While equine flu continues to wreak havoc throughout the NSW and Queensland racing industries (and miraculously continues to avoid Victoria), the industry is back to doing what it does all too often – indulge itself in political infighting.

You would think the fallout from the loss of a large slice of the nation’s racing industry for months, perhaps six months or more, would pre-occupy the whole industry. But racing industry politics, as robust as the real political game, is back in play in the three major racing states.

Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest stoush is in Victoria, where even before equine flu devastated racing in Sydney and Brisbane, the industry was at its strongest.

Twenty seven of the biggest names in Australian racing – including the nation’s leading trainers, David Hayes and Lee Freedman, and the biggest racing owner, Bob Ingham – have called for the Board of Racing Victoria to be sacked. And they include Billabong founder, Scott Perrin, who has in recent years become a major race horse owner and breeder.

Headed by the high profile Graham Duff, the board of Racing Victoria is a powerful body. Duff was a driving force behind racing’s restructuring in Victoria, and the very expensive TVN racing channel.

The industry lobby is claiming prize money is falling in real terms while costs are rising. It has called on Victoria’s Deputy Premier and Racing Minister, Rob Hulls, to replace the Racing Victoria board with an independent, industry representative board to bring about “generational change” in the industry.

In NSW – the state worst affected by equine flu – turmoil continues over the Pope’s visit causing the closure of Randwick Racecourse (that is if Randwick re-opens before the papal visit!). Cardinal George Pell is in open warfare with trainers and other industry stakeholders who are demanding that the Papal youth rallies be held anywhere but Randwick.

The issue contributed to a power shift in the Australian Jockey Club, which controls Randwick, and is not only causing friction with the Cardinal, but also the NSW Government which is backing Randwick’s closure for the rallies.

Simmering just below the surface is the vexed question of the possible amalgamation of the AJC and the Sydney Turf Club. But the crippling impact of equine flu might bring it to the surface much sooner than anyone expects.

In Queensland, racing politics had just claimed some high profile casualties. The Brisbane Turf Club Committee has been resisting pressure to amalgamate with the neighbouring Queensland Turf Club. In a move widely seen as pro-amalgamation, three committee members, including the Chairman, were voted out by club members in the recent elections.

As the racing industry struggles to manage the impact of equine flu, and worries about the long term consequences for prize money and industry viability, the political infighting that is one reason why the racing industry has less “clout” than ever is alive and well – and probably more robust than ever.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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