Some aren’t buying the “Now you’re in the game” advertising message

My intent when I started this blog was to celebrate the great things about racing.  The kind of things I would’ve liked to see celebrated in our mainstream media.

Unfortunately, I had a bit of spare time on my hands one day and decided to peruse the Racing Board’s annual reports. There I saw the extent of the profligate spending which has seen the industry bogged in the mire as the six-figure salary club expands.

Particularly galling is the fact that some of those pulling in the big bucks are actually charged with getting those great racing stories out to the general media.  Galling, because they regularly fail to deliver.

Sure, we might get some media interest when it comes to our high days and holidays.  Those race days when even the general media are aware there is a meeting on – thanks to the money the respective clubs have thrown into promoting the event.

These major events are the low-hanging fruit though – the likes of the NZ Derby is always going to get some mainstream media acknowledgement, the Wairoa Cup maybe not so much.  In rugby terms, the All Blacks doing anything is going to get media in a frenzy when compared with say, a local club rugby final.  But throw a good media hook into that club rugby match – duelling families; a front row made up of triplet brothers; fundraising for a local stalwart needing urgent medical assistance and things might change.

Where we go wrong with the six-figure numpties is that none of them appear to have a clue about what makes a good story and even less of a clue about the myriad of great stories under their noses.

A recent visit to the races uncovered one of the big earners actually on track and flitting around ever-so-importantly.  As befitting one of such stature there was also a cheer-leader who loudly (well, it had to be loudly as we managed to hear the full exchange half-way across the room!) informed those at the table who had been earlier blessed by the presence of the important one, that this person was indeed VERY important.  They had a VERY big job, but had also previously had a VERY big, important job.

The bit which nearly made me choke on my drink was the piece that followed.   The cheer-leader then proclaimed – I am assuming in response to a question, but the questioner was not shrieking so it was difficult to tell – that the very important person from the Racing Board absolutely did NOT bet.

So, the job of the very important person is to spread the news about the wonders of the Racing Board, but god forbid they actually get down and dirty and maybe put two over three on Goodtime Sugar!

What happened to “Now You’re In the Game” the latest TAB marketing catch-cry?

All this brings me, rather convolutedly, to the fact I have been re-reading sections of the TAB’s 50th anniversary vanity project Two over Three on Goodtime Sugar (did you see what I did there?!).

Interestingly, back in the very bad old days, when TABs hid down alleyways and no loitering was permitted, “advertising could only relate to racing itself, not to betting.”

This was thanks to the 1949 Gaming Amendment Act which meant the TAB was not to “induce” anyone to have a bet.  Even when this was overturned by the Racing Act (1971) the TAB continued to keep a low profile.

What did appear to work back in the mid-1980s was “the principal theme in all advertising was that racing was fun; an entertainment for the family and a great day out. It was focused more on racing per se than the TAB.”

We’ve now come full circle with the TAB’s “Now you’re in the Game” advertising all about the betting.

It obviously hasn’t been captivating enough to ensure their own staff feel compelled to have the odd flutter!



Karaka announcement a fizzer

Underwhelmed – was the prevailing reaction to the much anticipated announcement from Racing Minister the Right Honourable Winston Peters at Karaka on Sunday evening.


There was a touch of Trump in Peters’ opening remarks where he claimed he had never promised a “big announcement.”  That should have been a clear precursor to what was to follow in his bid to make racing great again.


Peters cherry-picked from NZ First’s 10 point racing policy – primarily revisiting taxation to encourage investment.  Reacting to the impact of numerous meetings being lost over the past season due to a combination of outrageous weather and poor track management, Peters also promised an all-weather track.  


To get across the line the track, at a yet-to-be-confirmed location, although touted to be the Waikato; at a yet-to-be-confirmed cost, though quoted in some media sources to be in the vicinity of $10million; still needs to be approved come budget time in May.


The one sentence which could well have met with universal approval would have been a commitment to “urgently review the operations and costs of the New Zealand Racing Board.”


The fact those words were not included in Peters’ speech makes me question the NZ First definition of “urgently”.


It was an opportunity missed.  Readers of this blog will be familiar with the excesses of the NZRB when it comes to richly rewarding the multitude who work there while the ROI to the industry stagnates.


