Written by Trent Masenhelder, courtesy of TDN AusNZ.
Godolphin Australia’s Managing Director, Vin Cox, is tired of racing constantly shooting itself in the foot and has called for the political in-fighting to cease immediately.
This month alone, Racing New South Wales has initiated legal action against fellow Principal Racing Authorities (Racing Victoria, Racing Queensland, Racing South Australia and Racing and Wagering Western Australia), amid concerns about anti-competitive behaviour.
That case was due to commence in the New South Wales Supreme Court on Wednesday, coinciding with the start of the Asian Racing Conference in Melbourne.
And, on Tuesday morning, Robyn Whishaw – a well-respected industry participant and proprietor of Tasmania’s largest thoroughbred stud, Armidale Stud, lashed Racing Australia.
Whishaw sensationally quit the RA board a fortnight ago. She claims the national body has been dysfunctional for a long time, adding “it is very hard to see a way forward”.
An excerpt from Whishaw’s resignation letter reads: “The tension and angst around the Board table are further inflamed with one state sending legal letters to all the others on more than one occasion. In my view, the aim of such threats is to try to keep the other states ‘in line’.
“The toxicity at meetings has meant we have not had a Chairman in almost a year. Since John Messara resigned from that position, no one has been willing to put up their hand for the role.”
Cox, who also serves on the Victoria Racing Club Board of Directors, said something’s got to give.
“For someone like Robyn Whishaw, who is a first-class, quality human, to throw the towel in and cite the obstructiveness of a particular section of that board, just speaks volumes as to what’s going on at Racing Australia,” Cox told TDN AusNZ.
“To use an analogy, all of the kids are in the sandpit and there’s one particular section that won’t let anyone play with any toys, so they all want to leave the sandpit, then that section says, ‘Hang on, you can’t do that either’.
“It’s just a disgrace, it really is, and enough is enough.
“To use an analogy, all of the kids are in the sandpit and there’s one particular section that won’t let anyone play with any toys… It’s just a disgrace, it really is, and enough is enough.” – Vin Cox
“I think the industry has had enough of everything and I really think they (the RA board) need to have a look at themselves. They’re using industry funds to serve other parts of the industry, and it’s just quite ugly from so many perspectives when they’re charged and have governance duties to represent a board that they sit on.
“At the end of the day, it’s not a big industry. We swim in a fairly finite and small pond and we should be getting on with each other.
“Racing New South Wales, and Racing Australia, by extension, are charged with representing all participants and stakeholders in the industry, and they’re very focused and one-dimensional in their attention and not listening to all those they’re meant to be representing.”
Others are fed-up
Prime Thoroughbreds’ Founder and Managing Director Joe O’Neill has been in the game a long time. Like so many, he caught the bug at an early age and his passion for the sport has never wavered.
Born and raised in Toowoomba, O’Neill became fond of racing by listening to the popular radio program ‘Three-Way Turf Talk’ as his grandmother would bake scones on a Saturday morning.
O’Neill races horses in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia, with his runners carrying the synonymous blue silks with a white star and red cap. He attends every sale on the national calendar, always on the hunt for the next good horse.
Given the time, money and effort he pours into the industry, O’Neill always has one eye on the state of racing at the administrative level.
The stakes-winning owner isn’t happy.
“I’m disappointed with the way things are going. It is embarrassing,” a candid O’Neill told TDN AusNZ.
“I’m disappointed with the way things are going. It is embarrassing.” – Joe O’Neill
“We’re a national sport, we’re not eight separate entities.”
O’Neill described the current situation as “untidy”, saying, “It is very disappointing the way this has all evolved,” especially in the modern climate.
“At a time where there’s so much financial stress, so much pressure on budgets, we’re wasting so much of the industry’s money on what’s happening between Racing New South Wales and the other PRAs,” O’Neill said.
“At a time where there’s so much financial stress, so much pressure on budgets, we’re wasting so much of the industry’s money on what’s happening between Racing New South Wales and the other PRAs.” – Joe O’Neill
Whishaw, meanwhile, admitted feeling “deep disappointment and frustration,” while accusing RA of toxicity at meetings.
Speaking on Melbourne radio station RSN927 on Tuesday morning, she said the dynamic of the RA board must change.
