13 December 2005

Ruckus riles racing ranks

Breedingracing.com has done a tidy job paraphrasing media coverage of unrest in NSW racing ranks:
"Provincial Showdown With Racing NSW
Under the attention-grabbing headline 'Clubs Vent Anger Before Showdown Over TAB Funding', The Sydney Morning Herald reports: 'Racing NSW's plan to control $140 million in TAB funding to race clubs is set for an early showdown, with the regulator's chairman Gary Pemberton & chief executive Peter V'Landys meeting representatives of the 5 provincial clubs next Tuesday.' The newspaper reveals: 'Two hours have been set aside for the meeting at Racing NSW's Mascot bunker, with several provincial members concerned the ruling body is about to tear apart the TAB's financial distribution agreement. The provincial clubs (Hawkesbury, Wyong, Gosford, Newcastle & Illawarra) were asked for & submitted an agenda for the meeting, but Racing NSW informed the group time could prevent their issues from being discussed. The clubs wanted an update on Racing NSW's development of the Horsley Park equestrian centre, which is a financial drain on the State Government, as a training & education facility. Other issues included a mass exodus of quality staff from Racing NSW (including the recent departure of respected chief handicapper Mark Webbey, who was escorted off the Mascot premises), centralised race programming & continued speculation that the governing body was set to spend upwards of $10 million on an inner-city office block.' One 'influential raceclub committeeman' told the newspaper: 'Obviously their agenda is not ours. I suppose you could say they've come down from the mountain to talk to us, but we've been told we'll get an hour & a half if we are lucky. Many of us are certain they want to bash us on the head over benchmarking; they are trying to get their filthy mits on the raceclubs' money. To think they want to do as they see fit with TAB income. They want to hand out the money to whoever they wish. If they like you this week, you might get a few bob; don't like you, they'll punish you.' Stay tuned! "

07 December 2005

Trust me. II.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, The Beeb reports that one-time rising star Robert Winston has returned to race riding after "a long spell out through injury and a battle against alcoholism".
Winston, one of six jockeys arrested and now on bail until early 2006, pending the outcome of an ongoing City of London police investigation into allegations of race-fixing, was frank in his comments:
"It is great to be back. I was drinking myself to death. I just couldn't control it."

Trust me. I.

Disgraced former star apprentice Craig Newitt is back on track and riding winners. However The Age's Stephen Howell writes:
"It is important to remember that Newitt was not convicted of any wrongdoing from the race that, eventually, sidelined him. Stewards found no case to answer when they investigated his losing ride on the heavily backed Leone Chiara at Sandown on November 15, 2003. What they discovered was that he lied, over and over again, about his relationship with a bookmaker, Anthony Cullen, who was to receive a three-year disqualification, double Newitt's sentence."
Howell quotes leading trainer Lee Freedman:
"I've got no doubt about Craig's ability and I've got no doubt of his intentions, but it will take more than a short period of time for me to welcome him back."

05 December 2005

Rougher than usual handling

The usually reliable Roy Masters plays with a loose end in his piece this week for the Herald's Business section on the racing broadcast rights dispute between major raceclubs and Tabcorp - loose in the sense that crucial claims are qualified by the disclaimer "possibly" and are neither sourced, nor confirmed or corroborated. There appears to be only one source for the article, a severely conflicted "boss" of the NSW Australian Hotels Association, John Thorpe. Says Masters: "Like many in organisations embroiled in the internecine struggle, Thorpe wears two hats. As NSW president of the AHA and owner of a Harbord hotel, Thorpe complains that pubs have to provide two screens for punters to gamble on races, yet he sits on the board of TVN, which owns the rights to Sydney and Victorian thoroughbred races."
In companion pieces Masters casts his net wider, handing column space to adman John Singleton who whinged that his $7m idea for "Sea Biscuit" type colour stories on TVN had met with a lukewarm response.
TVN, which is jointly owned by the Australian Jockey Club and Sydney Turf Club, the three Melbourne metropolitan race clubs and Country Racing Victoria, is currently sweating on an answer from Tabcorp to their latest proposal to end the standoff and deliver all racing back to one channel. Reports Masters:
TVN expected a response from Slatter midweek but none came. It would seem Tabcorp is taking a hard line, aware the racing industry is hemhorraging.
Art-loving TVN chairman Harold Mitchell remains defiant, pointing out that the dispute is a legacy of a fight 18 years ago between Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer for control of racing TV rights.
"At an earlier time the racing industry sold off their media rights for a song," Mitchell says.
"We are now in control of our destiny again."
Racing Victoria CEO Robert Nason was also unrepentant at his AGM on December 1:
"We want to get an adequate return for our racing product. As the product owner we have a right to do that despite what you might read in the media."
The point no one seems interested in anymore is that one channel is not enough to do justice to covering the major metropolitan race meeting, with major group one events being slotted into wall-to-wall coverage of provincial and country racing, trots and dogs. So 20th century.
We live in an age of digital delivery, when is the racing game going to deliver vision on-demand? Twelfth of never it seems.

