Racing Victoria is making moves to increase its legislative influence after an ugly stoush between Victoria’s two biggest clubs in which the governing body has been powerless to intervene.
Melbourne Racing Club last week condemned the Victoria Racing Club’s decision to deny the Caulfield Cup winner an exception from being re-handicapped for the Melbourne Cup, prompting calls for Racing Victoria to step in and sort out the situation.
But RVL, despite being created 12 years ago, is still not legislated to overturn any Victorian club decision and there is growing pressure for the governing body to be given the authority to handle all racing matters.
RVL chief executive Bernard Saundry said he believed all elements of the racing program should be decided by RVL and that model would ensure the best interests of the entire industry.
“It would also ensure that any decisions made best align with the objectives and priority activities outlined in our three-year strategic plan released last November,” he said.
Saundry said this position was not a response to the VRC’s decision to decline the MRC’s request.
“This is a process that we commenced at the end of 2013 with the release of our strategic plan,” he said. “We have identified innovation of the racing program as a priority activity over the next three years to stimulate growth and engagement across the industry.
“Racing Victoria can achieve this goal more readily on behalf of stakeholders in the industry if it manages all aspects of the racing program.”
MRC chairman Mike Symons has been pushing for the winner of the Caulfield Cup to escape a penalty for the Melbourne Cup, and questioned the VRC’s refusal to agree to its request.
“Victoria has the potential to enhance its reputation as a lucrative destination for international horses and participants and has the capacity to expand the reach and economic impact and value of our spring racing carnival,” he said.
“With that in mind, we acted on advice from Racing Victoria and altered the conditions of the Caulfield Cup, including removing the influence of the club committee, injecting half a million dollars in prizemoney and paying it down to 10th position, and the removal of the penalty was the last of the recommendations.”
Symons said the combined $9 million value of the spring carnival’s two premier staying races would be better promoted in unison, rather than isolation.
“Accordingly, we believe that decisions such as this should be left to the principal racing authority,” he said.
“The fact that such a decision has been made, despite the support of the Racing Victoria executive, key trainers and owners, is unfortunate for the Victorian racing industry.”
The VRC board said it needed to retain ''consistency'', and the conditions of the Melbourne Cup were paramount.
It agreed it was inequitable to penalise one horse for winning a group 1 race and leaving the winner of the Caulfield Cup "untouched''.
In order to comply with the MRC’s request, all black type staying races would have to become exempt from a weight penalty, therefore eliminating many opportunities for in-form horses to earn their way into the Melbourne Cup.
The Melbourne Cup and the Caulfield Cup are two of the world’s most famous handicap races and the tussle between the two premier clubs has divided the industry.
If RVL’s long-term plan is to oversee all racing in Victoria, decisions such as these would be left to the likes of RVL senior executive, Greg Carpenter.
That would mean the Caulfield Cup, Melbourne Cup and Cox Plate would be solely under the jurisdiction of RVL and decisions on the order of entry, balloting clauses, re-handicaps and the inclusion or exclusion of horses on the border line for all three races would be handled by the governing body.
“Why do we bother to pay the wages of the people like Greg Carpenter, and when he’s of his most valuable, we turn to race club committees who are ... so ill-equipped to make decisions that people like Carpenter have spent their lives making,” one source told Fairfax Media on Monday.
“Let the clubs have all of their usual involvements, but it’s time ... to let the central body be the overseer.”
It is understood that later this year the three main metropolitan clubs in Melbourne will be asked to hand over racing powers to RVL, but it is unlikely they will readily comply.
When former deputy premier and racing minister Rob Hulls created RVL, he was insistent there had to be a central power to control racing in this state, but the industry is still largely controlled by the three major race clubs - the VRC, MRC and Moonee Valley Racing Club.
A review by then Westpac Bank chairman Lindsay Maxsted in 1999 found that it was not conducive to have three metropolitan clubs and a governing body operating in the one state.
In the past two years, Sydney has consolidated its two metropolitan clubs into one operation.
Victorian Premier and Racing Minister Denis Napthine did not respond to requests for comment.