Yesterday, as National party politicians Stephen Joyce and former racing minister David Bennett were enjoying hospitality at the yearling sales their leader Bill English, reacting to the proposed all-weather track, was questioning the need for taxpayers to contribute.


While English recognised the importance of an all-weather track he said he believed the industry should be able to fund it.  Perhaps that might have been an option if the NZRB wasn’t providing so many of its largely useless staff a six-figure lifestyle funded by the sweat of industry participants.


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when addressing the taxation proposals told Newstalk ZB yesterday that the industry was facing rising costs and diminishing returns.  She added that the coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First included a commitment to support NZ First’s Racing policy.


“In areas where we are relative to other international industries, if there comes a disincentive to invest in your domestic industry and more incentive to invest overseas, then you have to look at your competitiveness,” she said.


While those with skin in the game were debating the location of the all-weather track, online feedback on many news sites saw plenty taking swipes at what were largely described as handouts to the “wealthy” racing industry.


“If it’s such a multi-million dollar industry then why are taxpayers paying half?” was a common theme.


The perception of the industry from the outside is that it is populated by high-flyers.  Why wouldn’t they think that when, for the week leading up to the sales at Karaka, racing and breeding make their annual appearance on mainstream TV?


The general public see people racing for $1million stakes; glossy yearlings being paraded and sold for six (and occasionally seven) figure sums; overseas buyers being wooed with fine wine and sumptuous food.  


What they don’t see are the go-round meetings where we are still racing for stakes which haven’t increased exponentially with the cost of having a horse in work.  They don’t see the vendors in the later days of the sales struggling to get a bid, or the legwork being done by trainers to fill bargain-basement syndicates.


The reality of the industry is largely hidden.  Take a look at the financials of most racing clubs and it doesn’t make pretty reading.  At the end of the day a bunch of volunteers – who are incidentally, becoming more and more difficult to attract – are battling to keep racing afloat.


We have fundamental problems which have failed to be addressed due to a lack of funds.  In the meantime staff expenses at the NZRB still total in excess of $60million. They are down from 2016’s $66m down to $63m – at that rate in another dozen or so years they might have salaries about where they should be!


The Racing Minister also gave us a reminder to be positive.  That would be a little easier if we knew he was going to make good on the one policy point which could see some serious money return to the industry.  


Urgently review the operations and costs of the New Zealand Racing Board – sooner, rather than later please Winston!




Jewel in breeding crown to change hands

Iconic is a word which is, in my humble opinion, rather overused. Yet, when it comes to Cambridge Stud what other description is there?

Today’s news that Sir Patrick and Lady Hogan’s property will change hands next April left me feeling somewhat melancholic at the approaching of the end of an era.

We all realised Sir Patrick wasn’t going to be at the helm forever but there is a sense of finality in the fact he is stepping down and handing over the jewel in New Zealand’s breeding crown to Brendan and Jo Lindsay.  Obviously, not “literally” handing it over – the money involved would not be insubstantial and Sir Patrick could probably still teach lesser mortals a thing or two about the art of the deal!

I had cause to visit Cambridge Stud recently after a substantial lull – I think the previous occasion was the launch of Sir Patrick’s biography many years earlier – and there was still that feeling of history combined with familiarity.  The magnificent drive, the stable block which in early days the occasional visitor mistook for a residence, and just the sense of place that this property has carved out over the years.

A couple of years earlier, through a comedy of errors which I will claim were totally intentional, an old friend and I managed to seal our own part of Cambridge Stud history when purchasing a yearling from their draft.  To prove that the magic pixie dust comes as part and parcel of the CS brand, said yearling evolved into yet another of the Group One winners to be reared and sold under their banner.

Long before this though, Cambridge Stud was part of my daily life as I worked at BloodHorse magazine and the NZ Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association.  These were the glory years of Sir Tristram and his phenomenal offspring.  They were heady days as the Group One winning tally climbed and the desire to own a son or daughter of Sir Tristram saw the magic $1million mark broken at the yearling sales.

Sir Tristram was, in journalistic terms, the gift that kept on giving as each new Group performer allowed us to write yet another chapter in his remarkable history!

