Is Messara our messiah?

Is the light finally appearing at the end of the tunnel?

Last week’s announcement that John Messara would be reviewing the New Zealand industry’s governance structures before providing recommendations for its future direction had many industry stalwarts celebrating.

Messara, based on his efforts with Racing NSW and Racing Australia, is seen as New Zealand racing’s potential messiah. He has certainly shown himself to be incredibly astute in the operation of Arrowfield Stud, having employed several talented Kiwis!

While he is familiar with our industry he also lacks the parochialism which seems to stymie any local attempts to drive the industry forward. What will be interesting is how Messara will consider the needs of three conflicting codes. That is something which proved a bridge too far for previous chairmen of the NZRB who, for every financial contribution to one code, were then faced with the other two, hands out and demanding the same amount!

According to the Racing Minister, Winston Peters, Messara’s review – which is expected to be presented to government by the middle of the year – will “also assist the government in determining if the current Racing Act 2003 and the proposed Racing Amendment Bill are fit for purpose.”

The 2003 Act gave us the poorly written Section 16, the cause of much gnashing of teeth at the absolute absurdity of it all. For the benefit of those who have never actually read Section 16 it states as follows:

Amounts of distributions to codes

(1)

The Board must, as soon as practicable following the end of a racing year, determine the amount to be distributed among the racing codes for that year from any surpluses referred to in sections 53(2) and 57(2), or any other source whether capital or income.

(2)

Unless a majority of the racing codes otherwise agrees in writing, the amount referred to in subsection (1) must be not less than the total of the surpluses referred to in sections 53(2) and 57(2) for that racing year less the total amount credited to reserves for that year from those surpluses.

(3)

Unless a majority of the racing codes otherwise agrees in writing, the amount referred to in subsection (1) must be distributed among the racing codes in the same proportions that the Board considers are the proportions to which the codes contributed to the New Zealand turnover of the Board for that racing year.

(4)

In subsection (3), New Zealand turnover of the Board means the total gross amount received by the Board from racing betting placed in New Zealand on races run in New Zealand.

While on the subject of the Racing Act, Section 16 and the like, I have often been astounded at the number of people who work within the industry yet have no idea of the responsibilities of the various bodies.

The NZ Thoroughbred Breeders’ has come to the party with a fabulously simple explanation in their latest Bulletin, so big ups to them for the following:

https://www.nzthoroughbred.co.nz/site_files/13893/upload_files/blog/68426NZTBAonlineBulletin-Aprilrev.pdf?dl=1

Anyone who is a little confused about who does what when it comes to the Minister, NZ Thoroughbred Racing or the NZ Racing Board should check it out.

While their explanation included Section 8 (c) “The objectives of the Board are – to maximise its profits for the long-term benefit of New Zealand racing” I probably would have hammered the point home a little more by including Section 9 (a) which reads as follows:


Functions of Board

(1)

The functions of the Board are—

(a)

to develop policies that are conducive to the overall economic development of the racing industry, and the economic well-being of people who, and organisations which, derive their livelihoods from racing:

If John Messara can deliver us a blueprint for policies which can do that then he may very well be remembered as New Zealand racing’s messiah.  

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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!

 

 

 

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!