Racing NSW make more ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure promises

Participants are still waiting for work to begin on the $4 million Polytrack and $16 million stable complex at Scone.
Image: Tanya D’Herville Photography.

Last week, Racing NSW announced an investment of almost $20 million into country and provincial racetracks.

Committed to this significant capital works program, Racing NSW is prioritising ‘shovel-ready’ projects, including new stabling, track upgrades and other infrastructure improvements. 

Headlining the announcement is the proposed Goulburn racecourse upgrade, with the South East Club set to receive $9.5 million to construct 80 new stables and supporting infrastructure, with these works already having the necessary development approvals.

The $20 million commitment includes significant upgrades to provincial racecourses in Gosford ($2 million) and Wyong ($1.5 million).

Dubbo, Albury, Wagga, and Grafton will also benefit, as they will receive funding for new or improved training tracks, with these works ready for immediate commencement.

Ballina will receive funding for a complete irrigation system upgrade to ensure the club can manage its training and racing surfaces efficiently and reliably.

Racing Orange will receive funding to refurbish vacant on-course stabling, increasing the number of horses in training at the venue.

After speaking with club contacts, we’ve established that many of these projects are indeed shovel-ready, with projects set to commence shortly. 

While on paper, it is excellent news, participants remain sceptical. 

They wonder what timeline to expect with these projects when considering that the last lot of promises were yet to break ground, let alone be completed. 

In June 2021, the NSW Government ‘punted’ on a $67 million investment into regional racetrack upgrades.

Coined the Racing for the Regions Program, it was the largest investment in regional horse racing in a decade. 

The Berejiklian government promised to spend $67 million on upgrades to racetracks around New South Wales, including a $20 million package for Australia’s horse capital, Scone.

In the nearly three years since that announcement, NSW Country and Picnic Racing can confirm that proposed projects at Scone ($20 million), Cessnock ($11.5 million), Albury ($3 million), Tamworth ($2.4 million), and Moruya ($700,000) have not started. 

More smoke and mirrors or actual progress?

In May 2023, Racing NSW Chief Executive Mr Peter V’landys AM said he had ‘commissioned a project management team to implement the works program’. 

Mr V’landys confirmed the Racing for the Regions Program was in full swing and ensured projects were on their way to completion.

“Various of the club projects have been completed, including Polytracks at Gosford, Kembla, Warwick Farm, Newcastle, (a) sand track at Tamworth, (and) various works at Forster,” he said. 

“There are a number of other projects already completed. Further, a number of projects are either at DA (Development Approval) or plans being finalised for a DA to be lodged.

“In particular, the Scone Stable and Polytrack project has been approved and is at tender stage.”

It’s ten months since he made those comments to NSW Country and Picnic Racing and nearly three years since the initial announcement, but little has changed.

Trainers have commented on surveyors being present at these racetracks in recent months, specifically Scone and Cessnock, but if anything, participants are starting to grow old with the excuses offered. 

At Scone, trainers were promised to ‘turn keys on their new stables in December 2022’.

It’s reached the point that a large group of Scone trainers have grown disillusioned with the promises of completed projects. 

Their Polytrack upgrade has been pushed back on multiple occasions, and stabling upgrades won’t commence until the Polytrack has been installed. 

It’s a similar story at Cessnock, with trainers waiting patiently for their new stables and track. 

In Albury, their most prominent trainer left for greener pastures, and throughout the winter, other trainers have been forced to work their horses in Victoria and at other NSW tracks. 

Tamworth trainers are also growing collectively annoyed, with promised upgrades seemingly further away than ever.

The question remains: if $20 million worth of projects are ‘shovel-ready’, with Racing NSW seemingly in a rush to get them started, what’s the continued hold-up with many projects promised in 2021?  

Both Racing NSW and the Minister for Gaming and Racing, the Honourable David Harris MP, were contacted for comment regarding the status of the above-mentioned projects, and at the time of publishing, we had not received a reply. 

No help for the little guys

What’s most disappointing with these promises of infrastructure spending on Racing NSW racecourses is the appalling lack of support for community and picnic racing clubs. 

Neither the NSW Government’s Racing for the Regions program nor Racing NSW’s $20 million investment in country and provincial racecourses includes one project for a non-TAB or picnic race club. 

NSW Country and Picnic Racing spoke with various administrators who have overseen significant upgrades to community and picnic race club racecourses and amenities over the past few years. None of these projects were funded by Racing NSW.

These clubs either paid for the work or utilised government grants they applied for.

Across the board, there’s frustration with Racing NSW’s continued support of bigger race clubs, their $125 million property empire, and the administration’s focus on ever-increasing prizemoney, including the $20 million Everest. 

In recent years, race clubs have been pressured to deliver safe racecourses for horses and jockeys, which has to be Racing NSW’s paramount concern.

Unfortunately, in 2023, the spotlight was on country clubs and Racing NSW stewards following unpopular abandonments at Quambone, Brewarrina, Merriwa, and Come By Chance.

Still, nothing has been announced regarding racecourse upgrades and significant infrastructure spending in regional NSW. 

The 2022 floods ravaged the state, making things worse for impacted clubs. These same clubs worked hard to restore their facilities to a standard suitable for training and racing at the behest of Racing NSW but without financial support.

With these annual once-a-year meetings intrinsic to the social fabric of regional communities, some infrastructure spending at the grassroots level only makes sense. 

Readers only have to look across the border to see the work being undertaken by Racing Victoria, which continues to lead the way in infrastructure spending. 

Their trainers, specifically at locations such as Wangaratta, continue to hop across the border and win NSW prize money while having the luxury of training out of high-class facilities. 

In contrast, trainers out of Albury have, at times, had to utilise the Wangaratta facilities, which paints a damning picture. 

What’s disturbing is that the current Racing NSW 2017/18/19 strategic plan, which ‘has been prepared and progressively refined during the consultation process over the past 24 months’, tells clubs and participants where they stand.

Not once does picnic or community racing rate a mention, so maybe country racing doesn’t play as significant a role in Racing NSW’s future as we might like.

With so many questions regarding infrastructure spending, promised projects, sustainable prize money levels, and the future of country racing in NSW, we encourage readers to express their concerns to the Minister for Gaming and Racing, the Honourable David Harris MP. 

To get in touch, click here