by grant morgan
As years go, 2013 was about as momentous as they come.
For me, it dealt two significant events. The first, represented the start of something that would prove life changing. The second, signalled the end of something very special.
In January 2013, I secured a good-looking colt by first season sire I Am Invincible. History shows he went on to become Brazen Beau. Champion colt, dual Group 1 winner. Life changer.
By April 2013, my dad was hospitalised at the age of 91. Anzac Day was approaching.
George Henry Morgan led an amazing life. He joined the army in 1938, fudging his age despite being just 15 years of age at the time.
He endured the hells of World War 2 as a Prisoner of War on the infamous Burma Railway as result of the fall of Singapore. During that time, I have no doubt he saw the very best of man, and the very worst.
In 1945 he returned to Australia no longer a boy, but a man.
Roll forward time to 1974, the year I arrived in the world.
By this stage my Dad was a mature man of 50 years of age. Dad had married my mum (his second marriage) in 1971. Together, they carved out a truly wonderful life.
As I grew up, I never really gave much consideration to my dads age. Now as a father myself, I reflect and marvel on how he handled life as a 50-year-old, with a new born child.
Dad was always very active and healthy and truly enjoyed life in Wollongong. He was a very good golfer throughout is life. He had a passion for Rugby League which he played in his younger years. He had a wide friendship circle and seemed to know everyone around town.
And of course, he loved horse racing.
I was fortunate enough to enjoy all three of those sports in various capacities during my youth. Ultimately, it would be horse racing which would leave an indelible mark on me.
I was privileged to have had a wonderful childhood and adolescence thanks to both of my parents. They both worked very hard for what they had, but I wanted for nothing. Dad sold cars for a living for various dealerships in Wollongong and Mum worked at nearby Bulli Hospital. They were working class. They made sure I had a good education, which led me to form some wonderful friendships that still exist today. I count myself very fortunate.
After retiring from the car sales trade, my dad spent much of his retirement working for the Returned Service League (RSL) and other associations devoted to ex-servicemen.
That work would even extend to reconciliation programmes with the very Japanese soldiers that were his captures. Many of his peers were against this, but Dad wanted to learn more about the Japanese.
Over a 23 year period with the RSL, Dad helped hundreds of ex-servicemen and their widows secure pensions and benefits which helped them live more comfortable lives during their penultimate years.
During that time he attended countless funerals as one by one our servicemen succumb to the tyranny of time.
For Dad, time would catch up with him in 2013.
I distinctly recall receiving a call from my father in law from Wollongong. He quietly suggested that I should come down from the Gold Coast and see my dad. Despite the stoicism being displayed by both my parents over the phone, it seemed clear that Dad wasn’t at all well. I will be forever grateful for that call.
I jumped on the plane and headed to Wollongong hospital with my Mum to visit Dad. I got to talk to him for one last time before he lapsed into unconsciousness.
The ensuing days by his side were incredibly difficult, but at the same time, so important. Like the fighter he was, Dad kept holding on. The April calendar kept ticking over. It seemed inevitable that it would get to April 25. It did.
Dad passed away peacefully on Anzac Day, 2013.
This year Anzac Day is again special and unique. Whilst of course I wasn’t able to march in his honour, his memory is ever present. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. His strength and resolve to survive such a horrible part of history is very much part of me.
Although the world is going through an incredibly challenging time at the moment, I think it is so important for us to remember how lucky we are in Australia.
I think we need to draw on the ANZAC spirit to rise above current challenges. We need to remain positive and optimistic. We are so much more fortunate than other people around the globe.
Those that complain about being confined or having their freedoms limited would do well to spend some time studying what our soldiers went through on every front of War.
#GeorgeMorgan #Anzac #2ndAIF #8thDivisionHeadquarters #Changi #BurmaRailway #NX57311
by Grant Morgan
This weeks swab irregularity for Magic Millions winner Alligator Blood highlights a serious inadequacy in how non performance enhancing substances are treated in Australian racing.
We’ve really become a ‘nanny state’. We are captive to the politically correct that wish to wrap us all in rules and regulations, flying in the face of common sense and true horsemanship.
The Alligator Blood ‘positive’ is to a substance used to regulate the ovulation of mares, Altrenogest. Most fillies and mares have been treated with it, including wonder mares Black Caviar, Winx and Makybe Diva. And so they should.
The important thing that the average ‘punter’ needs to know, Altrenogest is not a ‘go fast’ substance. It’s simply a drug that helps regulate aggressive behaviour in fillies and mares ‘in season’, particularly in Spring. It acts to help keep the horses safe, and more importantly, those riding and handling them.
It serves absolutely no purpose to enhance the performance of a gelding.
This week respected Sydney vet Dr Nick Kannegieter confirmed on Radio with Steve Hewlett that it could in fact, have the opposite impact in the right quantity, when administered on a gelding.
So let me say this. I have absolutely no doubt that David Vandyke or any of his staff have intentionally administered this substance to Alligator Blood.
Why the hell would they?
So the only conclusions we can draw (if you accept the ‘glass half full’ approach) is the horse has ingested the substance accidentally; or, the substance has been administered intentionally by a third party (not under the direction of David Vandyke), with the intent to harm the horse or impact connections.
