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Wendy Pye's Address to the NZTBA AGM

Locally based, internationally successful, Wendy Pye is one of New Zealand's leading business people. She founded Sunshine Books in 1986 and is a major publisher and exporter of books and educational materials. Her several government appointments include membership of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC).
Wendy and her husband Don are enthusiastic thoroughbred breeders and owners and have enjoyed notable success this season with Wellington Cup G1 winner Cyclades. The following is the text of Wendy's notes for her address, published here with her permission.


A challenge for all of us

I headed up my presentation today with this heading as I wanted to not spend the next 20 minutes talking about what you already know - that we have an industry in crisis - but to talk about some thoughts on visionary thinking and our challenge ahead.

These ideas come from my perspective as a successful international marketer, a breeder with my husband Don, and an interested investor in the future through our support for the New Zealand Equine Research Foundation.

I believe, after the report [the Economic Development Study commissioned by the Government] which is due out on Friday of this week, that we should build from any positive aspects of this report and develop a vision plan that not only racing people can share, but all New Zealanders can feel a part of.

The racing industry has stagnated in a time capsule that was great 50 years ago.

Just think of those wonderful black and white pictures on the wall of every racing club. The great race of 1950 - lots of people, lots of betting, and a different New Zealand. Even the 8 o'clock.

Look at the same picture today. Often the same stand but looking a little worse for wear, the same chips but a new carton, a coffee machine and maybe the same hotdog.

The stand is empty. Trainers and owners are almost going broke. Trainers often surviving only by selling a horse when it wins a trial. People receiving less than a livable wage.

With the product we have, that is totally unacceptable.
The challenge is that we must act now and make something happen.
We know New Zealand has moved on - Saturday shopping, Sunday trading, leisure activities increased ... I could go on. We have a New Zealand where a young person has many choices but racing has almost stayed still.

Let's look now at some positive action. What we have is a Super 12 of racing. The product is the horse.

A superb winner in all respects. Just think for a minute about its record.

From the interests of all of us in this room, the thoroughbred, then all the other areas of horse management and career development.

To make this happen there are a few focus points. Our leaders who hold responsibility should be responsible and be accountable to the stakeholders and investors.

In any other industry there is no problem with eg. Zespri, it is the growers. In the dairy industry it is the dairy farmers.

But, in racing ... who should hold the power?

There seems to be some misunderstanding who these people are. It is very clear to me that they are the owners, breeders, investors - all of us in this room. The link in the chain is the trainers and support staff and the other industries that link within the racing industry.

Then there are the racing clubs which host the events. They need to be accountable for ensuring that the product is packaged in a way that the public wants , is excited about and becomes a new lifestyle, and most importantly meets the needs of the owners, breeders and trainers..

Without them there will not be an industry.

Like any successful corporation, industry leaders should show that:

1. They can lead with vision.

2. They can build equity for all of us through successful international marketing, adding value to our product.

3. Lead by encouraging the type of visionary thinking that establishes the best races for horses at the right times in the year to build a strong domestic market.

If they don't achieve results they should be like all other directors accountable to their stakeholders.

It is easy to place blame when a crisis exists. But we must now stop moaning and get into action.

These are some further thoughts:

The industry:

1. International growth of exports

The industry today is worth approximately $120 million. The questions that must be answered are:

Is it possible to build this to $200 million within two years and to $300 million within four years? What is needed to do this?

This, I believe, should be the focus for the international market.

Let's develop key points to make this happen - what infrastructure is needed with the different industries involved?

Who are our main targeted buyers and how can we lift our game to make it possible to achieve targets?


2. Racing in New Zealand

To attract and grow an industry with owners who can afford to race in New Zealand, racing must be put on a reasonable business footing.

The investment is a gamble, like any private investment, but the returns must be possible. Without these, the industry will not prosper and all the good horses will end up being sold overseas as owners try to make some return or will just simply race in Australia.

I believe, as do many other owners, that there are some key points that could be explored. Racing must be made into a lifestyle that attracts new punters, therefore it should be changed to suit the new, faster lifestyle of New Zealanders.

a) Shorter race meetings (8 races per day)
Anyone attending a race meeting will notice that after race 8 only the trainers, owners and a few others are left in the bar. Racing needs to cover the same time zone as a rugby experience or other activities undertaken by people today - an afternoon with time for other activities in the early evening.
Shorter times between each race - why is this not possible?

b) A minimum stake of $10,000
Selected days for $40,000 and over.
There needs to be a plan of action for the stakes to be raised as racing becomes more successful over the three year period. This will encourage more owners to have a go at racing and get some rewards and some limited return. Current average stakes of $5,000 only encourage owners to take their horses to Australia. Because of our small economy base, we cannot compete with Australian stakes, but we can begin to make it more attractive for owners and encourage new investment in racing.

c) A professional code to be established for owners and trainers.
This is the minimum expectation that any owner can expect for the investment they make in training agistment of any horse. This would cover communication and other issues. The code for owners is what is expected by trainers, eg payment of accounts promptly and responsibilities of owners. Owner/trainers would obviously be outside this code. We need to upgrade the industry. There is no code of practice that I have been able to find.

A new investor into any industry would normally want to look at a code of some sort so that they knew what to expect. I know we are selling dreams with a lot of risk but this code would enable the racing industry to be perceived as showing a professional approach.


3. Education and future employment opportunities
Racing is a big employer of people but lacks the incentives, both in rewards and career development. If a viable future industry is to be developed, this must be included in any plan to attract New Zealand's brightest young people. Scholarships should be offered for people to enter the industry (I am aware that there are some) and there should be exchange programmes offered (on a wide scale) with other leading countries, eg USA, Ireland, England. Racing should be seen as an industry where you can enter and become part of a worldwide industry that benefits New Zealand and also offers an exciting career. It needs to compete against other industries.
The rates of pay will reflect the health of the industry and I believe this should be included in any plan.

4. Equine research
I believe we must make racing part of the secondary school curriculum now - not in the future. A bold vision plan should be developed which includes private and government investment, New Zealand could become a world leader in equine research. We have a very good foundation - what we need now is the plan to build from this.

This would offer extensive benefits to both the breeding industry and racing and would become the world centre of excellence in selected areas of research.

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts tonight. I want all of us to experience a great new growth industry. I believe it is not impossible to achieve - we all need to plan a positive future.


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