Abandonments continue, but no one taking responsibility

As any parent knows if there aren’t any repercussions then bad behaviour tends to repeat.  Possibly not the analogy you would expect in racing circles but dealing with some administrators can be like dealing with badly behaved brats.

Volunteer-run clubs are playing havoc with the future of our industry while NZTR does a passable imitation of one of those hand-wringing ineffectual parents who is being “played” by their offspring.

How else do you explain the fact that we continue to experience abandoned meetings without anyone putting their hand up and claiming responsibility.  Not the turf experts who haven’t factored climate change into the equation; not the track managers being manipulated by the local trainers; not the trainers for putting their unqualified ten cents worth; not the officials who okay a track which later develops ice-rink tendencies; not the club officials who go for the groomed pasture look with no regard to how a shower of rain might play out; not NZTR which has been parsimonious when it comes to putting money into maintaining our all-important dance floors but continue to grant licences ; and definitely not NZRB which has whinged about losing turnover yet never thought to invest in infrastructure.

NZRB reported that the 34 abandoned meetings in the 2016-17 season cost the industry $2.3million, with the 2017-18 Annual Report yet to be available the most recent figures for that season I can find indicate that 19 meetings were abandoned over the first six months of that season equating to $1.5m in lost profit.

Back in August last year NZRB CE John Allen was quoted as saying: “We have got to develop racing infrastructure in New Zealand which is appropriate for our conditions and for the modern environment…. Obviously, these sorts of initiatives take time, but there is a sense of urgency.”

So, the Future Venues Plan was (eventually) born and, despite the Messara report coming out in the time it took these guys to achieve absolutely nothing, it appears current administrators are clinging to it as tightly as Rose clung to the wreckage of the Titanic.

In the meantime, meetings continue to be abandoned.  There was a time when one could actually predict a meeting might be canned and they fell into a couple of categories – continual rain which left a track a bog with surface water; or at the other end of the scale a firm track, grass slightly longer than ideal and a couple of skiffy showers.  Now an abandonment can happen when outward appearances indicate a good day’s racing ahead.

NZTR does receive a fair amount of hammering when blame is being flung around following abandonments, but they could claim to have done plenty to avoid these situations arising.

NZTR’s venue guidelines advise that clubs should aspire to produce a track to a Good 3 and the NZTR venue inspector is available to provide advice at any time.  Clubs are also expected to have a groundhog (or similar) to aid with any remedy required on the day.

Tracks where there are fewer than three days per season, or with more than six months between meetings, are expected to follow the track preparation guide developed by NZTR in consultation with the Racecourse Managers Association.

The Venue Guidelines document states: “This programme provides a detailed course of action to be followed from three months out from the race meeting. The local Stipendiary Steward and/or the NZTR National Venue Inspector will arrange to visit the venue three months out from the race meeting to work through the preparation programme. There may be further follow up visits arranged to check on progress but as a minimum there will be another inspection three weeks out from the meeting to confirm the venue is fit to race. If at this point the venue is not fit to race and in the view of the Stipendiary Steward the amount of work left to do will not be able to be completed in time, then the club will need to arrange another venue at which to run the race meeting.”

The more observant among you may have noticed a story online earlier this week about the woes of the Dargaville Racing Club, whose 16 November meeting will now be run at Ruakaka racecourse, with the licence transferred to the Whangarei RC.

The story claimed it was a crushing blow for the club which was “staring down the barrel of John Messara’s report which recommended Dargaville as one of 20 courses nationwide to be closed.”

The club’s president, Tim Antonio, despaired that should the report be adopted then this would’ve been “the last to be held at Dargaville.  They have history.  But while they are talking about the 140 years of racing which has gone prior, I found their more recent “history” of interest.

Two years earlier the club’s 2016 meeting was abandoned after a “soft patch surfaced” despite having been checked twice by officials prior to the raceday.

Given their previous problems and desire to continue racing they should be doing everything within their power to ensure they presented the very best track possible, yet it wasn’t up to scratch.  NZTR has made the right decision and followed the guidelines they have in place.

Despite this Dargaville will continue to rail against the closure of their (now-substandard) track.

“We are hoping the powers that be will see sense,” Antonio told Stuff.

“We are freehold, pay the rates, insurances and maintain the course and track ourselves, so it costs the New Zealand Racing Board nothing to keep our course open.”

Yep, the old  – “it costs the New Zealand Racing Board nothing to keep our course open” – so that $2.3million from the 2016-17 season relating to abandoned meetings, one of which was Dargaville’s, was nothing to do with them?  I think you will find that you did actually cost the industry Dargaville.

It would be interesting to ponder whether, had NZTR not had its requirements in place, Dargaville would have pottered along preparing for the mid-November meeting only for it to go the same way as the 2016 event.  Thus, costing the industry even more.

Here’s a question for the hierarchy – is it worth continuing with the pretence that the Dargaville venue might possibly have one last hurrah and host racing for the last time in the 2018-19 season?

It would appear that club president Tim Antonio is pretty shaky on the actual details of the Messara report as it relates to his track (surely not another who hasn’t read the report!).  He was quoted as saying that if the report was to be adopted then the club’s November meeting, “would have been the last to be held at Dargaville.”

The Messara report has Dargaville slated for closure from the 2019-20 season, why not just accept the inevitable and call time now?

In the meantime, the cancellations continue with the Te Aroha trials on Wednesday the most recent. Anyone going to put their hand up and take responsibility?