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NZTR Northern Forum: Questions & Answers

Considerable time was allocated for questions and answers at the end of the NZTR Northern Forum at Te Rapa last Thursday. As NZTR chairman Guy Sargent said, echoing a previous chairman's mantra, "We don't have a mortgage on all the answers."

The Forum was attended by approximately 100 people, mostly owners and breeders who also dominated the questions. A selection of Forum questions and answers follows:

John Clydesdale, owner-breeder & NZTBA Auckland committee member: How do you plan to drive wagering growth?
Paul Bittar:
New Zealand couldn't sustain a thoroughbred-only channel, but we do need to think of different ways to distribute the thoroughbred racing product. We are considering options with the Racing Board and Australian authorities, but I can't comment on them yet.
However, we have changed our turnover-based funding of clubs so we can, for instance, change dates and run eight-race programmes.

Susan Archer, owner-breeder, NZTBA website editor: I'm pleased to see that industry education & training is one of NZTR's priorities, as it's been hopelessly under-resourced in the past. Who is going to be responsible for managing that, the Racing Board or NZTR?
PB:
We have a plethora of committees at the base and three people expected to deliver training at the top; so we're starting all over again. We're working with the Racing Board on this.

Garry Chittick, Waikato Stud, former RIB chairman: How will you support industry-funded racedays?
PB:
We'll set minimum stakes, but will fund a set percentage of base prizemoney, plus pay the clubs an administration fee. This will give clubs some certainty and ensure they don't carry all the financial risk of presenting those meetings.

Vicki Pascoe, owner-breeder, NZTBA Waikato president: What incentives are there to breed horses?
Alistair Sutherland:
There will be a lag but increased stakes should increase returns for breeders. The new depreciation rates on stallions and mares will also help. Do you have any other suggestions?
VP: Yes – breeders' bonuses.
Guy Sargent:
We are looking at breeders' bonuses and fillies and mares' races on Saturdays.

Peter Fraher, owner-breeder:
The current handicapping system encourages us to leave horses at home. What's being done to improve it?
PB:
Peter and I have discussed this previously. The ratings system has worked reasonably well, but it is being reviewed and will be changed.
John Steffert, Te Aroha JC: Are you going to close venues?
GS:
We cannot close venues, but we have to consider what the industry spends.
AS: We have a fixed amount to spend on infrastructure, but non-strategic venues won't necessarily close.
PB: We don't want to spread our funding too thinly. Improving net returns to owners is critical. New Zealand sits below Victoria (which went through industry reform some time ago), Queensland and Western Australia (which have gone through more recent reform). But we also sit below South Australia. In fact, our stakes have been higher than they should be – they've been artificially inflated by owners' fees.

John Steffert: Are you planning to replace the Friday Flash?PB: We're not looking at our own replacement for the Flash; however, the Racing Board is discussing possibilities with Fairfax and an Australian racing newspaper.
AS: If the previous Friday Flash owners couldn't keep it, there's no sense in the Racing Board owning it.

Rodney Brooks, owner-trainer, Cambridge JC: Lowering the take-out rate for punters didn't work in the late 1990s, so why will it work now?
PB:
Corporate bookmakers and Betfair weren't operating at that time. [They now have an estimated 15% of the Australian market, and are forecast to increase that to 24% by 2008.]
RB: What about Section 16 of the Racing Act?
GS:
The Minister is aware of Section 16 and has said that the taxation & depreciation legislation is only the beginning.
John Clydesdale: How do we prevent the other codes from eating into our betting income?
AS:
The structure of the Racing Board makes it difficult. If you take an aggressive position on your own code you get the others' backs up. Fact, not emotion, is more effective in my experience.
However, David Walsh of the Racing Board has almost completed a 12-month study on cost allocations among the codes which is likely to be beneficial to our code.
Changing Section 16 will depend on political lobbying and the independent directors.

Colin Wightman, owner-breeder-trainer:
Where are we at trying to improve the JCA's decision-making?
PB:
The Integrity Committee is meeting each month, often with the JCA; and we're working with them more closely, and providing more training to clarify their rule interpretations.
CW: What's happening with the Code of Practice?
PB:
We're waiting for the Australian Racing Board to get back to us, which should happen this month. We prefer to have an Australasian Code of Practice.

Complete minutes of the Forum will soon be posted by NZTR at: www.nzracing.co.nz

- Susan Archer