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RV chairman Brian Kruger discusses current issues

Racing Victoria chairman Brian Kruger has opened up in a wide-ranging interview on RSN927's Racing Pulse on Thursday morning, detailing a number of challenges ahead for the racing industry.

To read his thoughts on certain issues, read on, or listen back via RSN927's podcast:

On biggest changes recently:

"We've had pretty well a completely new board, so getting new board members up to speed on a complex industry is a new challenge.

"Literally weeks after we took our roles we had the Aquanita case break, and that took up a lot of time.

"We had the Point of Consumption Tax that was raised, we were fortunate enough to consult well with the State Government on that issue - that took a lot of time.

"We've had some key people changes, particularly recently in the integrity area, we've had changes in integrity structures ... we've had to deal with prizemoney allocations, requests for $30-$40 million of prizemoney changes, when we've got about $10m in the budget. Jockey EBAs, these sort of things ... so there's been a lot going on.

"I do think the industry's in great shape.

"When the new board took over, we inherited Racing Victoria in strong financial shape. You'll hear something about our results in the coming weeks.

"Importantly our clubs are in good shape as well.

"We've had significant prizemoney increases; other statistics like our field sizes, our attendance, our ownership numbers are all looking really well."

On biggest challenges ahead:

"I think one of the big challenges is maintaining our growth rates - I think we've done a great job.

"Increasing our revenue to the industry coming from wagering, but I think that rate of growth is likely to slow for a number of reasons.

"I think there's more to do on the integrity front.

"I believe we've got more to do on the education and cultural side of integrity.

"Equine welfare, our license to operate, I knew was an issue but it's obviously had a lot of publicity in recent days.

"Then there's the issue of participant welfare, which I have to say I had inklings about before I took the role on, but clearly we're much more aware it's a challenge we have to face and deal with."

On the jockeys' Enterprise Bargaining Agreement:

"On the jockey EBA, the outcome we ended up with is one we're very comfortable with.

"We did think the jockeys needed to be recognised for the extended working week, as we've introduced more twilight and night meetings in recent years.

"And from an objective point of view, we want to make sure we've got the best jockeys in Australia racing in Victoria, and we want to be able to attract and retain the best jockeys. We want to look after them the best we possibly can."

On issue of stable staff/welfare:

"In terms of the other participants, it's not going to be an easy issue to solve.

"We hear talk about a need to increase pay, but there'd be lots of other issues that are causing us to lose people or not be able to attract people into those roles in the industry.

"Greg Carpenter's role has been expanded recently - he has already started the process of talking to jockeys, trainers, other stakeholders about this particular issue (welfare).

"It won't just be the length of the working week, it won't just be cultural issues - I'm sure there'll be cultural issues around diversity and respect, there'll be issues around working conditions in stables that need to be dealt with, there'll be issues around the industry's reputation that people aren't even interested in coming to our industry for a job.

"So it won't be a single solution - there will need to be a range of issues worked on. We're aware of it, but we've got to do it in a way that's based on facts, data and evidence, and not responding to individual opinions or views about what needs to be done to fix it.

On number of trainers in Victoria:

"It's a good question.

"We've got 800-odd trainers in Victoria. My knee-jerk reaction to that question is it sounds like too many.

"But it's part of the fabric of our industry is that we have the trainer that has one or two or three horses.

"Talking about Udyta Clarke, that's a fantastic story with her horse [Rich Charm] - I don't want to lose that by removing the opportunity for smaller trainers.

"The thing we can do there is giving them the best opportunity for access to facilities, doing what we can on the prizemoney front where a lot of remuneration for trainers come from, and the market to some extent will sort out the right number."

On potential growth for racing revenue:

"I still think we can grow.

"The rate of growth over the last 4-5 years in our income from wagering, whether it's from the joint venture or race-fields fees, has grown really strongly.

"Things like the PoC, other regulations like credit betting, we need to go in with our eyes open, and the expectation that rate of growth is going to be difficult to maintain.

"I still think we can grow it.

"We need to be thinking about how we can grow revenue from other sources.

"We've started to do a good job exploiting our media assets, but I'm convinced we can do more there.

"Then Giles [Thompson] and the team are working on a number of other initiatives where RV can grow its revenue so we can keep those prizemoney increases coming."

On the famous Racing Victoria 'war chest':

"It's circa $80 million.

"We get that question from the clubs fairly regularly.

"I've had a lot of discussion about this issue - having been on the committee at Moonee Valley, I was the one asking the question not that long ago!

"It's there for infrastructure requirements, which can be lumpy expenditures if they're needed.

"It's there if we have a shock in a particular year in terms of the level of income from wagering.

"One thing I don't want to have to do is prizemoney decreases - so that fund is there in order to be able to at-worst maintain prizemoney.

"And they're a couple of the key issues, there are other issues we've earmarked for that.

"Generally they're comfortable the work we've done to assess the magnitude of that surplus and money retained needs to be, they're comfortable it's about right."

On Racing Victoria's annual profit aims:

"We tend to aim for a small surplus, anywhere between $2-$10 million.