I’m an optimist, so I truly hope the former is correct. ‘Nobbling’ is a ghastly business and one I’d like to think we’ve left well behind.
For the statistically minded among you, consider this.
Prior to his Magic Millions win, Alligator Blood had been swabbed without issue on 8 occasions in Queensland and Victoria, with no irregularities. Subsequent to his Magic Millions win, he also returned a clear swab at his next appearance when victorious at Flemington.
As yet the swab results from his Australian Guineas win and All Star Mile defeat, have not been processed. But I know what result I’m betting on, in both cases.
As Dr Nick Kannegieter also pointed out during his interview, horses have a way of cross contaminating each other. He used the example of a mare who receives an oral paste, with the 'leftovers' still on the outside of her mouth, nuzzling up against a stable mate next door and sharing. It’s that easy.
So too is the issue of feed contamination. Horses can ingest small doses of substances from various food sources, causing minor swab irregularities.
The problem is, some of our swab regulations do not seem to be taking this into proper account. More and more we want to charge trainers as being guilty, without a common sense approach for these issues.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for outlawing the extreme ‘go fast’ or ‘go slow’ drugs. But low levels of non performance enhancing substances should not ring alarm bells.
I really feel for trainers like David Vandyke who immediately get their name dragged into the gutter by this process. Much of the general public immediately convict on a headline alone. And it’s convenient for many, thanks to social media. Classic tall poppy syndrome.
David isn’t the first trainer this has happened too, and sadly, he won’t be the last.
Horses, like human athletes, do need treatment for various conditions and ailments. This doesn’t make them ‘go fast’ or ‘go slow’.
I just hope that as an industry we don’t continue to descend into this ‘nanny state’ thinking.
by Grant Morgan
The shock announcement this week that Australia’s national news agency AAP will close its doors after 85 years is a crushing blow for those of us that still value the well written word.
I owe much of my early career development to an amazing period I spent at AAP in the companies racing division in the 90’s.
AAP has long been recognised as the most accurate and trustworthy source of news and information. The company has been staffed by an incredible array of talented people over its long history. AAP has served as a wonderful nurturing ground for a variety of careers, not just journalism.
The companies racing division has played a massive role in the dissemination of racing news and information. The form, fields and pre post markets we all take for granted in our daily newspapers all come from AAP. And it has done well before the internet was even thought about.
I can’t speak highly enough about the quality of people I worked with at AAP. Dedicated, professional, passionate and talented. It’s incredibly sad that some shortly won’t have jobs. Many of the people I worked with more than 20 years ago are still at AAP today.
This week some 180 staff will be directly impacted by the closure, and a further 100 outside contractors.
For those of you that don’t know much about the history of AAP, you should take the time brush up.
The most important thing you need to know is that AAP reports just the facts - without bias or opinion. In this day of misinformation and ‘fake news’, I think the core AAP values are more important than ever. You could always trust the information within a story that contained an AAP byline.
Without delving into too much history, AAP was founded in 1935 by Sir Keith Murdoch, father of Rupert Murdoch.
Despite being strange bedfellows, the Murdoch families News Ltd group combined with rivals Fairfax (now owned by Channel 9) to share in the ownership of AAP. The fundamental ingredient for the partnership was to pool its resources to produce news, and later information to share across the various mastheads throughout Australia.
Joining News and Fairfax was The Western Australian Newspaper as a co-owners of AAP.
It’s an absolute disgrace the Murdoch family with its wealth and power could sit idle and allow this to happen.
Equally infuriating is that Channel Nine could play a part in the demise of this great Australian institution. I guess it clears the way for Nine to serve more of the trash we now see on TV, in our daily newspapers.
Perhaps the liberal cross-media ownership rules aren’t all they are cracked up to be?
If this is the type of result we can expect, it seems decent journalism and print media in Australia are both on the critical list.
I do hope the AAP racing division can be salvaged.
I still use the Form Analyser and Horse Search services from AAP . I helped design both products before venturing into the brave world of self employment. They operate in much the same way I left them 18 years ago. They’ve stood the test of time, and I’m very happy to keep paying for them every month.
But therein sits the problem. Most people aren’t as prepared to pay for quality news and information anymore.
I grew up in a time where this data was valuable. You could trust it. And put your ‘hard earned’ ‘on’, because of it.
Today, there are very few media outlets left that I would have my last dollar on.
My thoughts go out to the racing team at AAP this week, headed by long time AAP staffer Caryl Williamson.
by Grant Morgan
David Vandyke is by his own admission a new man. Both in name and outlook. The Sunshine Coast trainer is riding the crest of a wave thanks to his star three year-old Alligator Blood.
David started his career as David Hayes on the New South Wales South Coast at Kembla Grange. After rising to the top in that area, David was ultimately taken by inner demons which confront many people.
With those demons well under control, David re-invented himself and replaced his father’s family name of Hayes with his mother’s maiden name of Vandyke. That was an important step for two reasons. Firstly, to differentiate himself from the South Australian born training dynamo of the same name, but secondly, to signal his second coming as a man and trainer.
After rebuilding his career from a Warwick Farm base in the dreary west of Sydney, David made the tough but admirable decision to move to Queensland in 2016. The move was based largely on the desire to seek better lifestyle and balance, whilst still plying his trade with the horses he clearly loves.
