It’s one conflict after another as Racing Victoria remains under constant fire

Proposals to close Moonee Valley, home of the Cox Plate, have resurfaced recently. Photo:

Racing Victoria posted a profit of more than $A48 million ($US36 million) for the last financial year, but the organisation still attracts fire from many angles.

Racing Victoria posted a profit of more than $A48 million ($US36 million) for the last financial year, but the organisation still attracts fire from many angles.

RV has eliminated its debt over the last four years and built substantial cash reserves, which isn’t bad for a not-for-profit business, but fractures remain in the ruling body’s relationships with both stakeholders and participants.

The structure of the RV board is the subject of much discourse, as is Victoria’s integrity department, which has been a magnet for controversy since beginning legal conflicts on many fronts, from jockey Danny Nikolic to the trainers involved in the lengthy cobalt cases, which have chewed up many months and millions of dollars of industry money in lawyers’ fees.

We’ll get to those and a few other stories in that category in the coming months on TRC but, for now, we’ll have a look at a few of the conflicts engulfing Racing Victoria and its stakeholders at present.

Prosperous times

The late autumn and winter period in Melbourne is the time most local racing writers take their vacations to warmer climates. Alaskans or Canadians may laugh, but to us Victorians, maximum temperatures ranging from 12 to 16 degrees Celsius (or 53 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit) don’t exactly motivate journos to attack their tasks with vigour.

Race meetings in Melbourne during that period are largely cold and grey experiences for both spectators and participants, but the goings on among Victorian racing authorities recently have kept turf writers on their toes deep into winter.

One topic that has boiled under the surface is the debate over what to do with the revenue Racing Victoria has accumulated in its recent prosperous times - an estimated $50 million - which has partly stemmed from the introduction of fees paid by betting agencies for the use of race fields.

The city clubs - the Victoria Racing Club, Melbourne Racing Club and Moonee Valley Racing Club – believe Racing Victoria should hand them at least some of the funds for development of their tracks, among other projects, but RV is digging in with the chairman, prominent breeder David Moodie, arguing the retention of the money is essential to protect the sport from drops in wagering revenue.

Pledge over Moonee Valley

Much of Victoria’s wagering revenue comes from an agreement with the pari-mutuel operator Tabcorp but Moodie told the Herald-Sun the amount could fall as bettors’ preferences change, telling the newspaper a “dark cloud of uncertainty over funding that we have to protect ourselves against’’ hovers over the RV’s funding.

Proposals to close the unique Moonee Valley track, the home of Australia’s weight-for-age championship, the Cox Plate, have also resurfaced in the media in recent weeks along with a possible idea to sell the spacious and enormously valuable Sandown circuit in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

The MVRC has worked in recent years on a masterplan to reconfigure the course and complete residential and commercial developments around the track and is adamant the track will remain open.

Another major point of conflict is the proposal to alter the way Racing Victoria directors join the RV board, with a plan to replace direct stakeholder election of board members with the introduction of what chief executive Bernard Saundry described as a “new appointment panel that will include nominees from industry groups as well as a nominee of the (Victorian) Minister for Racing”.

The city clubs have viewed the plan as an attempt by Racing Victoria to arm itself with enormous power to make the important decisions for the sport in the state.

Minister unimpressed

One does not have to be a public relations genius to know such goings on do little to enhance Thoroughbred racing in Victoria and the state’s Minister for Racing, Martin Pakula MP, appears to be unimpressed by the constant jockeying in the echelons of power, making multiple media statements suggesting the parties get the industry in order – or he will do it for them.

“I was hoping to see Racing Victoria and the clubs comes to an agreement on a way forward for better governance,” Pakula told Racing Victoria’s news website in May.

“I always like to see the racing industry making the decision to govern itself in a mature and sensible way. If not, the government will step in, but I would prefer not to.”

Pakula appeared on an online program on the racing website G1X in November last year, telling host Bruce Clark that Racing Victoria’s governance model had a few significant flaws.

“I have had some discussions with Racing Victoria about that, but I don’t think we want to move towards a situation where we have a full statutory authority all appointed by the minister,” Mr Pakula said.

Report by Paul Bittar

“Right now what you have is the integrity controlled by Racing Victoria and you have a Racing Victoria Board which effectively has a lot of racing stakeholders. That is not ideal.

“I have always said we need to be more independent in terms of the governance model — separate the integrity somewhat without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Pakula has followed through on his integrity comments, commissioning a review of the Thoroughbred, Harness and Greyhound integrity models by former British Horseracing Authority chief executive Paul Bittar.

Bittar handed his report to Pakula in April, recommending the establishment of a Victorian Racing Integrity Unit to oversee “delivery of integrity services across all three codes (Thoroughbred, Harness and Greyhound racing)” to enforce the rules of racing for all mediums.

Pakula said the Victorian government would accept in principle Bittar’s key recommendations, which call for the establishment of the VRIU within two years.

An interesting footnote is that Racing Victoria had to begin a worldwide search for a new chief executive after Saundry announced his resignation after four years in the job, which will take effect at the end of the year.

One can only wish the new chief executive the very best of luck and hope he or she has experience in the art of herding cats.

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