Bleeding Tabcorp threatens to ditch wagering

CEO Matthew Slatter said at Tabcorp's AGM in Sydney this week he "would consider dumping licences, which accounted for more than 30 per cent of its annual revenue, if the government tried to force up the renewal price." ... Hurt by the loss of Sydney and Melbourne broadcast rights, "TabCorp shares fell 80 cents or almost 5 per cent following the AGM's disappointing forecast, wiping more than $400 million from the company's market worth."

Pocket money buys back Alkaased for Darley

"MEET the GBP10m super-stallion," reports The Yorkshire Post. Sold in 2003 by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum for just GBP42,000, last week's Japan Cup winner Alkaseed was bought back by the Maktoum family's Darley Stud "for an undisclosed sum but one which could approach GBP10m." Taking such a bath represents small change for a crew that can, as the London Daily Telegraph reports, buy P&O: "A company backed by the horse-race loving Dubai royal family yesterday made the Gulf state's biggest acquisition so far with the £3.3billion takeover of P&O, one of the icons of corporate Britain. The agreed cash deal, pitched at 443p a share, will see DP World purchase P&O's 29 container port operations in 18 countries and take control of the group's cross-Channel ferry operations."

30 November 2005

"Racing is crook?" Say it isn't so!

Craig Young in the SMH fails spectacularly to mince words: "Racing is crook. On all fronts. The AJC-STC pairing and Racing NSW are at each others' throats. This cat fight is about who is in charge? At this point in time, many can be forgiven for thinking no one is calling the shots." Read what Stinger really thinks.

"A f---ing idiot" and "a grub"

"Trainer Alan Scorse was fined $1500 yesterday by Racing NSW stewards when found guilty of improper conduct towards provincial steward Steve Carvosso at the Newcastle barrier trials on November 21. During the inquiry it was alleged Scorse had called Carvosso 'a f---ing idiot' and 'a grub'." reports the SMH:

29 November 2005

The little red list

"They are a menace to the industry with their abysmal history of no pays." One of scores of reviews from the Bookmakers Review's handy Red List of no-go online betting sites. Aquaint yourself with practices and dubious reputations of the current crop of online gaming opportunists and scammers.

28 November 2005

Daring Dettori defies all in Japan Cup

"Alkaased rewrote a race record that had stood for 16 years, topping the New Zealand mare Horlick's time of 2 minutes, 22.2 seconds by one-tenth of a second." The Japan Times Online

"I cannot believe it,’’ Dettori told Racing Post. 'It means a huge amount to me to win this race for Luca Cumani. He started me off, and we had eight great years together. He molded me and taught me what to do and say. The fact that I am here talking to you is due to him. He is mainly responsible for it.’’ Thoroughbred Times

"On account of Alkaased being trained in Newmarket by Luca Cumani, he goes down in the record books as Britain's first victor since Pilsudski in 1997, though the horse himself was bred in the USA and both trainer and jockey are Italian."
The Guardan

"The 2003 winner Tap Dance City set a furious pace with Stormy Cafe early on as the pair pulled four lengths clear of the field. Tap Dance City turned for home with a three-length lead, but was swallowed up by the pack... Alkaased took a narrow lead in the final furlong and held on to take victory in [world] record time." BBC Horse Racing:

27 November 2005

Who needs real horses?

