Good Memories

Credibility into the Queensland Hall of Fame. Great stuff! Not before time.

In my fair dinkum punting days the 1992 Winfield Challenge at Beaumont Park in Newcastle was a night to remember. A packed house and a top field – led by Credibility (1), Jessica Casey (2) and South Road Sid (8) – Queensland v NSW v Victoria – each boxed suit their personal habits. They went out at 3/1 the field with a dozen bookies eager to lay them.

Credibility and Jessica went hammer and tongs around the rail with Sid looming out in the middle of the track the whole way. Credibility just prevailed on the line and I took home my biggest win ever. Thanks, mate.

Credibility is gone, Beaumont Park is gone, while Queensland is on shaky ground. Its only recent winner is Mal Meninga so maybe they could get him to sort things out.

FRYING PAN AND FIRE

Readers considering the recent proposal to put Border Park under Queensland’s control might note comments about that state by economist Henry Ergas (The Australian 11 Mar).

“Queensland’s deficit in 2011-12 was nearly twice Victoria’s at the height of the crisis that brought Jeff Kennett to office in 1992, Moreover, Queensland’s gross debt has grown tenfold in five years and, as a share of gross state product, is double any other state”

“To make matters worse, Queensland spent heavily on projects whose costs greatly exceed their benefits. Flawed investments by Labor, including the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project and the Tugan Desalination Plan, are now worth $6 billion less than was borrowed to fund them”.

“With Labor leaving gross debt trending to 30 per cent of GSP within a decade, Queensland’s access to borrowing risks deteriorating as capital markets absorb the lessons of the eurozone crisis”.

Together with public service cutbacks, that’s the climate in which a government, which already owes greyhound racing a promised $10 million following the resumption of the Parklands track, has to plan its future. Amongst other sundry items, current demands on it and Racing Queensland include:

  • the building of a replacement for the greyhound half of Albion Park ($20m-$30m),
  • the building of a new grandstand at Albion Park (for the trots at least – $15m-plus),
  • an unknown amount for the re-building of the Toowoomba galloping track (perhaps $8m)
  • the design and construction of a newly-announced thoroughbred/greyhound complex at Bundamba near Ipswich ($1m for plans alone)
  • whatever cash and kind is needed to sort out the complicated legalities involved in trying to shift Border Park – probably in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe much more.
  • an almost certain scream from the trots for compensation for being kicked out of their half of the Parklands complex to make way for Commonwealth Games needs. Good luck to them on that.

On top of those, the industry has already thrown away big money on investigations and plans for aborted proposals for new greyhound tracks at Logan and Deagon.

None of this is new. Previous RQ chairman, Bob Bentley, stated in November 2010, “harness and greyhound racing is already struggling and unless drastic change is made to the way both are conducted in Queensland the two codes would surely die”. No such change has been evident.

Tatts turnover on Queensland product has been declining since 2008/09 (see last year’s RQ annual report). Greyhound field standards have also been dropping at the same time. Albion Park’s two main meetings (Monday and Thursday) are now padded out with maiden and novice races while the other two (Wednesday and Sunday) are dominated by 331m races for squibs and 395m races with a disruptive bend start. Trainers keep threatening to go south for better opportunities. Short fields are common. Ipswich is no better off and also offers a poorly designed track which puts off many intending investors.

So here are the key questions. Why would Queensland want to take on a fresh challenge when it cannot sort out the ones it already has? How will it reverse the current downward trends in racing finances and field quality? Where would it put the proposed twice weekly Border Park meetings in the TAB calendar? Who will provide the millions required to convert Border Park into a modern loam track? What does Tabcorp think about losing a good earner (the Saturday afternoon Border Park operation is hugely popular with thoroughbred punters)? Who will pay the platoons of lawyers needed to implement the plans? Where is all the money to come from?

(By the way, all those thoroughbred punters might not be too keen to see Border Park come under the Tatts jurisdiction with its small pools when they have long been enjoying the larger NSW pools. Indeed, that’s probably half the reason they go there now).

Slotting in the new meetings – if they are to attract reasonable turnover – would require dropping some existing meetings off the list. Leaving aside the straight track at Capalaba, there are only four regional candidates for replacement – Albion Park, Ipswich, Casino and Lismore, all told running 10 or 11 weekly meetings – so which of those will lose out?

Whatever the new mix, it will make no difference to the number and quality of the regional dog population. It is already supplying all the starters for the five tracks involved. It would be a matter of playing musical boxes with all the existing dogs, some good, some average, some very ordinary.

However, probably the biggest puzzle of all is why and how the two governments would want to, or be able to, shift a strictly local business from one state to another without actually changing what it is doing and where. What would it actually achieve? And will other race clubs with border hoppers want to do the same thing, not just in the Northern Rivers, but in Albury and Mt Gambier, for example?

We still need to consider what will happen in the NSW Parliament when members, including the Treasurer, discover that the state is going to lose taxes which help pay for hospitals, schools and more police on the beat. Hmmm?

The tragedy is that the project offers no apparent upside for the overall industry. Or anyone else except, perhaps, for the Border Park club itself, a privately owned organisation which is anxious to re-develop and/or sell the complex.

You would think that NSW has plenty to do in revitalising racing in the state rather than entering into a challenge that was not there in the first place.

Fixing the Wentworth Park track would be a good start, closely followed by badly-needed upgrades for the Northern Rivers tracks involved in this discussion.

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