The buzz word in the Australian racing industry today is very definitely ‘rationalisation’ with at least three states facing a shakeup in industry governance and some metropolitan clubs being asked to seriously consider merging.

The return of Rob Hulls to the racing ministry in the new Victorian Bracks Cabinet virtually guarantees that reform of the Victorian racing industry will happen sooner rather than later. Hulls is a no-nonsense minister who shook up the control of racing when he presided over the portfolio in the first Bracks Cabinet.

Despite the recent Spring Racing Carnival being the best ever, all is not well in Victorian racing. Two of the three clubs – the Melbourne Racing Club and the Moonee Valley Racing Club – reported substantial losses last financial year.

Melbourne’s non-carnival prize money has fallen well behind Sydney’s, and Brisbane and Perth prize money are within about $5,000 a race of equalling what the Melbourne clubs offer.

The war over television coverage has proven very costly for the Melbourne and Sydney clubs, and the downturn in turnover has affected TAB distributions. And Betfair is just starting to bite into turnover of all three racing codes – thoroughbred, harness and greyhound.

Whether Victorian race clubs undergo further mergers is uncertain – but rationalisation of resources and race dates is inevitable.

Sydney’s two race clubs, the Australian Jockey Club and the Sydney Turf Club, are again being urged to considering a merger, if not substantial rationalisation. A government-commissioned report released last week does not leave them with much alternative.

But it is in Queensland that rationalisation will happen first, and be the most radical.

The most power of the state racing control bodies lies with Queensland Racing. It has released a blueprint for Brisbane racing that involves the amalgamation of the two metropolitan clubs, the Queensland Turf Club and the Brisbane Turf Club, AND the closure of the Doomben race track, owned by the BTC.

The closure of Doomben, and the sale of the valuable site, will be used to fund the upgrade of Eagle Farm’s archaic facilities. The Eagle Farm and Doomben tracks are only separated by a road, and Queensland Racing questions the logic of the millions spent on maintaining two adjoining tracks.

Racing Queensland has given the two clubs two weeks to agree to its proposal. While there was some initial resistance, they are likely to agree, because the controlling body has the power to make life very difficult if they don’t.

Racing officials in NSW and Victoria will be watching the developments in Queensland closely, with many expecting it to be the forerunner to changes in the southern states.

Peter Fray

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