Reduction in NSW stakes

By Michael Guerin

The inevitable reduction in NSW stake money has the faintest of silver linings for the New Zealand harness industry.

Because while nobody wants to see prize money reduced anywhere, the 20 per cent crops announced in NSW this week should at least temper any rush to send quality New Zealand horses there.

After maintaining stake levels as long as they could HRNSW announced their 20 per cent reduction across the board last week as part of their Covid-19 cost cutting, including cutting their $300,000 input into the Miracle Mile and its marketing.

The industry there was then left wondering what Club Menangle, who conduct racing at the premier track with by far the highest stakes, would do and they answered that question on Monday.

CM cut stakes by 20 per cent and reduced the stake for the Miracle Mile from A$1million to A$600,000 for next season.

They will still retain a A$30,000 race at every Saturday night meeting because that triggers a higher Race Fields percentage from corporate bookmakers for the whole card, which means CM make more money having that $30,000 race than reducing it by say $10,000 to add $2000 to five other races.

The NSW percentages match stake reductions in other key NZ export states like Victoria and West Australia, the latter reducing stakes for all codes by 20 per cent on April 6.

The decreases are neither surprising or much fun for anybody and will effect livelihoods as well as potentially the export market and even the yearling sales if there has been no rebound by next February.

So there is no real upside apart from the fact it may help New Zealand retain some of our horses whose connections could have been eying a move across the Tasman had stakes in NSW not dropped.

That was never going to be a case of 100 of New Zealand’s better horses being thrown in the next plane and heading to NSW to races after our stakes levels were announced last week.

But because of its proximity and easy flight access, a strong New Zealand connection to so many trainers and a regular racing, if Menangle had stayed at its traditionally high levels of stakes it would have been very tempting to send good quality New Zealand horses there.

With their stakes cuts similar in percentage value to most of New Zealand, apart from Alexandra Park where the drop will be larger because stakes used to be so much higher above the minimum, that temptation is tempered.

Menangle boss Bruce Christison was as disappointed as anybody in announcing the cuts to stakes and said while the Miracle Mile deserves to be A$1million his club couldn’t maintain that and then cut lower grade stakes more.

“It is a tough time for us like so many other people and our investment returns, which were going so well before all this hit, were going to see us raise stakes again next season,” says Christison.

“But we lost a lot of money when the market went down and of course betting turnover and therefore revenue has dropped enormously.

“So we waited as long as we could, maybe too long, to make these cuts but we hope we can get back to these levels again in the near future.

“But we also wanted to make sure, as much as we want a $1million Miracle Mile, that we weren’t doing that while reducing lower grade stake more.”

So while NSW and Club Menangle having now joined all other states in Australia with reduced prize money, Australia will at least not look as tempting an option for our horses and while the export market will undoubtedly continue, with the percentage changes largely the same, we are unlikely to see a sharp boost in exports or transfers.

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