THE WEDNESDAY WHINGE has a new look but won’t be dispensing with the theme and focus on the THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY side of what is happening in racing. The Whinge will continue to provide an opportunity for The Cynics to Have Their Say. Thanks again for your support for the most read column on this website and one of the most read on racing websites in the country. Our popularity continues to grow despite the bagging it cops from some high profile officials, especially in Queensland, who cannot cope with constructive criticism of any kind. We encourage supporters – and critics – to continue to contribute but plan to restrict the Whinge to less than 10 of the best items each week. Our message to those who continually bag us is simple: IF YOU DON’T LIKE WHAT YOU READ, THEN DON’T REVISIT THE WHINGE.

 

THIS week’s contributions were not surprisingly dominated by the state of play at the new Eagle Farm track. If this is the feedback we are getting, imagine what the general racing public think of this embarrassing debacle.

EAGLE FARMAGEDDON RETURNS TO HAUNT RACING IN QUEENSLAND 

GUY WILLIAMS of GOLD COAST writes:

‘JUST when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, Eagle Farmageddon returned to haunt racing in Queensland last Saturday – and one suspects the worst is yet to come.

The apologists – from BRC officials to one particular spin doctor in the racing media – can blame the latest embarrassment with the track on wet weather and over-reaction but it’s time for a reality check.

The fact remains the Eagle Farm track redevelopment has been a disaster from Day One. It was initially the centre of a political blame game highlighted by delays in funding and approvals as there was a change in Governments.

After that one could argue there was poor planning by officials desperate to appease stakeholders impatiently calling for a return to racing at headquarters as Doomben struggled to cope with the workload.

Inevitably, Mother Nature chimed in to deliver the knockout blow delaying the planned Oaks Day reopening at the 11th hour then providing a track that went from bad on Stradbroke Day to worse on Tatts Tiara Day and downright disastrous for the Queensland Cup meeting last weekend.

EDITOR’S NOTE: IT’S not too often that I am on the same racing planet as NATHAN EXELBY from THE COURIER-MAIL but I couldn’t agree more with two extremely objective articles that he has written this week and his final comment in one of them that: ‘There’s no point burying heads in the sand. No stone should be left unturned in finding out if improvement of the track can be hastened.’ Everyone from the trainer, jockey, owner to the punter deserves better than what is being served up at present – so let’s get it right.   

 

TIME TO STOP PROCRASTINATING AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE PROBLEM

DOUG DAVIDSON of SUNSHINE COAST sent this email:

‘LEADING Queensland trainers and jockeys, whose opinions are respected, seem reluctant to state the obvious about the new Eagle Farm track.

Arguably the best hoop in the land, Sydney-based Hugh Bowman went out on a limb questioning whether the Brisbane Racing Club had rushed into a return to racing.

“I’m very skeptical of the track holding together,” Bowman declared on the eve of the Stradbroke day blockbuster. “I haven’t been on it but I’ve seen trials on it and with all the rain we have had, there hasn’t been one race meeting on it or anything. You just wonder whether they have rushed to get back on it and I don’t really know.”

Bowman’s words have proved quite prophetic in hindsight even though some of his big name colleagues seem reluctant to ‘bag the track’. Nor are some of the leading local trainers who don’t seem prepared to state openly what they are declaring in private.

After only a month of racing the track needs breathing space. It should be closed to racing while they call in track ‘experts’ who know what they are doing and can guide the locals who obviously have no idea how to overcome the problems which are worsening by the day.

Adding insult to injury for some local trainers who say privately they won’t start a horse there until the track problems have been corrected, not to mention the punters who are walking away from betting on racing at Eagle Farm in droves – we have almost laughable comments coming from some of those in charge.

BRC CEO Dave Whimpey won few friends, especially in the punting ranks, with his assessment of the situation in The Courier-Mail on Monday. Quotes like: “We understand that people’s expectations are higher than what we have presented so far” and “People have every right to have high expectations and we accept this is disappointing”… are a public relations disaster for Eagle Farm.

At least officialdom has accepted that there is a problem. What they have been quick to forget are all those predictions of how racing in Brisbane would rise from the quicksand when Eagle Farm was reopened – how the crowds would be back, the betting would soar through the roof, how this was the answer to putting racing in Queensland back on track.

Now they are telling us be patient – Rome wasn’t built in a day – it might take up to a year for the track to consolidate and then Brisbane will have one of the best racing surfaces in the country. Sorry gents, we’ve waited too long already. It’s time to deliver!’

 

TIME TO STOP APOLOGIZING FOR THIS DEBACLE THAT IS EAGLE FARM

ALAN HOPE of BRISBANE sent this email:

‘WE keep hearing how leading trainers Rob Heathcote and Tony Gollan are confident the new Eagle Farm track will be one of the best in the country and have called for patience.