But a departure from the hustle and bustle of Sydney meant that he lost clients and horses. Not long before the move, Vandyke scaled the Group 1 heights with star filly Yankee Rose. He was very much back on the up in Sydney.
But four years on at age 54, Vandyke is part of the furniture at the Sunshine Coast.
The area was the home of legendary Queensland trainer Bruce McLachlan, who was instrumental in first putting Sunshine Coast on the racing map.
With Me, St Jude and Phelan Ready and many others all flew the flag for McLachlan, the Sunshine Coast and Queensland.
Now Vandyke and Alligator Blood are the second coming for the Sunshine Coast. I can only imagine ‘big Bruce’ would be looking down in approval.
Vandyke won't be alone as an elite trainer at the Sunshine Coast. I have no doubt that the region will start to produce a flow of talented trainers in the years ahead as the area grows.
Pound for pound, the Sunshine Coast is without doubt the best racing and training facility we have in Queensland.
Despite this, the Sunshine Coast has attracted criticism for the generous funding it has received over the years since opening in 1985. This money has flowed from both sides of parliament. I’ve always thought that criticism was ill-founded. The Sunshine Coast is a vital part of the future for the Queensland Racing industry. By and large, the money has been incredibly well spent.
But since the opening of Corbould Park some 35 years ago, Queensland has been sadly lacking in ‘green field’ visions for better training and racing facilities.
Don’t take this the wrong way though. Racing in Queensland is very strong now after a fairly bleak period in the wilderness. The confidence of participants is the highest I have ever seen it. But there is still much to do, particularly with training facilities.
I feel strongly that today’s racing administrators in Queensland need to take a longer-term view of the industry and embrace developments like the Sunshine Coast. They need to do this for the good of the next generation of trainer. Too often I feel the short term ‘band aid’ approach is taken with some of our existing tracks.
I cant help but feel the days of training in major cities is numbered, and we need to prepare for that. We are witnessing this in Melbourne with the coming demise of Caulfield as a training centre, which in years to come will be followed by Flemington.
So as our population grows in Queensland, regional training facilities around Brisbane are going to become all the more important.
As was the case with David Vandyke, Racing in the Sunshine State should never be afraid of re-inventing itself. There may just be an Alligator Blood right around the corner for us all, if we do.
by Grant Morgan: Last week the Gold Coast Turf Club made what I feel is a most worthwhile change to the way it conducts barrier trials.
Trial runners were asked to parade in the mounting yard prior to going out onto the track. In the past, runners went straight out to the track via ‘the gap’ and returned to their tie up stalls post trial.
The new format has two major benefits.
Firstly, I think it better simulates what a horse will be asked to do on raceday. By asking them to parade in the mounting yard pre trial and return there post trial, the horses are replicating what will be asked of them on raceday. They are already used to going out to the track direct from the tie ups. But the mounting yard is a whole new experience. I can really see this assisting Gold Coast trainers with young Magic Millions bound two year-olds.
Secondly, the new format is owner friendly. Owners pay the bills and we need to look at making the whole product more owner friendly. Barrier trials are now a vital part of the preparation of horses before they head to the races. Trainers are using them prolifically these days. Much more than they did and I can only see this increasing.
For many first time owners barrier trials are the first taste they have of the ownership experience. The new format better services owners who attend trials. They will be able to comfortably see their horse, trainer and rider pre and post trial. To the credit of the Gold Coast Turf Club, they have for some time now opened up part of the stand to cater for owners attending. This particularly beneficial in the peak of summer. Being able to watch on the other side of air conditioned glass is highly appealing.
It’s no surprise that this initiative came from the Gold Coast Turf Club, which has always been the most progressive race club in Queensland. They are fortunate to have one of the better CEO’s in Steve Lines. I don’t mind saying that Lines is the best CEO since former boss Scott Whiteman departed to Victoria more than a decade ago. Whiteman was a very good operator, but Line's is certainly in the same class.
And in recent times the club has added former QRIC steward Ian Brown to the team as Racing Manager. No doubt the new trial format had some of Brown’s polish to it. QRIC’s loss was the Gold Coast’s gain.
It's easy to bag race clubs, so credit when credit is due. Particularly for new initiatives.
If the new Gold Coast trial format proves a winner, I think Racing Queensland should be proactive in encouraging and assisting other clubs to follow suit.
Last Friday I was given a not so subtle kick in the pants by the sport I love. Racing has a way of dolling out good luck and bad, triumph and tragedy. It’s a roller coaster of emotions for those of us who devote our lives to it. You never know what’s around the corner.
Whilst none of us want to lose any horse, it seems to be the ones with the most ability that are the most vulnerable. I think that’s because they are like the best athletes. They go through the pain barrier and have an intense will to win and a desire to please. The not so fast ones don’t commit fully at the business end.
Last Friday we lost Girl Sunday. She sustained a heart attack and went very quickly following a gallop at Rosehill. She was at the peak of her powers with a glorious dappled coat. Two runs back she ran second at Group 2 level to subsequent Group 1 winner Daysee Doom.
