Clumsy PR campaign tries to paint a positive picture

All too often with these blog posts I have one idea in mind – occasionally positive – then something happens which leads me down a totally different path.

Once again, that happened this week thanks to an interestingly timed press release from the NZRB wanting to paint a pretty picture of a bright future where they will remain relevant.  Add to that a club whose track is on the Messara report’s closure list and toss it out there to a gullible waiting media and you have said track being used to further NZRB’s PR narrative.

We are now a full two months down the track since the Messara report was released.  We have seen it discussed and dissected, often by those who have not read the document in its entirety, and submissions have been made.

If you are feeling somewhat depressed about the whole process and what the future might hold then read Brian de Lore’s piece in The Informant this week.  A fabulous representative group of the younger generation, who rely on racing for their livelihoods, have shared their thoughts around the industry future.  I was particularly taken with their use of the Malcolm X quote that the future belongs to those who plan for it.

They are certainly right when they go on to say that our industry has “languished at the hands of those too short-sighted or ill-equipped to make the tough decisions and necessary changes.”

As if their words had conjured him up like the infamous Dr Faust, that same evening the man who sold the thoroughbred code down the river by signing off on Section 16 of the 2003 Racing Act was front and centre on TVNZ news.

Interestingly, the person who was largely responsible for several industry bodies casting a vote of no confidence in his organisation around that action, has now taken on the mantle of protector of country racing.  Go figure?

The subject of the TVNZ story was the Gore racecourse and its survival.

Forget the future of the entire industry.  Forget the other 90% of the Messara report.  Let’s just focus on the fact that the good people of Gore want to keep their track.

Of course, it is impossible trying to get the New Zealand general media to get their heads around what has been going on in racing for the past 15 years.  As far as they are concerned racing occurs during a small window which begins around Cox Plate time and rolls through the spring carnival, summer Cups and Festival, incorporates the Karaka sales and Karaka Million (thus perpetuating the myth we are all rolling in it) and winds up some time around mid-March.

They must find it bizarre when they are confronted with a mid-week meeting in the boondocks.  The interview subjects for their story were quite telling as they included the failed and tainted administrator and a “trainer” who, according to the NZTR website, does not have a current licence.

While the great unwashed might have ended up having some sympathy for the club president trying to save her venue, there was probably a sense of healthy cynicism when it came to local politician Hamish Walker and his petition.  Those of us with long memories can remember going down this route before.

The clumsy link between a poor, put-upon, provincial track facing oblivion and “shock horror” the NZRB issuing a press release which proclaimed “distributions to the three racing codes reaching a record $148.2million” smacked of desperation from an organisation which itself is facing oblivion.

Until such time as the Annual Report, signed off by actual accountants – hopefully not the same ones who signed off on the error-ridden Statement of Intent – is sighted I am not buying their numbers.

According to the press release the Annual Report will be released on Friday 7 December at the NZRB AGM at their head office in Petone.

If that is the case, and one can rely on so little of the information coming out of the NZRB Head Office being based on fact, then there will be little or no time for perusal of the figures prior to the meeting.  Given the fantasy figures used in the Statement of Intent I am sure that once us poor plebs can view the Annual Report online it will be very well studied.

In the meantime, expect the continuing party line from NZRB that all is well with them financially and the Messara report is a giant conspiracy designed to crush racing in the heartland of New Zealand.  There should be a prize for the first general media journalist to notice that the NZRB emperor’s new clothes are indeed non-existent and to start looking at the parts of the Messara report which don’t relate to proposed track closures!

While we wait for that modern miracle to occur, I hope everyone enjoy the purist’s race day on Saturday – what’s not to love about a race day where every race is a group race and no less than four group ones!

 

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Lack of balance and conflicting agendas in discussion around Messara report

 

In the real world, which I inhabit when not despairing of and writing about the New Zealand racing industry, the discussion topic du jour has been the dire state of journalism in this country.

