It was about this time last year that I devoted some space to celebrating that, though undeniably “off-broadway”, racing still managed to provide employment and thrills for vast numbers – the stakemoney is incredible and the generally large noms for a packed calendar provide plenty of jockeys and owners with moments to savour as well as keeping the wheels of our industry inexorably rolling.
But, for this year’s counterbalance… the reality is certainly far from rosy, with problems and misgivings at all levels of racing.
Let’s start with fatigue – now I’m not complaining as I rely on the weekly work to feed my habits and my son (should that be the other way around PB?). But mine is a casual Saturday commitment. For others, the daily grind is taking a toll. Part of the rationale behind Aquanita Racing was to free up trainers from the paperwork and documentation that was smothering them – yet, two of theirs have been quite public about the “black dog” and anyone in the game can list others for whom the personal cost has been high. Now, I accept that you can’t have it both ways – to service all the horses, breeders, tracks, let alone mortgages, there must be races. And there’s a “good quid to be made”. But daily? The problem, of course, is that we are stuck on a merry-go-round with seemingly no way off. As a kid, I remember the Trots ceasing for a few months – in SA there’d be a final meeting (Whyalla?) and then a break before a big return to Wayville. In the UK, of course, the jumping season gives the flat racers a hiatus without interrupting the gambling houses’ need for product. Because, unfortunately, this is the root of the problem – more and more, racing is just another part of the betting jigsaw and, if it conceded ground (even one day a week!), another will take its place and its dollars. Turnover is trumps. Sadly, racing costs a lot more to run than a slot machine – bloody people can be so inconvenient and expensive! – so it somehow has to do a lot of things right to justify a profile.
And, unfortunately, a lot is not being done well.
The tracks are a mess. Sandown’s cactus again. Ballarat had to close for a while, as have many others. The Valley was a disgrace last week – if you weren’t in touch at the school, you’d might as well have bailed at the North Hill.
On course patrons are shunned. Footy fans are spoilt next to the public “amenities” at racecourses – horrible and expensive food and drink (if you can find anything open) is the reward for being made to park at the 3 furlong post (HQ!), paying admittance (another joke) and taking “unders” in a lifeless betting ring. The solution, naturally, is to bet off-course where you’ll get a good TV coverage and be drooled over by predatory corporates – unless, of course, you are not a total mug, in which case you will be barred. Racing NSW is huffing and puffing about at least tackling this embarrassment – can’t wait to see how they go about it.
Bookies are nearly extinct. Racing crowds are sparse – as distinct from those who want to annually drink in a carpark or find a C-lister in a Harry-the-Hirer’s. We’re in strife.
But the band plays on, as it must….
…this week at despised Flemington. It is a typical mid-winter card. The various Series’ for different categories keeps racing extremely competitive as is once more the case on Saturday. There are 8 races to be contested – RV have decided that, as of next season, it will be 9 each Saturday, because, naturally, more is better! Remarkably, the wonderful Royal Ascot Meeting, held recently, maintains its ranking at the pinnacle by having just 6 contests each day, mostly 35 minutes apart – betting is spirited, interest intense and compressed, and then the focus can shift to shenanigans. To use a concert analogy, we’ve decided to play a longer set of worse songs.
On a weekend with few highlights, it would be to the Sunshine Coast that I’d most like to head for the big Caloundra Cup Day. But, really, it is only the setting and the dearth of other options that gives it top billing. Some of these “conveyances” have plenty of “priors”.
I’m sitting on my hands unless convinced otherwise.