By Keyser Soze
TIME FOR ACTION, TROY!
Thanks to its cantankerous neighbours down south in bleak city, NSW racing has enjoyed an unwanted and unnecessarily extended honeymoon period escaping the blow torch which MUST be applied to its expanding belly. It has flown under the radar with the spotlight rightly and firmly on the appalling self-inflicted mess that is Victorian racing and the even unholier mess inflicted on greyhound racing by the NSW State Government “god squad” led by none other than Premier Mike Baird. No one can dispute the abhorrence of the plethora of animal welfare and cruelty issues which have been exposed thanks to the diligent work and research of the Four Corners team. But to say that Baird and his Government have handled the situation appallingly would have to be the gross understatement of the year.
That aside, Racing Minister and Deputy Premier Troy Grant, can no longer spectate while the NSW racing colosseum continues an undignified slide into decay and eventual extinction. This is no exaggeration. Troy Grant has to be aware of the open rebellion that is about to breakout among the “50,000” participants and their representative groups in his home state.
Time and time again, it’s a repetitive chorus of what has now become white hot anger at Racing NSW’s inaction at the almost weekly loss of multiple race meetings due to the regular temper tantrums of the Weather Gods. Provincial and Country racing in NSW is being subjected to tornado-like devastation as race meeting after race meeting is lost to the ravages of rain.
But unlike their counterparts in Victoria, the NSW racing industry is being held hostage by the refusal of Racing NSW to install synthetic racing surfaces which can weatherproof NSW racing and its long suffering “50,000” participants, whose interests, its Chief Executive keeps famously reminding us ad infinitum front and centre of his vision and mission statement for NSW racing.
NSW racing doesn’t need synthetic tracks installed in the immediate future. It needed these tracks installed yesterday. Victoria, which suffers not anywhere near the damage and devastation wreaked on its racing industry by the weather conditions that beset NSW, bit the bullet nearly a decade ago, and now has the luxury of two all weather racing surfaces, which have not only enabled a synthetic racing circuit from mid Autumn to early spring, but provided a near permanent buffer against the loss of race meetings.
Unlike NSW, race meetings can be transferred from turf to synthetic surfaces at the shortest of notice, ensuring that industry participants are not deprived of prize money and the racing industry of wagering revenue. But Racing NSW has it’s head well and truly in its own quicksand by its continuing refusal to acknowledge the damage that is being inflicted on the financial security of NSW racing and it’s “50,000” participants. It is no longer a question of whether or not how many race meetings will be lost each week in NSW, but whose turn it is to have the words “abandoned” posted next to it’s fixture.
Ask any Trainer or Jockey or Owner as to their preferred racing surface and their unanimous choice would be turf. It’s about the only thing in racing that Racing participants can agree upon. But the silence from Druitt Street is deafening. Likewise the NSW stakeholder groups and their supposed representative voice – the Racing Industry Consultative Group (RICG), a mix of nominees of the Owners, Trainers, Jockeys, Breeders, Metropolitan, Provincial and Country sectors. It is baffling that these Stakeholder organizations are publicly mute on such an important issue. Perhaps RICG, like much of NSW Racing is either incapable of speaking with one voice on any single issue, or intimidated and in fear of Racing NSW, or a combination of both.
These are compelling reasons why NSW Racing Minister Troy Grant must intervene, and, as a duty of care for the financial well being of NSW racing and that of its “50,000” participants, decisively resolve the issue which has the NSW racing industry at a tipping point. Troy Grant, knows, first hand, from his country electorate, and from the provincial and country sectors, of the impact that the loss of race meetings on the NSW racing industry. He has an obligation and responsibility to intervene.
Despite the best efforts of the Druitt Street “spin doctors” and their sycophantic News Limited cheer squad, NSW Racing is anything but in a buoyant state. Field sizes, programming, decaying infrastructure and a shrinking pool of owners, paint anything but an industry meeting the challenges which it is facing. These issues are the “usual suspects” which have continued to be an almost immoveable barrier to progress in NSW racing. They have polarized racing for too long, and are a telling indicator of the combined failure of the industry governing body to address these fundamental issues. Equally the Owners, Trainers and Jockey Stakeholder groups must share culpability for their failure to make the Governing Body accountable.
Troy Grant has demonstrated through the tax parity debate that he is capable of directing where these funds should be allocated and diverted to. He now needs to end the obstinacy of Racing NSW on the installation of synthetic tracks. It is no longer a question of whether NSW Racing needs synthetic surfaces, but WHERE they will be installed.