As a poacher-turned-gamekeeper I am now looking at my former career through a different lens and not liking what I am seeing.  There are, of course, the odd exceptions, the senior journalists remaining in harness and, being totally biased, some of the wonderful young talent I have worked with at community papers.

All too often, though, I am reading news stories which provide no balance; which editorialise; and which clearly promote an agenda.  The dilemma, when said stories relate to my area of work, is whether to contact the “journalist” responsible with the relevant facts to enable them to portray the whole story. The problem here is, if they have an agenda to push a particular angle, you are usually telling them, “well, actually that isn’t what is happening here, this is the whole story….”  Things can rapidly escalate and suddenly what would have been deemed a non-story back when we had senior journalists and crusty old editors becomes – what we in the industry term – a media shit-storm.

Thankfully, there are still some who take their craft seriously, recognise they are still learning, accept that they have made an error and correct it.

Over the past couple of years more layers of protection (senior staff, predominantly sub-editors who have saved many a young reporter in the past) have been sliced away as media organisations sought to remain financially viable.

I recall being told when we lost our first layer of subs that the savings in salaries would outweigh any potential future legal fees – bizarre logic!

So, the young journos are now sent out into a world where they are pretty much able to write or say whatever they want.  If you doubt this then you aren’t watching, listening to or reading news in New Zealand!

The more observant of my readers will recall I mentioned recently that I had laid two official complaints against a local media outlet following their misrepresentation of the recommendations of the Messara report.

This week I received their response and – unsurprisingly, their Standards Committee upheld my complaints, agreeing that the stories were “inaccurate’.

Links were included to the revised stories online, apparently this was done immediately.  They also apologised that their reporting was” not as precise as it should have been” and advised that senior legal counsel had discussed the issues I raised with the wider sports department.

They were satisfied that no further action was required.

However, I am not sure that I am.

The genie of their creation is already out of the bottle and that sucker is not going back in there without a fight.  People who saw the stories broadcast or read them online at the time they appeared, and who assumed this media outlet was giving them the facts, are not going to revisit those stories any time soon.

Given the above, I make no apology for banging on about the need for those within the racing industry to be totally au fait with every aspect of the Messara report. You have not, and are not, getting a complete and balanced story if you are relying on the media.

I know it is human nature when faced with a document of this size and depth to head immediately to the areas which are most likely to impact on you and your future.  In this case it has been the area of track closures.

Unfortunately, some have become bogged down in this area to the extent that they are sitting there, wheels spinning, unable to grasp the fact that we are living beyond our means and can’t go on this way. As they continue to rev, getting themselves more agitated by the second, they are disregarding the fact that 20 tracks need to close if we are to implement the full complement of 17 recommendations.

Trackside’s Weigh In programme has attempted to provide some conversation around the Messara report, but their agenda could be questioned.  There was an element of panicked self-preservation last week when the issue of the future of racing coverage in this country was mentioned.

The framing of some questions and comments also sent a strong message.  Note: if someone starts a question with the words “I don’t want to be negative” you can pretty much guarantee the next words out of their mouth will be negative.  Likewise claiming to play devil’s advocate and qualifying that remark with “but it’s true” isn’t really playing devil’s advocate!

While it is a nice touch to have questions coming from those at the coal face it would be useful if they determined that those asking the questions first understood the current structure of the industry.

The question around six-figure salaries would have been better saved for John Allen when he appears – supposedly this weekend.

That in itself would appear problematic.  The saying is that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas so why would you ask the CE of an organisation which, when the recommendations are implemented, would cease to exist in its current form?

It is a sure bet too that there will not be any tough questions asked and that they quite possibly will have been presented prior in writing.

Don’t expect the issue of the bloated size of the organisation – a further 14 roles advertised via the Seek website in the past 10 days – to be questioned.  Obviously, these guys are more ostrich than turkey.