Thankfully her rider James Innes Jnr wasn’t injured in the incident. We must always give thanks in these instances as it could be much worse.
There were absolutely no signs of any issue with her. Indeed, tests following her death showed no abnormalities in her blood profiles or any other area. The autopsy revealed what we all new. She had a massive heart, and it was also free of any evident abnormalities.
The other positive I drew was the fact her long term strapper Jess Watts had the morning off. Jess absolutely cherished the mare. There is nothing worse for a strapper to experience the loss of one of their charges. It’s a very personal relationship and that connection is one of the things I have always loved about the sport. Whilst everyone connected to the mare is devastated, I know it would be Jess who feels the most pain.
It’s fair to say we’ve had a pretty rough trot this season. We also lost another outstanding mare in Cruising Speed prior to Christmas.
For a small boutique racing team that’s two significant blows in a short period of time.
It’s not the first time this game has tested my resolve and resilience.
In the March of 2007 I received one of those gut-wrenching calls early on a Tuesday morning. It’s never good when a trainer’s name pops up on your phone on gallop mornings. The news is seldom good. In this case it was John O’Shea.
The previous year I had put together a group to buy the most expensive horse I have ever bought. He was a glorious dark colt by Tale of The Cat from the former topline race mare Nanny Maroon. The group shelled out $400,000 to buy him at the 2006 Inglis Easter Sale.
Later to be named Tall Tales, the colt had shown enormous ability winning his first trial at Randwick. He held a nomination for the Golden Slipper and despite not having raced was considered a live chance.
As I feared, the call from O’Shea wasn’t pleasant.
John broke the news that Tall Tales had fractured his shoulder whilst working under Glen Boss at Randwick. There was little they could do to save him, so he was humanely euthanised on the spot.
They don’t often report on the loss of unraced horses but in this case Tall Tales made the news. Boss was quoted when describing him as “one of the best moving colts I had ever ridden”.
In the space of 4 weeks surrounding that horrible day in 2007, we suffered the loss of two other horses.
Firstly, it was the very good galloper Sovereign Dream who contracted a golden staph infection in a joint following surgery and had to be euthanised. In 11 starts he had won or placed in all of them and clearly was bound for stakes races.
The third loss came when the handy maiden Hundred Percent dropped dead of a heart attack at the Gold Coast.
Three crushing blows delivered in quick succession.
The result had me questioning my future. We hadn’t long moved to the Gold Coast to follow the dream of creating a successful bloodstock and syndication business. We had made some quick inroads. But it felt like the world was against me when I lost Tall Tales, Sovereign Dream and Hundred Percent.
Not many people know this, but this run of horrible fortune almost drove me away from thoroughbred racing and away from the Gold Coast. I felt at the time that perhaps I wasn’t cut out to handle the ups and downs of running my own business.
I seriously went looking for alternatives back in Wollongong. The one that looked the most appealing was the role of Secretary Manager at the Bulli Harness Racing Club. We still had a home in the area whilst all of our family and friends were there too. I went as far as having an interview and as a result I was offered the job by the club president Dick Mitchell. Dick and his team were very keen to get me on board.
In the end Jenny and I made the decision to tough it out on the Gold Coast and dig in. We came up with a plan and set about making some changes to strengthen our position.
I’m pleased to say that decision proved correct. We have been very fortunate thanks largely to Brazen Beau. But I can assure you it took a great deal of resilience throughout the journey. And days like last Friday can temporarily weaken our resolve.
The heartbreak of losing horses like Girl Sunday and Tall Tales never goes away. It serves to remind me of how fragile these wonderful animals are. We must cherish the moments they give us and celebrate like there is no tomorrow.
RIP big girl.
For many tuning into watch Winx on Saturday, the name George Ryder wont mean a great deal. But for those interested in the roots of racehorse syndication in Australia, they should take some time to study the name a bit closer.
George Ryder was the long term chairman and director of the Sydney Turf Club (Rosehill & Canterbury) for a period spanning 37 years. His most significant achievement was the invention of the Golden Slipper Stakes which was first run at Rosehill in 1957 and won by the great Todman.
Ryder contributed greatly to the breeding industry initially under the Woodlands Stud banner at Denman where he stood stallions like Newtown Wonder, Pipe Of Peace, Sostenuto and King Of Babylon.
From humble beginnings, Ryder had a hand in many successful businesses. At the forefront was his bus company at Cessnock Rover Motors, which still operates today. I’m pleased to say we use Rover each year on our very popular Hunter Valley Tour and I make sure we pay homage to Ryder. He went on to invest in hotels including a significant property in my childhood, the iconic Craigieburn Guest House at Bowral.
Whilst Ryder was a visionary racing administrator, pastoralist and businessman, he had just as much impact on racehorse ownership. Another of his contributions to our great industry was a group known as ARABS (Australian Racing and Breeding Stables), the first large scale racing and breeding syndicate in Australia. ARABS was formed in 1970 before being listed on the stock exchange in 1983.
ARAB’s was my introduction into the world of racehorse ownership via my parents who were founding shareholders in ARABS together with a group of lifelong friends. There are photos of me as a toddler at the great Kia Ora stud on one of the regular social events conducted by Ryder at the famous Scone nursery.
Just prior to my entry into the world in the May of 1974, ARAB’s recorded one of its earliest big race wins with the King Of Babylon two year-old filly Gretel winning the 1974 Sires Produce Stakes at Randwick with a young Kevin Moses.
My first significant memory of racing was the 1981 Golden Slipper Stakes. ARABS was represented by the Lunchtime filly Food For Love. Trained by present day Muswellbrook trainer Pat Farrell, Food For Love was ridden by a youthful Wayne Harris. She proved no match for the Angus Armanasco trained colt Full on Aces, but none the less recorded a memorable second for the large band of ARABS. Hundreds of Australian’s from all walks of life shared in that exciting moment which gave youngsters like me a small taste of what could be.
That passion was further fuelled later by other offshoot ARAB’s syndicates including the one that raced the brilliant but enigmatic sprinter and future stallion Proud Knight (by Vain). This planted the seed in my very impressionable young mind. No doubt the Ontrack business you see today was a heavily influenced by Ryder, ARABS and most of all two wonderful parents who showcased this great game to me.
Today the famous ARAB’S racing silks of Yellow and Black diamonds still enjoy prolific success racing under the Arrowfield Stud banner. John Messara, another industry shaping racing administrator and entrepreneur, took over ARABS before building it into the powerhouse breeding empire we see today.
Thankfully the George Ryder Stakes also lives on today at Ryder’s much loved Rosehill. Far too many of our race names are being prostituted to make way for brand names that forego our history. I’m all for sponsorship, but why the need to jettison the great race names totally? Thank goodness this one has kept its rightful mantle.
Its fitting the George Ryder Stakes now sits alongside the Golden Slipper on a fabulous raceday at Rosehill which features no less than 6 Group 1 races. I’m sure Mr Ryder will be looking down on Rosehill with some pride this on slipper day.
Much has been written of late about the battle between key racing states New South Wales and Victoria in the battle of the big races.
This of course isn’t new. This dates back to a prizemoney battle in the 80’s and 90’s between New South Wales premier race the then Toohey’s Golden Slipper and Victoria’s Fosters Melbourne Cup.
Since then the battle lines have been drawn and intensified with the evolution of ‘The Championships’ and more recently ‘The Everest’. Peter V’landys has been aggressive in his push forward for New South Wales. And good on him.
This fierce rivalry means that we are seeing clashes of key race meetings and races right around Australia now. There isn’t a real lot of sense from a national perspective. But the reality is Australian racing is (and I suspect always will be) dictated to by the states, primarily New South Wales and Victoria. As long as TAB revenue flows on a state basis, a true national racing model is largely a dream. The other states can’t really compete. They just have to ‘zig’ when the big boys ‘zag’.
That’s not to say that states like Queensland and Adelaide can’t have successful carnivals. But I feel they need to stop trying to keep up with the Jones’s and start being innovative and look for points of difference. I’m not a fan of a bolstered $1.5m Stradbroke Handicap for that reason. The increase in prizemoney for that race has done zero to improve its status or field strength.
Whilst some lament about what is seemingly an irrational spread of races, prizemoney and race meetings at the top level, I think it’s fantastic. Why, I hear you say? Because I primarily represent the interests of racehorse owners. For them, competition and the dilution of field numbers and strength in our top races is actually a good thing. It gives owners a much better chance of winning at the top level, if they employ some astute planning with their charges.
In this day and age, travelling horses both domestically and internationally is much easier. The range of races our leading horses have access to in Australia and around the globe is phenomenal.
Take later this month in Dubai. Australia will have three representatives to take the rich sprint race on Dubai World Cup night. Music Magnate heads the chances for our trainer Bjorn Baker. There is a heap of options for him and the other Australian sprinters in March through until June. But I think Bjorn has found a great option for Music Magnate who is probably a length or two short of the top sprinters here. But if he wins in Dubai, the overall prizemoney for the Group 1 Alquoz Sprint is around $(AU)1.3m. And that’s the lowest prizemoney on the card. The richest race on the Dubai card is worth around $(AU)13m. Moving forward to June, we see the likelihood of an Aussie onslaught back to Royal Ascot. The absence of these international raiders will help dilute the remaining horses capable of winning big races in both Adelaide and Brisbane.
Coming up to the Winter, we see a mish mash of carnivals and race days. There has already been a mass of race clashes between Sydney and Melbourne during the late Summer, early Autumn. We then see the Adelaide and Brisbane carnivals clash and cannibalise each other. Wedged into them are big money meetings in New South Wales carrying wads of black type at both Hawkesbury and Scone. It’s simply impossible for horses to go to all of them.
Because of this, I predict we are going to see more competition for our best horses between the carnivals and race days in Australia. Whilst it isn’t traditional for clubs or principal racing bodies to offer travel rebates within Australia, I suspect this may well come into vogue. It’s standard practice for the big international meetings like Royal Ascot, Dubai and Hong Kong. It may also be the case that owners may well start to support the clubs who roll the red carpet out better than some others. This too could be a healthy thing to help deliver a better experience for owners on race day.
So, chin up owners. Don’t lament about the state versus state syndrome. Competition for your horses is good thing. You just need to get into one capable of competing at the highest level. That’s the biggest challenge we all face.
