Day At The Track

Down Under view from a North American

04:36 PM 06 Apr 2018 NZST
Comment (...) Tweet Share Email Print
Penrith, harness racing
Penrith, outside of Sydney. It's a charming, half mile track, somewhat reminiscent of Saratoga Raceway

Having spent two weeks in New Zealand and Australia visiting various harness racing tracks, meeting top industry executives, owners, trainers, and fans, I thought I would try to paint a portrait of what I've seen and heard.

There is no doubt that the standardbred industry in both New Zealand and Australia is suffering from many of the same dangers, problems, and downward trends that are besetting the North American industry.

Foaling numbers are down (250 fewer mares bred this year in nz than last year), sale prices are down, Breeders are contemplating big cutbacks, the buying bench is shrinking and aged, horse shortages are beginning to effect race cards, purses are flat, expenses are increasing, industry visibility is diminishing, on track attendance is abysmal, and the show we are putting on is generally lethargic and boring!

Some of the Downunder tracks seem to be on solid footing. Alexandra Park, in Auckland, projects doubling current minimum purses to levels approaching NZ$40.000 per average race within two years. This is to be accomplished via cash streaming in from apartment, hotel, and non racing revenues that are part of their vision for a new age, upscale living/entertainment complex built around racing, but offering much more than racing.

The track's central city location has been used to create a racing centered complex that could be a blueprint for future projects everywhere, although conceptual transferability is somewhat limited to centrally located properties.

Instead of offloading highly valuable property, Alexander Park's club directors had the vision and ability to use the location to create add on, added value assets which infuse cash to the racing product and broaden the entertainment offered indirectly thru the racing. It will work, and Alexandra Park has a bright short term future.

It will, however, have to avoid the danger confronted by any non producing asset - the danger of extinction caused by a recognition that, perhaps, the core asset (racing) is so underproducing that the other assets may no longer need and want it. Let's hope the directors find a way to prevent that eventuality!

Tabcorp Menangle, Sydney's major track, is located in a growing hub and has plans for a similar complex. Fueled by their sale of Harold Park for huge money, it would appear that their future should be a bright one.

I was at a lovely track last night, Penrith, outside of Sydney. It's a charming, half mile track, somewhat reminiscent of Saratoga Raceway, with unusually large on track attendance and on track energy in this day of concrete racing. Their directors are active, on site, welcoming, and enthusiastic about their product and venue. It's a wonderful place to enjoy for the one night a week that it races.

Also in a city hub, one has to hope that the huge land value won't lead to sale and relocation that would almost certainly diminish the experience!

Alexandra Park appears to make more money from a dollar spent on food and beverages than they get from a dollar wagered. This has led them to focus on offering a great on track experience, and in attracting a crowd that is there to enjoy themselves, NOT to gamble! The gamblers are primarily off track, this is an interesting model that may have relevance everywhere.

Perhaps the industry can bring back attendance by offering a fun, family experience, by creating on site, separate options attractive to young people, to the older crowd, to well dressed and casual customers to whom the racing is incidental and a draw because of its uniqueness.

Meanwhile, the industry can optimize off track gambling and distribution, its video presentation of its product, and create non intrusive, invisible on site ways to wager that won't lessen on track attractiveness for non gamblers. I understand that NZ is renegotiating it's video contract with Sky, hoping to enhance its' ability to customize video programming, which would be wonderful!

Betting options Downunder are different from North American counterparts, and each should learn from the other. Of course, control of racetracks, the racing signal, and wagering follow completely different models in the two hemispheres...

Downunder, the handicapping schemes are flawed and attempts are underway to improve their efficacy, but authorities need to better understand the handicapping systems in place around the world. They need to be able to create more even fields and to get away from point based systems that allow too much discretion, favoritism, and try to achieve indirectly what can best be done directly.

Both Downunder and in North America, the industry needs to address decreasing foal numbers and breeder's losses by assisting faster recoupment of money spent on yearlings and, Downunder, on classification, handicapping, and purse changes designed to provide better racing/purse options for top calibre and older racehorses.

The reasons to export need to be overcome so that horses remain in the system!

In both hemispheres, following the thoroughbred formula of top heavy purses for young non winners of 1,2, and 3 races might be a really great idea. It should help yearling buyers, thereby helping Breeders...

In both hemispheres there is a perception expressed by so many that the individuals empowered to lead harness racing's way forward are incapable of getting the job done, that those on top just don't listen to the people who really know the everyday problems - and often the solutions - the average "joe" who lives the racing experience in some way every day.

The better, the gambler, the customer, the groom and driver and trainer, the racetrack employee, the guy on the track or USTA phone....these are the people from whom the answers, at least indirectly, will come. We had all better listen to them!

I'll be here for another ten days in Melbourne, Sydney, and Auckland....watching and listening!

I'll let you know what I see and hear!

Cheers! As they say here : "good day on ya"!

Gordon Banks

Comment (...) Tweet Share Email Print

Read More News About...

Stallion Name

Next article: