Should Racing NSW pay unplaced runners at the picnics?

Bourke Picnics: Racing Photography.

In news that was well-received by grass roots participants, Racing NSW announced back in February that they would be investing another $130,000 into picnic racing prizemoney, in turn raising the minimum race value to $3000, and essentially adding an extra $5000 to $6000 to every meeting across the state. 

This extra prizemoney doesn’t officially kick in until July 1, and there has been noise from a lot of industry participants who believe they know how this money should be invested.

After canvassing multiple NSW Country trainers who often race at the picnics, the team at NSW Country and Picnic Racing found one common theme, and that was the apparent need and want for prizemoney to be paid to unplaced runners.

At the moment, picnic race meetings are the only meetings in NSW where unplaced runners are not paid, with prizemoney distributed between the top three. 

Reigning NSW picnic trainer of the year and industry stalwart, Rodney Robb, said unplaced payments were essential for the industry. 

“I honestly reckon there should be appearance money, just like the other places. Even $100 for an unplaced starter would help, it gives them travelling trainers and owners something,” Robb said. 

“I know I’m a trainer, but I’m not new to committees. I’ve worked on committees all my life, with race clubs, footy clubs, pony clubs, so I’m not talking out of turn, and if I really had to have my say, appearance money would be my priority and more money in general wouldn’t hurt.”

Nyngan trainer, Rodney Robb wants to see unplaced prize money introduced to NSW picnic racing. Photo: Racing Photography.

Another area of concern for the Nyngan trainer was the current state of maiden racing at NSW picnic meetings, as he believes too many are programmed and there isn’t enough money on offer to warrant trainers ‘wasting’ their maiden at the picnics.

“I do think that they program too many maidens at the picnics,” Robb said. 

“After appearance money, the first thing I would like to see is an increase in maiden prizemoney and more class races.”

Canberra trainer Doug Gorrel is another big supporter of the picnics, and will make the nearly 9-hour return trip to Tomingley on Saturday with four runners engaged.

“I do love the picnics, and it needs to be looked after a bit better,” Gorrel said.

“We do need to increase the prizemoney, and really, you do need to pay the top five,” Gorrel said. 

“Fourth and fifth should get a cheque and if there is enough for unplaced, that would be handy.”

Gorrel went as far as saying an increase to picnic prizemoney in NSW, and the introduction of unplaced payments, could very well lengthen the career of older and slower gallopers who can’t compete at non-TAB and TAB events. 

“It should be $5,000 a race at the picnics,” Gorrel said.

“This will help equine welfare and rehoming, because if trainers can hang onto a horse for another year or two, and race them, it takes pressure off Racing NSW.”

Gorrel is mystified as to why picnic clubs still have to raise half of their prizemoney, and he believes Racing NSW should be able to see the true value of grass roots racing. 

“They definitely need to take the onus from the club, surely the people in Sydney and at the TAB know that picnic racing introduces new people to racing, and they may become an owner or punter,” Gorrel said. 

“That is the real value, and I think any of those meetings introduce people to racing at a greater scale that any Group 1 race would.

“These people get that community invite, or they go through a business connection, and that is how people get started in racing, and clubs shouldn’t have to worry about prizemoney when they are trying to put on a good meeting for these people.”

Gorrel simply believes that the future of country racing in NSW relies on a strong picnic racing scene. 

Canberra trainer, Doug Gorrel (right), believes country racing in NSW needs picnic racing to thrive. Photo: Tumbarumba Times.

“Without picnic racing, the future of country racing is dire,” Gorrel said. 

Wellington trainer, Peter Stanley, races his horses at a lot of different meetings, and he said there was a place for picnic racing, agreeing that there was a need to increase prizemoney. 

“I mainly do the TAB races with my prominent horses, but they will dwindle down to picnics eventually, and you need to have that option,” Stanley said. 

“I agree that prizemoney should go up at the picnics, especially for the cups and the maidens, plus all runners should be paid.”

Stanley explained that unplaced prizemoney was more in the interest of his owners, and other owners, who pay to have these country gallopers in work. 

“All owners have to pay fuel bills to go to the races and if it was $100 to each runner, that is $100 worth of fuel and less on the training bill,” Stanley said. 

“It costs to get from A to B and back home again; it is 2021 for Christ’s sake, surely there is enough money to help out those battlers.”

Debbie Prest, who had the most picnic starters in NSW with her partner Peter Kirby in 2018 and 2019, is one country trainer who has retired her picnic gallopers – the trainer explaining that during Covid-19, and following on from the pandemic, it became too expensive to keep her lower-class horses in work. 

“We were worth five horses a meeting at every meeting and we have raced horses exclusively at the picnics – horses that would have been sacked otherwise,” Prest explained. 

“During Covid, they were only racing every six to eight weeks at the picnics, and we couldn’t afford to keep these horses in work, so we have retired and rehomed nine picnic horses.”

Prest agrees with Robb, and believes paying unplaced runners at the picnics and increasing minimum maiden prizemoney would improve fields at picnic meetings. 

“We need to pay unplaced. $100 a runner at least gives people some travel money and covers their workers comp and public liability insurance, otherwise you come home from the picnics with a bill,” Prest said. 

“My argument has been, it only takes (the equivalent of) one city meeting to cover unplaced at the picnics for the year, and is that too much to ask?

“The rest of the prizemoney should go to the maidens; you only win one maiden and you can be throwing that away for $1700 at some meetings.”

Prest was adamant that her suggestions would help with horse welfare too, and put less pressure on Racing NSW when it came to horse retirement and rehoming.

“Increasing picnic prizemoney is racing NSW’s answer to welfare,” Prest said. 

“There are so many horses that are fit and healthy, but they are just slower, so why not put more money into these horses and suitable races, so they can race for a longer career, instead of them being sacked as a three-year-old.”

The concerns of these trainers came to light this week, with nominations at Tomingley extended after very poor numbers, which saw two races with only one horse entered in each, and another race with only two horses entered.

After nominations were extended, 41 were entered for the six-race-card, with 30 accepting, but at this stage only 24 runners have jockeys down to ride them.

If you have an opinion on picnic racing prize money, or ideas on how Racing NSW can help industry participants, feel free to reply to this article, or email your thoughts to [email protected]