Tabcorp is taking its animated horse racing product to one of the world's biggest lottery markets:
"Racetrax™ was successfully field tested earlier this year in Maryland, gaining an enthusiastic reception from players in all venues. The game has already been a hit in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Croatia and Canada and is also available through Tabcorp wagering venues in Victoria, Australia. 'We are pleased to be entering the American gaming market with Racetrax™,' said Paul Gulbenkian, Executive General Manager of Tabcorp International... The Maryland Lottery produced record sales of US$1.486 billion in fiscal 2005..."
Meanwhile, Pimilico, Maryland's most famous racetrack and home of the Preakness, is cutting back on race meetings, unable to compete with "the slots". Sound familiar?

24 November 2005

Beijing's thoroughbred slaugherhouse

The Independent reports on the emerging scandal out of Beijing: "About 600 healthy thoroughbreds are reported to have been slaughtered in the past month in the Chinese capital as a consequence of the official reluctance by the Communist Party to tolerate gambling." The Guardian quotes an anonymous source: "They have culled 600 to date, 400 racehorses and 200 mares. It is an open secret here. They are being culled by injection in humane fashion." Racing director, Kevin Connolly, said: "All the horses have not been culled. We normally cull at the end of each season, retired and injured horses, mares that have not conceived for a number of seasons etc, the same as most places. Should racing start again we will have more than enough horses to race."

Betfair: Chief Stipes say BF mars integrity

The Melbourne Herald Sun today reports that "chairman of stewards from around Australia have urged the Tasmanian Government to defer the betting exchange legislation, which today goes before the Upper House."
"In a joint statement, the stewards claim the proposed legislation does not take probity arrangements on racing to new levels as Lennon claims."
The stipes didn't mince words: "Betting exchanges, by their very nature, create a fundamental challenge to the integrity of racing," in that they allow punters to porfit from backing a losing horse.

17 November 2005

HK racing on the slide

International Herald Tribune reports that in Hong Kong there is a "popular saying, 'horses will continue racing and legs will go on dancing.' It is often used to convey that Hong Kong will remain unchanged and prosperous despite its return to China eight years ago. But for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, big changes are already coming as racing revenues have tumbled."

Police rule out Betfair probe

The Age reports: "Police will not investigate claims Tasmanian Racing Minister Jim Cox offered jockeys money for their support of Betfair."
Opposition politicians had been calling for an inquiry since the allegation surfaced last Thursday - the latest Labor gaffe that could threaten Betfair's chances of Upper House approval.

Premier Paul Lennon had already admitted he and Mr Cox accepted Melbourne Cup hospitality from the Packer family's Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL) just two days before announcing Tasmania's intention to licence the company's joint venture with the UK-based Betfair.

The revelations outraged opposition politicians but did not prevent Betfair's smooth sailing through Tasmania's Labor-dominated Lower House.

15 November 2005

Racing's split video personality

The broadcast video rights war has cost the NSW industry AUD6.5 million in the six months to November 6, 2005, reports Racing NSW CEO Peter V'Landys. Nice work guys.

14 November 2005

US scene shaken by doping

Greg Wood in The Guardian chronicles the odor coming from across the pond: "Richard Dutrow Jr, who saddled a double in the Sprint and the Classic with Silver Train and Saint Liam, lost his licence for 60 days earlier this year, following a positive test for mepivacaine in 2003, and another for clenbuterol a year later. Add in the high-profile proceedings currently underway against Gregory Martin, who trained at Aqueduct in New York until earlier this year, and doping has been a key theme of the latest racing year in the States. Martin was arrested by federal agents in January, and has been charged with doping and race-fixing. A number of individuals linked to the Gambino crime family also face charges."

Favourite flop laid for a motza

Melbourne stipes have taken an interest in the dissapointing run of short priced favourite Vengo at Sandown on Saturday, AAP reports
"Chief steward Des Gleeson said around $70,000 was laid on the Lee Freedman-trained galloper including $30,000 from one account holder. 'It was a significant amount of money and that is always a concern,' Gleeson said. "

12 November 2005

Betfair: Tassie opens floodgates

The Australian reports that "mainland state governments are demanding federal action to outlaw online betting exchanges, after Tasmania revealed it would consider granting further licences to more than one operator."

Love it or leave it?

"The conduct of senior harness racing steward Ron Bottle is under investigation following allegations during a recent stewards inquiry of an affair between him and a relative of a Newcastle-based trainer-driver.
"Bottle took over as acting chief stipe of harness racing last year after the sensational sackings of former boss Roger Nebauer and senior steward Paul Archer after they were spotted socialising with then disqualified trainer-driver Peter Morris," reports The Herald's John Schell.

