PREMIER Newcastle trainer Kris Lees has labelled a 150 per cent track fee increase for special gallops on the course proper at Broadmeadow as "ridiculous" and says he could take his fight against it to Racing NSW chief Peter V'landys.
Newcastle Jockey Club has announced a rise in fees for the use of all tracks at Newcastle Racecourse from July 1. The increases are minor except for special gallops on the main course which will jump from $20 to $50. The gallops are reserved for horses preparing for feature races.
The hike will have the greatest impact on Lees, who is fourth on the Australian trainers' premiership with 185 winners this season. He regularly has multiple stakes race runners each week and usually gives them one special gallop on the main course in the lead-up.
The increase comes as the NJC deals with mounting costs from maintaining the sand-based main course, which was installed with an $11.2 million grant from Racing NSW and re-opened in February 2017.
Lees, though, believed Newcastle trainers should not have to pay for the track's maintenance.
"It should be nothing, the same as it is in Sydney," Lees said of extra costs for special gallops.
"If you've got a good horse, they should be looked after.
"They were gifted the track and now they want Newcastle trainers to upkeep it for them. It's ridiculous.
"It's just another revenue raiser for them. There's enough staff over there, they probably need to increase their money for the staff Christmas show."
Lees, inducted into the Newcastle and Hunter Racing Hall of Fame last week, has written to the NJC board about the hike but has yet to receive a response. NJC chief Matt Benson said the increases were "set in stone".
Lees said the hike "won't change how I train, I won't let that get in the way" but he was prepared to take his protest further.
"It won't be the end of the section," he said. "We might have to take it to Mr V'landys and see what he thinks of it."
Lees said the increase was unfair on local trainers, who had been "very patient" through two years of track redevelopments.
"The maintenance for trackwork on the course proper is nothing," he said.
"Sure, they have to have maintenance post race meetings, but if there's a horse in a stakes race and it goes down the track, it's a matter of someone opening the gate. That's about it.
"It's obviously a very thirsty track but they knew that when it was put in, and it's a track that's just not for Newcastle trainers on racedays, it's for all of NSW. But somehow they think Newcastle trainers are going to pay to upkeep it.
"Track fees should be nearly abolished given the amount of TAB distribution grants they get subsidised for having runners. I think if some other clubs got what we generate here, they wouldn't have track fees."
Benson said the club was "about $1.5 million per annum out of pocket for providing training facilities, so it's not a cash grab".
"There's been no increase in seven years so I don't think we are being unreasonable," Benson said.
"Since 2012, prize money has increased 110 per cent, so I think we've got to keep it in all in perspective. And I would be very surprised if our track fees had kept pace with training fees.
"We've tried to freeze it through the period the track was being constructed and I think the club has been very generous in its approach to the review of track fees.
"The reality is we are still significantly out of pocket every year providing those facilities. We're not even halfway to cost recovery for what goes into the track facilities."