The Sir Tristram juggernaut rolled on as his sons and daughters also dominated at stud – his dynasty was well and truly established.  And then along came Zabeel.  Continuing Cambridge Stud’s fairy-tale story, in March this year Zabeel overtook Sir Tristam’s benchmark of 45 Group One winners when Lizzie L’Amour took out the Bonecrusher Stakes.

“I doubt very much if there will ever be two stallions, a father and son standing at the same farm, that can leave 45 and 46 Group One winners in New Zealand again,” Sir Patrick said at the time. “It’s a tremendous achievement.”

It is also a rather large feather in the cap of the man who selected first Sir Tristram as his foundation stallion in 1976 and then chose exactly the right son in Zabeel, to take over his sire’s mantle.

Sir Patrick not only gave us two of the all-time greats he also put an indelible mark on the way we sell horses in this country. In every area from professional marketing to hospitality and staff livery he set the bar.

In the history of New Zealand thoroughbred breeding Sir Patrick Hogan’s Cambridge Stud was epoch-making.  Next April a new era will begin.

More climb aboard the NZRB gravy train

In my job in the real world I joke with one of my academics about a certain media topic being “the gift which keeps on giving.”

“The gift” is one of those stories which is continually evolving and of which the media is never going to tire.  Pretty much how I felt when, just days after writing my last post about the salary excesses of the Racing Board, an email was circulated announcing some new appointments.

Obviously those 488 permanent employees mentioned in my previous post weren’t cutting it when it came to government and industry stakeholder engagement.  The email in question stated that NZRB had reviewed that area of its communication earlier this year and after an extensive recruitment process claimed they now had the right team to work more closely with stakeholders.

Faced with that task is a team of five. Yes, you read that right – five people to focus on that area of communication.

It was another of those jaw-dropping moments which made me ponder how many people at the Racing Board it might take to change a lightbulb.

Of course, they would probably need to undertake a review before any bulb was changed and quite possibly advertise externally to ensure they found the right people!

The cohort of five is headed by an Irishman Ian Long, who previously held a similar position at NZ Rugby and, like NZRB CE John Allen, also worked at NZ Post.

Given the onerous task in front of him, he is going to be “supported by” parliamentary refugee Bill de la Mare, who comes to NZRB from positions with various ministers, including former racing minister Nathan Guy.  Propping the other side of this front row will be James Wigley, who boasts a marketing background according to the NZRB email, though Green Grass Marketing Services where he was a Marketing Consultant for a number of years, does not appear to have any visible digital footprint.  Wigley also has two years’ experience as a senior marketing manager with the NZRB’s Event Marketing and Logistics team.

The final two making up the team both have interesting titles, with Pete Lane tagged as Operations Specialist and Dan Smith carrying the poisoned chalice as Strategy Manager – Calendar Optimisation.  Presumably the former will provide protection when the latter advises clubs of changes to their dates!

You’d think that just reading this email would be enough to confirm that NZRB is not even paying lip service when it comes to looking at ways to cut its costs.  But it gets better, or worse depending upon your level of tolerance for black humour.

While the email is signed by one Stephen Henry, General Manager Services, it is actually sent by an executive assistant.  I am always suspicious of people who need others to send their emails, they engender memories of black and white movies where women were in the typing pool while blokes did the “real work.”

It may well be that Henry is indeed too busy to deal with emails to industry stakeholders or maybe it is something which was common practice during his time at MFAT.  The last time I received an email from someone, but actually generated by someone else, it came from Henry’s CE, John Allen, who also came to the Racing Board via MFAT.

Given Allen proposed job losses of close to 300 when at MFAT (that was later reduced to a mere 79) one would be forgiven thinking he would be capable of bringing NZRB staffing levels back to a manageable level.

However, based on this latest announcement expect the following – come the annual report there will be savings of between $3-$5million in salary expenses and we will be expected to be grateful for a job well done.

Try and shake off the Stockholm syndrome, instead we now need to channel the crazy newsman from Network, meet outside those offices in Petone and yell:  “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”




Will Winston slay the NZRB’s excesses?