RUMBLINGS IN THE WEST
We have long recognized the opportunities for racing in the West. But despite the best efforts of a number of enthusiastic and talented individuals in the racing industry in Western Australia, it finds itself in “nowhere land” and seemingly led by down the proverbial garden path by a Nowhere Man- yes, gifted with an eloquent tongue, but for all the words that roll out, there’s a shallow emptiness to them.
Disillusioned and frustrated by an insular and bureaucratic governing body in the west, and an increasingly unpopular clique of decision makers, many of these people have sought a life and career outside the West Australian racing industry. In some instances, they have been moved on for their cardinals sins of daring to challenge the outdated mindset of the powerbrokers in the west. West Australian racing is arguably the poorer for it.
West Australian racing has some major challenges facing it- the biggest being the privatisation of the WA Tab. Not only is it a fait accompli, but it is overdue. And from what we are hearing, political ploys and self interest within sections of the industry have successfully delayed decisions on the sale process and sale of the WA Tab until after the impending state election.
The role of a little known trainer, Michael Grant, who chairs the West Australian Trainers group, has attracted more than a passing interest within the West Australian racing community. Grant’s role as chair of an advisory group comprising stakeholders and collaborating with the governing body of Racing and Wagering Western Australia (RWWA) on the sale process and sale of the WA Tab has been the subject of much discussion in WA racing circles with questions raised about the “uncomfortably” close relationship of the Governing body and the Trainers group. Grant, has become somewhat of a polarizing figure in the West, through, what some say, is his abrasive and belligerent persona and lofty ambition to play a significant role in the decision making process in his native Western Australia.
The forthcoming State election in the West may change all that, as might his own constituency which may not be anywhere near as united behind him as he may like to believe. Trainers and Governing Bodies are like predators and prey. A lion walking past a wounded buffalo in the African jungle would rightly be viewed with suspicion and angst by members of each other’s pride and herd.
THE NEW SOUTH AFRICAN DYNAMIC DUO
The South African Apprentices system keeps churning out a continuing stream of rising stars of the jockey ranks, and the season just completed is no exception. The latest success story is a young apprentice Lyle Hewitson, who lost his apprentices claiming allowance at the Vaal race meeting on July12, after riding his 60th winner in the professional riding ranks. Put into perspective, the significance of his achievement is massive.
Hewitson only had his first professional ride on March 6 this year, just over four and a half months ago, during which period he has had 460 rides, producing a strike rate of just over 13%. Despite having ridden for only a little over a third of the South African racing season, Hewitson finished second in the National Apprentices title, behind the winner Callan Murray, below, who rode 78 winners and is regarded as another rising star of the South African Apprentices Academy.
Add to all this the great South African rider Felix Coetzee describing them as respectful, intelligent and future superstars, and having watched them both ride albeit on television, what’s the bet that when the time is right, both young riders will be the newest additions from South Africa to Hong Kong’s very international riding ranks.
VET VET VET
Australian racing’s “cobalt fatigue” epidemic has not shown any sign of being brought under control with the re-running of the entire boring saga at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal this week, when trainers Danny O’Brien and Mark Kavanagh appealed their lengthy disqualifications. What sent tongues wagging was the evidence of disqualified veterinarian Dr Tom Brennan, O’Brien and Kavanagh’s former veterinarian who withdrew his own appeal against his five year disqualification citing the rising costs of litigation. Hmmmmm. Really, Dr Tom?
Brennan, who was firmly in the firing line of the O’Brien/Kavanagh legal time during the bitterly contested hearing of the charges brought against the trainers at the Racing Victoria Racing and Appeals Board proceedings, appears to have been converted to the “forgiveness file”when giving evidence this week.
It was Brennan’s glowing character reference for his former buddy O’Brien citing his admirable efforts to alert stewards to the prevalence and use of (yawn) illicit performance enhancing sinister drugs in the Victorian racing industry, which wrong footed many following the case. But the rapprochement did not last very long, with counsel for the trainers ripping in to the hapless veterinarian, pursuing alleged inconsistencies in his evidence.
The irony of so much of these cases and the fractured relationships and the difficulties in repairing them, has not been lost on the Victorian racing community. What will eventually be found out and made public should send shivers down several spines. After all, cheaters never prosper. Never ever. And so we end with two words: Admire Rakti.