BRAD STEELE AND GREG MITCHELL ARE THE LAST HOPE OF THE HARNESS RACING TEAM IN QUEENSLAND…..Part 2

BRAD STEELE AND GREG MITCHELL ARE THE LAST HOPE OF THE HARNESS RACING TEAM IN QUEENSLAND…..Part 2

12/09/13

As advised in Part 1 of this story yesterday – today it’s time to go into an in-depth analysis of what was said to the assembled gathering last Sunday at Albion Park by key speakers and here are many repeated and quoted statements that were made on the day by those people.

Albion Park Chairman Kevin Seymour (herein after called KS): “One of the problems that hasn’t been discussed before is Queensland needs to have a super sire. It needs a top quality sire in Queensland”.

Interjecting Denis Smith: “Stand your horse then” (Mr Feelgood).

KS: “Hang on a sec. One of the problems we’re faced with in Queensland and I know (studmasters) Noel and Christine (Denning-Burwood Stud) will probably chew my ear later, but one of the problems we’re faced with in Queensland is that we just aren’t competitive in the siring line at the present time. We need to be. We need to get back to where we were, when we had Fake Left and those other horses when we were one of the top States in Australia producing horses. Look at the horses Fake Left produced. So we need to find a way to get a super sire in Queensland. I just want to pose that question to you, because it is needed and it will help to be part of this uplifting our breeding industry in this State. Denis (Smith) made a comment about bringing my own horse up (Mr Feelgood). If someone would guarantee me 100 mares a year I’d bring him to Queensland”.

Interjecting Denis Smith: “But wouldn’t you get ‘em across the border”?

KS: “Well I don’t know. If there’s a stud that wants the horse here, tell ‘em to come and talk to me. There’s an opportunity.

“One of the things that concerns me about the industry is that we have a great ability and we talk ourselves down, but we should be talking ourselves up. We’ve got a lot of good things ahead of us in this industry, a lot of reasons why we should be talking ourselves up. We should be talking ourselves up to other people. Please don’t let me hear you talking yourself down. If you want to talk yourself down or you want to talk the industry down, come and talk to me or Brad (Steele) or someone. Don’t go and tell your friends and the public about an issue that you want to talk down. Be proud of the industry that you represent and make sure that you talk yourself up.

“The other thing if there is one common thread that I see right throughout the whole industry with everyone I talk to, everywhere I go, is prizemoney. Now I’ll probably get murdered for this after today. I’ll probably be blacklisted by everybody, but there are certain people in this industry that are working very, very hard to get a lift in prizemoney for you. Very hard. And whilst I’m not able to talk about potential on what is likely to happen, can I say to you that the potential is there do get some prizemoney in the not too distant future. Hang in there, because all I can say to you is that I can see a very bright future for the industry. I obviously know more than what I can say to you at this stage, but it is very, very bright. In the meantime, what Kay and I have done is we’ve put quite a few hundred, or eight hundred thousand this year into the sport alone, into sponsorship, we’ll put another couple of hundred thousand in between now and Christmas time to make sure that we can play our part in making the industry viable for you. Now I hope that after Christmas, or at the very latest June next year, that there will be some good news coming through for you”.

Racing Queensland Board member and Chairman of the Harness Code Board, Brad Steele (herein after called BS), spoke on numerous topics at the meeting. What I deemed his important statements on the day included:

“The other thing we did was obviously to try and further reinvigorate the Q-Bred Scheme and what our thought there was, was how could we put more money into owners’ pockets sooner and encourage them I guess to invest in the yearling sales. So that’s why we came up with that concept that for your first win two and three-year-old is $5,000 and when we looked back, there was actually quite a small amount of horses that win multiple two-year-old and three-year-old races so we feel that that will definitely put more money into peoples’ pockets – and obviously it’s $3,000 for four-year-olds.

“We’ve also put in the double Q-Bred feature for $20,000 for the first time with some successful lobbying from a few people. We’ve also introduced the Q-Bred Scheme for the trotters and I know that’s been really well received and also there’s some extra prizemoney on our two-year-old races for that particular season. So I think that’s going to work for us and I guess time will tell and I guess our first view (whether it has worked) will be our next round of yearling sales. One good thing about the Q-Bred Scheme is that it’s been a fantastic success for our industry and I think there’s more things we can do with that over the next 12 months.

“The other one that we’ve worked collaboratively on was to launch the Rising Stars series and basically it was designed to increase the horse pools, which will also assist in increased wagering and fortunately we found a really generous sponsor and I think that particular series is working exceptionally well. Yes we are getting a few interstate raiders, but still there is a good amount of prizemoney that is staying within Queensland. Already you would have seen the number of new horses that have been bought by Queensland people to race here for this particular series. So it’s actually doing what we originally designed it to do and I know last night (7/9/13) the turnover on the C1 to C2 was fantastic and they are highly competitive (races). Out in 28 (seconds), home in 27 (seconds), really competitive, so that may stop a few interstate raiders as well.

“We’ve also found that Friday afternoon racing has been very successful by comparison with the Friday night racing and we recently re-negotiated with Sky for an extension through until the end of December (2013).

