Thoroughbred Racing SA (TRSA) this week announced the 2015 jumps racing program for South Australia, which saw the number of jumps races at the state’s only city track reduced from nine to six, over four race days.
What has been both baffling and infuriating to the SA jumps racing fraternity has been the extraordinary response of the South Australian Jockey Club (SAJC), which runs racing at Morphettville and has been trying to see jumps racing off the premises for a number of years.
Speaking after the TRSA announcement, SAJC made clear its displeasure at being compelled to hold jumps meetings, with CEO Brenton Wilkinson saying, “We just don’t believe there’s an industry in South Australia.”
But this is akin to holding a party but not sending out any invitations, and then complaining when nobody shows up.
Trainers not unreasonably want to showcase their horses at metropolitan tracks. If the only city track in South Australia is openly hostile to jumps racing and is constantly doing all it can to ensure its demise, how can local trainers reasonably be expected to invest time, money and resources into building up a stable of jumpers? With the state’s premier race club doing all it can to remove jumps racing from SA’s already lacklustre winter racing calendar, what incentive is there for owners and trainers, knowing that they may never have the opportunity to race at the state’s leading racecourse?
In addition, SAJC wilfully neglects the promotion of its jumps meetings, to the extent that in its advertising for Irish Race Day in 2014—an extremely well-attended and lucrative meeting whose entire existence is down to jumps racing—not a single mention was made of the steeple and hurdle that were the main races on the card.
In both its statements and actions, SAJC is essentially blaming the jumps racing industry for not being sufficiently large to warrant its place on the calendar, while at the same removing all incentive for the industry to grow by neglecting it like an unloved step-child, constantly encouraging uncertainty and being openly hostile to its participants.
What has further baffled the jumps racing fraternity is that this most recent statement by the CEO marks yet another shift in the position of SAJC. As recently as the end of the 2014 jumps season, Mr Wilkinson said the Club’s objections to the continuation of jumps racing were based on the (seemingly anecdotal) assertion that holding a handful of meetings damaged the Club’s brand and non-race day revenue, and that people didn’t want to book weddings and conferences there because of this. In the view of Mr Wilkinson and his Board at this time, jumps racing damaged Morphettville’s non-racing revenue.
But come 2015, and SAJC blames jumps racing itself for its demise. And when you have state Sports Minister Leon Bignell in lockstep with SAJC and talking about banning jumps racing under animal cruelty legislation, what realistic hope is there of the jumps industry growing? What aspiring trainer would even consider going into jumps racing under such an uncertain future?
The message to the South Australian jumps racing fraternity from its leading Club would seem to be: grow, without our encouragement and in the face of our neglect and increasingly hostile interventions, but if you don’t we will kick you out of Morphettville for good. And it will be all your fault.
(In the interests of full disclosure, Mark Angus unsuccessfully stood for election to the SAJC Board in 2014 on a jumps racing ticket.)
This post first appeared on The Roar at http://www.theroar.com.au/2015/02/19/south-australian-jockey-club-blames-jumps-racing-for-its-own-demise/