Based on those numbers it would appear that the NZRB is not really that concerned about the possibility of recommendation #4 becoming a reality:

Request that a Performance and Efficiency Audit of the NZRB be initiated under Section 14 of the Racing Act 2003, with particular emphasis on the operating costs of the NZRB.

I will probably watch the programme at some stage, but I will be taking a sceptical view remembering just who pays the salaries and that there will be an agenda.

The messaging will be interesting – I imagine something along the lines of: business as usual; a robust submission process; and a lot of detail to be worked through.  Depending on the time of day you are viewing you could lighten up proceedings by creating your own drinking game around which phrases are delivered and how often.

My recommendation is to view these sorts of interviews with the attitude that there will be little, if any, balance and plenty of editorialising as the narrative is structured to fit the NZRB agenda.

And a final reminder when it comes to the Messara report and making submissions – please, before you do anything, please (yes, two pleases) read the report!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What first drew you to racing? Two very different horses led me to this place!

Here’s a question for regular readers – what was it that first drew you to racing?  What planted the seed which has obviously (if you’re reading a blog this obscure!) blossomed into a continuing interest?

I was thinking about this the other day, when I decided I needed – for my own sanity – to remember what first drew me into an industry which has now become a passion.  I guess hanging out with a range of academics daily has led to me not just accepting this as something which just “happened” but searching for an underlying reason.

Why is it that I care so much about the future of this industry?  That I, like other friends who have despaired at the Racing Minister’s ponderous approach to its protection and return to prosperity, currently feel deflated and defeated.

Since the launch of the Messara report all I have read, viewed and heard in the general media and on the industry’s “own” channel are negatives and reasons why it shouldn’t be adopted in toto.  Missing have been the voices of our thoroughbred industry leaders – I exclude those associated with the NZRB from that fold, the only place they have led us is into the abyss.  Obviously, working behind the scenes has been taken to the extreme?

So, feeling glum and borderline wanting to just chuck it all in and put my energy into something more rewarding, I got to questioning how a passion for thoroughbreds became so embedded.

I’m going to be self-indulgent, but its my blog and I can do what I want, however I’d love to hear your stories too so feel free to leave a comment or some feedback.

According to family lore, I sat on my first horse at 18 months old.  It was a racehorse, it was at Trentham and said horse – whose name has been forgotten in the mists of time – was trained by my grandfather and had just won a race. Perhaps that was what set my course?

While that is what I was told, my own earliest memories stem from Tauherenikau where my grandfather was training.  We lived over the road and my father would occasionally let me accompany him to the track in the morning.

At the time he had entrusted my grandfather with the training of a filly by Red Marlin (it was a VERY long time ago), her stable name was Poppy, and she wasn’t very fast, but she did like to eat.  A usual part of the stable routine back then used to be that the boys took a few of horses out for a walk around the nearby roads in the afternoon but one day they were rather late returning.  So late that my father was sent out in the car to look for them.

Nothing was awry, Poppy’s appetite had got away on her and, no matter what was tried, the poor apprentice was unable to prise her head up from the lush grass on the side of the road.  Poppy’s racing career was neither lucrative nor lengthy.  My grandfather, recognising her innate lack of ability, sacked her early.  My father, though, in the manner of most young men, believed he knew better.  He continued to train her himself – from my grandfather’s stables, using his gear, his staff and his feed.  My grandfather was proven right though, and it was off to the broodmare paddock for Poppy.

While Poppy may not have reached great heights on the racetrack she may have indirectly affected my career choice.  A story I wrote about her when I was around 10 was published in the children’s pages of a Sunday paper and was my first ever paid contribution.  A friend of my father’s who raced many of Poppy’s offspring told me many decades later that he had kept a clipping of the story.

Poppy’s banishment to the broodmare paddock and the subsequent need for stallion selection was responsible for my interest in breeding.  I had school exercise books full of pedigrees of every horse in my grandfather’s stable and found the differences between the many full and half-siblings which came through his care intriguing.

