Opinion writers and protesters take pot shots at racing

One of my pet peeves has often been the lack of racing coverage in the general media.  However, over the past week I am wondering whether sometimes it might be better to keep our heads below the parapet given the pot shots fired our way.

On Tuesday The Spinoff provided an interesting take on the Messara report which proved the dangers of people pontificating when they have no understanding of wagering or the structure of the racing industry.

Having read (and obviously not understood) the Messara report the writer, a university student/actor Joseph Plunket, makes the following claims:

”The racing industry wants New Zealanders gambling like Australians, and spending more on horse and dog racing, as well as the myriad of other TAB wagering opportunities. For this troubled industry, the solution appears to lie in the exploitation of problem gamblers.

A majority of those who gamble might be able to do so safely, but the racing industry ultimately relies upon addiction in order to prosper. The characterisation of ‘just having a punt’ trivialises a serious issue which impacts families and communities across the country.

Why is our government seeking to reform and revitalise an industry which provides largely for an elite – those who own and breed racehorses – when it comes at the direct expense of the general public?”

I’m not sure where he got his information from regarding the industry relying on addiction to prosper, but the choice of the word “prosper” indicates he has absolutely no knowledge about the current state of the industry.

He talks about the need for the industry to have a greater commitment to problem gambling with his evidence for the requirement for this based on what one might see when they “walk into any suburban or rural pub in the country.”

Considering finding a TAB in any pub, be it suburban or rural, has become increasingly difficult over the years I’d love to know where he has managed to find enough outlets to witness this rampant problem gambling.

Towards the end of his diatribe about the evils of gambling he does ‘fess up that “it is difficult to establish the extent to which gambling addiction is a problem in New Zealand.”  He adds that stats show a decrease in the number of new “clients” of both the Gambling Helpline and the Ministry of Health.

Then he shoots himself in the foot with the following: “In the financial year 2016/17 gamblers in New Zealand spent $125 million more than the previous year. The overall amount gambled between the TAB, Lotteries Commission, gaming machines and casinos was $2.334 billion. Of the four forms, the TAB was the only one to experience a downturn during this period.”

I did wonder why the Lotteries Commission and gaming machines didn’t come under fire, especially given that these forms of gambling have been tagged in a recent study into problem gambling in Pacific Island families.

Obviously, that would not have allowed the writer to arrive at his desired conclusion which has the Minister for Racing propping up his mates in racing.  Described by this very earnest young man as “an exploitative and declining industry.”

Demonstrating that his only exposure to racing appears to be through the TAB’s advertising (“You’re in the game”) he also assumes John Messara’s comment “We need to keep people in the game” refers to betting.  Anyone familiar with the Messara report recognises that statement as being reference to keeping participants involved in the industry.

The full quote from the launch of the Messara report was: “My review includes a series of reforms that I believe will enable a doubling of stakesmoney.  And that increase needs to be right through the system – from the smallest races right up to the group and listed programme.  We need to keep people in the game.”

Perhaps a little more research and maybe even talking to some of the people who rely on the industry for their living might have given Joseph a more balanced perspective, but where’s the shock value in that?

Interestingly, the day after this piece appeared on The Spinoff one of the struggling MediaWorks re-branded outlets, Magic Talk, also slammed racing.

This afternoon host, Sean Plunket, shared his opinion about our industry with his national audience – thankfully, not a very large one.

It would seem both the Plunkets have taken very strongly against racing for some reason.

Perhaps their next steps will be to join the tens of protesters aligned with Australia’s Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses at their next New Zealand protest.  Apparently, this group will be back at Trentham this Saturday – obviously unaware of the fact that industry attention will be firmly focused on Ellerslie for the Karaka Million races.

I have been told there is no arguing with these protesters and perhaps they feel the same way because this week’s, like last Saturday’s where a dozen protesters managed to ensure television news coverage, is a silent protest.

Of interest the NZ arm of this group seems to have deviated somewhat from the core belief in Australia.  The invitation to the protest reads:

Our focus will be on how gambling ruins families and lives. We will also be raising awareness about the horse cruelty that takes place, before, during and after the races. Posters will be provided.

While there is apparently, no reasoning with protesters who are convinced of this cruelty – despite no actual evidence – I would just like to ask them to watch the last race at Avondale on Wednesday.

Pay attention of the antics of Flying Trapeze, a horse I have a minuscule interest in, particularly once he manages to rid himself of the encumbrance of jockey Jason Waddell.  If, as the protesters tell us, horses are “forced” and “whipped” to race how do they explain Flying Trapeze working himself up through the field until he is challenging for the lead at the turn?  If horses hate racing so much then, given the opportunity to escape, surely he would have headed for the nearest exit?

While it was a disappointing result as an owner, I did have to laugh.  Our perennial maiden did enough to ruin the photo for the eventual winner and still ran second!