11 November 2005

'Foolhardy' Callow drops a gorilla

"'What were you thinking? That is one of the more foolhardy things I have seen on a racecourse,' Gleeson said," before fining jockey Noel Callow a gorilla for his past the post display of cavalier theatrics after Our Smoking Joe won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Flemington on Saturday.

09 November 2005

Jockey banned seven years

"Jockeys are not allowed to bet on other horses in a race that they are riding in."

Diva debate descends into debasement

"'You are a nark,' she declared in answer to Whittaker's assessment of Makybe Diva," relates Max Presnell.

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

An American is jealous of the race that stops a nation: "Last weekend at Belmont Park, we witnessed the “World Thoroughbred Championships” but it was a 7-year-old mare a half a world away to put horse racing on the international map... It is extremely unlikely that horse racing ever again will be what it was in the 1930s and ‘40s, a time when college football and not the NFL ruled the gridiron, and when great prizefighters appeared on a magically small 10-inch box in black and white every Friday night. Because sometimes change is not good."

Mateship counts for nothing

"Best Mate's trainer Henrietta Knight will appeal against a £1,000 fine she incurred for the 'non-trying' of one of her horses at Towcester on Thursday," reports the BBC. Stewards ruled the Knight-trained 9-4 chance Harringay had been "tenderly ridden" when finished fifth, beaten 13 and a half lengths in a novice hurdle.

Rules are rules, except when they're broken

"When Boss and rival Steven King touched while pulling their mounts up after the winning post in the Cup, they also broke the same Australian Racing rule," says Melbourne Chief Steward Des Gleeson. "We'll certainly be speaking to (Boss) about it. He knows the rule and the time to celebrate is after the weigh-in."

07 November 2005

Truce imminent in broadcast rights war?

The Age hints at resolution in the deadlock between rival racing broadcasters, ThoroughVisioN and Sky Channel: "Cracks have appeared in the ranks at TVN with some (believed to be 37.5 per cent) of the shareholders actively pushing for a deal to be struck with Sky Channel, which is owned by Tabcorp, to get the pictures of Melbourne, Victorian country and Sydney metropolitan races all around Australia through both TVN and Sky Channel," writes Andrew Eddy.

06 November 2005

Piggott: septugenarian hoop

The Observer has marked the seventieth birthday of Lester Piggot by repinting this classic interview with the gifted conveyer of winners and controversy. Here's a teaser:
"There's two sides to a horse. In the natural state his speed is what keeps him alive - if there's danger, he runs. But he lives in a herd and even when he's running away from danger, he doesn't like to be first: he likes to be in the middle of the herd.

"So in racing, in one way you're taking the horse back to his nature, and in another you're training him and riding him to do something different from what nature intended. I think it's what gives them their character. Because horses are very interesting. There's no two alike. And of course nature taught a horse to run, but not to be ridden. So there's the relationship between the horse and the man on his back.

"...but I don't pay much attention. I think you only pay attention if you care about what people think of you. And you only care if you think a lot about yourself. I don't think about myself much. I think about racing. I don't brood about how I look to other people. I ride as well as I can, and they can clap or boo - it's all the same to me."

04 November 2005

MC: UK cup runner was "lame before the race"

In a story on the beaten international raiders for this year's cup, Sporting Life reports that British Cup entry Franklin Gardens went "lame a few days before the race" that stops a nation. The revelation comes too late for the punters that backed the horse only to see it run a bad last to Makybe Diva on Tuesday. The racing daily reports that "injuries beset the European Cup challenge this year, with Godolphin sending home their main hopes, Carte Diamond receiving a bad cut, Franklins Gardens going lame a few days before the race and Collier Hill also missing out." And Distinction pulled up so poorly after the event, it "will have a full body scan when it returns to Britain later this week".

Betfair gets green light in Tasmania

Tasmania will become the first Australian state to license online betting exchange Betfair under an agreement announced in Hobart today, announced Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon in a statement. Legislation to license and operate Betfair in Australia will be introduced to the Tasmanian Parliament next week. Tasmania will earn 35 per cent of Betfair's gross profit on all Australian racing events, 15 per cent of the profits on other sporting events and 10 per cent of the profits on international events. The State Government will retain five per cent from each category as tax revenues and distribute the rest to the racing industry, through Tote Tasmania. Lennon was at pains to demonstrate that the agreement was underwritten by an "unprecedented new set of probity arrangements" to avoid any shenanigans.

