At the 2015 HRNZ Conference, NZSBA Chairman was invited on a panel of four industry leaders including Graeme Cooney, NZ Racing Board, Kerry Hoggard, HRNZ and Auckland Trotting Club and Edward Rennell, HRNZ Board. The extract below are John's personal views on the harness industry.
Question: As President of the Breeders, do you believe the industry's future is sustainable without change?
Short answer is No!
Racing is in decline world-wide; not the sole sporting/entertainment option that it was in the 50s when many of our current racing institutions and practice were put into place. 20% of NZers believe there should be no gambling on racing and sport.
2015/16 breeding season will see 63 stallions - down from 79 last season; we are seeing 5% year-on-year decline in mares breed although trotting a little less
78% of breeders are aged 50 and older; 30% of our breeders plan to retire soon or have retired; studs are breeding more. The largest 15 breeders breed 13% of mare population up from 9% in 2009.
60% of named breeders only breed one mare = 28% of total.
Breeders’ tell us they breed less due lack of returns in stakes and sales; high costs, which include racing costs as 48% of race horses include the breeder.
Breeders have maintained there investment in the sport/industry for the last decade and we need others to do their part
But are these the right indicators? surely the question is what number of mares do we need to bred to sustain a viable harness racing sport/industry through wagering and sales and how do we provide incentives for owners to race horse longer and more often.
Finally, we are spoilt in NZ; we have a very high quality bred (as we are in all our agriculture) and we are extremely harsh on failure.
Breeders are like the owners of a manufacturing plant with excess capacity. It is simply not rational to produce more than what the market needs or wants:
Most of our breeders are hobby and sport folks – there is a cost threshold they will absorb but it is lowering. Older breeders on the land may have been more forgiving of their hobby; but many younger ones are much more cost conscious. We were a sport close to farming and the land. Productions costs were low;
Some bred for their own consumption i.e. to race themselves; the dream is to win the Cup; but the number is declining as racing costs rise and as a significant number of our breeders retire – 30%
Many horses are being sold at less than the cost of production – this is not sustainable.
There is a strong perception in the buying market (i.e. those breeding and buying intending to race) that programming and handicapping are broken and this constrains participation and racing for lesser horses. Both need radical change. The handicapping system is discredited as a strategy to increase growth (wagering and ownership) in harness racing and breeding. We need a system that is more accommodating to the lesser quality: we can make wagering profits and keep owners.
Other sales opportunities including export are sound but we know that not as attractive for the $8k to $15k horses
So it simple for me – root and branch change; band aids will do nothing other than wasting time and money. Needs a package to maximise wagering returns, increase our share of NZ and international wagering as we inevitably move to profit margin returns. Need to focus on what increases the demand for horses and returns to breeders:
Stakes, stakes and stakes - returns to owners will drive participation and the sales market. Value for money of all expenditure from NZRB to the one meeting club
HRNZ board and club structure – the proposal this morning has my support as a vehicle for further major change, but it must go further and quickly
Handicapping – an independent review looking at a simpler metropolitan/country system to have like race like.
Programming - monetarise the calendar, penalties for non-performance; central oversight and control of programmes; use the handicapping system programme for the available horses against peers to maximise revenue and retention.
Integrity – we cannot take a backwards step. Testing, testing and testing.