The rich get richer as country racing get the crumbs

Some Country Racing participants are not happy with the recent Racing NSW prize money increases. Photo: Racing Photography.

Racing NSW is currently engaged in a pissing contest with Racing Victoria – and surprise, surprise – NSW country and picnic racing participants are the ones left cleaning their shoes. 

Racing NSW yesterday announced a further $25 million annual increase in prizemoney and combined with the recently announced increases in prizemoney for the Golden Slipper (increased to $5 million) and the Golden Eagle (increased to $8 million), this brings total prizemoney increases this year alone to $27 million per annum.

As part of the $27 million increase, a race called ‘The Big Dance’, a new $2 million 1600m race, is to be conducted at Royal Randwick on Melbourne Cup Day each year and eligibility for The Big Dance will be restricted to horses contesting one of 25 selected NSW Country Cups throughout the year.

The race – scheduled to be run shortly after the Melbourne Cup – has already been labelled a ‘Country Cup final’ by Racing Victoria and ‘not a threat to the race that stops a nation’, and while the event will no doubt lead to good turnover and be great for the clubs involved and some lucky trainers and owners, country-based participants are set to be impacted.

City and provincial trainers already head bush to try and win NSW’s premier Country Cups, and now lured by the $2 million carrot that is ‘The Big Dance’ final, bigger stables will already be plotting paths to races such as the Wagga, Dubbo and Grafton Cups. 

This same sentiment was shared far and wide on social media shortly after Racing NSW published the news, with owners, trainers, jockeys and the general public voicing their concerns regarding the sanctity – or what’s left – of Country Cups. 

In addition to The Big Dance, ‘The Five Diamonds’ will be a new $2 million 1800m race for five-year-old horses only and is to be conducted at Rosehill Gardens on November 5, 2022, being the same day as the Golden Gift.

The Spring Champion Stakes prizemoney will be increased to $2 million, and the spring three-year-old staying program amended such that the Spring Champion Stakes will move to Saturday, October 22.

Additionally, the prizemoney for the Dulcify Stakes will also be increased to $250,000 and prizemoney for the Gloaming Stakes increased to $500,000, with both races rescheduled to provide a staying path to the Spring Champion Stakes.

The Stan Fox Stakes will be renamed as the Callander-Presnell in honour of Sydney racing media living legends Ken Callander and Max Presnell and is a $1 million race over 1600m for three-year-olds and will replace the Bondi Stakes.

Also, a new $500,000 race over 1400m for three-year-olds will be run at Royal Randwick on to be named the Tapp-Craig in honour of legendary Sydney race callers John Tapp and Ian Craig.

Prizemoney for the Winx Stakes will increase from $500,000 to $750,000 and prizemoney for the Silver Eagle will increase from $500,000 to $1 million.

On top of feature race prizemoney increases, Group, Listed, Metropolitan and Provincial minimum prizemoney rates have increased.

Group 1 minimum prizemoney is $600,000; Group 2 is $250,000; and Group 3 is 200,000.

Listed minimum prizemoney is now $160,000 and Metropolitan Saturday minimum prizemoney will increase to $150,000 per race, while Metropolitan midweek minimum prizemoney will increase to $55,000 per race.

Additionally, Provincial minimum prizemoney will increase to $40,000 per race, which rises from $35,000.

In stark contrast to these increases, it seems as though country and picnic racing participants have missed out on their slice of the pie, and instead will be eating the crumbs left over. 

Picnic clubs, which are already required to come up with a percentage of their total prizemoney, will see a minimum prizemoney increase from $4000 to $5,000 per race.

This offers up two major problems and somewhat of a paradox for Racing NSW. 

Firstly, unless Racing NSW pick up more of the bill, picnic clubs will need to inject more of their own money to cover their share of mandated prizemoney increases and one picnic race club secretary has already publicly stated that this will be an ‘impost’ on their club. 

Secondly, $5000 minimum per race is simply absurd and not viable for owners and trainers, and as I’ve written many times before, a simple $1.1 million annual investment by Racing NSW would sure up the future of picnic racing in NSW and take the pressure off clubs to provide prizemoney on a yearly basis.

Country TAB minimum prizemoney will increase to $25,000 per race from $24,000 a race, while non-TAB meetings and SKY 2 TAB meetings have missed out on minimum prizemoney increases altogether.

Now, while it is easy to argue that those bigger races – which do generate better turnover – should see provincial, city and feature race meetings receiving a bigger slice of the pie, it can be easy to forget or miss the intrinsic value grass roots or ‘bush racing’ provides the industry.

Firstly, TAB county race meetings – which by all reports provided by Racing NSW in their annual 2020/21 report – has never been doing better, and ultimately provides a backbone to the thoroughbred racing industry in NSW.

There are more country races than any other type of race, with 347 Country TAB and 71 Saturday Country TAB meetings held in 2020/21 alone.

Even if all the races at these meetings received an extra $1000 per race – which they won’t as many are Sky 2 meetings – the extra investment still won’t reach $3.4 million per annum and will likely fall significantly short of this figure – which is funnily enough less than the prizemoney on offer in both The Big Dance and The Five Diamonds combined.

It just doesn’t make sense, as many city and provincial trainers, along with leading country stables, utilise country programs, which in turn supports turnover in NSW.

Now, we all know non-TAB and picnic racing doesn’t generate turnover, but grass roots meetings offer Racing NSW so much more than turnover; it offers the past, present and future of racing. 

There are only approximately 30 picnic meetings a year, meaning between 150-180 picnic races are held each year, putting Racing NSW’s investment into picnic racing per annum with this announcement at a paltry $150,000 to $180,000.

To put that into context, of the $27 million per annum in increases, picnic racing clubs in NSW will receive just over 0.5 percent of the total amount. Basically, the equivalent of one Saturday Metropolitan race. 

Also, it is no secret that older and slower horses get a chance to race for longer at the picnics, giving owners the opportunity to win some prizemoney, while taking pressure of Racing NSW and their rehoming requirements. 

Additionally, jockeys, trainers and a lot of owners do not come from Sydney; they grow up in the country; they learn their trade in the country; they get their experience in the country; and importantly, they fall in love with the game in the country.

Yes, the elite few migrate to Sydney to showcase the state and country’s elite gallopers, and they deserved to be paid, but racing is country and country racing participants deserved to be paid too.