The race has been run, all parties have weighed in, correct weight has been signalled and the country has a new government. It is one which those in racing are now expecting to deliver on the ten point promise outlined in NZ First’s racing policy.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has also claimed the Racing portfolio, to the surprise of those who were unaware such a thing even existed, and expectations among those who were aware are high.

Prior to the election, there were two aspects of the policy which I did try and gain clarification around – without any joy. They weren’t major issues. I just asked some questions around timing and planning. Like everyone else, I will now sit back and wait for the policies to implemented and see just how my concerns are addressed.

One point which I hope the Minister will address straight out of the gates though is the following:

Urgently review the operations and costs of the New Zealand Racing Board.

About damned time really.

Earlier this year, with time on my hands, I delved into the NZRB annual reports online and charted the terrifying increase in staff numbers over the years, accompanied by an escalating cost to the industry in salaries.  By 2016’s annual report staff expenses totalled $66million – a fairly healthy chunk of the operating costs.

Those earning in excess of $100,000 – a mere 130-odd at the time of the 2016 Annual Report – were listed in $10,000 bands. For example, just 30 NZRB worker bees struggle along on salaries of $100,000-$110,000; 23 were finding it a little easier to afford their avocado-toast in the $110,000-$120,000 band – and so it went on right up the $350,000-$360,000 slot where there was just one lone body and then a leap to – presumably – the top man, all alone in the $650,000-660,000 bracket.

It was galling to discover there are apparently that many people employed at the NZRB who are considered to be doing enough to progress our industry to warrant that level of remuneration. Would it be more palatable if we were travelling better? Personally, I don’t think so.

So, because I had time on my hands I crafted an OIA request to determine how much they pay the other poor sods who are employed there. Possibly the ones who actually do the work!

The breakdown, when it came, was pretty depressing. Given the letter was dated February 2017 the “categorisation of NZRB employees” was dated “as at 31/7/2017” – quite possibly they meant 2016, or maybe they were gazing into the future. Anyway, at whatever date we are looking at, the permanent full-time employees totalled 488; permanent part-time was 270; fixed term 37; and casual 78, giving a grand total of 873.

The majority of those fulltime employees fell into the $40,000-$59,999 band (116); 65 were in the $60,000-$69,999; 53, $70,000-$79,999; 53, $80,000-$89,999; and 32, $90,000-$99,999.

The response to my request also broke the staffing down into business units, listing job titles (but no numbers under each title) total staff and total salary.

Each business unit reports to the GM of that unit and seven GMs, along with the CEO, comprise the “Leadership Team.” One GM, according to the information I was provided, manages both the Customer and On Course business units, the others control just one area.

The breakdown just to pay the people the Racing Board deems it necessary to run our industry is as follows (and please note, this includes permanent, fixed term and casual staff of NZRB as at February 2017):

Betting – total staff 69; total salary $4,667,624.75

Customer – total staff 341, $15,117,582.02

Finance – total staff 42, $4,500,671.94

Media & Content – total staff 181, $10,767,257.49

On Course – total staff 43, $1,940,530.06

People – total staff 10, $926,298.72

Services – total staff 99, $6,962,574.40

Technology – total staff 61, $5,743,734.00

In addition to the positions listed there were an additional 20 jobs listed under “current active recruitment” – some of these were seeking multiple appointments.

If you haven’t read these numbers and had to pick your jaw up off the floor then I would respectfully suggest you are suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

For too long we have tolerated a bloated, blinkered organisation which has ignored the needs of the industry it was set up to serve. Even as it blundered along, all the time telling us things were fine, we were on the cusp of something great, it assured us we needed to trust it. If you still believe this then you are a textbook case of Stockholm syndrome!

I may have become more than a little obsessed with the salary levels it takes to run racing because, as the Board was cranking up its staff numbers and the dollars WE forked out to pay them, out in the real world companies were streamlining.

The industry I moved back into when I left employment in racing had faced huge disruption and, accordingly, was cutting its cloth to embrace those changes. Over a period of eight years restructures and jobs being “disestablished” became the new normal and fewer people were left to do more work. And forget about wage increases and incentive payments!