My visits to the track also became more regular as I grew older and around the age of eight I became a real pest.  I was usually thrown up on something quiet that my father could lead but my favourite was always Roodyvoo.  Not the more recent jumping version, this one was a half-brother to the Melbourne Cup runner-up Howsie and had fashioned an impressive record himself before breaking down prior to the Easter.

Sent to the paddock, Roody had been enjoying the life of Riley for 18 months before my grandfather decided to have the affected leg x-rayed again.  With no sign of the original injury and full of his usual vim and vigour it was back into training for Roody.  He never reached the heights for which he may have originally been destined but he did amass a great record racing up until he was around 10.

Once retired finally, he took up residence in the back paddock – which opened on to the course proper – here he would stand intently listening to Jack O’Donnell’s commentaries on race day.  It was on that gate in the back paddock where my grandmother and I were positioned one day watching what was Roody’s last race.  The field jumped and my grandmother, binoculars focussed on the gates said, “Something’s dropped the rider…. it’s ours.” By the time she’d got that out Roody was lining up at the gate waiting for us to let him in.  It was as though he decided, blow this for a joke, I’m done and took himself off to retirement.

We let him back in the paddock, took his saddle off and gave it to the clerk of the course who had come looking for the missing horse. Other than our morning trips to the track, that was the last time Roody set foot on a racecourse.

In retirement Roody’s role was to socialise the new additions to the stable, but he also set himself up as quality controller.  Every afternoon my grandfather would add freshly cut grass to the hay in each box and one day he heard rustling coming from the box he had just completed, wandering back to check he found Roody undertaking a taste test.  Installed in a yard at the end of the stable block Roody had managed to open the gate and had followed behind my grandfather ensuring all was up to par for his stablemates.

We left the Wairarapa when I was 11 so my future hands-on horse experiences came via school holiday visits to my grandparents or when I could go to Trentham.

The champagne turf wasn’t exactly welcoming to kids back in the day.  You could go in the Leger area if you were under 12, but that was miles away from the horses.  Instead I used to try and tag along with my aunt (on the dam’s side, this one) who was regularly the on-course nurse.  Her office for the day was a tiny hut situated close to the back-parade ring.

Once I hit college age and was officially “allowed” to go racing I was at Trentham every opportunity I got, even if it meant wagging school to get to the mid-week Winter race day.  While I might have been old enough to be in that part of the course the Wellington Racing Club officialdom now had a problem with the fact I was female.

While waiting for the running of the Wellington Guineas where my grandfather had a live chance I was approached by a white coat and informed I couldn’t be where I was.  Where I was, with one of my grandfather’s mates, was on the wrong side of the white line which determined where the men would be and where the women would be banished.  It’s amazing there is anyone left with a passion for racing such was the determination of some administrators to crush our enthusiasm.

That enthusiasm is still taking a beating but despite, in fact more likely in spite, of our very average administrators and their flaccid leadership, I’m still here.

And it’s all because of the horses.  Oddly, I appear to have lucked into a couple of horses which are providing moments of great excitement at present.  I like to think it might be reward for perseverance!

Hopefully, by the time next week’s blog rolls along we will have an inkling of good news around the Messara report and those of us left standing will be rewarded further with some positive action.

Racing Minister calls for feedback on Messara report – two weeks after release

Good news for the slow readers out there – Racing Minister Winston Peters has given you an additional five weeks to get your head around the contents of the Messara report.

Yesterday, a full two weeks after the report’s release the Minister announced a public consultation period of five weeks, closing at 5pm on Friday 19 October.  Feedback can be emailed to racingreview@dia.govt.nz

What will be interesting then is just how long the Minister takes to consider the public submissions and what, if any, weight is given to them.  In the meantime, though, time ticks on.

A date which should be marked on the calendar though, is Monday 1 October, the day the Primary Production committee’s report is due.  This is the select committee which has been considering public submissions to the Racing Amendment Bill 2017 following its first reading last August.

