Racing Australia chairman John Messara gave a keynote address during the recent 49th International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. His address focused on the 30-year evolution of racing in Australia and provided some valuable insight for racing industry leaders in North America. Messara, also the owner of Arrowfield Stud, began owning Thoroughbred racehorses in 1979. He saw opportunities for Australian racing to improve and attempted to be an agent for change by securing a seat on the Australian Jockey Club Committee. His attempts were unsuccessful because he was deemed too "progressive," so he attacked the problems he saw through the breeding side of the industry.
"This is what our industry looked like 30 years ago (1985): In racing: the average prize money in Sydney and Melbourne was $17,500; no international racehorses traveled to Australia for our spring and autumn racing carnivals; and it would take until 2004 before Australian horses were included in the official ratings. In breeding: 17 Australian-bred yearlings were exported; only 46 mares were imported into Australia; and, the Sydney Premier yearling sale average was $22,700.
"We were inward-looking and domestically focused, but for those with an eye to opportunity the potential for development was unquestionable.
"The first step in transformation came in the unlikely form of a government taxation concession...breeding stock depreciation provisions bringing the Australian fiscal regime more in line with that of our main competitor, New Zealand. It was a single action that in one fell swoop halted the leakage of the best Australian bloodlines to New Zealand and enabled Australian breeders to deploy the necessary capital to acquire breeding stock from the best international pedigrees in Europe and America.
"The second defining step was the arrival of the stallion Danehill in 1989. And the success of his shuttle program between Australia and Ireland had a tsunami effect on the shuttle stallion concept. The shuttle trend Danehill ignited has brought a staggering 293 Northern Hemisphere shuttle stallions to Australia.
"As it so often happens in our industry it took just one horse to change the world's attitudes and what Danehill did for the shuttle process, the Irish horse Vintage Crop did for Australian racing.
"Vintage Crop's victory in the 1993 Foster's Melbourne Cup Handicap (Aus-I) demonstrated, in a way no marketing campaign ever could, that the best in the world could overcome the internationally held perceptions about long-distance travel and tough quarantine protocols. Vintage Crop franked Australia's most famous race as a truly international race, and Australia as a genuine target for the world's top racehorses.
"The board of racing New South Wales (NSW) also took on the corporate bookmakers and betting exchanges. We took the view we had copyright over our product, and our argument was supported by the state government of NSW (Australia's largest racing jurisdiction), which changed the law to force wagering operators to pay a fee on bets on NSW races. Just as importantly, it compelled them to provide details of betting activity to our stewards which has turned out to be a valuable integrity tool.
"Of course these matters are never simple and the government legislation was challenged by the wagering operators in the High Court, in what has become known as the Race Fields Case. Racing NSW won the case and as a result, the racing industry's annual revenue in NSW was boosted by more than 30%. This legal precedent paved the way for the other States of Australia to confidently charge race fields fees, with a huge positive impact on our national industry revenues.
"The emergence of the Melbourne Cup as an internationally recognized event, the uplift in revenue from the Race Fields Case, the development of the Autumn Championships and now the establishment of Racing Australia have all played their part in transforming Australian Racing.
"And here are the numbers to prove it: In racing, the average prize money in Sydney and Melbourne has increased to $110,400 in 2015; international racehorses travelling to Australia for our spring and autumn racing carnivals has increased to 53 last year; the number of Australian horses rated above 115 in the official ratings has increased to 40 in the 2014 release. In breeding: the number of Australian-bred yearlings to be exported has jumped to 440 total last year; only 46 mares were imported to Australia in 1985, last year this had increased to 200; the average of the Sydney Premier yearling sale reached $291,000 in 2015.
"What is the future? We believe in integrity, a drug-free racing environment, and we will be very tough on enforcement. We will have rules that represent the world's best practice and are consistent throughout our country. We will continue to enhance our major racing Carnivals and welcome international participants, competitive prize money and first-class quarantine facilities. We will work to promote our sport to the next generation, with the use of new technologies, modernization, and transparency in the way racing participants conduct their business. We will continue to address society's expectations on matters such as animal welfare.
"This is our future."