The decision by the South Australian Jockey Club (SAJC) to abandon jumps racing at the Adelaide’s only metropolitan venue has rightly caused a furore amongst jumps racing owners, trainers and supporters not only in South Australia, but across the country.
There is of course dismay at the decision itself, but what has fuelled much of the fury being expressed by the jumps racing fraternity is that its justification appears to not be based on jumps racing per se. Rather, the decision has been rationalised as a purely commercial one, with SAJC claiming that holding a handful of jumps meetings at Morphettville is so monumentally detrimental to the SAJC ‘brand’ that it warrants the abandonment of jumps racing altogether.
In an interview immediately following the announcement, CEO Brenton Wilkinson said that the SAJC Board “a couple of years ago made a decision that we don’t believe that it’s appropriate to hold jumps racing at Morphettville.” Mr Wilkinson acknowledged that the “statistics from jumps racing have improved greatly, and the stewards over here do a good job managing the trainers and the jockeys and the horses,” but nevertheless he and SAJC continue to believe that jumps racing is “detrimental to our brand.”
What does this mean, in practical terms? According to Mr Wilkinson, corporate entities who “were thinking of holding a non-race day function, a Christmas dinner or mid-year work dinner for their staff and clients have then declined to continue because we have jumps racing at Morphettville.”
No wonder the jumps racing fraternity is incensed. Those who work in the industry, devote their immense skill, expertise and entire working lives to it, along with the many passionate enthusiasts who support jumps racing throughout South Australia (many of whom, it should be noted, will be SAJC members) are not considered as important—to a racing club—as corporates who have no connection to or interest in racing, but are simply looking for a room to hold a lunch.
But this part of the SAJC justification has not angered the jumps fraternity as much as Mr Wilkinson’s tacit admission that the Club has essentially caved in to the efforts of a small but vocal minority of anti-jumps racing protestors.
“The protesters have been less this year which is great but, you know, when people turn up to race at Morphetville and they have to walk through a group of people that are vocal—we work very closely with the police and our security people to ensure that patrons are inconvenienced as little as possible, because everyone in our democratic society has the right to protest so we can’t remove them unless they’re doing something wrong, but it’s not a good experience for getting people to Morphettville,” said Mr Wilkinson as part of the same interview.
This is especially galling because when a two-year moratorium was agreed between SAJC and Thoroughbred Racing SA (TRSA) over the future of jumps racing at the city venue in 2012, SAJC was adamant that it wasn’t, and wouldn’t be in any way, influenced by anti-racing lobby groups in its thinking. And yet it would appear to be the case, from Mr Wilkinson’s interview, that these very groups have won the day—at the expense of the many racing professionals and enthusiasts who are passionately committed to the industry.
Those involved in jumps racing at all levels quite justifiably feel abandoned by a body whose entire raison d’être is, after all, horse racing. To remove jumps racing from Morphettville for the sake of a) turning our only city racing venue into yet another corporate function centre, and b) to placate groups who will not be placated until all horse racing is banned altogether, seems not only a betrayal of the first water, but extremely short-sighted, and one that will have further ramifications not only for jumps racing, but all racing in SA.
This article first appeared on The Roar as Decision to abandon jumps racing at Morphettville a betrayal