I've never been so optimistic about the future of racing in Queensland as I am now. Well perhaps that's not entirely true.
Optimistic seems a soft word when I look back to my move to Queensland almost 16 years ago. With our youngest daughter not even six months and a new business, Jenny and I packed up and moved from Wollongong to the Gold Coast in search of a new life for our young family. We left behind all our family and childhood friends in Wollongong and Sydney. It was a ballsy move. That's what youth and optimism can produce. Fortune favours the brave they say, and we've been lucky.
Back then, racing in Queensland had a great feel to it. The trainer and jockey list back then read like a who's who. In particular, the Gold Coast was booming as a racing centre.
Fair to say since then it's been a turbulent time in Queensland for the last 10 years. Clumsy political games have in my view had our great industry going around in circles. But that changed for the better recently.
In 2017 we started to head on the right path. The biggest step forward was the financial relief it delivered to take the funding burden for the costly but essential Non-TAB racing away from our industry and onto the shoulders of the state government. This resulted in a flow on of increased prizemoney to TAB racing in Queensland, lifting typical Saturday metro races prizemoney from $60,000 To $70,000. This was the single biggest beneficial change of racing policy we have ever seen in Queensland.
I hear you say that prizemoney is still is a long way short of the levels of Sydney or Melbourne. That's right, but to balance that you need to take into account two important factors that influence owners.
Firstly, the main objective for owners is to win races. And clearly, it's easier to win races in Brisbane versus Sydney. Generally, about 3-4 lengths easier. It's not much fun running a good sixth beaten 4 lengths in Sydney on a regular basis, is it? We move horses regularly from Sydney or Melbourne to Brisbane and prove this almost every time with good success.
Secondly, the cost structure of training fees is much lower than Sydney. Leading trainers in Sydney are typically $30 - $40 dollars per day dearer than their Queensland counterparts. So, when you relate that back to prizemoney, the cost differential is actually very favourable in Queensland.
Transporting horses too is much easier now. The roads between Brisbane and Sydney are on the improve all the time, whilst we now have access to flights for longer haul journey to centres like Melbourne. Queensland is a great base to work from and travel to carnivals, if your horse is good enough.
The climate in Queensland is brilliant to grow, educate and train horses. No matter how high the prizemoney levels are down south, they will never have the climate we do. Horses do much better in Queensland for the majority of the year. Yes, we have the high humidity in December - February, but for the other 9 months its heaven for humans and horses.
We now have two fantastic carnivals. The traditional winter carnival which stretches from April through to July, and the Summer carnival from September through until February. Most of the year is carnival time.
There are a good range of races that I think are now pretty much unique to Queensland. No Metro Win Races, Set Weight Plates and Class 3 plates races are great features of our Saturday metro programmes. I only hope they put more of these on. They are a good point of difference to the maligned Sydney benchmark system.
I think there are lots of exiting developments ahead for Queensland.
The merger between Tabcorp and Ubet will deliver prizemoney increases and structural change to Queensland. Better TV coverage of Queensland Racing will flow to showcase our industry. The current arrangements with Sky Channel are ordinary to say the least, but I'm confident this will change.
Most of all I'm very excited at the prospect of night racing on the Gold Coast. This is something I have been a strong advocate of for some time. In fact, in 2011 I was part of a 'board ticket' for election to the Gold Coast Turf Club which held a cornerstone policy of Night racing, had we been elected. Thankfully attitudes have changed since then, and it finally looks like it will happen.
Imagine jumping on a plane to see your horse run at the Gold Coast on a Friday night and linking it to a weekend away? The prospect of a night Magic Millions race day is mouth-watering too. I think this could really revolutionise racing in Queensland.
So, if you're not already racing a horse in Queensland, please give the idea serious consideration.
Written Tycoon has been a revelation as a sire despite an often-troubled career that has at times lacked stability.
Last week's Blue Diamond winner Written By continued the rise in stocks for Written Tycoon who now stands in Victoria at the Rowsthorn families Woodside Park at Tylden in Victoria at a fee of $88,000.
The death knock for commercial stallions is normally instability in ownership and location. Written Tycoon has suffered from both throughout his racing and breeding career. Prior to moving to Woodside, he started his stud life at Eliza Park in Victoria. He subsequently moved to Queensland for the 2012 season at Eliza Park's Innisplain farm. In that season he left the Golden Slipper winner Capitalist.
Without going into detail, turbulence amongst ownership groups in the past played a huge part of the instability experienced by Written Tycoon both as a racehorse and as a stallion. He has well and truly overcome that now, with full credit to Murray Tillett and his team at Woodside who have developed him into a high class proven stallion.
Written Tycoon has begun his career as a sire of sires with young sons Capitalist, Winning Rupert and Rich Enuff now at stud.
Winning Rupert is the one that got away for me. He could easily have raced in the 'All Gold' if lady luck had been a bit kinder on this occasion.
Winning Rupert was sold at the 2015 Magic Millions QTIS Sale out of the Eliza Park draft. I liked him on first inspection and he made my second inspection list. He passed second inspection and went on to pass my vet. That meant it was a green light for me to buy him, if the hand of fate stepped in. I didn't have a lot of horses on my final list at the sale, around 10 in the end and I planned on buying 3 or 4.