Betfair: Tasmanian argy bargy

"Whilst another state, Tasmania, is likely to licence Betfair, we're not happy with that situation, of course; it's not something that we approve. We will not be licencing Betfair in Victoria. "
- Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks

'If [Betfair] wager on the Victorian product, they will be doing so illegally. And with a home base in Tasmania from which a prosecution can be launched.'"
- Racing Victoria chief executive Robert Nason

"Why don't we be clever for a change and look after the customers and issue about half a dozen exchange licences and give them a go? It's a winning formula for the punter and for everyone. It's here to stay, they can't beat it."
- Melbourne bookie MIchael Eskander

"...this issue is squarely about the integrity of racing - our capacity to run the sport in a way that the public has confidence in its integrity. It is an unshakeable fact that the presence of betting exchanges undermines this. The easy facility to make money out of horses losing is an undeniable temptation to cheat."
- Chairman of the Australian Racing Board Andrew Ramsden

"Kerry Packer's PBL rose 47¢ to $16.51 after news that the Tasmanian government has approved a deal to license the British online betting agency Betfair. The announcement ended eight months of speculation about the 50-50 joint venture between Betfair and PBL."
- Australian Financial Review

"I think the concept of being able to back horses to lose races has no place in Australian racing with the enormous prizemoney on offer for connections to win racing,"
- RV chief steward Des Gleeson

Bent but anonymous

Martin Hannah of The Scotsman thinks some things are chaeper left unsaid: "The point is that, while I consider the jockey to be a disgrace to his profession, either because he is bent or because he merely gave his horse a totally dreadful ride, I am not allowed to tell you his name because of the laws of defamation, or libel as it is known in England and Wales."

Fallon bailed until next March

"Forty-eight hours after he'd enjoyed the greatest day of his career when notching a hat-trick of Group 1 successes at Longchamp, Kieron Fallon was taken into custody for questioning following his appearance at a London police station to answer his bail as part of the on-going investigation into alleged race-fixing," reports The Scotsman.

03 November 2005

MC: Gallant Vinnie bows out

"I was very concerned for that 30 seconds or a minute after I got off him," Patrick Smullen said. "He was very distressed. I was worried for him, (but) it was a combination of a very, very hot day, trying so hard and carrying top weight." Trainer Dermot Weld "was philosophical in defeat and revealed the four-times Irish St Leger winner has probably ran his last race. 'He'll most likely be retired to Coolmore now,' said the County Kildare handler. 'We've done best of the Europeans, but he was out wide and could never really get in.'"

MC: Bookies spared bloodbath

"A huge betting move on Japanese visitor Eye Popper ($8 to $6) and very good money for Leica Falcon ($6 to $5.50) and English raider Distinction ($31 to $26) helped balance bookies' bags," says the Melbourne Herald Sun.

MC: Hawkes slams the "Makybe Cup"

This year's post-mortem on the Melbourne Cup features widespread criticism of the VCR committee for accomodating the ultimate winner, Makybe Diva and international campaigner, Vinnie Roe by watering the track to their liking before the big race. Patrick Smith in The Australian pulled no punches: "To watch VRC and Racing Victoria officials scurry about the international connections it is easy to perceive they are cared for more than some of the locals. And to see the club's man in charge of strategic marketing, Dr Stephen Silk, hurry about with Makybe Diva badges it is just as easy to perceive some locals are better treated than others."

And losing bookmaker Michael Eskander was also scathing in his criticism:
"The VRC has a lot to answer for. Where is their integrity? Their actions have tarnished Australia's great race. Makybe Diva is a great horse and her connections have worked hard and deserve their win, but this will go down in history as a victory that was willingly aided and abetted by the VRC."

Rival trainers John Hawkes (Railings), Gai Waterhouse (Mr Celebrity) and Richard Freyer (Leica Falcon) and the connections of Japanese entry Eye Popper, all complained over the decision to water the track to a reading of dead.

"I thought it was the Melbourne Cup, not the Makybe Cup," said Hawkes.

02 November 2005

MC: Best Cup form guide

TVNZ have produced the best potted form guide on the net for the 2005 Melbourne Cup.

