The Victorian Thoroughbred Owners Association (TROA) has gone public to join the chorus of industry participants slamming Racing Victoria for its recent actions and policies.
TROA Chairman, Jonathan Munz, one of Australia’s leading owners and breeders, made the following comments:
“There is now an ongoing general problem in Victoria, with recent Racing Victoria policies and changes having caused damage to the operation and reputation of Victorian Racing.”
Racing Victoria think they are innovators and marketing and wagering gurus, but the reality is that their hotchpotch of poorly conceived ideas and thought bubbles will not get racing any new customers.
A number of their decisions and proposals have been terrible.
The Racing Victoria proposal to use interactive jockey earpieces with live streamed instructions to jockeys from “coaches” during races is dangerous and impractical and the associated proposal for an expensive and much criticised “teams racing” concept is completely inappropriate. They are ill conceived “gimmick” proposals that will alienate existing racing customers and participants and not encourage any new ones.
Bad recent decisions and actions include attempting to radically change the Spring Carnival program and the recently announced reduction in prize money to cover a supposed crisis in industry funding.
This has put Racing Victoria in serious conflict with most of its shareholders and participants and upset racing customers, when it should be bringing people together and working collaboratively. It was all unnecessary and would not have occurred if Racing Victoria had properly consulted with and listened to industry participants and experts, instead of arrogantly pushing ahead with and promoting these inappropriate policies.
The problem is Racing Victoria’s lack of experience and understanding of racing and poor commercial expertise.
This is made worse by their inability to constructively respond or deal with criticism, highlighted by their attempts to limit and censor opposing views, including the recent bizarre and pointless attempts to impose non-disclosure agreements on its own shareholders. This is just wrong in every way. We need leaders who understand the industry and can unite rather than divide people, with a view to delivering long term benefits.”
Munz made the following detailed comments in relation to these issues:
1. Proposal to mike up jockeys
“Even someone who knows nothing about horses, should realise that speaking into a jockey’s ear during a race is incredibly dangerous. This concept should never have got beyond first base. It is only a few months since we had the tragedy of Dean Holland and before that the terrible incident which left Jamie Kah in hospital for over a month and Craig Williams nursing a broken collar bone. Are Racing Victoria serious about putting jockeys at heightened risk of serious injury, or worse, for some misguided marketing gimmick that no-one wants? This is a truly idiotic idea and I cannot see the racing stewards supporting the proposal. The concept is flawed anyway - trying to import a concept from Big Bash cricket, a game which goes for three hours, to a horse race that is measured in seconds. This demonstrates that some of those leading the industry really have little understanding of our sport.”
2. “Teams racing” proposal
“The proposal for a summer “teams racing” series is a poor proposal that has been tried and failed a number of times, both in Australia and in the UK.With Racing Victoria claiming to be under budget pressure, this isn’t where scarce resources should be spent.The fact that the proposal favours certain trainers and owners over others is also inappropriate and there are also integrity concerns around team incentives when a trainer or team has a number of runners in a race.”
3. Recent prize money cuts by Racing Victoria
“We have consistently maintained that RVL needs to be more transparent about and focused on reducing its own overheads and inefficiencies, before lecturing us or cutting prize money.
In May, we had Racing Victoria’s head of racing come out publicly stating that the era of prizemoney increases was over and that there would be cuts to owners’ returns with no promises on when they might go up again. What we ended up with, after months of negativity, was a cut of less than 1 per cent, but the damage had been done.
For years the industry, with the assistance of former racing minister Martin Pakula and the current minister, Anthony Carbines, had worked hard to ensure strong revenue streams that made sure our prizemoney was competitive. But RVL were happy to damage Victoria’s reputation and pour a bucket of negativity on the industry, and all for what?
This was unnecessary and irresponsible.
Unfortunately, the impacts of this are felt by trainers and syndicators and flow on across the industry - I’ve had trainers tell me they’ve lost horses interstate to Sydney as a result of the uncertainty it created and there’s no doubt it made it much harder for people to get owners to reinvest.”
4. Proposed radical changes to Spring Carnival Programming
“In relation to the Spring Carnival program, Racing Victoria has speculated about moving the Cox Plate and even Melbourne Cup week. Fortunately, that sort of nonsense was resisted, and they instead focused on adding a new race day after the Melbourne Cup carnival. We support the concept of improvements and sensible innovation, but the problem was that RVL failed to consult properly. They came up with a poorly conceived race day that wrongly moved the Thousand Guineas and Rupert Clarke Stakes, undermined the pattern and wasted money. Owners, trainers and breeders all came together to suggest a much better program that provided a real marquee race day, with the same financial investment, but Racing Victoria insisted on keeping their changes. An opportunity to do something positive was wasted and is now mired in negativity.”
5. What is the correct strategy to maintain and grow interest and engagement in racing
“RVL justifies its proposals for radical change with a false and exaggerated narrative that such action is required to somehow win over younger customers. Racing actually does many things well and the large uplift in wagering during Covid lockdowns shows that racing already has a product offering that has strong appeal. Gimmicks will not win new customers and will just annoy existing customers. Young people are in fact clearly engaged during the Melbourne Cup carnival and the challenge has always been to translate that to the rest of the year. Wagering turnover increased substantially during Covid lockdowns and while it has now understandably reduced, is still higher than it was just a few years ago.”
“The correct strategy to maintain and grow interest and engagement in racing is to play to our unique strengths by promoting our equine athletes and their progress and competition in our marquee races and celebrating our leading jockeys and trainers. The additional promotion of fashion, social interaction and celebrity ambassadors, as demonstrated so well during the Spring Carnival, is also essential to continue to elevate the sport from just another wagering product. Instead of upsetting our existing supporters, let’s use them as ambassadors to win over their friends and acquaintances.”
“A better starting point would be to improve the race day and punting experience. Racing Victoria has neglected this and refused to fund sensible and relatively inexpensive initiatives, such as electronic owners ticketing to replace the current system of paper ticketing from the 1950s. They should also be working with race clubs to improve the race day experience, but this has not happened. In terms of the punter’s experience, Racing Victoria needs to work more closely with the wagering service providers, such as TabCorp, Sportsbet and Ladbrokes, to promote racing and engage with their millions of existing customers.”