This bill was one of the items the Racing Minister specifically requested John Messara to consider when undertaking his review and accordingly a section of Part 1 of the Report is devoted to this.

Number 10 of the 17 recommendations included in the report’s executive summary states:

  • Introduce Race Field and Point of Consumption Tax legislation expeditiously. These two measures will bring New Zealand’s racing industry into line with its Australian counterparts and provide much needed additional revenue

The more detailed recommendations read:

It is recommended that the Racing Amendment Bill be enacted at the earliest opportunity either as a standalone Bill as presently drafted or as a component of wider legislation. The following changes are recommended to the Bill:

  1. The role of Designated Authority in terms of the Betting Information Usage Charges should be allocated to the three Codes of Racing and Sport New Zealand. The role of Designated Authority in respect of the Consumption Charges should be allocated to the Department of Internal Affairs or such other Department as is appropriate.
  2. Authorisation under each scheme should only be issued to persons licensed or authorised to operate as a wagering operator under the legislation of a relevant Country or State, or licensed by an authorised racing body.
  3. For the purposes of the Consumption Charges, the location of a punter should be determined based on the punter’s home address.
  4. The legislation should also provide for the cancellation, revocation or variation of authorisations where the operator fails to pay amounts due to the Designated Authority or fails to comply with the Regulations or any conditions attached to the authorisation.
  5. The legislation should provide for an administrative review of any decision not to approve an application for an authorisation or of any decision to cancel, revoke or vary an authorisation.
  6. Revenue generated from the Betting Information Use Agreements should accrue directly to the three codes of Racing and relevant Sporting Authorities in accordance with the respective shares of that revenue generated by them.
  7. Revenue generated under the Consumption Charges Scheme and collected by the Department of Internal Affairs should be applied firstly to the administration of the scheme, with any balance distributed in accordance with a formula based on the respective shares of the total investments made currently with the NZRB (Wagering NZ) plus harm minimisation initiatives, etc.
  8. Assessment of fees should be based on turnover and the systems should allow bookmakers to claim bet-back credits where they lay off all or part of a bet made with them but only where the bet is laid off with another operator who is liable for the New Zealand charges.
  9. The wagering operator is to provide information to allow the monitoring of matters relating to the integrity of New Zealand Racing and Sporting events.
  10. The Conditions or Regulations making provision for the inspection of betting records held by the operator to also allow an investigation relating to the integrity of New Zealand Racing and Sporting events. Provision should also be made requiring the operator to allow an audit of the operator’s financial records by an independent auditor approved by the Designated Authority with the costs of such audit being borne by the operator.
  11. Provide for revenue generated under existing authorisations entered into by the NZRB to be directed to the relevant Code or Sport New Zealand.
  12. Consideration should be given to adding custodial penalties for persons found guilty of breaching the legislation.

Submissions to select committee were due by 13 December.  However, as the Minister specifically asked for this to be considered in the Review he commissioned John Messara to undertake, these will presumably be included in the report he tables on 1 October.  If not, what was the point?

We have always been led to believe that no one understands parliamentary process better than our current Minister, so no doubt he has a clear plan as to just how these recommendations would be absorbed into the Bill.  There is a clear process outlined here which should be required reading for those wanting to gain some idea of the mountain we have to climb before we have any chance of seeing some form of this Bill become law

An apology – this was not the post I had planned for today.  I had already largely written that by the time the Minister landed the public submission bombshell on us yesterday.  Instead of writing about a five-week delay while every Joe Bloggs and their half-sister made comment on a document which most won’t have read, let alone understood, I wanted to talk about the aspects of the report the general media had largely ignored.

That post is scheduled to publish here on racingthoughts.blog on Sunday.

Also, a quick mention to those kind souls who have got in touch with me via this blog – it is good to know that my rantings are resonating with some of you and I am not shouting into a vacuum.  The feedback is most welcome!

And finally, with a nod to Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori – te panui I te purongo (Read the Report).