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.