Top jockey, Jim Byrne, obviously far from impressed at how quickly the circuit deteriorated last Saturday, was quick to add: “I don’t want to bag the track. All of us want it to be good.”

Isn’t it time to stop pussy-footing around guys and call a spade a spade or a dud track a dud track? Officials were well aware of the monumental expectations placed on the performance of this track – they were responsible for promoting much of this.

The buck now has to stop with someone – rather than direct the blame at wet weather or rushing into a return to racing or teething troubles that all new tracks encounter. Surely all these things should have been taken into account.

We are taking about a $10 million investment of taxpayers’ money in this new multi-multi-multi million dollar development. Surely the public is entitled to some answers.

If this disaster was to have occurred in private enterprise the shareholders would be calling for heads to roll. Do we start with the ‘block’ and look at the ‘track experts’ like Warren Williams and Sean Bridges, or do we head to the ‘butcher’ and call for the blood of BRC head honchos Neville Bell and Dave Whimpey? Someone has to accept the blame.

Instead of just insisting ‘time cures all’, they respectfully should be looking at doing something now rather than just sitting around waiting for it to happen. Perhaps sending an SOS to the ‘track experts’ from Hong Kong during the off-season there might be a good place to start.’

 

THUMBS UP

GCTC BOARD MUST TAKE THE BLAME FOR DEMISE OF SHORT-TERM CEO

WE had a couple of emails from disgruntled long-time members of the Gold Coast Turf Club who laid the blame for the failure of new CEO Dale St George to measure up to the required standards squarely at the feet of the current directors.

They backed BRAD DAVIDSON of the GOLD COAST BULLETIN who wrote: ‘Whether or not St George was the right man for the job, the current GCTC board and chairman Brett Cook must take some responsibility for his departure after just eight months at the club. After all they picked St George ahead of a strong batch of candidates’.

Davidson also reported that it took the club’s new interim chief executive Richard Towson less than a day to make his mark after he stripped Marnie Ballard of the club’s general manager’s position.

Towson, who replaced St George at the helm after the former chief executive was sacked last Friday, told Ballard on Saturday morning that she was no longer the general manager of the club.

It comes after St George booted Towson from the general manager position in January and replaced him with Ballard, the former Moe Racing Club operations manager.

Ballard is now a member of the functions department.

Towson told the Bulletin a “full review” would be conducted at the club in the coming weeks.

“Everything is under review,” Towson said. “We have to go right through everything whether it be the staff, the finances or the packages. It could take one week or three months and it just depends. All we have done at this point in time is say we don’t have a general manager and we are reviewing everything.”

 

THUMBS DOWN

BRC MUST APOLOGIZE TO PHIL PURSER FOR DISGRACEFUL TREATMENT

WHILE the majority of the brave media colleagues of racing website pioneer Phil Purser seem content to abandon his fight with the Brisbane Racing Club, we at letsgohorseracing aren’t about to let him down.

Phil has been seeking an apology from the BRC for his ejection from the mounting yard on Stradbroke Day despite the fact that he had applied for, had been granted, and at the time was wearing the appropriate media accreditation.

Purser, who runs arguably the most successful and longest running racing website in the country in justracing, has been shabbily treated not only by officialdom but also some of his media colleagues. If that toothless tiger the Racing Media Association still exists, what are they doing about this or do they have to get permission first from a former Racing Editor now employed as a consultant by the BRC.

One questions why Purser was told to leave the enclosure when all he was doing was his job. Why also was he stalked in the lead up to this by a one-time official who arguably had not right to be there himself. Instead of burying their heads in the sand the BRC should make public who gave the direction for Purser to be ejected and on what grounds.

One would have thought that Racing Queensland and not the BRC should be responsible for media accreditation. But this seems to have changed on big days, starting with the Magic Millions, where safety concerns should be raised by stewards about the number permitted into the enclosure before and after races. When you look at some of those in there now, not only on big days, you wonder if they are handing media accreditation out at the gate.     

In the days when Keith Noud and Jim Anderson headed the racing media in Brisbane this would never been allowed to happen. And both of those gentlemen were close to officials of both the QTC and BATC of that time. Neither would have thought of interfering with the job being done by one of their racing staff either, even if it meant constructive criticism of clubs or officials. But times change - for the worst in Queensland racing.

There is no place for a ‘suck up and survive’ mentality in any form of journalism but it continues to thrive in racing in Brisbane and will continue to do so while writers like Phil Purser who are prepared to speak out are treated so badly.

 

‘PLENTY OF RESISTANCE TO THE RELICENSING OF DANNY NIKOLIC’

GLEN JUDD of MELBOURNE writes:

‘FOR what it’s worth there are plenty of people – not only involved in racing but those who follow the sport on a regular basis – who don’t want to see Danny Nikolic relicensed to ride.

Whether Nikolic has served his time or not they believe there is too much bad blood between him and the stewards or integrity section of Racing Victoria.

