Winners are grinners, until you delve into the figures!

Forgive me for the length of this blog post as I set out to write about one topic and then I had a winner!

Yes, one of the fab four in which I hold varying sized shares rocked up at Ruakaka and showed the world what a Galloping Weka can do.  Wekaforce, a daughter of Showcasing and Spera, was introduced to me by Janine and Les Wallace and so I joined the large team (including several mates) which races her from Tony Pike’s stable.

Wekaforce showed she might have an interesting career in front of her with a smart winning effort at her first trial at Te Teko recently and hence she found herself today in a two-year-old race.

While Vinnie Colgan had been on board at the trial his unavailability today meant Michael “The King” Coleman climbed on board.  It had been a couple of decades since he last won for me, I reminded him via text last night. “Couple? Try three,” was his pithy reply – obviously my various trainers weren’t putting him on enough!

So, long story short Wekaforce showed she was well named and added to Showcasing’s ever-growing band of winners with a four and a quarter length victory.   Vinnie may have difficulty prising Michael off in the future!

As I’ve written previously, it’s always a huge buzz when you have a winner and great fun when you can share it with your friends.  However, as I’ve also written before we are all in this for the love of it and that excitement because the financial returns just aren’t there at the moment.

I feel confident as I write “at the moment” thanks to the promise of the Messara overhaul.  At last it feels as though someone might slash through all the wastage at the NZRB resulting in increased returns to those who are actually forking out to put on the show.

So, in a convoluted way that brings me to the original topic I had in mind before I got side-tracked by a winner!

Racing’s contribution to the nation’s economy has been laid out in some detail in the latest Size and Scope report produced by IER for the NZRB.

IER have a long-standing relationship with the Racing Board, having conducted research at Summer Festival and other key meetings over the past six years.  The company brands itself as a boutique business consultancy which specialises in the areas of research, strategy development, economic and social impact studies, and performance measurement in sport, racing, tourism and the entertainment industry.

I must confess that I did nag NZRB CEO John Allen as to when the document might appear online, having read that it was due around now.  To his credit within days the report surfaced exactly when promised yesterday afternoon.

Much of what is reported should be widely known by those at the coal face and, while I will focus on a few points here, I recommend checking out the original 90+ page document if you are interested in looking at how the industry is tracking in your own region or if you want more detail around the other two codes.

The big numbers are around the industry’s value-added contribution to the country’s economy which sits at $1.6billion – $1,633.5m to be precise.

We also employ 14,398 FTE, with 46% of these employed as a direct result of racing activity (take a bow NZRB, you’re likely to be top of the heap here, if not with numbers employed then definitely thanks to your wage bill).

When it comes to the other figures I have only concentrated on the thoroughbred code and, please note, the numbers relate to the 2016-17 season.

The total number involved in our code is 34,768 which is made up of 3,705 breeders; 15,951 owners; 1013 trainers; 228 jockeys; 2633 racing club and industry staff; 6475 staff employed by participants; and 4,763 volunteers.

During the period under review we welcomed 3,354 live foals, while there were 6,376 thoroughbreds in training.  The majority of these – which I am sure will come as no surprise – were in the Waikato, with 46.9% trained in the industry heartland.  The next two regions, which are each home to 12.7% of the total were Taranaki/Manawatu-Whanganui and Auckland.

During the past season in the wording of the Size and Scope study the “thoroughbred training activity is responsible for generating more than $274 million in expenditure impacts in New Zealand.”

Now remember, this is just the cost for those in our code and while I know we are all incredible optimists this figure just confirms it.  So, we paid $274m to get our thoroughbreds to the races and, at the end of the season, the money distributed to the THREE codes by the NZRB was $135m (according to the IER report) or $137.6m (according to the NZRB Annual report).

Apparently, we’re meant to be ecstatic to be racing for $10,000 minimums (yeah great, 30 years ago winning a $10,000 race paid your training fees for a year, I hate to think how quickly the winner’s share of today’s $10,000 race will be eaten up).

What I find really galling is the fact that the Board wants us to be grateful for that minimum level and the fact they are “giving” the industry $137.6m.  All this while they recorded operating costs of $136.3m last season.

We’re also meant to be grateful that they’ve reeled themselves in a little bit and dropped those costs by $5.1m (3.7%) from the previous season.

If the chairperson of the board is to be believed we’re all idiots and we simply don’t understand why they’ve had to spend so much over the years.  Witness this little snippet from the NZRB’s Statement of Intent 2018-2020 – “The reasons for the historically increasing trends in NZRB’s operating costs over the decade to 2014 have not been well understood in some sectors of the industry,” she said.

Rather than explain to us plebs why it was necessary to spend so much instead we get the old policeman tactic of  “move along folks, nothing to see here” and  Glenda tells us: “However, the key point now is that the current Board and management are succeeding in reducing NZRB’s year on year normal operating costs.”

If that is the key point then the Messara report can’t come soon enough!

In the meantime I shall raise a glass to Wekaforce and the Galloping Wekas team – we might not get rich but we are anticipating plenty of fun based on today’s debut win.

Celebrating The King’s 2000 wins

I have always been a big Michael “The King” Coleman fan, so seeing him join the elite band of Kiwi jockeys to reach 2000 winners today was pretty special.


During a conversation with a Matamata trainer one day, he quizzed me about why I was so keen on Mickey – the answer was simple, he provided me with my biggest thrill on a racecourse when riding my first winner.


It was one or two wines ago – 1987, to be precise. Mickey was an apprentice and the apple of my eye, Genuflect, a filly from one of my grandmother’s old mares was trained by his boss Jim Gibbs.  I had headed from Auckland to Matamata for the South Waikato Racing Club meeting, an on-course only meeting, to see whether she could improve on her first start ninth.


From memory, she paraded with a shortened tail, thanks to the ministrations of the cattle beasts at the pre-training establishment.  Gibbsy, waxing lyrical, described her as being a girl in a mini-skirt…!  He also insisted I come and speak with my jockey pre-race so there I was all new to this caper about to greet Mickey – “Hello, Blossom”……I have no idea where that came from but the upshot was a jockey whose face matched the maltese cross on my colours and a trainer bent in half laughing.  Henceforth I called him Blossom.


Embarrassed or not, Blossom rode a great race and won, becoming in the process my favourite jockey of all time.  Just how favourite is probably emphasised by the fact I had to check on the NZTR website to see who was in the saddle when I had my first (and, so far, only!) Group One winner.


Michael was the leading apprentice of his generation and has always had an association with an above-average horse or two subsequently, so I was a little gobsmacked when I got a brief to write a piece on him.  


Not that Mickey’s countdown to 2000 wins wasn’t worth a story, it was more how the request was worded.  In this person’s mind Michael was starting to “look like a journeyman” but his season thus and his association with the formidable Baker-Forsman stable made him newsworthy.


Obviously, the 212 wins, including 24 Group and Listed races he had won over the three previous seasons, had escaped this good judge’s notice!


In general conversation during the interview Genuflect got a mention, likewise today when I sent him a text to congratulate him on his achievement.


According to Mickey “they all help”.