“You would have also noticed that over the last period of time we’ve got fixed odds betting on nearly all our Queensland harness racing meetings and it is also proving really popular.

“We also increased the drivers’ fees for the first time in about four years. And I think that many of you may have already noticed that there’s also been some really good improvements, particularly the Tuesday Courier Mail form guides. It’s a work in progress and we’ve got some really good people helping us out behind the scenes to continue to get enhancements to those form guides which we badly need.

“The other I guess key strategy in structuring our sport for growth is we really need to attract new audiences. That’s new owners and new punters. We may have tried things in the past but I’d probably say not many of them have been successful, so what we’ve created and we’ll launch it shortly, but I suspect many of you are already aware of it, is our grassroots trotting initiative. So what that’s designed to do is a number of things, is to leverage off those feature country (thoroughbred) race meetings, for example at Kilcoy. It means they’ve got about 3,000 people come along to their race meeting, so we want to piggyback off the success of those days. It would be rare for our people to drive in front of 2,000 or 3,000 at a meeting. Yes it is going to be on the turf and we are working through the logistics to make sure it’s safe to do so for both the horse and the driver. And we’ve also had further interest from other gallops clubs that are actually approaching us to have dual code meetings on their country track. So this is about putting harness racing back into the country. You know over the last few years we’ve actually bought all harness racing pretty much to the south-east corner for a number of reasons, so this is our chance to stick our toe in the water for a future plan to see where else we could grow harness racing outside of the south-east corner. So we believe if people in these rural country areas know every year that there’s going to be a couple of dual code meetings, or a standalone meeting and that it will be on Sky channel, that hopefully they might consider buying a horse. It will also put a fair bit of fun back into our sport, which I think we do need. As I said most of them will be on Sky Channel. We’ve also spoken to Toowoomba and also Esk (thoroughbred clubs) and there’s other gallops clubs that are also now calling us. I think it will attract significant media attention because it will be history in the making. This will be dual code and it will be covered by Sky and Tatts(bet). So we feel that that’s one way to get back into those rural communities that I guess really don’t have a lot of real entertainment. They’re starved for entertainment and I think we’ll get some fairly significant crowds and I know they’ll love what we can put on, particularly at Kilcoy with the mini-trotters where we’ll have a competition jockeys versus the little kids on the mini-trotters. They won’t have seen anything like that before, so I know we’re really going to engage with people that will be there on the day and we’re hoping we’ll get some more business through new ownership and wagering. So we’ll officially launch that soon after we’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, to make sure we get it right the first time.

“The other thing we’ve been working on over the last period is infrastructure, or facilities as I prefer to call it, and I must admit it’s been a bit of a challenge working through it. We were given $15 million to address all our infrastructure and facility needs, a new grandstand here at Albion Park, what we do with the Gold Coast to make sure we’ve got a commercial track there and also Redcliffe as well. And $15 million has to cover all that. So it has been a bit of a challenge, but I believe that we have managed to get an outcome and that outcome will be announced by the (Racing) Minister next week. Next week you’ll see a ministerial media report come out to let you know what’s going to happen. But I guess what I can say without taking anything away that the Minister’s information is that we are certainly committed to ensuring that we have a showcase complex here at Albion Park and it has to be a priority, so that’s an absolute priority. We’re also committed to having at least three commercial tracks. Having two tracks isn’t going to work so we do need three tracks. And also Redcliffe needs some work done on its track, its lighting, its buildings to make sure it comes up to Workplace Health and Safety standards and we think we can cover that as well. In addition to that we’ll also construct six barns here at the back of Albion Park which will house up to 60 horses and that is also an absolute priority to enable people to get into our sport without having to pay an astronomical amount of money to buy or lease a property. So that’s what I can tell you and I’ll leave you to read between the lines from there, but the Minister will be announcing a whole lot of details this week. My view would be, or my hope would be, that we cut the ribbons (to a new grandstand) here at Albion Park within 18 months”.

Later on in an answer to an audience question, Brad Steele said this: “I think the first thing you’ve got to have is good facilities. I mean you’ve got to give people a compelling reason to get out of their armchair and their singlet and shorts or dresses or whatever and come into Albion Park, or Redcliffe, or the Gold Coast. I mean we have to provide that compelling reason. At the moment we don’t have the facilities to do that. People are much more comfortable sitting at home watching Sky Channel vision. And there’s other things we need to do when we get them to the track. I mean at the moment there’s probably about 30 or 45 minutes of real entertainment on a race night that’s run over a three hour period. To most of us harness racing enthusiasts we don’t mind that, but to the people who come along with partners that really don’t have an interest, it’s probably a really long night for them and I think we need to find ways of what else we can do in between races to keep people entertained and get them talking about their experience in harness racing. It starts with the right facilities.”

Audience question: “You’ve spoken about the tracks, but no mention of Marburg, so where does Marburg sit in the scheme of things because the track does a monumental job for the industry?”