The only niggling doubt I had about Winning Rupert as a yearling was my perception at the time that he lacked a bit of leg. I liked everything else about him. I've included the photo of a yearling, so you can see what I mean. He was a really strong colt with a great coat and a good hindquarter. He looked like he would come early enough. His dam Winaura (by Show A Heart) was a very good race mare who was out and winning early in good Brisbane 2yo grade against the likes of Gold Edition. The smarties would say Winaura's page lacked black type, but that never worries me too much when the mare was talented, and her yearling is athletic. Some would say he was on the small side, but he was plenty big enough for me. I normally gravitate to yearlings on the medium to small side as I feel they are more athletic and less likely to break down.
I was very active at the sale and was bidding confidently which is normally the case. Seldom do I miss the ones I really want. At the end of the sale I had secured three, a colt by Zoffany and two colts by Love Conquers All. For the part owners of those three colts, this story may make your stomachs a little queasy. Needless to say, that that trio did not scale the heights like Winning Rupert.
When Winning Rupert stepped into the Gold Coast ring, the destiny I often talk of went the wrong for me. I thought perhaps he might be a $30,000 yearling. I sat back and monitored bidding. It rose beyond the $30,000 and eventually the hammer fell at $67,500. Magic Millions agent Barry Bowditch (now the big boss at Millions) was bidding on the phone. At the time I didn't know it was Bjorn Baker on the other end. I could have easily paid the price given I had purchased yearlings at the sale already up to $70,000. In fact, I've even been the leading buyer at the sale in the past with a top lot against my name. But in the end, the gut instinct I rely upon when a yearling ultimately enters the ring deserted me. That niggle I had about not having enough leg ended up winning the day and I went home without Winning Rupert.
History shows Winning Rupert was an outstanding young horse for Bjorn Baker who is ironically now our number one trainer in Sydney, putting the polish on our smart mare Test The World and several others. Winning Rupert won five of six starts and stakes of $579,500 as well as a $500,000 bonus.I think he could have won a Lighting or even a Newmarket had he of been pointed in that direction. I think perhaps the lure of Magic Millions proved his ultimate undoing. But it's so hard for connections to turn away from big bonus races when they are right in front of you. You can't blame them for that.
He was eventually purchased for stud duties by Henry Field's Newgate Farm. I have no doubt Winning Rupert will make a very good sire. The smarties will again point out his female line lacks black type and depth. But I'll be happy to ignore them again.
Winning Rupert reminded me very much of General Nediym both in his racing style and his physique. Both glowing chestnuts built like a brick proverbial. Like Written Tycoon, General Nediym had a somewhat unsettled career at stud through no fault of his own. He moved from stud to stud and stood in three different states before his premature demise. I think he could have been an outstanding sire had he been granted both stability and longevity. Funnily enough, the smarties also told you at the time that his female pedigree was too skinny to make a stallion. General Nediym is now one of the most sort after broodmare sires in the land and did a mighty job at stud.
The irony of this story really kicked in the following year. If you have any doubt I could have owned Winning Rupert on behalf of my clients, you only need to look to the2016 Magic Millions Sale. I secured Lot 875 - the next foal from Winaura, this time a filly by I Am Invincible. Winning Rupert hadn't raced at this point, but had won a trial. We got her for $80,000. She showed a stack of ability but in the end developed soundness issues and is now at stud.
You might think that missing Winning Rupert would infuriate me, but it doesn't. Its part of the romance from a game I love so much. I simply can't buy them all. He's not the first one that got away, and I know he won't be the last.
I'm probably about to remove myself from the Christmas card list of several Queensland stallion owners. Fortune favours the brave they say?
It's time the QTIS scheme becomes more about broodmares and less about stallions.
There I've said it. Wasn't that hard after all? And neither is what I'm proposing.
Putting it simply, if a mare resides in Queensland for the majority of the year, the resultant foal (regardless of where the sire stands) should be eligible for QTIS. Eligibility should no longer have anything to do with where the stallion stands.
This is the same eligibility criteria used now in the booming Victorian breeding industry under the prosperous VOBIS scheme.
Victorian breeders have the advantage of being able to send their mares to any stallion and qualify the resultant foal for VOBIS. This is reliant on the mare predominantly residing in Victoria, regardless of where the covering sire stands.
It’s fair to say the Victorian Breeding industry was in the doldrums 20 years ago. You might even argue back then that Queensland breeding was at least on a similar footing. In the past 10 years Victoria has established a strong breeding industry. Granted this is off the back of a strong racing industry, but it is also because of innovative and brave changes to VOBIS.
The Victorian breeding industry now boasts significant foreign and interstate investment. Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Stud is now firmly established in the state both in breeding and racing. In recent years major Chinese investment has come through Sun International’s acquisition of Eliza Park. Just last year American breeding giant Spendthrift Farm acquired Yallambee Stud.
But perhaps the strongest part of the breeding industry in Victoria has been the strengthening of the quality broodmare farms which are now dotted all over Victoria. These farms specialise in acquiring quality broodmares and produce high grade weanlings and yearlings for re-sale. These farms send their mares out to the most suitable stallions regardless of where they are located. They also invest in stallions by taking shares in quality stallions in both Victoria and New South Wales.