MC: Johnny Fontaine never gets that movie

AAP reports that "a severed horse's head has been used by protesters demonstrating against horse racing on Melbourne Cup day."

MC: Hyperbole wins the 2005 Melbourne Cup

A better-than-average two mile handicap was run in Melbourne today. A better-than-average field lined up against a champion mare who defied history and the record books to win it for the third time running, an unheralded achievement. It was a statistical impossibility, but as cliches go, records are made to be broken.

But please, Makybe Diva is not the greatest horse we've ever seen, even in the modern era.

Winning three Cups in a row, the last with a weight and age carrying record for a mare is exceptional, freakish and a great yarn. But comparisons with Phar Lap are sheer lunacy and merely the stuff of Spring Carnival hyperbole. Such speculation is all about selling the event, because the Melbourne Cup is the one time of the year that the horse racing game gets to dominate the attention of the media, and the one time of year that the racing media get a national audience. There is a tendency to purple prose to say the least. Every year must produce its big story, only this year the story wrote itself, no argument. But let's indulge in some more contemporary comparisons to put this in achievement in context.

Makybe Diva was again dominant today, but being the best horse on the day three times running doesn't mean she would she have beaten, for instance, Saintly in 1996 (for ours the best Cup winner of the past ten years), or Let's Elope in 1991. Put the mare up against Vintage Crop in 1993 and we know where the smart money goes. Makybe Diva is certainly one of the best horses to grace the turf in the past decade, she is today's champion racehorse, but is she better than Sunline? We say no. Let's segue to previous W.S. Cox Plate winners. Where would the mare have run against Dulcify or Kingston Town or Bonecrusher or Octagonal or Lohnro? Kingston Town's three Cox Plates beats the Diva's three Cups hands down in our book.

After the Cox Plate this year trainer Lee Freedman said: "I don't think this country has seen a better horse over the past 30 to 40 years." Funny, in February last year it was Alinghi that was getting the hyperbolic treatment: "She is the greatest horse I've have ever trained... Don't point to me as the trainer because you're looking at a serious champion." At least he's modest. Resurgent at his now established training Shangri La on the Mornington Peninsula, Freedman is a media pro with a beguiling ability to understate his overstatements, but even he kyboshed the Phar Lap malarkey. And as Lydia Hislop in The Times reminded us: "...when Phar Lap won the 1930 Melbourne Cup, he carried 10lb more than Makybe Diva, conceded more than a stone to the field and won by three lengths, his jockey motionless. He won on each of the four days of that meeting, once just hours after an attempt on his life. His 37 wins from 51 starts included an unbeaten run of 14."

Credit where it's due, what Makybe Diva did today may never be done again, and she is truly one of the best two milers we've ever seen. But she carries luck on her side - she's enjoyed a favourable barrier and a glorious run in each Cup - and she also carries skill in the form of Glen Boss, who despite a prediliction for theatrics is clearly one of the greatest riders of the modern era. It may be heresy to say so, but beating On A Jeune by one and a quarter lengths over two miles isn't the mark of Australia's greatest ever racehorse. Two starts back On A Jeune could only run third in the Benalla Cup. She's a great mare, and let's savour the moment. But let's leave it at that.

30 October 2005

BC: Starcraft intrigue

Vic Zest in The Age: "Immediately, a rumour swept through the press corps like bird flu. 'Makin's going to scratch (in the Breeders Cup), for sure,' a woman with the British press said. 'He's got to get out from under all those bets he made with the bookies,' she went on."

MC: Gonzo graphic mars Cup coverage

This bizarre photo montage was used to illustrate speculation of a massive plunge on Makybe Diva, should the horse line up in Tuesday's Melbourne Cup. What is the world coming to?

MC: Vinnie Row vulnerable

"Vinnie Roe ran an absolute corker when chasing home Makybe Diva last year... however, he seems to find two miles just a bit farther than ideal – all his best for is over 14 furlongs – so it’s likely that he will again be vulnerable to something at the business end of the race," so says readaBet.com

29 October 2005

Call to strip racing from the Bush

Back in August business analysts IBISworld painted a gloomy picture of the state of the racing game in Australia. Now, with the Melbourne Cup media frenzy in full flight, the researcher pops up again to prescribe a massive rationalisation of country racing as a panacea to an industry stretched to breaking point by poor profitability from too much country racing. Racing bosses don't buy it.

BC: Starcraft goes with throttle up

"I wanted to see how good he was, and nobody really does that anymore with their horses, do they? Of course, he's never been on dirt, and I'm only getting about even money on my money," owner Paul Makin told the New York Times (reg.required) about his decision to pay the US$800,000 late entry fee to run Starcraft in Saturday's Breeders Cup Classic.

BC: Transglobal Stoute

Sir Michael Stoute "already successful at the Breeders’ Cup with Pilsudski, Kalanisi and Islington, has a relative outsider this time in Favourable Terms, who contests the Filly & Mare Turf. It will barely be run before the trainer is dashing to the airport for a flight on to Australia, where he saddles Distinction in the Melbourne Cup. “I’ll even have to leave before the Classic, which is a race I love,” he told the Times of London.

19 October 2005

Read her writs

Andrew Eddy in The Age reports "leading rails bookmakers Simon Beasley and Alan Eskander are being sued by fellow bookmaker Kathryn Read over comments allegedly made by the pair at a meeting in Melbourne on October 10 to discuss the workings of the Melbourne Cup call-of-the-card function. Beasley and Eskander were both served with a writ on Saturday while working at the Caulfield Cup meeting, with Read seeking damages."

Betfair: Tasmania tempted to say no

"Racing Victoria has made a lucrative multi- million-dollar offer to Tasmania that would see an increase in prizemoney, more races and the scrapping of nomination fees," says Greg Mansfield in the Launceston Examiner. The Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon, Racing Minister Jim Cox, "and local racing administrators are aware of the details but have been told not to say anything." Mansfield speculates that the offer is designed to sway Lennon from handing UK betting exchange operator, Betfair, its first license in Australia.

28 September 2005

Fair exchanges

Alan Kohler canvases the combatants in the controversy over the legalisation of betting exchanges in Australia.

01 August 2005

About Turf Confidential

Devotees of the racing scene in Sydney, Australia, will remember The Gadfly, a column that graced the turf liftout of The Sun Herald every Sunday from the early 1980s to 1999. Several journalists edited the column over the years, recording the intersection of racing and Sydney's public life: the good, the bad, the beautiful and the just plain ugly.

A blog is the perfect medium to revive its brief, which was simply to report "without fear or favour". So here we go, an occasional commentary on the colourful goings on at the track, but this time we'll take in not just Sydney, but the global scene, from an Australian perspective. Racing, like all things associated with gambling, has exploded on the net and our aim will be to highlight the best and expose the worst of horseracing coverage on the internet.

You can email us here to leave any general comments about the site.

To supply confidential leads, or any information off-the-record use this special email address. Any and all tipoffs will be handled with complete confidentiality. In keeping with the charter of the International Federation of Journalists, we respect all confidences and protect all sources.

What Turf Confidential is not is just another tip sheet. We'll cover news and trends across all aspects of the throroughbred racing and breeding scene - but we'll never pretend we can predict with certainty the winner of today's race. We may on occasion offer an opinion, and if we can verify any "inside oil" to assist punters, then we will publish it. But you won't find Madam X, the Tea Lady, Uncle Dick or anyone else here directing punters to do their dough cold on the whim of a stranger.

House rules on comments: be frank, open and say what you like, but keep it civil and keep it legal. Any comment verging on libel or defamation will be removed without hesitation or explanation.

PR: Horse industry has little to celebrate this fillies' birthday


01 AUGUST 2005

While fillies around the world may be feeling festive this week – celebrating their birthdays en masse on Monday – those earning a living from the breeding, training and racing industries have little cause for celebration, according to the latest research from business information analysts IBISWorld.

While horse racing is something of an institution in Australia, the industry behind the glitz and glamour is actually struggling to survive. Tough competition for the gambling dollar, virtually non-existent profits for most breeders, trainers and bookmakers, and industry rationalisation are forcing many smaller players to leave the track for good.

Despite generating around $600 million in revenue annually, conditions in the horse racing and breeding industries are tough. Millionaire trainers at major race meets might appear to be the norm, but in actual fact industry profitability has always been slim for most breeders and trainers. In fact, says IBISWorld General Manager (Australia), Mr Jason Baker, "trainers and clubs typically operate on a break-even basis".

