Day At The Track

Review will help turn around club's fortunes

01:19 AM 08 May 2018 NZST
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John Dumesny
John Dumesny

Harness Racing NSW chief executive John Dumesny hopes an operational review of the Newcastle club will help it turn around eight consecutive years of financial losses.

Dumesny confirmed HRNSW was conducting a review of Newcastle Harness Racing Club, which had a record loss of about $240,000 for the 2016-17 financial year. That followed annual deficits of $116,910, $171,000, $207,000, $103,000, $122,000, $120,000 and $97,000.

The review comes as the club prepares to lose CEO Tony Drew. The 64-year-old confirmed to the Herald almost three weeks ago that he was retiring. The former Wyong Race Club boss is set to leave later this financial year after four years at the helm following the death of long-time chief Ross Gigg.

Dumesny told the Herald the independent review at Newcastle was not unusual and was done “to see how clubs are doing and to improve the clubs”.

“Each of the past few years we’ve assisted clubs with reducing the costs of conducting meetings,” Dumesny said. “It’s a balancing act between providing a level of prizemoney for participants, but at the same time you also need to provide for the clubs.

“Newcastle is one of our ‘A’ clubs, so we’re just looking at it. It’s opportune, but it’s got nothing to do with the resignation of Tony.”

He said the harness racing clubs’ committee has “each year put forward ideas on how we can help clubs and that’s what we are doing”. 

Newcastle had blamed deficits on the loss of regular TAB Saturday meetings almost a decade ago. However, an increase in Saturday dates in recent years has failed to improve its bottom line.

“We just want to look at their model there and how it works and if we can help them further,” Dumesny said. “They’ve made a loss of varying amounts for the past few years now and we’ve worked with the club, changing race dates.

“We gave them all those Saturdays, and those Saturdays come at a cost to the industry, but we want to see what it is that continues not to assist them with making a profit.”

He said the annual losses were a concern but he was hopeful of a turnaround.

“In the next allocation of race dates we looked at the balance and there were indications that a combination of Fridays and Saturdays would work better,” he said.

He said wagering revenue was the industry’s lifeblood “but we are also driven to have on-track attendances”.

Asked if the review could lead to a change in administrative structure at NHRC, Dumesny said that was a decision for Newcastle’s board. He added that the review will be complete before Drew leaves, “so the club will be privy to what it uncovers and they will be able to address that in their future thinking”.

The review comes as Hunter participants await further news on the NSW government’s plans for the Broadmeadow sporting and recreational precinct, which takes in Newcastle Paceway. Harness racing has not been included in plans despite NHRC holding a lease on its facility until 2027, with an option for another 20-year deal.

The Herald understands HRNSW and state government authorities have been looking for a site in Maitland and Cessnock to build a new Hunter headquarters taking in a training centre and racetrack similar to Bathurst.

“The success at Bathurst is known, we can measure it,” Dumesny said. “We are building Wagga and it’s different to Bathurst, but Newcastle is our second-biggest club on race meetings and the Hunter Valley is a very strong harness racing precinct. So whatever occurs there, HRNSW will certainly be looking after the stakeholders throughout NSW and the future of harness racing in the Hunter.”

“There’s a licence agreement there for decades, so there’s no uncertainty for the participants. There is a venue there they can race on once or twice a week. They’ve got a home and they are safe.” 

By Craig Kerry

Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

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