NSW racing has regained its premier state status with soaring prize money levels for city, provincial and country centres, the continued emergence of The Championships, and the outstanding performances of the state’s trainers, jockeys and racehorses on the national stage.
But the job is not yet done for Racing NSW as the sport’s controlling authority looks to tackle a number of issues, including further boosting returns to owners and racing industry participants, improving racetracks and infrastructure, and increasing field sizes.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph’s racing editor Ray Thomas, Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys looks back on an exciting year of change in NSW racing and what’s ahead for the sport in 2017.
Q: Wagering taxation parity, record prize money, encouraging increases in Sydney race-day crowds, country racing is booming — all positive signs for the sport, but how would you describe the year that was for NSW racing?
A:The outcomes you mention have taken many years of work to achieve. If the NSW racing industry was a public company then the dividends are prize money. The shareholders are the participants. Our job is to maximise their dividends (prize money) as it keeps the industry viable and vibrant. We now pay the most prize money of any state in Australia, without the same level of funding. Accordingly, the years of hard work have generated the dividends.
I’m also very proud NSW is the only state that deducts 1 per cent of prize money, which currently equates to $2 million per annum to ensure that every thoroughbred horse retired in NSW, if it has raced or not, will be rehomed.
A: John Messara is a born leader and leads from the front. Naturally he will be hard to replace.
However, don’t underestimate Russell Balding. He is a man with substantial commercial and racing industry experience. More importantly, Russell has a genuine love and passion of the industry, so his drive will be the same as John’s.
Russell has been a steady influence when John and I are sometimes over-exuberant. Russell has always been part of the team, now he moves up a spot. Also, the new deputy chairman Tony Hodgson has been on the board for the last five years. If there was someone you wanted to be in the trenches with, Tony is the person.
Q: What are the major issues confronting NSW racing in 2017?
A: Prize money is still not at the level we need it to be. We must continue striving for new revenue. We also need to ensure our tracks and training facilities are of the best standard. As I have said many times, “no stage, no show”.
We have spent in excess of $50 million on tracks and training facilities in the last four years. We have employed 26 apprentice track curators based in every area of NSW to ensure we have succession planning which accordingly provides the necessary resources to have our tracks in the best condition. Punters must have tracks that are conducive to competitive racing and that the surface is one which has no bias.
Integrity is also top of the list. The board has a zero tolerance when it comes to integrity breaches and we will continue to invest heavily in this area to make sure punters have 100 per cent confidence at all times.
Q: Will we see international competition for The Championships in Sydney during the autumn?
A: Every year will be different when it comes to international horses. There will be years we will be inundated and other years where there will be a shortage. This is made harder as we only go for the topliners as The Championships are for the best, and accordingly we will not have internationals who are not competitive just for the sake of it.
Q: Is NSW in a prize money race with Victoria?
A: No, that’s another beat-up. As I said previously, our job is to maximise the returns to our shareholders, which are our participants. Accordingly, as racing is a competition sport, the best way to distribute these dividends is through prize money.
Q: You are always looking at ways to improve field sizes. But does anyone have the answer to this issue?
A: There are a multitude of variables that affect field sizes. One silent effect on metropolitan field sizes has been the exporting of horses to Asia. The horses that are bought (to race in Asia) have already raced and have shown potential. We lose approximately 80 per year.
When you consider a horse may have a racing life of three years, the 80 figure compounds to 160 in the second year and 240 in the third year. Most of these horses are metropolitan standard.
Our analysis shows this equates to the loss of more than one starter per metropolitan race. That’s nine starters for a Saturday meeting.
The prize money increase should assist in retaining these better-quality horses. The compressed weights have also been a major factor.