HAVE you ever stopped to think how much the mainstream punters mean to the survival of the racing industry and how little say they have in the actual running of that multi-billion dollar business?

No-one denies how important every stakeholder is to racing – owners, breeders, jockeys, trainers, stable-hands, bookmakers and the TAB. But how many of them would survive without the thousands of punters who line up every week to invest their hard-earned?

The punter is racing’s biggest shareholder but sadly does not have a say in the running of the industry that he finances and follows religiously. In what other business in the world would that be allowed to occur?

The average punter might not be a ‘rocket scientist,’ have slick ‘corporate skills’ or wear ‘Italian made shoes,’ but many arguably know a hell of a lot more about the grass roots needs of racing than some of those holding down high flying positions and deciding the ultimate direction that the industry takes.

Let’s face it – racing has changed dramatically as the sport struggles to attract yet another generation of punters back to the track. It desperately needs input from someone at the coal-face.

Race club directors no longer play the important administrative role they once did. Some even cynically suggest they are only there now to serve the tea and scones. The majority of their power base has been lost to the Control Bodies.

Most punters are not members of race clubs, many do not even set foot on a racetrack more than a couple of times a year, some prefer the comfort of the local pub or club or even the privacy of their own homes. Those that go to the track seem more concerned that the beer is cold (and at the right price), the pies are hot and that they can watch the races and bet in comfort.

Some might say if the average punter has a problem with how races are run, or why the one he or she has backed was ridden badly then the stewards are there to protect their interests. That’s an argument for another day.

What we are talking about here is how the industry is run, not the racing itself. Should those in charge be smart business people with an intimate knowledge of horse racing or is it an advantage not to have any ‘industry baggage’ to bring to the Board table?

The controversial process of electing directors to the Boards that control racing has been especially highlighted in recent times in Queensland where it even resulted in Supreme Court action challenging the selection process.

Now we have a situation in the north where the Government is prepared to legislate for an integrated body to administer the three codes. This sounds a great idea for stream-lining the control of the gallops, harness and greyhounds and reducing the costs.

But many, yours truly included, are gob-smacked by the appointment process and the five-year terms that the directors look certain to be granted. Don’t forget three of the five that Queensland Racing Chairman Bob Bentley wants to automatically transfer across will dodge standing for re-election – a requirement under the current QRL Constitution.

Many will argue that under the current voting system the ‘village idiot’ would be elected to the QRL Board if he had the backing of Bentley and his cronies. I for one would disagree when it comes to one specific QRL Board member, whose appointment was never popular with the industry in general.

Bentley even admitted to me recently: “He knows the industry would carry coals to burn him. But we can’t just dump one or two current Board members because some people are not happy about them automatically transferring across when they would have been required to stand for re-election under the current system. The timing of this was just a lucky coincidence for them.”

Coincidence or not, why then increase the term of the Integrated Board to five years when the current QRL directors have to stand for re-election after three? The answer from QRL is that the five-year term has been designed to coincide with the expiry date of the TAB Privatization Agreement. Here’s hoping the last one to leave doesn’t have to turn out the lights on the industry!

Complacency and fear are the two greatest concerns for the industry in Queensland. Some key players, opposed to the personnel being given five-year terms on the new Board, will sit idly by while the legislation is steam-rolled through Parliament then complain when it is too late. There are others who want to protest but fear what damage will be done to their clubs or organizations if they do.

To save them the embarrassment I have decided, on their behalf, to pen a letter to old mate, Racing Minister Peter Lawlor, appealing to his sense of honesty and fair play in the hope that the proposed legislation is at least debated within the industry and open for submissions before being processed.


Dear Minister,

Haven’t times changed since the good old days when we used to join our great old mate, Pedro (former Gold Coast Turf Club chairman Peter Gallagher) for a very long lunch and talk about how you would eventually fulfill your political ambitions?

We were always confident that you would one day topple the fat goat rider who had been there for far too long. You eventually strode to victory in a land-slide but being in the wrong faction of the Labor Party, it took them what seemed like an eternity to recognize your talents.

Now you have finally shed that back-bench status and secured a Ministerial role – fancy you following in the footsteps of the likes of ‘Fat Russ,’ ‘Bollinger Bob’ and ‘Contrary Mary.’

Funny game, politics, your opposite on the front bench is none other than your old sparring partner from the Gold Coast Turf Club committee in (Shadow Racing Minister) Ray Stevens.

But back to the point of this letter old mate – those of us who know you as the great knockabout, hard-working guy that you are (how’s that for a suck-up?), also realize from first-hand experience that you like a cold drink on a hot day.

We can only hope that in the aftermath of one of those long lunches you have not unwittingly agreed to replicate your super successful ‘Best Job in the World’ tourism promotion for the racing industry.

Having read the blueprint for an integrated Board to control the three codes of racing in Queensland, it would appear that the seed has been planted – we suspect with the help of some crafty political maneuvering and a coldie or two – for the directors of Queensland Racing to earn ‘best job’ status.

Even Ben Southall, the Englishman who won Tourism Queensland’s internationally-advertised ‘best job in the world’ and got to spend six months on an idyllic tropical island in the company of his girlfriend, wasn’t permitted to out-stay his welcome.

But under the legislation that QRL chairman, Bob Bentley, is encouraging you to steam-roll through Parliament, three directors of the QRL Board will escape having to stand for re-election.

