Racing hierarchy still confuses those who should know better

If you spend a lot of time on the internet, or even chatting to like-minded racing aficionados, you are going to come across a lot of confusion as to who does what when it comes to racing hierarchy.

Somewhat surprisingly, many of those with not even a vague idea of the responsibilities of each of racing’s entities are those with skin in the game.  Recently I have been somewhat astounded at the lack of understanding around how our industry is structured, especially when it is demonstrated by those who I thought would have known better.

Some I could possibly forgive as they came up through the bad old days when Jack Bennett ruled both the TAB and the NZ Racing Authority; the thoroughbred administrative body was still known as The Conference; and we operated under the auspices of the Racing Act 1971.  Their confusion is possibly understandable given the various changes and iterations the governing bodies have undergone over the past 20-odd years. But really, we’ve had more than long enough to figure it all out and understand where responsibilities lie!

The most recent restructuring of the industry started way back when NZ’s first racing minister John Falloon appointed a Ministerial Committee on Race Betting Systems in January 1991.  The minister got a little more than he expected with some of the recommendations.

The committee not only called for rationalisation around dates but also a total overhaul of the industry’s administration.   Much to the chagrin of some of those at top of the administrative food-chain it was suggested that the Breeders, Owners, Trainers and Jockeys, through their various Association, be awarded seats at the Board table of the old NZ Racing Conference.  Readers, apart from the jockeys this actually did come to pass!

Other recommendations of the time included Sunday racing, free-to-air racing coverage on TV, the use of TAB services for betting on sport, and unlimited TAB jackpots. It also proposed allowing the Racing Authority to issue licences to clubs.

Once slightly refined through the select committee process the Racing Amendment Act 1992 saw the Racing Authority replaced by the Racing Industry Board, which was tasked with revitalising racing – a big jump from its former regulatory role.

By 1997 the RIB was calling for significant changes to the Racing Act – its view at the time being that the industry should be able to operate as a commercial entity under a Racing Commission.

Some time in 1999 the Conference cast off its old identity and became NZ Thoroughbred Racing, its role as the code body of the galloping code intact.

Fast-forward to 2003 and, after much debate and appearances before the select committee, the industry welcomed in a shiny new Racing Act.  This time it saw the RIB and TAB merging into one beast to become the NZRB.

And thus it has been ever since.  Despite that there are still people out there without the first clue as to what each organisation does.

So starting with the code body, here is a summary from NZTR’s 2017-18 Annual Report:

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing is tasked with administering the domestic thoroughbred racing code but that illustrates what we do, rather than who we are.

Technically we are racing administrators but in reality, we are racing enthusiasts. It is possible to have a role at NZTR and remain immune to the charms of the industry, but it’s not easy. The colour, the mystique, the challenge of picking a winner, the cross-section of people involved and the attraction of the horse itself, all combine to create a spell that can be hard to break.

For our staff, both in the office and in the field, do love racing. For many, it is the main reason they work at NZTR. They have adapted their skillset to suit the requirements of their favourite sport.

The same passion drives the NZTR Board, all of whom have their governance skills underpinned by a lengthy involvement with racing. Every member of the current board is an active owner and had been involved in racing administration, at various levels, before being appointed to the Board.

Their work experience in racing ranges from stablehand duties in the university holidays to Chief Executive roles at major clubs, managing large-scale stud farms and advisory and governance experience in New Zealand and further afield.

Our staff are committed to doing the best they can because they want racing to thrive.

Their genuine affection for the sport, together with their knowledge and experience, helps them make the daily judgement calls around race programming, handicapping, dates, venues, licensing and race fields.

In numerous cases, these decisions involve grey areas, where there is no right or wrong answer and it is a rare occasion when you can please all the people, let alone all the time. But a decision still needs to be made.

Both the short and long-term strategies require NZTR to weigh up the often competing needs of the various sector groups. The owners, trainers, jockeys, breeders, club members, punters, administrators and spectators are involved in the same industry, but their interests and views are not always aligned.

But while the industry will continue to test us, it also enthrals us, and we love being involved.

And from the NZ Racing Board’s “About Us” page on their website:

The New Zealand Racing Board is the organisation behind all New Zealand racing and betting.

Our Vision: To secure the future of our industry and position it as one of New Zealand’s great success stories.

Our Mission: To enhance kiwis’ involvement and enjoyment of racing and sport.

Our Purpose: To deliver a thrilling betting, racing and sports experience that all kiwis can get involved in and be proud of.

When you bet with the TAB on the gallops, trots or greyhounds, take a punt on the All Blacks or European football, every betting dollar contributes to grass roots racing and sports in New Zealand as well as the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Kiwis involved in these sectors.

The New Zealand Racing Board was established in 2003 under the Racing Act to administer all racing and sports wagering in New Zealand.

We are a major entertainment business with more than 180,000 TAB account-holders and a retail network comprising around 600 outlets.

NZRB directly employs 820 personnel (full-time, part-time and casual), with the majority of these people involved in the various facets that make up the TAB operation scheduling daily racing for customers in New Zealand, selling racing and sports bets through our retail network, online and telephony channels, or the broadcast of racing on our national television channels Trackside 1 and 2, and on Trackside Radio.

We support betting on more than 78,000 domestic and imported thoroughbred, harness and greyhound races each season, as well as on a rapidly growing number of domestic and international sporting events.

After operating costs and expenses, our profit is distributed to the three New Zealand Racing Codes New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, Harness Racing New Zealand and Greyhound Racing New Zealand in accordance with an agreed funding model.  In 2016/17, NZRB distributed $137.6 million to the three Codes.

NZRB is also a significant supporter of sports in New Zealand – in 2016/17 we provided $9.3 million in commission payments to National Sporting Organisations and paid out $3.2 million in Gaming grants to grassroots community sporting organisations.

Pretty straight forward right?