BS: “Yeah, totally agree. Yeah look I certainly presently support Marburg and we’ve got no plans to do anything to Marburg except, you know, it’s a great resource. It’s a great service for our industry. The volunteers do a fantastic job and certainly I have no reason that we should change anything there, certainly in the near or medium term, so what I don’t know is what I don’t know, but they certainly serve the purpose and there is a fairly good horse pool out there and a really good sense of camaraderie in their Pacing Association and I’d certainly encourage everyone to get to their Annual General Meeting on Monday night (9/9/13)”.

Audience question from Brendan Sheehy: “We had our (Marburg) race meetings reduced from 18 to 12 a year. Do you envisage putting the other six back”?

BS: “The short answer’s no. We actually do have eight race meetings that haven’t been allocated just yet, which we’ve set aside probably for Sunday racing. Not all those have been allocated because we haven’t got dates from Sky Channel just yet, but I think what we’ve got is what we’ve got for the time being. We do need to try a few other things. I spoke about those grass track initiatives, but certainly we’re not looking to reduce. I do understand that you know, you need those meeting to make sure that it’s viable”.

Audience question from Denis Smith: “Do you believe Marburg would be better served if it had its 12 meetings in a block?”

BS: “I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it to be honest”.

Denis Smith: “Well I think it needs thinking about because it’s a bit fragmented where it is. If you got your block through you’d probably attract a better crowd, say for three months of a season of racing and you could devote your remaining 40 weeks of the year to being a trial club and we could run official trials every second week. That would boost our popularity and our income”.

BS: “Yep let me take it on board.”

Denis Smith: “Thanks.”

BS: “The other thing that’s really important and it’s certainly on my mind is the wagering agreement with Tatts, which expires at the end of June next year, so shortly we’ll be working through a process there as there’s a couple of things there, as obviously we need to make sure that we have a provider and I know that the industry is probably holding its breath in terms of the outcome of that. And the second part to that is that I and we need to make sure that harness racing is not worse off, because one of the key measurements that some people are going to want to drive is market share. At the moment we get 14.5% and we’re probably 11(%)-ish at best at the moment. We’ve never had 14.5% so there’s other codes that could potentially mount a debate they’re entitled to more, so we can’t (afford to) be worse off and that’s a debate that we’ll need to make sure that we win, but hopefully there will also be extra on top of that, so that’s absolutely at the top of our mind. The Monday racing we are in negotiations with Sky Channel there. We absolutely have to get it from Sky 2 back to Sky 1. It means roughly a 40% difference to our turnover and turnover is absolutely critical particularly this year. So it’s my job to try and negotiate with Sky to put us back onto Sky 1 where we should be. It’s a metropolitan track at Albion Park and it’s a great brand and it should be on Sky 1, not propping up Sky 2.

In concluding his address to the industry meeting, Brad Steele stated: “So I think we are definitely entering a period of opportunity, of change and innovation and that’s what this Board is going to do. It’s an energetic Board with a lot of ideas and as I said we’re not going to get it right every time, but we’re going to push through a few of these (proposals outlined above) and give it a try. And I always maintain with this particular Board that we absolutely have to be focused on the opportunities of tomorrow and not yesterday’s problems.”

The harness industry meeting last Sunday covered a plethora of other topics such as the ban from 1 September on molasses water and Racing Queensland Chief Steward Wade Birch addressed the gathering on that topic. Board member Greg Mitchell addressed the meeting on certain other relevant issues, as did new Racing Queensland CEO Darren Condon and it was terrific to see all these men give up their time to be there on a Sunday afternoon as the meeting went on longer than War and Peace. Some speakers copped a barrage of criticism on certain issues but everyone sensibly kept their cool, so I personally thought the meeting was one of the most meaningful that I’ve attended in 17 years of running this website, as I already wrote last Monday. What I have repeated above are the main general topics that were discussed, which I would reasonably think are of interest to not only all harness racing people, but also to the vast majority of all racing participants from the other two codes, as at the end of the day every racing participant across each of the three codes either benefits – or fails – from the success of the other. That’s why it’s high time like I’ve been saying here for time immemorial that the three codes work harmoniously together instead of fighting each other like a bunch of primary school children as has happened with previous committees across the codes up until last Sunday. There were some very pleasant signs at this meeting that certain things in that regard are about to change, such as thoroughbreds and harness having dual code race meetings at Kilcoy on Sky Channel. Good grief, after decades of in-fighting between codes, they’ll have to open a running and handling enquiry into that one if it ever gets off the ground. In my lifetime I might actually see something I never thought I would – a joint harness and greyhound meeting at Albion Park which is blatant commonsense if you full flush testosterone laced egos straight down the gurgler. That’s surely the next step and is easily manageable. So why didn’t it happen many many years ago? That’s why I shake my head so much at this industry, but thankfully that shaking of the head hasn’t progressed to a permanent twitch just yet.

Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there’s the story on Fastnet Rock and his $275,000 service fee and his breeding success story to date. On www.sydneyracing.com.au there’s the story of Albion Park track record holder Suave Stuey Lombo heading to New Zealand as well as an article about an 18-year-old NSW driver who drove a winner at his first drive. Amazingly a jockey in the same State rode a winner at his first ride just the other day, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au I get the distinct impression that Matt Nicholls won’t be waving a “Welcome Back Ollie, You Rock” flag when Damien Oliver returns to race riding.