about to be addressed with an updated app to go out this week…..I am counting the days!


Another irritant of mine – the fact I am able to load money into my account via a card, yet the same process does not work in reverse.  Sometimes it is just not possible to get to a TAB to withdraw money and I really would like the chance to put some winnings back on the card.  Apparently, a transfer of funds project has begun and, once the banks all decide to play ball, this will be a happening thing.  My email pal couldn’t give me the exact date but promised to keep me in the loop.


All in all, it was quite a positive encounter.  The thing which really struck me though was the following comment he made in one email: “I appreciate feedback so again I welcome hearing from you. Its the customers needs that will drive our business not our teams thinking.”[sic]


He followed up with information about a national punting competition to be held at Addington with the winner heading to Las Vegas in early 2018 for the National Horse Players’ Championship with an estimated pool of $2.5m. The winner of the Hawke’s Bay Punter of the Year will gain entry into a field of 40 at Addington thus having to ensure their punting knowledge spreads across both codes!


I discussed this with a friend who has won and placed in a number of prominent galloping Punter of the Year events over the past two decades and he admitted he wouldn’t be a cross-code starter. It wouldn’t rock my boat either.  Still, I guess they get points for trying!


In the meantime, I will be watching and waiting to see what improvements have been made to the app and counting down to when the transfer of funds can bounce back my way!

TAB stuff-ups mar weekend

Where to begin?  If the Lions got a “did not achieve” grade for their tour opener in Whangarei, then the TAB probably had to join them in the dunce’s corner, such were the number and level of stuff-ups over the weekend.


Last week adverts for the TAB’s betting app started appearing during the peak news hour on mainstream TV.  Given the app is seriously limited when it comes to racing, one would hope that the sports side of it is living up to expectations.  


Whichever 12-year-old designed the racing facet of the app needs a Racing 101 immersion course.  WTF is the point of having a little heart “like” option for a horse?  I don’t want to be its friend and I’m sure as hell not swiping right – if I am looking at it then I am potentially thinking of putting some money on it.


Of course, if I am contemplating betting on it then I also might want to reacquaint myself with who trains it; its breeding; liking for that particular track; record over the distance; and preference for that going.  In that case, the app provides me with what my old ex-Marine mate used to refer to as Sweet Fanny Apples.


I can only use the app in conjunction with say, The Informant, which provides all that (and more) information.  Or, if I am sitting at home mid-week watching Trackside (with the mute button pressed – yes, that blog is coming!) then I need to have the TAB site open on my laptop to get the info which might convince me to have a bet. Though I am now very wary of the accuracy of what is provided there.


Not enough that the app the TAB is now promoting to the great unwashed has limited information but for a large part of Saturday afternoon it was impossible to access.  At the same time the internet site was down and the only betting option left was touchtone betting – 0800 from a landline, but not from mobile – or try and find one of the few remaining TAB outlets.


I gave up.


In between watching races just to see what happened, the discussion moved to Sunday morning’s running of The Derby at Epsom. Checking out the field later that night on the TAB’s site provided much entertainment, well it would have been entertaining if we weren’t so gobsmacked that they could get things SO wrong.


Sir Peter Vela’s runner, Eminent was expected to improve on his effort in the Guineas and might have carried some purely parochial Kiwi money. However, the TAB had managed to confuse the son of Frankel with the David Vandyke-trained Choisir two-year-old.  


Nowhere at the TAB did alarm bells ring where someone might have said, “hey, this is a bit of a big step up from a 1200m race on the Gold Coast to 2040m in the other hemisphere.”


Neil Ridley must’ve got a hell of a shock too, to look at the field as see his three-year-old Per Incanto filly Capri was, in spite of her 45 rating, tackling the English classic at her fourth race day start.  


What sort of muppets are they employing in Petone these days?


A payroll of $66 million at the NZ Racing Board and they can’t seem to get the basics right.  At least the Lions had the tried-and-true excuse of jet lag!