Troubled times in South Australia
The signs are looking grim for horse racing in South Australia. But before we dig deeper into their problems, let’s do a quick comparison around the other key states by comparison.
Just recently, Queensland Racing announced prize money increases for their major races for the upcoming winter carnival.
This coincides nicely with the return to racing action of the Eagle Farm racetrack, which has been out of commission for the last two years.
The track was gradually phased back into action prior to Christmas, and if it holds up as well as the track officials say it will, and with ongoing feedback from jockeys and trainers, then it will be a welcome relief to the neighbouring Doomben racetrack which has had to carry the burden of the winter carnival over the interim.
So with Racing Victoria announcing changes to their program late last year, this has resulted in prize money increases across a range of races including metro and country meetings, listed and stakes races and top-ups to group races.
Racing NSW followed suit, as we saw with new races tacked onto their program which now extends into late October, coinciding with WS Cox Plate Day and VRC Derby Day. New territory for them.
So this leaves South Australia. What is happening over in Adelaide? There is an impression that the state is lagging behind the others when it comes to promoting their local industry, and sorry to say, but it is.
We’ve seen some changes, unfortunately, most of them are not good.
Ubet, the principle betting agency in South Australia has now been bought by Tabcorp. So there will be changes going on, as there will in Queensland where Ubet was also a major market player.
There has been less incentive to invest in the South Australian betting market, because of their high rate of point of consumption (POC) tax toward betting agencies, given it’s 15% versus 10 in NSW and 8 in Victoria. Will Tabcorp revive interest in this market?
Another major problem in South Australian Racing is that the State Government have reduced their contribution to prize money which means that the top two races in the state (Robert Sangster Stakes and the Goodwood Handicap) will now compete for under a million dollars each, while prize money to the other 25 racecourses and their respective racing programs will also be reduced.
Effectively, South Australia will no longer have any million dollar races while their lesser races will be inferior to similar races in other states.
This downturn is on top of leading trainer Lloyd Kennewell having seen the writing on the wall and moved part of his operation to Melbourne. Likewise Philip Stokes has moved much of his operation to Pakenham.
Top jockeys Joe Bowditch and Jamie Kah have also left Adelaide to ride in Melbourne full-time, so that depletes the trainers and jockeys pool of genuine quality. Will this be the start of a growing migration trend?
It was also reported recently on Racing.com that top hoop Dominic Tournier has had to resort to finding a second job away from racing to support his family and make ends meet.
But surely it’s not all doom and gloom. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Not that I can see. It’s like a perfect storm where government decisions, tax implications, financial incentive (or lack of) and skill retention within the industry are all meeting at the crossroads of the damned.
The interest will be how Tabcorp tries to reinvigorate the betting market after its takeover of Ubet. Will that trigger additional sponsorship for prize money?
Also, how will Thoroughbred Racing South Australia (TRSA) market their autumn carnival based around such declining interest? Will there be an incentive for Victorian trainers to bring their horses to race in the two big events like they have done the last few years now that prize money has dropped?
Despite all the bluster coming out of Victoria and New South Wales dominating the racing headlines of late, the declining South Australian situation should also be one to keep an eye on.
An underperforming market there could become a blight on the entire racing industry in Australia if it isn’t managed carefully.