Interestingly, I wouldn’t have been anywhere else. There is something inspiring about learning new skills; adapting to overcome problems as safety layers were removed; and taking your staff with you on a journey to a new frontier.  That happens when you have a passion for what you are doing!

In the meantime accountable, seemingly to no one, the Racing Board was morphing into a cumbersome, lumbering beast suckling 800+ employees, many who seemed to be there purely for the money.

Will Winston be the knight in shining armour to slay the dragon of the Board’s excesses? There are more than a few with actual skin in the game hoping that will be the case.

Stay tuned!

Racing policies left in the gates

I had every intention of sharing and analysing the racing policies from each party in a timely fashion leading into Saturday’s election, but the pollies didn’t make it easy.


My initial requests were sent back in June. How hard could it be, right? My expectation was that there would be – at the very least – a document from the previous election. It could’ve been dragged out from wherever it was hidden away,  brushed off, tarted up and sent back out into the world. But no, it wasn’t that easy.


At this stage, I have to give a vote of thanks to the much-maligned Greens, who at least got off their butts and provided something in the way of policy.  Even if it did threaten to do away with the Racing Minister.


Interestingly, with the exception of Winston Peters, I believe that most of the other parties would (at least inwardly) support that move. They don’t really like racing people – it probably comes down to lack of understanding around the Racing Bill and how much government can actually do for them.  Answer: not a lot!


They also point to industry hierarchy opening encouraging the industry to support NZ First purely based on their racing policy. That policy hasn’t changed greatly in the past three years but, when I emailed some questions asking for more detail around how the stated goals would be achieved I was told the query had been forwarded to the senior media team.  


All I can say is that the senior media team must be pretty damned busy putting out all the fires in Winston’s wake because in spite of several follow-up emails I am still waiting.


Labour’s racing spokesman Kris Faafoi was pretty proactive responding to my initial request and, again after several follow-ups, the policy did appear.  He was also happy to address any questions around it.  I emailed some but again…still waiting.


The Nats, with our current racing minister David Bennett, should’ve been way more proactive. They are the guys with their fingers on the pulse and the minister should be across industry concerns.  I lost count of the interactions I had with his office (and the mind-numbingly moronic replies).


By the time I got the email advising me their policy was up online I had pretty much lost the will to live.


Meanwhile, Winston managed to steal a march with a story appearing online which erroneously claimed his was the only party with a racing policy. This was then followed by another story – which was basically a different version of the same story churned out every three years – where Sir Patrick Hogan extolled the industry to support Winston. Purely based on his “support” of the industry.


Just a matter of days before the election Winston is looking likely to – once again – be the Kingmaker.


Whether racing will be any better off is anyone’s guess.

If you do want to check out what Labour, National and NZ First have to offer check out their racing policies:


Greens would ditch Racing Minister

A seemingly simple request of our major political parties certainly confirmed that racing doesn’t really rate with our politicians. In fact, the Greens say they would go as far as disestablishing the Minister for Racing.

We are not entirely friendless in Wellington – NZ First proudly includes its racing policy on its website, but ask a few questions about possible implementation and clarification of some aspects and you’ll find yourself waiting.

Last month – and really early last month – I sent my questions around policy off to the relevant people at the major parties. Most responses were timely and promised policy would be forwarded once released.  In all bar one case, and that includes NZ First’s response to my questions, I am still waiting.

It was the Greens who were the first to come through.  To my initial request Barry Coates, identified on the website as their racing spokesperson, replied there was no standalone policy but promised extracts from other policies which related to racing.

The one-page mishmash of policies duly arrived acknowledging the fact that racing isn’t an issue on which the Green party has a high profile but that they recognise the role the industry plays in the economy blah, blah, blah.

Hardly surprisingly they have an interesting take when it comes to the funding of the industry and the one pager states: “The Greens believe any government assistance should go towards those parts of the industry which are struggling to survive, and not to those which are already successful.”

In the Greens opinion the government should:

“Require that some of the funds held by the Racing Board be released to meet the needs of racing in a fair and equitable manner before the taxpayer is called on to subsidise the industry.