Bob the Builder, his side-kick ‘Tony the Tosser’ Hanmer (that's what industry wags have nick-named him - not this website) and Labor heavyweight, 'Big' Bill Ludwig, will be granted a ticket to ride the Board gravy train for another five years. If this is allowed to happen without due process being applied, it will not only be embarrassing for the racing industry but you will be held up for much behind-the-scenes political ridicule. And you don’t deserve that!

Not for one minute am I suggesting that these three gentlemen won’t do a good job on the new Board but even our own Prime Minister and for that matter the President of the United States don’t get a term of this duration without having to stand for re-election.

We were just hoping that in the aftermath of a long lunch you didn’t get your two Ministerial hats confused. You weren’t wearing the tourism one when you mistakenly agreed to provide ‘Bob and the Boys’ with racing’s version of the ‘Best Job in the World’ were you?

I know you were a fine lawyer before entering politics and would assume that neither you, as Minister, nor the Government (with a smart lady like Premier Bligh at the helm), would be prepared to accept full responsibility for appointments to the new integrated Board without due process and recognized standards being applied.

There’s also the story doing the political rounds in Queensland that Bob is buying up racetrack assets to improve the Government’s AAA Credit Rating. If that’s not a burr you are starting to feel in the saddle right now Minister, I hate to tell you this, but there is a growing resentment in the industry to the way the QR boss seems to be able to put Labor Racing Ministers back in their kennel when they step out of line. Over the years he has had plenty of practice with a member of his own Board.

Perhaps before we get too carried away with translating tourism’s ‘Best Job in the World’ to racing, you should consider calling for submissions on the proposed legislation. I know quite a few who are keen to express their thoughts on the issue but won’t for fear of intimidation.

For what it’s worth many believe that you should legislate for just three of the current five QRL Board members, one each from the harness and greyhounds and appoint two other independents. Just for a change tell Bob to go fly a kite!

Initially, my thoughts were that a representative of country racing (the three codes) and one from the TAB clubs (three codes) would be perfect. The other industry stakeholders would be well represented by the other three.

But then I started thinking about how little input the mainstream punter has into how racing is run these days. Here’s the perfect opportunity to use your ‘Best Job In the World’ promotion and attract some positive feedback for Queensland racing.

Why not call nominations for a ‘punters’ voice’ on the new Board. That way the hundreds of thousands of ‘ordinary people’ – the majority of them vote Labor each election – could at least have their views represented at the highest level of racing.

There are plenty of advantages in having just an ordinary ‘working class’ punter on the Board:

  1. He wouldn’t expect Mud Crab, Quail and Caviar washed down by the finest wines at Board lunches. A hot pie, chips and a six pack of XXXX would do the trick with our man.
  2. He wouldn’t expect a limousine to take him to feature meetings at the track and then make a grand entrance resembling the arrival of the Governor before being escorted to the director’s room or a private box. A return train ticket and a brief into the public stand would do the trick for our man so that he could meet all his mates for endless beers and hundreds of bets.
  3. He wouldn’t want to be sucked up to all day by pontificating officials telling him what a great job he was doing and focusing on everything bar the reason for being there – the racing. Our man would be more interested in enjoying what A Day At The Races is all about and listening to the concerns of the ‘real people’ in racing – those that keep the industry afloat, the punting public.
  4. And best of all our man wouldn’t complain about getting his Italian made shoes covered in you know what when he attempted to point his poor excuse for a manhood in the direction of the bowl because there was no urinal built in the gents’ toilet at QR headquarters. It’s hard to soil a pair of joggers or thongs.

All jokes aside Minister, if you felt a ‘mug punter’ would detract from the ‘class and quality’ of the new integrated board you could always find someone that the punting fraternity would find as an acceptable nominee.

One that comes to mind is Bill Carter – now wouldn’t he keep Bob and the Boys on their toes? With all due respects, he’s forgotten more about racing than some Board members could hope to remember. His qualifications in business, racing and the legal fraternity are impeccable and he has won key appointments from both sides of the political fence. Bill would represent the views of the battling punter to perfection.

In conclusion, perhaps I should suggest a woman who might make a suitable ‘voice of the punter’ on the new Board and two come to mind – Pam O’Neill and Mary Collier. What better credentials could you ask for?

Pam pioneered the cause of lady jockeys and is highly respected in every section of the racing industry. Since QRL decided they no longer required her services – she was just another victim of that forgetful Integrity Department that was eventually dismantled – Pam has got on with her life in racing and found a new niche in the breeding side of the industry in Queensland.

Mary was a former chairman of the Brisbane Turf Club, way ahead of her time in ideas for racing in Queensland but shunned to a degree by many in the ‘old boys’ network.’ They criticized her when the BTC showed a major loss when she recommended the sale of shares. In the after-math of the financial crisis she should have been granted life membership, having saved the club from a more monumental financial disaster.

Well Minister, I hope you didn’t sit down to read my letter after a long lunch as I have raved on for so long that you may well have fallen asleep by now. But I trust my thoughts – which I know are shared by so many others in the industry we have come to love and at times hate – will not have fallen on deaf ears.

If you feel there is no merit in the above suggestions then so be it but one way or the other could you do the new Board and the industry one final favor old mate?

Please set aside some funds in your next racing budget to enable the construction of a urinal in the gents’ toilet at Queensland Racing Headquarters at Deagon. You could call it the ‘Dr Dolittle Memorial Urinal’. I reckon there are plenty in the industry that would actually pay for the privilege of using it.

Regards from your old mate, 'GODFREY SMITH'



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