Broodmare farms provide significant employment and investment in the state and local regions. They provide sound foundation. It’s this foundation we should re-focus on in Queensland. It’s the foundation the Queensland State Government should become more aware of and invest in.
Queensland has so much to offer for broodmare owners and sales consignors. Our climate should be very attractive to grow out foals as they head toward yearling sales time. The Queensland winter and spring periods provide an amazing base for horse development. With the mining industry in direct conflict with breeder in the Hunter Valley, Queensland should be courting breeders to move their business to Queensland.
Off the back of a great climate and good country, breeders in Queensland have access to one of the most vibrant sales rings in the world – Magic Millions on the Gold Coast. Having this amazing resource on the doorstep of our breeding heartlands in Toowoomba and the Scenic Rim should make Queensland a logical choice for breeders. The cost and risk of transporting horses to sale are both significantly reduced.
What a Queensland breeding scheme should focus on is stimulating investment by broodmare owners in the state. At the moment the scheme is designed to discourage broodmare owners with quality mares. To participate in QTIS they are forced to use a Queensland stallion every second year if they want to qualify all foals for QTIS. If you have high class mare under the current scheme, this is virtually impossible.
For yearling buyers, the benefit of a change like this would mean a higher number of quality QTIS eligible yearlings would be available in the sales ring. At the moment there are a significant number of Queensland bred yearlings each year that are not eligible for QTIS. This is because their breeders are unable to qualify them for the scheme due to the commercial constraints of the current QTIS scheme I have outlined above.
Yearling buyers would also gain the advantage of a larger number of Queensland bred yearlings with valuable dual scheme qualification. Queensland breeders who choose to use a NSW based stallion would make the resultant Queensland bred yearling eligible for both BOBS and QTIS.
An increase in dual scheme qualified yearlings would certainly bolster the annual QTIS yearling sale held at Magic Millions each March. It’s fair to say under the current scheme, the buying bench for this sale can be very thin and consists largely of Queensland buyers. This poses a problem for Queensland breeders when the local racing industry experiences a downturn. With a larger proportion of QTIS/BOBS yearlings in this catalogue, I’m certain a larger number of buyers from NSW and further afield would attend and help grow this sale to a more robust outlet for breeders.
I expect that many Queensland stallion owners will strongly oppose a change of this nature. They shouldn’t. The good operators should embrace it as they have nothing to fear. I have no doubt a change like this will ultimately strengthen the breeding industry in Queensland. This will enable breeders to go out and invest in better quality stallions to stand in Queensland. Clearly this isn’t happening now, and in reality, hasn’t happened now for well over a decade.
Whilst the current QTIS scheme continues to virtually blackmail breeders to use Queensland stallions, the industry will continue to decline in this state.
We desperately need change now and I urge all Queensland breeders, owners and trainers to get behind this very simple change.
It always amazes me why many key racing industry stakeholders in Queensland openly bag politicians. Normally in the next sentence they long for the days of Russ Hinze or Bob Gibbs, depending on which side of the fence they straddle.
Surely these people should have learned a valuable lesson following the unexpected demolition of the Campbell Newman led conservative government? Many industry leaders’ unleashed tirades of abuse at the Labor Party thinking it would be a good while before we saw a change of state government back to the left. The unthinkable happened, and the conservatives were unceremoniously washed from government. So it was certainly no surprise to see the previous board and management of Racing Queensland dismantled. This was of course aided by a timely greyhound scandal. I’m not suggesting that sacking the Kevin Dixon led board was right or wrong. But perhaps if there had been some better chosen words pre Campbell Newman, we may well have had a better outcome and less upheaval ?
Equally astonishing is Queensland’s inability to replicate the aspects critical to the success of the strong racing states in Victoria and New South Wales. Both states have had regular changes of state governments over the past 10 years; flip flopping between Labor and Liberal almost at will. But unlike Racing Queensland, both Racing NSW and Racing Victoria seem able to remain in one piece post election. No widespread sackings, no massive restructures, no futile logo changes or no costly outside administrators. People like John Messara seem able to work with both sides of politics and remain somewhat A political, for the benefit of the industry. Messara and men like him seem to transcend politics and get on with business.
If there is one major lesson to learn about the turmoil that has engulfed racing in the Sunshine State its that as stakeholders we need to work with both sides of politics, and be more respectful of both in public forums. With governments and leaders being changed like dirty underwear nowadays, we cannot afford to be perceived as an industry that sways one way or the other. We need participants of all political and socio economic persuasions to function as a viable industry.
Racing is wrongly portrayed by many as the sport of the rich. We don’t do much to help that falsehood by mostly espousing allegiance to the conservative side of politics. The road to ruin is littered with many beaten hotpots just like Campbell Newman.
The massive challenge for the next CEO of Racing Queensland is to cut through the politics and play both sides of parliament much better than prior administrators here have. The best way to do this is by probably appointing an outsider without the baggage or preconceptions held by many already involved in the Queensland industry.
The challenge of course will be to attract the right man or women for the job. I'm certain the three code model of gallops, trots and dogs is a major detractor from the CEO position. There are many clever people out there who would jump at the job if it encompassed just thoroughbreds.