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!