“It’s mind-boggling, really. It was dysfunctional well before I joined the board, how long before? I’m not sure, because I think it’s something that a lot of the people who aren’t on the board aren’t aware of,” said Whishaw.
Whishaw said her decision to resign from the RA board wasn’t a difficult one.
“I have been very frustrated. There are only so many times you can bang your head against a brick wall before you choose to stop,” she remarked.
“I felt going on to the Racing Australia board that I would be able to make a positive contribution and perhaps lend a more practical balance to the board. I just found it very frustrating, not a lot gets done and it’s not a healthy culture there.
“In the end it wasn’t a hard decision to resign because I don’t want to waste my time and I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere and not being listened to.
“There’s some people on the board that I’m sure are there for the right reasons, but I feel there’s some long-held grudges between individual states that people won’t let go of.
“Certainly, compromise isn’t a word that comes to mind with any dealings on the board and states live in fear of being served legal writs from other states and that’s not a healthy environment to be in and certainly doesn’t speak of compromise and collaboration.”
“…compromise isn’t a word that comes to mind with any dealings on the board and states live in fear of being served legal writs from other states and that’s not a healthy environment to be in…” – Robyn Whishaw
Collaboration is key
With nothing but the best interests of racing from a national perspective at the forefront, O’Neill has called for unity, preferably via the leadership of Racing Australia.
“Racing New South Wales is one of eight PRAs in Australia; I think they all need to work together in the best interests of the industry,” O’Neill said.
“Everyone’s got their own opinion and is there to look after their own jurisdiction and do the best they can, but at the moment it looks a complete nonsense.
“Everyone’s got their own opinion and is there to look after their own jurisdiction and do the best they can, but at the moment it looks a complete nonsense.” – Joe O’Neill
“I think the other PRAs have had enough of what’s happening in New South Wales and their attitude towards these PRAs. To be honest, I think there needs to be mutual respect, that each of the PRAs are trying to do the best they possibly can for their jurisdiction.
“We need to be in a situation where they’re (the PRAs) working together to enhance our industry here in Australia and keep up with the best practices in the world, and at the moment, I think that that’s not happening because of all of the friction that’s occurring within industry, as well as the angst from the other PRAs towards New South Wales and New South Wales’ apparent want to not work with the other PRAs.”
Whishaw said it is imperative to have a unified national governing body with clear and common objectives.
“We’re a racing country, we’re not racing states, we’re a country and our horses travel all around Australia to race, our broodmares travel from Tasmania up to Queensland and from Queensland to Western Australia, we have jockeys flying to every state,” Whishaw explained.
“We need a strong body to oversee it and this hasn’t been happening, and it’s not been happening for some time.
“RA is supposed to be a national body working for the whole of the Australian Racing Industry, but to me it appears to be failing in that objective.”
“RA is supposed to be a national body working for the whole of the Australian Racing Industry, but to me it appears to be failing in that objective.” – Robyn Whishaw
Do away with powers of veto
Currently, Racing NSW and Racing Victoria are the two most powerful PRAs, with both holding powers of veto over major issues such as animal welfare and the status of Sydney’s The Everest.
O’Neill believes such powers should be relinquished, so that every state/territory is on a level playing field.
“I don’t think Racing NSW and Racing Victoria should have power of veto. If that was the case, it would solve a lot of the problems,” O’Neill remarked.
“I don’t think Racing NSW and Racing Victoria should have power of veto. If that was the case, it would solve a lot of the problems.” – Joe O’Neill
“When the PRAs meet, they should meet as equals and if issues go to a vote, then they go to a vote.”
Whishaw echoed those sentiments, explaining that one of the primary reasons she believes the RA board is so dysfunctional is a result of two states having more clout than their peers.
“In my view, probably personalities and the fact that two states have power of veto, and if you choose to use that regularly, it just stifles any progress or any discussion,” Whishaw commented.
Racing Australia’s response
Once Whishaw’s resignation was brought to the public’s attention, TDN AusNZ contacted RA CEO Paul Eriksson for a right of reply.
“Robyn advised Racing Australia of her resignation on February 1. These are matters for the board and it’s not appropriate for the CEO to make comment,” Eriksson said.