“Stop the practice of funds from non-casino gaming machine gambling going towards premier race stakes, and divert such funding to the development of racing infrastructure particularly to support struggling and rural racing clubs.”

Rather than delve into how the industry is actually funded and provide any useful policy around racing the Greens would rather focus on the dangers of gambling; regulating to allow only those forms of gambling that research shows causes little harm to continue and amending legislation to ensure the primary focus is the elimination of gambling harm.

Based on the research I have read, including a recent paper linking domestic violence with addictions which included gambling, we would be kissing goodbye to pokies and any associated benefits for racing,

It was buried in the segment on gambling where the Greens labelled their intention to return to the days where racing came under the Department of Internal Affairs, and that Minister’s portfolio.  It was a time where racing was seen purely as a gambling medium where the greyest of the grey people in Wellington looked blandly oblivious when faced with the human aspects of the industry.

That is the gloomy era to which the Greens wish us to return. On the positive side, given recent developments, those forced out of the industry should be able to fib to Work and Income to ensure they milk the most out of any benefits they may have to survive upon.

The Greens also include policy around animal welfare in their one pager relating to racing which includes establishing a Commissioner of Animal Welfare. The Commissioner will have the power to review and report on animal welfare codes and regulations “to protect animals in Aotearoa New Zealand from suffering due to the direct or indirect actions of humans.”

The final area covered gives an insight as to how the Greens view our industry and is termed “animals in entertainment.” Under this clause the Greens will “require codes to make publicly available the numbers of animals bred, raced, injured, euthanized and re-homed or retired from racing through birth to death reporting.”

Perhaps if they were a little more au fait with the industry they could find most of those numbers which are a matter of public record, at least for the thoroughbred code.  Breeding numbers; racing numbers; horses injured or euthanized on race day; and horses at stud are all able to be found at the moment. In addition to this, NZ Thoroughbred Racing is currently developing its welfare policy and encouraging compliance from breeders, owners, and trainers to ensure once a non-breeding horse is retired from racing its future direction is tagged.


If nothing else the one pager indicates the Racing Board’s current government relations appointee either hasn’t found his way to the office of the Greens’ racing spokesperson or also has a tenuous grasp on the needs of the industry.


As we lead up to the election I will add the policies of the other parties as received.



Race Fields legislation – what odds?

After languishing for months it appears the eagerly awaited Race Fields Legislation may see the light of day next month.

When Nathan Guy moved on to focus on bigger and brighter things back in April he declared new Racing Minister David Bennett would be likely to introduce the Race legislation into the House “in the next few weeks.”

At the time Labour’s racing spokesman Kris Faafoi said there had to be doubt around the legislation getting through the House prior to the election.

“The government is being extremely tardy in introducing this legislation and it would be extremely optimistic to think a bill that hasn’t yet been introduced will be able to be passed before the election, which was the promise National made,” Faafoi told Stuff at the time.

“Personally, I don’t like the odds,” he said.

It seemed that Labour’s man was going to be spot on with his assessment but today came an email from the Racing Minister declaring the intention “to introduce the Racing Amendment Bill to the House of Representatives before the General Election.”

The Bill, to explain to those who have been living under a rock, came about after the industry raised concerns with the government about overseas Internet sites taking bets on the New Zealand “product” without making any contribution to the local industry.

Changes to the Act, based on recommendations from the Offshore Racing and Sports Betting Working Group, will see two charges introduced.

The information charge, which has led to the legislation being referred to within racing circles as Race Fields, is similar to that already successfully in place in Australia. Here offshore bookmakers will be required to pay a charge for the New Zealand racing information they use in their betting products. (It also covers sport but this is purely a racing blog!).

The consumption charge will apply to bets that offshore operators take from people in New Zealand.

David Bennett said it is an exciting progression for the racing industry to see this legislation come to fruition.

“We are working hard to achieve the goal,” he said.  

But the Minister also had a word of warning.

“Designing legislation which has extra-territorial effect is not simple, but the drafting is well underway,” he said.

“The Bill is expected to get its first reading in August, putting it on track to becoming part of New Zealand legislation next year at some time.”

On track, yes, but as we all know – there are no certainties in racing and, until we salute the judge with this one I won’t be putting any money on it!

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!