Newcastle harness racing club reeling from record loss

Chief executive Tony Drew says Newcastle Harness Racing Club (NHRC) remains in a holding pattern after recording its biggest loss in eight years of consecutive deficits.

Tony Drew

Tony Drew

NHRC posted a loss of about $240,000 for the 2016-17 financial year, up from $116,910 in 2015-16. They followed losses of about $171,000, $207,000, $103,000, $122,000, $120,000 and $97,000 in the years since the club lost regular Saturday night TAB dates.

The club had 41 Saturday night meetings in 2016-17 but still slumped to its worst result. It cut the club’s cash funds to about $500,000.

Drew said “the cost structure for Saturday meetings is 25 per cent more than a Friday or a midweek meeting” and the club was hit by losses from upgrading fencing and extending the parade ring, as well as a shortfall in expected industry returns.

He said those factors equated to about half of the club’s loss for the year. 

“The major thing was that the industry funding sponsorship did not come through as budgeted for, but it’s looking good this year,” Drew said. “It was something we didn’t budget for, but it is what it is. Race-wise we had a fantastic year but we’re in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment to see what’s happening with the Broadmeadow sporting precinct.”

The fence upgrade came before the club discovered its home at Newcastle International Paceway was set to become a $20 million centre of excellence for rugby league under a state government plan to transform the Broadmeadow area taking in McDonald Jones Stadium.

Harness racing is not part of the plan which was the subject of a community consultation period that ended on November 30. 

NHRC, Harness Racing NSW and Venues NSW are working to find a suitable new home for the club, which has a lease on the Broadmeadow site until 2027. Drew said the club recently proved it has an option to lease the land for a further 20 years.

“We’ve had very fruitful discussions with the Cessnock council, they were on the front foot and there are plenty of sites in the Cessnock LGA and there’s also sites in the Maitland LGA,” Drew said.

“While we are looking into that, Harness Racing NSW have been very supportive and it’s a collaborative investigation between us, HRNSW and Venues NSW, and everyone is working well together.

“We’re of the understanding that we will be moving but there’s no timeline on that. We’ve said that we will move as long as they build us a new facility with a training centre attached with no cost to the industry.”

Meanwhile, NHRC has gained three extra race dates for the 2018-19 financial year under a draft proposal.

Newcastle has 60 meetings, including 27 Saturdays and 20 Friday nights. Drew said that equated to 67 meetings because the club was allowed to run nine races instead of eight at 47 of the programs. Maitland has retained its number of race dates.

Also, premiership-winning trainer Clayton Harmey has joined the NHRC board and attended his first meeting on Tuesday night.