With possible race clubs mergers still on the agenda in Sydney and Brisbane, Victoria’s Racing Minister Rob Hulls has upped the ante considerably by publicly calling on the Victoria Racing Club and the Moonee Valley Racing Club to merge.
The Victoria Racing Club is Australia’s largest, and most successful, race club. It stages the Melbourne Cup Carnival at its Flemington track, which is currently closed for nine months while the track surface is completely replaced. The Moonee Valley Racing Club also has one track, and stages the W S Cox Plate, the premier weight-for-age event in Australia.
Saturday’s Australian Cup meeting, one of the premier race days of the year and a meeting normally held at Flemington, was run at Caulfield, a track owned by the Melbourne Racing Club.
But the timing of the Hulls interview has much more to do with the wide ranging racing industry review to begin next month, and to be supervised by Racing Victoria, the industry control body set up by Hulls in his first stint as Racing Minister five years ago.
While Hulls did not say it late last week, it is clear that unless the clubs seriously consider a merger, he might use the review to force its consideration.
Even though the Melbourne Cup Carnival achieved record attendances last year, average Saturday prize money offered by the three Melbourne clubs has slipped behind what is offered by the Australian Jockey Club and the Sydney Turf Club.
Hulls wants the review to force the clubs to cut operating costs and to be more proactive in attracting women and younger racegoers. And he also wants to give Racing Victoria significantly more power, including effectively assuming overall financial control of the three metropolitan clubs, as well as “intellectual properties”.
He envisages the AFL model being adopted, under which the clubs have become event managers. That will doubtless cause some angst in racing, not to mention AFL, circles.
But just as Hulls forced through the initial reforms that gutted the VRC of its all powerful role, he is unlikely to tolerate resistance from the clubs when the Racing Victoria blueprint for the industry’s future is finalised.
The often talked about merger of the Australian Jockey Club and the Sydney Turf Club is effectively on “hold” until after the NSW state election, but the pressure for at least a sharing of resources, if not a full merger, will be on the agenda soon after, regardless of who wins.
While the merger of the Queensland Turf Club and the Brisbane Turf Club has stalled over the future of the BTC’s Doomben track, there is little doubt Racing Queensland will soon intervene – and effectively downgrade any club that won’t support a merger.