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Guy Sargent fronts up at NZTBA AGM

NZTR Board Chairman Guy Sargent was the guest speaker at the Annual General Meeting of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' held in Auckland on 18th June.

In an address to around 60 members he discussed a range of subjects of importance to the industry from governance to stakes funding and bonuses.

The issue of concern to most breeders was the proposal submitted by the NZTBA to NZTR last year for a "Breed To Race" bonus.

Mr Sargent told the meeting that unfortunately at this time there is not enough money to fund such a scheme.

When questioned about the scheme being an investment rather than a cost, Sargent responded by saying that NZTR needs to do more work on the programme, and will get some independent analysis.

He went on to say that NZTR was aware that approximately 1000 horses from each foal crop never get to a trainer, and that the majority of these horses are fillies which are left sitting in paddocks. Most of them will be bred and owned by the same person who would be eligible for a bonus.

"However, at this point in time we believe the money will be better spent on trainers' incentives which will get horses away from trials and into races. Already we are seeing a decline in the number of horses' trialling," he added.

Sargent stated that he felt that NZTR had made some ground in the area of racing participation, with an increase in the number of starters for the season to date. Currently there have been 1600 more starters and 175 more horses racing.

He believes that free racing and the riding fee subsidy have aided this. To this end free racing is funded at $4 million and the riding fees at $7 million.

Funding provided to the three codes from the NZRB for 2009/2010 season has been cut by $16.3 million, or 12%. In addition, there will not be a surplus paid out for the 2008/2009 season as has been done in the past, which results in a further decrease in available funding of approximately $8 million. The thoroughbred codes share of this decrease in available funding is $13.8 million or a drop in funding of 17.6% for the new season.

The NZTR board currently have a funding proposal in front of the Racing Board in a bid to maintain stakes. NZTR did foresee that there would be a decrease in funding and because of this clubs will get less for stakes. The minimum stake has been maintained at $6,000, but Group and listed races have been reduced.

On the subject of the million dollar-plus races, Mr Sargent said that "unfortunately it is outside NZTR's control and although many people don't see the value in holding these races and not spreading the stakes, we are stuck with them. They were designed to raise New Zealand's profile overseas, and generate interest internationally, and they have been pretty successful at that. We did have overseas horses in the Derby and the Telegraph, and although we don't like the Aussies winning the races, we will just have to put up with that. We have to applaud the previous minister the Hon Mr Winston Peters for promoting these events and to all intents and purposes they have achieved what he set out to do. The funding is only for three years, and then we will need to generate that level ourselves or spread the funding."

"In October last year, NZTR commissioned an independent governance consultant, Graeme Nahkies, to undertake a comprehensive review of the thoroughbred code's current structure and operations and draw up recommendations. Several workshops were held as part of this process and the feedback from them was used to help develop recommendations, " he said.

The report and its recommendations can be viewed in full on the NZTR website at www.nzracing.co.nz.

Mr Sargent said that this report should look at the governance of the total industry. "Our board believes that we need one board for the industry where we will be lobbying for the jobs, and the best person for the job will be appointed. The main reason NZTR lacks grunt in the industry is that we are a toothless organisation. We don't believe we have a lot of say in how we run the industry. The spirit in which the 2003 Racing Act was drafted is certainly not working - the board is not working, it is not how it was designed. The only way forward is to get good commercial decisions and you can't do that with code representation."

"The NZTR board does take an industry first focus, but we can't go forward with the current make-up, we need to be more commercially focused. There is a huge duplication in resources that could save the industry funding and work more efficiently especially in areas like HR, IT and Administration. The same thing applies at Club level. There is incredible duplication throughout the industry," Mr Sargent added.

"Keeping the thoroughbred at the forefront is our priority, but the reality is that three codes own the TAB. We shouldn't be running a harness race meeting on a Saturday just because it's been done like that for the last 100 years, too many decisions are based on emotion. Decisions should be based on generating more money for the stake holders. The first step is sharing services. The taskforce report will come back in September, but we won't be signing off without commitment from the NZRB and industry as a whole."

The New Zealand Racing Board Chairman Michael Stiassny was also in attendance and added his comments.

Mr Stiassny believes that the two most important factors of the industry are the Punters and the Owners. Punters have a big say through being able to bet elsewhere. The Owners provided the product and the focus for the racing clubs should be to get people on course to bet on the product.

The breeders produce the product, they are the factory if you like and they have no say. As a board, whether it is the NZTR Board or NZRB, our focus should be on the need to maximise the return on the product right back to the breeder, but at the moment breeders are sitting somewhere in the middle.

Governance forums will be held in the regions during September and both gentlemen agreed that we really are going to only get one crack at this, so it is important to get it right.

On the subject of Synthetic Tracks, Sargent reported that the cost has escalated at Matamata and that is why it was canned. The board had allocated $22 million for tracks at Matamata, Awapuni and Riccarton as it was felt three tracks were necessary. If the industry didn't have one in the Central Districts, the Central Districts horses and trainers would move north and the same scenario if there was one at the Central Districts and not in the South Island.

The reality was that Matamata blew out from $8 million to $12 million and the budget couldn't fund all three. The issue of the injury rate in Australia had become noticeably higher and needed to be addressed, although it seems that part of the blame for the problems at Geelong in Victoria can be put down to substandard management.

Another issue often brought up for discussion with NZTR is that of handicapping and programming. Mr Sargent acknowledged that there was work to be done in handicapping particularly for three year old fillies coming out of maiden class and into rating 70 as they have limited opportunity and because they a treated the same way as a four or five year old gelding. The Ratings band was discussed and was blamed for the backlog of horses in Maidens and Rating 70 races.

Mr Sargent advised that there is to be a meeting on July 16 for consultation on handicapping and the recommendations will be put to the August NZTR Board meeting. He said he felt the Board would be very sympathetic towards it even if the handicapper believes he has it right.

NZTR had now started analysing stable returns on a monthly basis and would be adjusting programming accordingly. Programming was now set in three month bands throughout New Zealand.

He then addressed the subject of establishing a Code of Practice. "This is one issue we are working on with our lawyers Bell Gully, and they have met with the NZTBA for the breeder viewpoint. However it is proving very hard to organise but something needs to be put in place to suit all parties. It needs a change in the Act, and although Bell Gully is working on it they believe that at the moment it can be adequately covered with a civil action."

"The issue of gaming machines and funding is topical at the moment and with the proposed changes in legislation all of us should be speaking to our local MP about this. We are also working with the Racing Board on this issue. Gaming funding won't be wiped out completely but the writing is on the wall that the stakes funding may go. Therefore we have to get smart about how we fund our race days and how we apply for funding", said Mr Sargent.

- Michelle Saba