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Peters: Wairarapa racing awards dinner

Wairarapa racing awards dinner

Speech to the Masterton and Wairarapa racing clubs' combined awards night

Masterton Cosmopolitan Club

Embargoed until delivery at 7.15pm, 20 August

President Spencer Southey and the Masterton Racing Club committee and members; President Graeme Hodder and the Wairarapa Racing Club committee and members; ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for your warm welcome and the invitation to address tonight's awards function. It is always a pleasure to attend these events, and to share in the celebration of the past year's achievements.

It is particularly so tonight, with this being the inaugural Wairarapa Racing Club and Masterton Racing Club combined awards evening. Both clubs are to be commended for this great initiative, which celebrates the region's thoroughbred racing and breeding achievements.

Racing clubs play an integral part in our local communities, and it's great that both clubs have been part of New Zealand racing's proud tradition since the mid-19th century.

There are 30,000 members of racing clubs in New Zealand, and attendance at race meetings exceeds one million people every year. Many race days have a community theme, while clubs host functions for members throughout the year on non-race days.

That, of course, is only part of the story. Many racecourses are significant community assets that support other events not associated with racing.

Of course, racing is not just a great social pastime, it is also a very important industry that makes a considerable contribution to New Zealand's economy.

Racing employs over 18,000 people on a full-time equivalent basis. It generates around $150 million annually in horse exports, and it contributes about $1.5 billion to the economy each year.

Over the last two and a half years good progress has been made in revitalising racing, and several new initiatives have laid a solid foundation to ensure its future growth. However there is still plenty of work ahead if the racing industry is to achieve its full potential in New Zealand.

The recent reduction in racing's gaming duty has restored equity for the industry, and redressed many years of unfair treatment.

The initiative has resulted in approximately $36 million in extra revenue being available to support racing. That in turn has meant the Racing Board has been able to increase its profit distribution to all three codes from about $78 million in 2006 to $119 million in 2008.

It is important that this additional funding is used in a constructive way, to grow participation in the industry.

Racehorse owners are the lifeblood of racing and they should be suitably rewarded for the risk of ownership, so it is pleasing to see that much of this additional funding has been used to increase returns to owners, particularly by lifting stakes.

To illustrate this, stakes in thoroughbred racing have increased from $39 million in 2006 to an expected $60 million this season. That represents a 50 per cent increase in stakes over just three seasons.

It is equally pleasing to see that Thoroughbred Racing has introduced a number of extra initiatives to reduce owners' costs. The free racing programme has cut around $3 million off owners' bills, and the payment of jockeys' fees is saving $2 million a season.

So why are returns to owners such an important part of growing participation in racing?

Admittedly, first-time owners do not get into racing to make a profit. They buy a horse for the excitement of thoroughbred racing, and the thrill of winning.

However owners also need to see the potential for a financial return if they are to continue investing in race horses.

And of course the greater the return on the investment, the greater will be the number of owners who will be willing to continue making such investments.

The second major initiative on the racing scene was the bloodstock write-downs. The new rates were introduced for the 2006 season, and they allow a write-down period for stallions of two years, and a maximum write-down period for broodmares of five years, or six years for broodmares that commence breeding at the age of two.

Broodmares that commence breeding at age eight or later are written-off in full in the first year of breeding.

It was great to see the positive response to this initiative at the 2008 Karaka yearling sales, with new records set for turnover, average price, median price, and clearance percentage.

Aggregate sales reached $111 million - a 69 per cent increase on 2006 - while the average sale price was up 50 per cent on 2006 to $94,918.

Turnover at this year's Premier Sale alone - $77.1 million - was only just short of the overall turnover of $81.4 million from last year's National Yearling Sales series.

Most pleasing were the record sales averages and medians achieved at the Select and Festival Sales. These sales reflect the domestic buying market, and the figures indicate a growing confidence in the industry.

Racing clubs also play a critical role in the New Zealand racing industry by "putting on the show", as it were.

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

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

The Safety Fund offers dollar-for-dollar support for club projects that improve on-course for all participants, whether they are jockeys, trainers, spectators or club officials.

Last year, 27 safety projects were approved for funding throughout the country, which reflects a positive response to the fund in its first year.

Most of the projects that secured funding were for things such as the purchase and installation of safe running rails; the construction of safety fencing, and the construction or redevelopment of stabling and tie-up facilities.

Four projects were related to repairing grandstands to meet health and safety standards.

A couple of enterprising racing clubs even made two successful applications.

Clubs must be proactive in addressing safety issues, and the fund is there to help.

The second year of the fund has just opened, and, after a careful review of funding criteria, a few changes have been made to make it even more accessible this year.

The minimum grant amount has been reduced from $10,000 to $7,500, which means a project need only cost $15,000 to qualify for funding.

This reflects the fact that last year there were a number of worthwhile projects that did not meet the minimum cost of $20,000 - and that includes applications from both the Wairarapa Racing Club and the Masterton Racing Club.

The decision to reduce the minimum cost is expected to be of particular benefit to small, and rural, racing clubs that generally rely on volunteer labour in order to reduce costs.

The other change is that $200,000 from last year has been carried over. This means that $1.2 million is available to support safety projects in 2008/09.

Completing the applications may be the responsibility of the club manager or committee, but members and trainers can help by identifying potential safety issues and encouraging the committees to complete applications to the fund.

Last Friday night at the Mercedes Awards night in Hamilton, we unveiled the key races that will receive a significant lift in prizemoney this season from the new $9 million stakes scheme.

Owners of three-year-olds can look towards a $1 million 2000 Guineas, and a $2.2 million New Zealand Derby - the richest three-year-old race in Australasia, and the second-richest three-year-old event in the world behind only the English Derby.

Owners of sprinters can look forward to a $1 million Telegraph, and owners of stayers can prepare their horses for a $1 million Auckland Cup.

In the 2005/06 season, there was only one seven-figure stakes race. As a result of the stakes scheme, this season there will be six races at that level or higher, including the Kelt Capital Stakes and the Karaka Million.

The broad objectives of the scheme are to encourage the retention of quality horses in New Zealand; encourage greater bloodstock investment, including offshore investment here; and to attract top contestants from overseas.

This will help lift the international profile of New Zealand racing, and encourage overseas interests to engage with the industry here.

The consequence of this initiative will be an increase in the economic contribution that racing makes to New Zealand, through increased participation.

The races supported by the scheme are all key events in major racing carnivals.

By building the profile of select major races and carnivals, we are increasing the awareness of racing to a far wider audience.

Remember, first time owners are attracted to the excitement of thoroughbred racing and the thrill of winning.

Therefore attracting new participants, and keeping those owners already involved, are the keys for racing's continued growth.

Despite racing's growing impact, the industry can, and should, make an even greater economic contribution in the future.

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

The initiatives outlined earlier provide a platform for racing to reach even greater heights, and to fulfil the clear potential it has had for many, many decades.

All of you here tonight - whether you are to be recipients of awards or not - deserve acknowledgment for the great contribution you are making to the vitality of racing not just in the Wairarapa, but throughout New Zealand.

Thank you for your warm hospitality tonight, and best wishes for the season ahead.


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