Country and picnic racing participants face million-dollar short fall

26 country and picnic meetings have been abandoned in the first few months of the 2021/22 Racing NSW season because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Racing Photography.

Impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic have cost Racing NSW community and picnic racing participants more than $1 million in the first four months of the 2021/22 racing season.

To date, the amount of prizemoney not paid to participants because of 26 abandoned community and picnic meetings (due to Covid-19) is $1,500,500, with a Racing NSW contributed amount of $1,179,250 not paid to participants in this time. 

Additionally, there would have been $368,156.25 available in BOBS bonuses across these 26 race meetings. 

In response, Racing NSW have scheduled eight meetings to help mitigate the impact of these abandoned meetings on participants, and in total, there was meant to be $360,000 in prizemoney injected into the industry along with $115,500 in potential BOBS bonuses. 

The $360,000 and these eight meetings include the two abandoned Tumut meetings, which succumb to weather and subsequent track conditions on November 7 and November 20. 

As it stands, this leaves a $819,250 short fall in prizemoney and a $252,656.25 BOBS bonuses short fall from August 1 to December 11, which totals $1,071,906.25 that could have been paid to participants involved in community and picnic racing in the first four months of the year. 

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the racing industry has only been compounded by the wettest November in history according to the Bureau of Meteorology, meaning that in the first four months of the season, an additional 17 TAB and community meetings were abandoned or unsuccessfully relocated to other tracks because of wet weather.

In total, 43 meetings have been abandoned after only one third of the season. 

General Manager of Industry & Analysis with Racing NSW, Mr Scott Kennedy, explained that Racing NSW purposely over-scheduled meetings to account for abandoned meetings.

NSW Race meetings lost to the Covid-19 pandemic in the first few months of the 2021/22 NSW racing season.

“In formulating annual budgets there is an expectation that some meetings will be lost, primarily due to wet weather,” Mr Kennedy said.

“It is of course unknown which meetings they are, but past experience points to there being periods of wet weather. 

“As part of the overall budgeting process there is a provision for lost meetings in that 18 more meetings programmed than would be the case if all meetings were run (this is net of meetings transferred to a different venue, run within 48 hours are re-programmed).”

The 2021/22 season has been a particularly bad year for Racing NSW Participants and Mr Kennedy highlighted that there have been years where there were fewer lost meetings than anticipated, and the administrator stressed that prizemoney not paid in 2021/22, that is more than the 18 extra scheduled meetings, would carry over to form “prizemoney projections and potential for prizemoney increases.”

“Year to year the results vary, but across ten years the provision for lost meetings tends to be correct,” Mr Kennedy said. 

“In some years (especially during the drought) there were fewer lost meetings than expected and this saw higher payments for conduct of race meetings.

“If there are more lost meetings than expected in a given year monies carried over from running less meetings form a small part of future prizemoney projections and potential for prizemoney increases.”

Mr Kennedy acknowledged that the wetter than usual start to the racing season hadn’t helped Racing NSW participants.

“The recent weather conditions at various locations across NSW are unusual and I note that November 2021 has been identified by the BOM as the wettest on record,” Mr Kennedy said. 

“Racing NSW has sought to transfer meetings, but in several cases, these have been thwarted by rain at the venue receiving the meeting. Examples of this include Coonamble to Gilgandra 28/11/21 and Coffs Harbour to Grafton 2/2/21.

 “In several other cases widespread rain has meant that there is not a venue available in the region to accept a transfer and in some instances annual track renovations have also seen venues unavailable at the time of heavy rainfall.”

With 43 abandoned meetings due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent wet weather, nominations and acceptances for country meetings have been higher than usual, and Racing NSW have split races where possible.

“It is worth pointing out that a mechanism for meeting immediate pent-up demand from lost meetings are race divisions, with higher numbers of acceptances sometimes emerging after wet weather,” Mr Kennedy said. 

“Recent country meetings where races have been divided include Scone 15/11, Quirindi 18/11, Grafton 19/11 (2), Inverell 20/11, Wagga Wagga 22/11 and 6/12, Gunnedah to Scone 4/12 (2).”

Race meetings added to the Racing NSW calendar to replace meetings that were abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic. * denotes meetings that did not proceed.

Mr Kennedy reminded NSW Country and Picnic Racing that Racing NSW increased minimum prizemoney levels in July 2021, with full TAB races now worth $24,000, Sky 2 TAB races worth $15,000, non-TAB races valued at $10,000 and picnic races carrying a prize pool of $4,000, and he also highlighted there was more country racing now than there was a decade ago.

“Aside from this provisioning, it is worth noting there are 16 more meetings programmed in country NSW than ten years ago, with more meetings ran as TAB fixtures,” Mr Kennedy said.

Despite the extra prizemoney and racing that is on offer compared to 10 years ago, Racing NSW participants will be significantly out of pocket in 2021/22 compared to what they were expecting to race for, and what Racing NSW scheduled for.

Racing NSW have already lost 17 meetings due to the wet weather this season, which is only one meeting short of the 18 extra meetings scheduled to account for meetings lost to wet weather and track conditions.

This is coupled by the 26 community and picnic meetings lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the current $819,250 prizemoney short fall will only grow larger in the coming eight months as more meetings are abandoned. 

Mr Kennedy said that this topic had been addressed at ‘different times over the years’ and while he acknowledged the industry had been impacted, he didn’t believe that the potential BOBS bonuses figure of $252,656.25 not paid to participants was a true reflection of what could be won, and not a fair representation when determining what participants were reasonably expected to win the first four months of the 2021/22 season. 

“With respect to any calculation of prizemoney and BOB bonuses not paid from lost meetings, I reiterate that the total of all BOBS bonuses available is much greater than the reasonable expectation of bonuses that would actually be payable given that winners need to be NSW bred BOBS eligible horses aged two or three,” Mr Kennedy said. 

“There is a contrast between prizemoney paid if the winner is a Queensland bred 6yo, the same horse not being eligible for a BOBS bonus.”

With the state of NSW now out of lockdown, and racing and crowds returning to some normality, Mr Kennedy hoped the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic was behind Racing NSW, their clubs and their participants, and he explained that the administrative body would still consider replacement race meetings if and when they were needed. 

“It is expected that we have been though the worst of the COVID period with crowds able to attend and improved interstate travel,” Mr Kennedy said. 

“Replacement of any meetings not run by clubs from this point will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”