Messara Report Update
By Michael Guerin
The most important report in New Zealand racing’s recent history is on target to be delivered to Minster for Racing Winston Peters by the end of the month.
And the man charged with making recommendations which could be crucial to the future of the racing industry says he has concentrated mainly on the thoroughbred industry.
Australian racing supremo John Messara was asked by Peters to write a strategic report to provide advice to the Government on how to fix racing’s woes.
Mr Peters said the Messara review would assist the government in determining if the Racing Act and the proposed Racing Amendment Bill, elements of which should provide New Zealand racing with millions of dollars of extra overseas turnover income, are fit for purpose.
Messara says his report is just weeks away and should be in Peters’s hands by the target date of the end of the racing season, July 31.
“I am confident of meeting that deadline and while we haven’t finished compiling the report yet it will be around 50-60 pages, maybe more,” Messara said
The NSW-based racing administrator estimates he has spent between two and three weeks on the ground in New Zealand since being asked to look into the industry here and has met with the heads of all three codes and New Zealand Racing Board boss John Allen.
“I have been over there three times and met with a lot of people while we have also had submissions from a wide range of people in the industry.”
But while the report could have a huge impact on the way New Zealand’s racing industry is run for decades to come, Messara says he has concentrated more on the thoroughbred code than harness racing or greyhounds because that is what he was asked to do.
“But I am not going to get into the specifics of the report or the discussions I have had,” says Messara.
“I will be happy to talk about those after it has been released but I will deliver it to the Minister and it will be up to him to release it.”
Messara being asked to concentrate on fixes for the thoroughbred industry is no surprise on two fronts.
Firstly it is the one of the three racing codes in New Zealand that has fallen the futherest behind its Australian equivalent in terms of stake money and infrastructure, particularly New South Wales racing, which Messara was at the head of for part of a
booming financial resurgance over the last decade.
And secondly it was serious players in the thoroughbred industry, like Sir Patrick Hogan, who were among the most vocal Peters supporters before last year’s election, with some inside the racing industry party voting for New Zealand First for that reason alone.
Messara says while thoroughbred racing will be at the centre of his report the harness and greyhound codes should not see that as a negative.
“I think a stronger thoroughbred industry would be good for New Zealand racing of all codes.”
Messara’s suggested strategies around how to increase stakes, pay for much-needed track maintenance, potential venue closures and even the building of New Zealand’s first all-weather race, if as expected they are covered by the review, will be eargerly anticipated.
But perhaps the most important question being asked by those at the head of all three racing codes of what the report will suggest about the future role of the New Zealand Racing Board.
There is a strong push, particularly from some of the thoroughbred code’s leaders, for NZRB’s core duties to be outsourced, with its betting operations an obvious target, with overseas suitors keen to tender for that role.
It would be surprising if Messara’s report didn’t cover that outsourcing or licencing of an overseas operator to run betting on New Zealand racing but that could require changes to the Racing Act which could be hard to get passed.
Reducing the number of racing venues in New Zealand also looks certain to be recommended but again that will meet with considerable resistance in some regions.
So while the report is near completion, the debates must just getting ready to intensify.