"The industry revolves around a few professional trainers deriving the overwhelming majority of income from training fees and their share of prize money, versus a much larger number of mainly small, part-time, owner-trainers who struggle to survive financially," he explains.

Due to the cost structure and the price competition on trainer's fees, many small trainers have found it impossible to continue, unless they have other sources of income. The annual turnover in the registration of trainers is around 10 per cent per annum and this is likely to continue over the next few years – at least.

Small horse farms are also enduring difficult times, as they are often unable to match the compensation packages offered by the larger farms and studs, and therefore have trouble attracting trainers and other buyers.

"Large broodmare owners can offer services such as delaying service fee payments, foal share arrangements and marketing of the resultant progeny as "part of the package" and less-established horse farms just can't compete," says Mr Baker.

New South Wales dominates the horse breeding industry in Australia, which turns over around $613 million a year, and contributes $177.9 million to the nation's gross domestic product. It has 35.5 per cent of breeding establishments, followed by Queensland with 29 per cent, and Victoria with 21.9 per cent.

And most of the best breeding stock, especially stallions, are located in New South Wales, where the Hunter Valley is the centre of the thoroughbred breeding industry. The area is at risk, however, says Mr Baker, with soil degradation and salinity posing a significant threat. "Considerable attention, and money, will need to be directed towards this problem to come up with a resolution," he says.

On a more positive note, IBISWorld forecasts the breeding industry might be entering a new growth phase based on exports, which have shown strong growth in recent years thanks to government-funded export schemes and increased industry focus on the importance of trade.

"Lately, the top export destinations by value have been New Zealand, the United States, and Hong Kong, with the United Kingdom the top export destination based on volume. Increasingly, the industry is focusing on expanding exports to the lucrative Asian market – helped by the entry of China into the market," he says.

"Looking ahead, conditions in Asian economies will be especially important for horse exporters, with the braking Japanese economy likely to restrict export opportunities in this market," explains Jason Baker. "Another possible concern down the track is the move in South Africa to prevent further importation of horses into that country."

Industry sources believe an oligopoly situation is being developed, especially in the farming of racing horses. This may arise from the spending and negotiating power of international entrants. Consequently, fewer and fewer breeders are being able to purchase the more expensive mares to upgrade their breeding stocks, which are essential to qualify for the lucrative sales.

Currently, 70 per cent of the industry's revenue comes from sales to the racing industry, with 30 per cent from other sources, such as riding schools, farm tourism, and individuals for recreation.

"In addition, some industry participants believe the coming 18 months will be bring unsettled times, because of high service fees, a lack of new buyers, and the possibility that anticipated price increases will not eventuate. There are also concerns service fees may fall due to a looming oversupply of high-quality stallions, and that there will be some degree of rationalisation over coming years, as smaller semi-professional breeders call it quits and exit the industry completely," Mr Baker says.

And at the track itself, despite our reputation as a nation of rampant gamblers, bookmakers aren't reaping the rewards we might expect. With the average adult Aussie spending less than $20 a week gambling on the races, IBISWorld reports that current bookmaking returns do not match the personal financial risks involved.

"For those bookmakers trying to earn a living form the nags, competition is fierce. Since the early 1990s, the industry has had to contend with a huge increase in gambling options for the average punter – from gaming machines to new casinos, online gambling to sports betting."

"As a result, there are more part-time bookmarkers than ever before, and most no longer rely solely on bookmaking profits to make a crust. The returns don't match the personal risk to funds. The Victorian Bookmakers Association estimates that less than 20 bookies have an individual net revenue of $50,000 per annum."

And the future isn't looking much better, according to many in the racing industry, since the Federal Government decided in 2003 against regulating betting exchanges. These provide an online facility for punters to back horses to win against odds laid by another punter – making it possible to back a horse to lose, rather than win. Many believe betting exchanges pose an unacceptable risk to the integrity of the racing industry, and the government's decision means foreign online betting exchanges will be able to seek licenses to operate in Australia.

For more information and analysis on any of Australia's 500 industries, go to www.ibisworld.com.au

Media Contact:
Anne Wild / Amity Roche
IBISWorld Media Relations Representatives – Anne Wild & Associates Pty Ltd
Tel: (02) 9487 3100
Email: awild@awassociates.com.au