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Racing Minister addresses NZTBA Annual General Meeting in Auckland

The President of the NZTBA Peter Francis addressed approximately 50 members of the NZTBA at the Annual General Meeting in Auckland on 22nd June.

Francis spoke to his report published in the Annual Report circulated last month, stressing that his major concern is for continuation of member participation within the breeding industry.

"Our own membership is down, the foal crop is down and the NZRB wastage report reports that of 900+ horses wich are not registered with a trainer each year, 65 percent are fillies.

He then went on to discuss the lack of support for fillies and mares racing in New Zealand despite pressure from the NZTBA on this score for many years.

In his role as the NZTBA delegate on NZTR he said he had lobbied hard for a fillies and mares series and hoped that this would be in place later in the season.

"I am currently putting together a proposal for NZTR for a fillies and mares series in the autumn. It will be a series that those with lesser pedigreed fillies and mares can aim for it will have qualifying races and will be aimed at around the rating 80 horses. The funding of these races shouldn't be an issue under the new funding scheme.

"In fact if we can get fillies and mares races programmed across the board the funding is available under the new distribution scheme. The programming is the problem.

"Unfortunately at the moment there is a distinct lack of fillies and mares races programmed at all. In the first three months of the new season from Taupo north there are 13 maiden races for fillies and mares, three rating 70 races, three rating 80 races and one rating 90. In the CD there are 13 maiden races, and in the South Island there are none.

"These races are vital to our industry if the weanling sales results, where the lesser pedigreed fillies were virtually given away, is anything to go by. More and more fillies will be dumped and in the long term we will have no further breeding stock. As it is the foal crop numbers are consistently down around the 4,000 mark with considerable wastage still being reported.

He went on to say that as well as the foal crop diminishing, so were the numbers of members of the Association and the number of people willing to work on branch committees and council. In light of this, he thanked the Association Vice President Mark Chitty for remaining on the council after no nominations for his position as a Auckland/Waikato representative on the council were received.

The South Island on the other hand has a new councillor in Myles Gordon who replaces Peter Hutt who retired after 18 years continuous service. Peter Hutt joined the council in 1992 and was elected to the Executive in 1996 and was the President from 2002 until 2005. He was the NZTBA's representative on NZTR from 2006 until 2010 and at this meeting he was awarded life membership for his outstanding contribution.

The President then went on to introduce the guest speaker at the Annual General Meeting, the Minister for Racing the Honourable John Carter.

Carter noted with interest the NZTBA's concerns about the lack of fillies and mares races and incentives and promised to take the matter up with the NZTR Chairman on the breeders' behalf.

He then went on to deliver a speech befitting a parliamentarian of his 23 years experience, stressing that the entire racing industry needs to work together to address the decline of the last 20 years, and that changes will have to come from within the industry and not through legislation.

"One thing I am sure of," he said, "is that it is time for change, and by this I am very clear that means changes from within; not changes mandated by Government. The industry needs to work together as one business with common goals, if it is to seriously compete for leisure time and the leisure dollar.

"For the last 20 years the industry has been sliding downwards, there have been different industry leaders, and reports done and we haven't changed. Its pretty much run like our fathers ran it. How we market the industry, how we get more people involved are indicative of where the industry is. Seriously we need to look at how we make use of it, we need to be positive not lay the blame at each other.

"It's about getting people to talk to each other, getting around the table, I believe in Andrew Brown's vision for the future - the objective is fine - the reality is certainly different and without a lot of cynicism, it is achievable. I would like to be able to tell you that we could achieve it."

He emphasized that focusing on improving integrity and marketing the excitement of racing would help put the industry back on track with other forms of entertainment.

He went on to say that that was the message he had delivered to the key personnel of the Racing Board and the three codes, when he had met with their CEO's and Chairmen the day before.

Before taking questions from the floor he made reference to the large amount of tax payer funding that the industry had received over the past three years.

"Your industry got assistance through the previous government but there is a limit to the tax money that is available and in that sense there will be no additional funds next August. That money ceases and is not going to be replaced. Now it's about getting people to talk to each other and work together around the table. Following his speech he spent some time answering questions from the floor.

One of the questions raised from the floor was in regard to that meeting of the three codes and their leaders, and given the lack of transparency and all that has gone on over One Racing can it be opened up and has the Minister told the leaders that they need to work together and communicate with the industry stakeholders.

"I have made it clear that we need to be talking to each other as it does us serious damage if we don't. I had had two previous meetings with the four chairmen and they were really frustrating – this week it changed.

"They were full of enthusiasm about getting more people involved – about getting in contact with the public generally and letting them know how exciting it is.

"The more we talk the better we are. Let's talk about it and get on with it. If somebody wants to know what I am thinking then ring me up, you might not like what I say though," he added.

The subject of the distribution of TAB profit to the codes under Section 16 of the Racing Act was also rasied from the floor, with the query as to whether it was going to be reviewed or opened up for discussion in light of the effects it has had on the thoroughbred code in particular..

The Minister replied with an emphatic NO.

"There are two reasons why I am not going to do anything, I am here to facilitate. If the industry wants to debate it, that's fine but don't drag it somewhere you don't want to go.If the breeders of both codes want to debate it, come to me.

"Secondly, the reason I succinctly said no at a recent meeting in Canterbury is that we are talking about dividing up a smaller pot. I want to grow the pot - grow it to where we can be very happy. What I want us to focus on is growing the industry - we all realize it effects us when dissecting a small cake. Let's work on the positive. I want there to be so much money in the cake that we don't have to argue about it.

Another main concern of those in attendance was the leakage of funds through wagering on Betfair, Sports Bet and other online betting options. The leakage is enormous and the industry is struggling to keep up with new betting options, or offshore products.

The Minister responded that this was something outside his area of expertise and that the industry participants should take this issue up with Andrew Brown and his team at the Racing Board.

To read the Minister's speech in full click here

- Michelle Sabe


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