ALL THAT GLITTERS MAY NOT BE GOLD.
Has the Gold Coast racetrack run its race as a venue for such a lucrative race day and is January the right time for the Magic Millions race day? Questions that have been raised before and which again surfaced in the lead up and certainly with greater resonance after the running of the Magic Millions race day last Saturday.
As a racetrack, the Gold Coast would struggle to compete with provincial tracks in Sydney. The tight turning Gold Coast racecourse has been a serial graveyard for many top quality racehorses in the Magic Millions. Interference and hard luck stories are part and parcel of horse racing, but at the Gold Coast Magic Millions race meeting it is a given. Field sizes are a magnet for severe interference and an invitation to an inevitable impending horror story.
The Gold Coast racecourse has outgrown its effectiveness as a venue for feature race meetings. It has continued to be one of the fastest growing areas in Queensland and for that matter Australia. The AFL was quick to recognize this and invested heavily in devising a strategy to establish a foothold and presence in the region and most importantly realize the lucrative long term commercial potential of this presence.
The Queensland Racing Industry desperately needs to follow the lead of the AFL.
Racing needs a presence on the Gold Coast but not at the present venue. It is time for a sea change, and Racing Queensland, the Gold Coast Race Club, Magic Millions and everyone connected with the racing industry in the sunshine state needs to speak with one voice and get the State Government on board, just as the AFL did.
Potentially a new race track and a revamped Magic Millions Sale in January and a Magic Millions Carnival race day programmed in line with the Queensland Winter racing carnival in May-June could be a game changer for Queensland racing.
From a racing perspective, January has never been an ideal month for a racing carnival or major race day anywhere in Queensland. It is front and centre of the suffocatingly humid summer in the sunshine state. The quality of the horse flesh competing for the obscenely massive prize money has been going downhill for some time.
The combination of the outdated, tight Gold Coast race track, climatic conditions and the timing of the carnival has contributed to the discontent which is being repeated and growing louder each year.
Many of those attending the Sales don’t even bother to attend the race day on Saturday. It’s a no go zone with pool parties around the hotel swimming pools increasingly getting the nod over the cramped facilities and stifling heat of the Gold Coast race track.
Many trainers we have spoken with are increasingly choosing to by pass the January race day, preferring to embrace the trend towards a patient approach with younger horses, giving them more time to mature and reducing early burnout and the associated risk of injury and damage which could severely impact on a horse’s career.
SEVEN NETWORK RACING COVERAGE MUST IMPROVE
The announcement that the Seven Network has secured exclusive free to air television rights for racing coverage in Australia can have a major impact on the way racing vision is delivered and the way racing is presented to its broad audience of punters, industry stakeholders and many in the community who are on the fringe of racing, either as active participants or interested observers.
Seven is Australia’s premier television. It has taken that position away from long time rival, the Nine Network and is poised to enjoy its dominance of the ratings for an extended period of time. Its is financially stable, well managed and administered and free of the cash crisis which recently threatened to send Nine into receivership.
Its main “anchorman” and presenter Bruce McEvaney is a broadcasting legend and acknowledged jack of all trades and master of them all. Like most successful television presenters he has a swag of idiosyncrasies and clichés and phrases which have given comics a rich source of material for their acts.
Add Francesca Cumani to the mix and Seven has got the perfect mix of perfect eye candy and a very well respected presenter with an expansive knowledge of racing and thoroughbreds.
Free to air coverage of racing in Australia has long languished, under an annoying imbalance of networks preferring to concentrate on the non-racing peripherals to the detriment of racing. And that is not to play down the reality that a great percentage of viewers through free to air coverage are non-racing types who on the periphery of racing and would relate more to viewing overexposed celebrities and wannabes than mounting yard coverage of horses, their riders and owners and trainers and betting fluctuations.
But there is a balance and if the Seven Network can work on achieving this, racing will come out the winner.
It is stating the bleeding obvious that racing needs a mainstream free to air coverage if it is to come within a bees dick of being relevant in an environment where society is spoilt for choice.
Competing sports use sophisticated strategies to capture and maintain a presence on free to air networks. Hence the very lucrative ground breaking billion dollar television rights agreement negotiated by the AFL with the Seven Network and Foxtel and the equally important but not as lucrative deals negotiated by the NRL, Cricket Australia and Tennis Australia for their own sports. Soccer is similarly doing its best to grab a slice of the free to air action.
Contrast these sports with racing and the difference is stark.
Where these sports speak with none voice, racing’s unique and difference is that it is dysfunctional and divided and has been for a long, long time. It is paralysed by politics and self interest. And as much as we hate saying it, the perpetrators are still alive and well and living in – NSW.
Remember the TVN /Sky “wars” less than a decade ago? The extraordinary lengths that Racing NSW went to, with their addiction to litigation to resolve disputes?
Remember the drubbing that they got for their trouble?
Let’s not forget that Racing NSW took two of their very own metropolitan race clubs – the AJC and the STC to court to try and nullify their decision to sign up their media rights with TVN over Sky.
It was a classic “Rome burned while Nero fiddled” scenario. Free to air coverage took a seat at the very rear of the church hall. And with the exception of the four days of the spring racing carnival, the Sydney Autumn carnival and a handful of select major race days, racing vision on free to air television has been as rare as the sighting of a lyrebird in the wild.
Coming off a very long handicap and a very low base, racing now has an opportunity to claw back lost ground with tortoise like speed.
But, while spreading the coverage to include many more race meetings during the popular spring and autumn racing carnivals is a major plus, it will now be incumbent on TVN and the Melbourne and Sydney Race Clubs to ensure the Seven Network showcases racing so that it’s unique appeal and allure is properly captured.
CHAD SCHOFIELD – THE NEXT BIG THING?
The development and maturity of Chad Schofield as a jockey has been there for all to see since he made what might have been a career defining move to relocate to Melbourne from his home base in Sydney. The link up with David Hayes has been a masterstroke.
The younger Schofield is now stable rider for the powerful David Hayes stable. And credit to Hayesey for having the balls to make such a bold move and put a boy in charge of a man’s job.
For his part Chad Schofield has, at this point in time, met his KPI’s. True, he is a work in progress, but his progress is pretty to watch. More and more of the respected and larger stables in Melbourne are booking Chad for key rides, and some of the Sydney trainers we have spoken to speak about him in glowing terms.
Sydney racing could quite easily have swallowed him up, so the decision to move to Victoria, which no doubt was ticked off by his dad, Glyn Schofield, appears certain to be an inspired one.
PREBBLE WELL AND TRULY “ZAC’D” BY PURTON
It was just a few years ago that the jockeys premiership race was all about whether Brett Prebble could dethrone the serial title holder Douglas Whyte. The Durban Demon in his characteristic style put his challenger away like he had to many who had dared to dream.
This season it’s about the new kid on the block Zac Purton who had been threatening to launch his own title bid for some time now.
But there is another very intriguing story, which has, to some degree, flown under the radar. Brett Prebble’s position as the number two jockey in Hong Kong has been successfully hijacked by Zac Purton. And there is no turning back.
While Purton’s star is on the rise and will continue its upward trajectory, Prebble seems to be treading water. Keen racing people have observed that Prebble appears to have “lost his zing”, while the Zac attack is on the rampage.
Purton this season has become the “go to” man for many trainers, some of whom were Prebble loyalists. And Purton has given them every reason to repay their faith.
Prebble is still a very good jockey, a very successful and massively well-off financially. He can be eternally grateful to Hong Kong for that. But we wonder what the next chapter in his riding career will entail?
Prebble has expressed a desire to have a crack at riding in Europe. He may succeed, but for what it’s worth Purton’s riding style would fit in much better with racing in the UK or France. Perhaps Sydney may be a better fit. Could he swap places with Nash? We very much doubt it. Just asking.