"Clearly we don't know everything that's going to come at us in a particular year, but that's the level of surplus we aim to generate.

"If we do better than that, it'll most likely result in an increase in prizemoney, and/or if the clubs have a particular need for a project or something like that, it can be allocated in that direction as well."

On vision for jumpouts:

"There's some work around compulsory televising of jumpouts, to deal with the issue.

"The jumpouts question was an interesting one.

"I was in a meeting with Stephen Baster and Matt Hyland, just to make sure they understood where the RV Board sat during the negotiations.

"They had a couple of issues, one around the working week.

"The jumpout one was fair to say there was a bit of debate around it. Is a jumpout like an official trial or is it more like trackwork?

"Among the challenges for RV is we don't control the number of jumpouts - they're managed by the clubs, they're managed by individual trainers.

"So for us to be agreeing to payments for those particular issues ... is a challenge for us as well.

"We agreed to disagree on the issue of payments for jumpouts, but in regards to the working week, we absolutely agreed on that."

On the TAB merger/joint venture:

"My understanding talking with the team from Tabcorp is the merger is going well.

"We're seeing some benefits from that in terms of joint-venture operating costs.

"It's still not at the level we'd have expected when they were undertaking the merger and wanted to get our support for it.

"I think it's important it's successful - despite the fact we've been growing our other revenue from other WSPs, the Tabcorp joint venture is absolutely critical to the future of the industry."

On the new integrity bill:

"The most important outcome from the board's perspective is that Racing Victoria didn't lose control over the integrity department, and ultimate responsibility for integrity in racing.

"I know there were a lot of arguments about needing to separate the commercial interests and integrity interests - I don't actually buy that argument at all.

"I think our board is crystal clear that if we don't get integrity right, it'll be absolutely detrimental to commercial results.

"We see them as aligned, and not in conflict with one another.

"I've made that point very strongly in our discussions with the government about potential changes in integrity structure, and I think they've listened.

"We've retained primary responsibility, we're really happy with the changes made - having a VRIB, we have to get the right people on board, but having more input, direction, recommendations coming from that group to the integrity services department and the board, I have no problem with that at all.

"And streamlining the appeals process is something we absolutely needed to do.

"It'll save money, it'll bring certainty quicker on issues - clearly not everybody will be happy with that, but if you put the hat on about what will be better for racing overall, I think those changes are critical for us."

On public perception of racing:

"I'd have to say one of my learnings in the role has been we do a pretty good job communicating what we do in the industry, but we've failed to get cut through in the broader media, to explain all the great things we're doing in integrity, around welfare and around a whole range of other issues.

"Our challenge in the next 12 months is to work out how we do a better job of that.

"The Four Corners story was a bit jumbled; there was nothing new in there except for the issue surrounding tongue ties, and speaking to the vets, they say applied correctly, they're certainly not doing any damage, and in fact, they're helping them race as well as they possibly can.

"The fact remains we have to do a better job communicating to people outside the racing industry."

On 16 hands, Racing Victoria's new schools program:

"I'm thrilled with the program - we've talked about what we can do with community relations.

"We talk about Subzero and Graham (Salisbury), and what we're doing now is bringing a similar program to the city.

"I'm sure it'll be the first experience for a lot of school kids being able to look at and pat a thoroughbred racehorse.

"Who knows we might have future trainers, jockeys or administrators coming out of these school visits."

On media:

"TVN was no longer once Racing NSW decided to head down a different path.

"What I can say is Andrew Catterall and the team at Racing.com are talking with Racing NSW about opportunities on things like digital streaming, on archive vision sharing ... we need to get the replays [on one site].

"In my understanding after an indirect briefing with Andrew, we've put some proposals to Racing NSW and waiting to hear back from them.

"We'll move forward as quickly as we can, it needs to be mutually beneficial outcomes for both states and punters, but I'd like to think we can get some good outcomes there."

On issue of altrenogest use for mares:

"We're trying to get to the bottom of what's caused the issue - Jamie and his team are working with the manufacturers to try and understand that.

"We're talking to trainers and vets as well, so there's a lot of consultation going on.

"I'd re-emphasise the point it's not just about Winx - I know she's the superstar - but there's a lot of other fillies and mares using this particular product.

"Jamie's working on it with a sense of urgency, to try and get it sorted as quickly as possible."

On report lack of continuity between states in general:

"I've heard that, but I've got a different view. People that aren't working behind the scenes aren't aware of the level of co-operation that does go on between the states.

"There has been a number of new rules about to be introduced where Victoria, New South Wales and other states are aligned.

"We do a lot of work on welfare issues, the pattern together ... occasionally these things come up where we have a different approach, but it's not like it's happening all the time.

"From my position, it's the exception, not the rule.

"I know there's been questions around can we streamline with a national administration, and I think that'd be really challenging from a few points of view.

"There's the geographic spread of the country, and the various issues different states are dealing with.

"But very different approach from each of the state governments ... it may happen one day, but I think it's a long way away.

"In the meantime, what we need to do is work with the other states to make sure we're making life as easy for the participants that do move across the different states."

 
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