Letter to the Editor: What is the right structure for running racing in NSW?

6 min read
Leading owner and breeder Matthew Sandblom questions if the structure of Racing NSW was in the best interests of the racing industry, since it is controlled by the NSW government, not the industry.

Cover image courtesy of The Image Is Everything

In my last letter I questioned if the structure of Racing NSW was in the best interests of the racing industry, since it is controlled by the NSW government, not the industry.

One only has to look at Victoria to find an alternative structure which is controlled by the industry directly. Racing Victoria is a public company limited by guarantee that has members from all the city race clubs, country racing, trainers, breeders, owners, jockeys and unions representing workers.

So, it is fair to ask the question which state is doing the best job in the running of racing. Racing NSW always highlights in its annual report, above else, the dramatic increase in prizemoney over the last decade or so.

These are impressive numbers which have been underpinned in more recent years by income from race fields royalties paid by betting companies.

Racing NSW and Chief Executive of Racing NSW Peter V’landys, were the key drivers in fighting the race fields rights all the way to the high court and winning whilst at it. In the same period, Victoria has gone from about $141million in prizemoney to $270million in prizemoney in 2023 (with 20 per cent less racing than NSW).

So, on that basis Racing NSW has done a fantastic job in increasing returns to owners, trainers and jockeys. Some of this has been driven by Racing NSW getting a better deal from the TAB as well as race fields income, and more recently, a share of the Point of Consumption taxes.

If you then compare Racing NSW and Victoria on how efficient they are at converting income into prizemoney, Racing NSW would come out on top, although both organisations’ accounts have differences that make it almost impossible to do an exact comparison.

Racing NSW accounts do not include TAB distributions that go directly to race clubs, whilst Racing Victoria does. Racing NSW also runs its own workers compensation scheme, whilst Victoria does not. Racing Victoria have a large media operation in racing.com. Racing NSW outsources most of its media operations to the TAB.

My rough estimate is that Victorian prizemoney would be 9-10 per cent higher if they distributed at the same level as Racing NSW.

If prizemoney was the only criteria for who is doing the best job, Racing NSW would be the clear winner. However, there is more to racing than prizemoney such as racetrack development, training facilities, horse welfare and post race careers.

Just a gentle reminder to the non-racehorse owners, for the vast majority of horses, prizemoney won does not even cover the training fees, let alone the purchase costs of the horse.

Owners, many of whom are also breeders, put more money collectively into racing than Racing NSW does each year, yet owners and breeders have very little say in the direction of the industry.

When it comes to issues like rehoming racehorses and developing modern training facilities Racing Victoria comes into its own. In their annual report, it states the number of horses that have directly been rehomed (over 550), as well as other initiatives to subsidise their re-education.

You will find no such numbers in the Racing NSW annual report even though over $4million was deducted from the prizemoney pool in 2023 to fund racehorse welfare initiatives.

From what I can determine, one has a similar chance of getting a runner into the Golden Slipper than getting a horse into the Racing NSW rehoming program.

Matthew Sandblom | Image courtesy of Kingstar Farm

Racing NSW has bought lots of properties, supposedly for the purpose of re-homing and re-education, but very few owners I know have ever had a horse accepted onto these properties.

Racing Victoria has been much more proactive in setting up new state of the art training centres such as, Cranbourne and Packenham. This has been done in conjunction with the major city clubs redeveloping their racetrack assets such as, Moonee Valley and Caulfield, while still keeping them as racetracks.

Racing NSW seems to have taken a much more scattershot approach to developing training centres. They buy some properties near race tracks and they put in new training tracks without any significant increases in stabling capacity. Overall, there is no real increase in capacity and facilities outside of training tracks.

The solution to these issues now offered by Racing NSW is to sell Rosehill to fund a major new training centre, as well as build a new racetrack in some unknown location.

As Racing Victoria has shown, with good planning, you can build major new training centres without selling off the Crown Jewels. Racing NSW has been stashing away quite a lot of money into property and other assets due to the income from race fields and other sources, therefore it already has the capacity to fund some major developments if it was more focussed on property investment strategy.

If more funds than this was needed, the Australian Turf Club does have some property it could sell without selling a whole track.

Is having the highest prizemoney the most important factor in the long-term success in racing?

It is important, but I’ve yet to meet anyone in racing who thinks putting $10million in prizemoney into the Golden Eagle is a good idea. Or why there is a need for a $6million bonus scheme for the Everest Sprinting Series (supposedly funded by Sportsbet, but what concessions did they get in return?).

I think the structure of Racing Victoria is much better than Racing NSW because it is accountable to all parts of the industry, not just the government. And you have to ask why hasn't Racing NSW and V’landys pushed for new legislation that would lessen the government’s power over the industry.

Flemington Racecourse in Victoria | Image couresy of The Image Is Everything

We certainly know Racing NSW and V’landys are not afraid to push the government quite hard when they want a change to legislation to keep their chairman for longer than the Racing Act allowed.

They only really backed off when the crossbenches and the Greens started pushing for more accountability and auditing of Racing NSW. I think it suits V’landys only have to answer to the government and the Racing Minister.

Racing Ministers come and go on a regular basis. Most people in racing would often be hard pressed to even name them. Everyone knows who V’landys is, it would be a brave Racing Minster who attempted to cross him.

What happens to Racing NSW when V’landys is no longer in charge? Will the government of the day assert its control over Racing NSW in ways that appeal to certain anti-racing groups?

A great and lasting legacy for V’landys, would be if he pushed to set up Racing NSW as a more independent body that answered to the industry and not just the government.

Letter to the Editor