Regions Need to Take Control of Racing
Robbing communities of their assets is not the way forward for the racing industry. New Conservative Racing industry spokesman Lachie Ashton urges industry leaders to connect with their grassroots support and clubs earmarked for closure based on the Massara report, and find a better way of restructuring the industry.
To use legislation to take away the right of clubs to race and seize their assets is not the way to move forward. It tramples on every volunteer, who through the generations, have given countless hours to their clubs and racing. Clubs are also part of the community and are supported by local businesses every year, with their facilities used for other community activities as well. The only people that have any right to decide what happens to club assets are the clubs’ members, using a democratic process.
To think a move like this is going to go well is delusional, and the Westland Racing Club has already demonstrated this by selling their grounds at Hokitika to their local council for $100 and gifted them $250,000 in cash as well. Such actions will shrink the industry by killing off grassroots support that the industry badly needs.
Racing needs to remember where their support comes from and that we are not Australia where a much larger punter base exists without a direct connection to the industry. Clearly, there is a need for restructuring, and the place to start is with the Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA) who have squandered millions while starving the clubs of a fair share of the TAB turnover that could have benefitted the whole industry.
Ashton agrees that the amalgamation of clubs to a centralised track where achievable would bring many advantages providing the change generated the income for better facilities, stakes and racing. While centralised racing benefits trainers situated close to centralised tracks, it disadvantages those who are not, and there would have to be suitable facilities to accommodate these trainers and their horses when making these decisions.
Riccarton, for example, has been given funding for an all-weather track as part of the plan for centralised racing but has been selling off land to stay afloat. It could be argued that they no longer have the land to provide good facilities and accommodation for visiting trainers and their horses for extended periods of time.
The other problem is that removing racing from Marlborough and the East Coast of the North Island, along with Harness Racing in Dunedin, Timaru and the Manawatu. will only shrink grassroots support along with on course and off course betting.
You can hardly expect these people to travel to centralised meetings outside their area or sit at home and watch a totally butchered Trackside on TV and no radio. If we want to be in the entertainment industry, we have to make it work for the people otherwise they will find something else to do with their weekends and entertainment dollars.
Racing would do better to support trainers with free entries and travelling than to close clubs that are popular with the public and their grassroots supporters who have put so much into it. These clubs are great for their communities, they support local trainers who don’t want to leave the district and are able to provide workouts, trials and maiden races on different types of tracks for all trainers and owners.
Will centralised racetracks be able and willing to do so in the future? Will their volunteers be able or willing to take on such an increased workload? Will their tracks hold up? What happens when the track needs to be spelled or repaired?
The industry needs to stop getting strung along by a bunch of bureaucrats and take control and work together or it is doomed. The TAB belongs to the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industry. Take it back and get people like Ken Rutherford and Peter Johnstone who know what they are doing to run it and focus on building the industry.
Instead of abandoning the regions, form them into workable geographic areas and give them the responsibility to make it work. Harness Racing Clubs in Otago and Southland are already working together. They should take the lead, work with the other codes and make the changes needed for the long term good of their region and not leave it for a bunch of bureaucrats to force it on them.
As has previously been promoted, a centrally located track with first class facilities somewhere around Dacre with pooled resources and amalgamated clubs, would serve Southland very well. This would be a much better option than what is proposed at the moment. It should be up to the regions to decide how many tracks they need and when they race based on what they know will work. Give them the responsibility to make it work or suffer the consequences of failure.
Give each region the same deal based on performance. No favouritism. It must be a level playing field. Start with redistributing the funding earmarked for the next two synthetic tracks and disperse it fairly to all the regions to get things going. We have built an industry on grass tracks and we can do it again. We just have to make every track work for the benefit of the whole region, not one club.
If the regions combined their resources and do a good job they could have their synthetic tracks and/or first class facilities when they are ready for them on their own terms and money if they want them. It’s time to stop talking, work together and start doing. We need all the regions to prosper. Give them the chance to do so by giving them control and a fair go.
Lachie Ashton, Racing Spokesperson, New Conservative