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Peters: Annual Conference of Harness Racing Clubs

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister for Racing

8 August 2008
Speech Notes

Address to the Annual Conference of Harness Racing Clubs

Delivered at 1.40pm Friday 8 August 2008
Heritage Hotel, Hobson St, Auckland

Chairman Pat O’Brien and Harness Racing New Zealand board members; Michael Stiassny, Chairman New Zealand Racing Board and members; club delegates, and invited guests.

Thank you for your warm welcome and the invitation to address your conference.

Today it is appropriate to reflect on the changes to the racing industry that have been introduced over the past 30 months, and look towards the future.

Before doing so, however, it is important to acknowledge the contribution of Harness Racing New Zealand's former chairman, the late John Penney.

John had a great passion and vision for harness racing. This led him to hold positions at the highest levels of the industry.

As a club man, he was instrumental in the merger of the three Addington clubs; and as chairman, he always acted decisively to safeguard the code’s integrity and values.

On a personal level, he was a pleasure to work with, and he will be missed by the wider New Zealand racing community.

It is also important to acknowledge the willingness of Pat O’Brien to step up to the challenge and take over from where John left off.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a privilege to serve as your Minister for Racing.

Solid progress has been made over the past 30 months but there is still plenty of work ahead to ensure this great industry achieves its true economic potential.

There have been a number of significant changes for racing, and these have laid the foundation for the industry’s future development.

The first changes were the reduction in gaming duty for racing, which resulted in annual savings of an estimated $34 million, and the introduction of an accelerated write-down regime for bloodstock.

The gaming duty reduction aligned racing’s duty with that paid by the casino sector.

This adjustment restored equity for the racing industry, and redressed many years of grossly unfair treatment.

Critics may say what they will, but for years they were prepared to allow a low duty to foreign owned businesses and nobble home grown enterprise.

The change has ensured that the Racing Board has been able to increase its profit distribution to all three codes.

To illustrate this, net stakes in harness racing have increased from $22 million in 2006, to $34 million for the last season, whilst net stakes are expected to reach $36 million in the current season.

This will represent a massive 64 per cent increase in stakes over just three seasons.

Owners are the lifeblood of racing and they should be suitably rewarded for the risk of racehorse ownership.

Therefore it is very pleasing to see that harness racing clubs are working hard to increase the returns for owners, through increased stakes and reduced costs.

Racehorse breeders also take a significant risk and the new bloodstock write-downs seek to mitigate that particular risk.

Racing clubs play a critical role in the New Zealand racing industry.

One of the big challenges for clubs is to provide a safe on-course environment for all participants.

Safety is a significant issue, and this is why the $1 million Safety Fund was established in the 2007 Budget.

The Fund supports projects, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, which enhance safety in the racing industry.

In its first year of operation, approximately $800,000 was allocated to support safety projects.

Of this, almost $300,000 was allocated to projects at 11 harness racing venues.

The second year of the Safety Fund has just opened. The minimum grant threshold has been lowered to $7,500 and clubs are encouraged to submit their applications by the deadline of 30 September.

Clubs must be proactive in addressing any safety issues and this Fund helps them to do so. Increased safety for horses, jockeys and the public will encourage more participation at events.

If your club requires assistance to lodge an application, a representative from the Department of Internal Affairs, which administers the Fund, is here at this conference today and tomorrow to help you.

It is important to acknowledge Pat O’Brien's role in the group that considers the applications to the Fund. His hard work and commitment to safety is appreciated.

In May I announced that this year's Budget has established a $9 million, 3-year scheme that will significantly lift the prize money for key New Zealand races.

The Racing Promotion and Sponsorship Scheme provides government funding of $3 million per year over 3 years. This however is also a challenge to you - racing clubs and codes are responsible for finding co-sponsorship.

This initiative is designed to help our racing clubs compete with the money available overseas. It will also encourage greater bloodstock investment and the retention of quality horses in New Zealand.

It will be a boon to our economy soon and over time.

High stakes races will attract top contestants from Australia and further afield. That in turn will raise our international profile, and capture the New Zealand public’s imagination.

I am therefore pleased to announce today New Zealand's first ever million dollar harness racing event - the 2008 Christchurch Casino NZ Trotting Cup, with a total stake of $1.2 million.

Through the combination of government funding, industry support and club sponsorship, the stake for the Christchurch Casino Cup makes it the richest aged pacing race in the world.

In addition the Woodlands NZ Pacing Free-For-All and the Hellers Dominion have doubled their prize money, from $150,000 each last year to $300,000 each this November.

With the Christchurch Casino and the Woodlands Free-For-All taking place just days apart there is now an even bigger drawcard for the public to make Cup Week a major event in the racing calendar. The benefits to the Canterbury economy are also expected to be significant.

Canterbury is not the only winner; the Auckland Trotting Club will triple the stake for the Woodlands Northern Derby from $200,000 to $600,000 in March.

Other major stakes increases are being announced today, which you will hear about later.

Altogether $750,000 of government money and $850,000 of club and industry funding will go into key harness racing events in the 2008/09 year, making a $1.6 million total boost in prize money.

This is just the beginning.

We must continue to encourage and cajole existing and potential sponsors to see this initiative for what it is – the chance to maximise their exposure by joining forces with a silent partner who is putting up significant money but seeking no exposure and no naming rights in return – our government.

That, surely, is worth sponsors digging just a little deeper in their own pockets to raise the stakes even higher.

If we can move forward in this spirit, there is no reason why more marquee races cannot be pushed through the $1 million barrier and beyond, and really set New Zealand’s racing scene alight.

We have the perfect climate for breeding, raising and developing racehorses, and we have thousands of talented horsemen and women working in the industry.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have outlined the key initiatives that have been brought in over the 30 months – the tax changes, the Safety Fund and the Stakes Scheme.

In view of the industry’s potential contribution to New Zealand’s economy, these initiatives represent a relatively modest investment today that will reap great benefits tomorrow.

The challenge now for racing is to continue to build on these developments and work towards fulfilling the industry’s huge unrealised economic potential.

Thank you.


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