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Racing minister Winston Peters’ opening speech at this year’s Karaka sales was a turning point for many in the industry. But not the kind they wanted, writes Jonny Turner.
To many he is racing’s knight in shining armour — the man who waved his magic wand with sweeping reforms from 2005-08. There were two million-dollar derbies and $1.2million-dollar New Zealand Cups. There was a reduction in totalisator duty and changes to bloodstock taxation and money for infrastructure.
It was a free-for-all of sorts that racing participants took with open arms.
Peters was hailed racing’s saviour. It’s hard to argue that he was not wonderful for the industry, but unfortunately the impacts of the changes he brought have largely eroded.
The marquee million-dollar races went out the door like Peters did at the next election.
But he is back, to the delight of many. Though he has been back only a short time there have been no signs of him reaching for his magic wand just yet, despite the Labour-New Zealand First coalition Government agreeing to adopt the New Zealand First racing policy.
And it is also despite his legions of fans fuelling rumours Peters would do so in his speech this week to open the national thoroughbred yearling sales at Karaka — the stomping ground of his best racing chums and backers.
Instead, those listening there were left a little flat that all Peters delivered was a series of vague promises. The eroded bloodstock taxation rules would be addressed and an all-weather track — somewhere — were mentioned.
But there was no mention of new stakes categories with stakes increases, and no reinstatement of the marquee race programme as promised in the New Zealand First policy.
There was not even the slightest hint of the long-awaited race fields legislation that the industry is desperate to see go through Parliament.
Though further announcements were promised, when they will come and what they will contain remains a mystery. This may have even the hardiest Peters supporters scratching their heads. In fact, it may be the turning point for them to realise that their white knight may not be coming back to save them.
That would be disappointing for the industry in general, but would be hardly a surprise to some. Of course, Peters could prove his doubters wrong and line the industry’s pockets again.
But while the industry waits to see what happens with the portfolio perhaps looking internally for ways to make itself better would be more sensible.
The New Zealand Racing Board and the three codes are filled with highly paid people whose job it is to make racing better.
I hope they don’t go to the office every day waiting for Peters to wave a wand.
Instead, I hope they go there with the intention of seeing the industry through the challenges in front of us. I just hope they are working as hard as everyone at the coalface is.