After all the muddy water that has passed under the bridge how can Terry Bailey and his panel effectively do their job in an environment where if they question Nikolic there will be cries of discrimination from his supporters.

One gets the impression that Nikolic’s return to the saddle could be earlier than anticipated. VCAT deputy president Heather Lambrick, who oversaw last week’s directions hearing, caused a few raised eye-brows when she said she failed to see why there should be further delay to the ongoing saga – suggesting there is ‘unlikely there'll be startling reasons’ to come from the Supreme Court for its decision in overturning his racetrack ban.

I am one of the many who was hoping we had seen the last of Dan Nikolic on the track. But the last thing racing in Victoria needs is some drama surrounding another controversial issue at Spring Carnival time – surely the lessons were learnt from the past.’        

 

STORIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED IN THE MAINSTREAM RACING MEDIA

NSW GREYHOUND RACING NEEDS CHANCE TO SURVIVE WITH NEW LEADERS

GREYHOUND racing in NSW needs to be given a chance to survive but this time under the strong leadership it has so far lacked.

CHRIS ROOTS reports for FAIRFAX MEDIAthat the sport, which has been put on its death bed by Premier Mike Baird, has been let down by its government-appointed regulators for too long. Right back to the privatisation of the TAB and 1998 inter-code agreement, which runs for 99 years, the dogs have suffered from poor management by regulators under several different models. The sport now needs one to fight for it.

There are 80 recommendations from Michael McHugh's special commission into the Greyhound Racing Industry. The first recommendation resulted in Baird's decision to shut down the industry from July 1 next year.

There are another 79 recommendations that set out the minimum standards needed to let the sport continue. Many would be considered common sense. Why they were not already a part of the industry from a stronger regulator has to be asked.

The care of the animal has to be at the forefront of any sport in which they compete. The idea that greyhounds were not given the best care is shocking. It was the lack of accountability on so many fronts, from breeding to the veterinary care of dogs, that is distressing.

The appalling culture of live-baiting needed to be addressed long before Four Corners put it on TV screens.

The sanitised language of wastage was used but the death rates beyond 50 per cent are not acceptable by modern-day standards. That number might be under dispute in some quarters but the reports of deaths and knowledge of where dogs were ending up was simply not good enough.

Change has come at Greyhound Racing NSW under interim chief executive Paul Newson, and that is acknowledged in the report. However, McHugh wrote: "The Commission regards many of the reforms since February 2015 as falling short of what is needed to improve the industry."

The report continued: "But, that said, what GRNSW has achieved since February 2015, what it is doing, and plans to do deserves praise." Newson acted under the limitation of being an interim head of the regulator. Anyone who takes the job to lead the industry would be fighting for the future and would surely have the full support of the industry.  

McHugh has offered a guide as to how the sport could continue. It should be given a chance for at least a year to show it is strong enough to take the right actions and accelerate reforms, with the benefits of extra funding.

The recommendations include a Greyhound Racing Integrity Commission, which means the commercial and regulatory functions be split. The sustainability of the greyhound industry has been in question for a number of years and this would give it a chance.

The funding structure of the sport is reliant on the TAB inter-code. The inter-code provides 13 per cent of TAB distribution to the dogs, which now provides 20 per cent of its revenue, leading to claims that the greyhounds are the biggest supporters of thoroughbred and harness racing.

However, the growth in market share is a result of more meetings rather than bigger holds. Under the agreement, the dogs have to run 593 TAB meetings, but the number being put on now extends to more than 1000, which surely stretches the sport's resources.

Former GRNSW chief executive Brent Hogan told a 2014 select committee into the greyhound industry: "The NSW greyhound racing industry is not viable in the short to medium term and certainly not sustainable in the longer term." The reasons he gave were "increasing costs and regulatory pressures, as well as increasing risks of compliance with OH&S, Workcover and public liability".

Recommendation 64 states: "If the racing codes cannot agree on a more equitable distribution of TAB revenue, the Parliament of New South Wales should legislate to amend the current arrangements by providing for a distribution that reflects each code's contribution to TAB revenue."

The lack of support from the other codes might be self interest because more money would flow to the dogs from this recommendation. But they also remember that during race fields, Greyhound Racing NSW broke ranks with the other codes and signed a deal with corporate bookmakers, which it believed was better for the sport. These are old wounds.

Even if the greyhounds were restricted to 593 meetings McHugh found "it seems inevitable that wastage in the industry must remain at high levels".

But the greyhound community deserves a chance to prove this wrong. It will be under heavy public focus. With strong leadership fighting for the sport they can reform.

 

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the above e-mails should not be interpreted as those of JOHN LINGARD, the owner-editor of the letsgohorseracing web-site. That is why he has added an ‘EDITOR’S NOTE’. Every endeavor is made to verify the authenticity of contributors. We welcome any reasonable and constructive responses from parties or individuals.

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