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!

 

 

 

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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:

 

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/nzlabour/pages/8556/attachments/original/1504503634/Racing_Policy.pdf?1504503634

 

https://www.national.org.nz/racing

 

http://www.nzfirst.org.nz/racing

 

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!