The promise of investment in New Zealand’s thoroughbred industry is good news, but tracks need to be able to stand on their own, says Auckland Racing Club chief executive Paul Wilcox.
The industry has been in the spotlight recently with the annual Karaka yearling sales finishing last Sunday.
More than 900 horses were sold over the week for a total of $97.02 million – the biggest sales year since 2008.
In his opening address to the event, Racing Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters hinted at increased stakes, as well as tax cuts for breeders, although the details won’t be announced until the Budget.
One of New Zealand First’s key points in their election policy was to increase the level of minimum stakes.
The industry had already seen a minimum stakes increase last year to $10,000, however, NZ First planned on increasing this by 50 per cent to $15,000.
Peters also announced plans for a new all-weather racing track, the location of which was yet to be decided.
“Racing should be returning $3 billion to the economy rather than $1.6 billion like it is now,” Peters said.
“It employs 42,000 people, a lot of them young people and Treasury needs to understand it not only has a significant economic impact but a social impact on New Zealand,” Peters said.
“So we are going to make some positive changes.”
In his speech, Peters also noted the announcement, “doesn’t disqualify this industry from examining what innovation, creativity and drive it should be bringing”.
Wilcox, who was appointed chief executive last year, said it was extremely positive for the industry to have the Government’s support but it needed to step up.
“It’s good having the backing but Winston also made comments saying it’s not just a hand out, the industry needs to make change and show leadership – and we do,” Wilcox said.
“We cant be reliant on hand-outs, we as an industry must be strong.
“It’s all easy to sit there and say, ‘Give us money’, but at the end of the day clubs need to make sure what they’re doing is for the betterment of the industry for the long term.”
Wilcox said Ellerslie had been working towards this, hosting more than 1,100 events at its Auckland centre outside of races.
The site is currently playing host to the Pop Up Globe.
He said the industry as a whole needed to look at clubs that weren’t performing as well.
During the Karaka sales, New Zealand Thoroughbred Marketing chief executive Andrew Birch said the industry needed to consolidate by closing some of the smaller underperforming regional tracks.
“While it is fair to say New Zealand racing has been operating under a fairly inefficient model, with too many racecourses spread throughout the country, there is a massive opportunity for racing to flourish,” Birch said.
Across the country there are 52 thoroughbred race tracks.
“I believe if we consolidate some of our resources we could have a handful of world-class racing and training venues that would see even greater international investment into the racing and bloodstock industry here.”
Despite the need for progress in the industry, Wilcox said it was an exciting time, and he hoped Peters would stick to his commitments at Budget time in May.