Australian Racing Insights
Having commenced operations early in 2015, Racing Australia Limited (RAL) combined the Australian Racing Board (ARB), Racing Information Service Australia (RISA) and the Australian Stud Book in order to supply a one-stop source for thoroughbred racing.
The main purpose of Racing Australia Limited is to supply products and services to Australia’s Principal Racing Authorities, independent racing clubs and all the people in any way connected to racing, from horse owners all the way through to punters and those with an interest of any kind in Australian racing.
Racing Australia Limited is an excellent source for information of any kind regarding the Australian racing scene, including statistics that will enable us to assemble a picture of the current state of the Australian racing industry and how it affects the thousands of people who directly earn a living and the millions of spectators of all kinds who have helped to thrust Australian racing to the status of the third largest spectator sport in the country.
After we more closely examine and compare statistics compiled to provide insights into the health of the Australian racing industry, we will delve into some of the thoroughbred trainers whose contributions support racing. We will conclude with a look at some of the racetracks and the running conditions that supply value to punters in filling out their racing tickets.
The State of Australian Racing
The Australian racing industry provides a great deal of employment and generates a lot of revenue.
When looking at figures from RAL for the past 19 years, a couple of significant observations are easily seen.
The number of races has declined somewhat, but has remained relatively constant barring the 2007/08 season when many races were cancelled as a result of the equine influenza outbreak. In terms of prize money, growth has been steady other than that season. Therefore, from a slightly decreased number of races, prize money has grown from about $250 million in 1995/96 to $509 million in 2013/14. The biggest jump was from 2011/12 to 2012/13 when prize money increased over 12 percent, from $435 million to $488 million. For the years for which RAL provides figures, it shows that prize money has doubled over the course of 19 years. Growth figures such as these more than account for the difference betwixt the value of money in 1995 and 2015.
The population of the country in 1995 is given as 18.07 million. That has grown to an estimated 24 million in 2015. Simple maths shows the prize money per capita has risen from just under $14 per person to almost $21 per person.
Those two figures taken together indicate exceptional health for the Australian racing industry.
Other RAL statistics support this conclusion, but in a less dramatic fashion. One of these statistics regards race grading. The number of Group 1 races has grown by just six races when comparing the 2006/07 season to 2013/14. In order for that statistic to keep pace with the above referenced prize money statistic, it would have required 132 Group 1 races. Similar comparisons are found with Group 2, 3, Listed and Black Type races. The biggest area of growth of all the grades took place in Group 3 races, with 37 being added to the calendar for the seasons just mentioned.
It can be determined from the statistic that Australian racing is reaching a saturation level of sorts. A decline of any number might indicate a problem, but the overall conclusion would seem to paint a picture of a healthy Australian racing industry since it becomes readily apparent that slightly fewer races and racehorses supply a vastly improved incentive for racing.
The Australian racing industry accounts for about 69 percent of Australian wagering turnover. Thoroughbred racing alone is almost 60 percent. All other sports combined represent less than 17 percent of the total turnover. Of course, Australian racing provides far more markets, so this figure should not surprise anyone. The figures include racing and sports from all over the world, since Australian racing punters follow many international markets, and the same can be said of sports punters.
Gauging the health of Australian racing is quite simple if wagering figures from different seasons are compared. Wagering on thoroughbred racing in 1997/98 totaled almost $87 billion. That figure doubled for the 2013/14 season to $16.5 billion. The increase roughly parallels the growth in prize money. Growth has been steady throughout the years examined. Online bookmakers saw a big jump in 2002/2003, but TAB retail wagering still holds a lead in the total.
If yearling sales results are calculated into the picture of Australian racing health, that calculation produces a rosy picture. RAL figures show that the median sales price for a yearling in 2013/14 was up almost 17 percent over the year previous. At $35,000, it is just under double the $18,000 median for 2001/02.
The RAL figures do not deal with race attendance. Another source points to stagnant attendance and a decline in Australian racing revenue. This trend has been apparent for the last five years and is mildly concerning. Spectators seem to be showing up in force for marquee events such as the Melbourne Cup and the various carnivals, but overall have shown more interest in other forms of gambling. Overall Industry value added (IVA) figures point towards an annual decline in Australian racing revenue of 1.8 percent over the years leading up to 2020-21 against an overall growth in Gross Domestic Product of 2.8 percent.
From a more distant perspective, it would not be inaccurate to say that the Australian racing industry is equivalent to the Australian economy in general. The past five to seven years has seen signs of returning to the robust growth that was taking place in the first part of the 21st century, but it is frustratingly slow to gain the type of momentum that all sectors of the economy would like to see. It would not be all that surprising to find similar statistics for Australia’s football and rugby sectors.
Dominant Australian Trainers
Moving on from a general examination of the Australian racing industry that was focused on thoroughbred racing, we now turn attention on the top trainers. Some interesting nuances emerge, but the adage of success breeding success seems to be the primary operative principle.
If it were necessary to pick a top trainer whose results would influence someone in filling out a betting slip, that trainer would have to be Chris Waller. When it comes to Group races, Waller was five ahead of his closest rival, Gai Waterhouse, in 2013/14. Waller had 8 Group 1, 12 Group 2 and 13 Group 3 wins, a total of 33 in all. Where the comparison with Waterhouse becomes interesting is when the total prize money for her 28 Group wins is compared to Waller’s 33. The easily discerned difference of over $1.5 million comes from a dominance by Waterhouse in the biggest paying races. She is dominant in Victoria whilst Waller is the major force in Sydney racing.
Another major criterion helpful in finding an Australian racing trainer to lend weight to wagering decisions also finds Waller near the top. He had 228 firsts, 211 seconds and 186 third placings in fielding the largest number of runners by any trainer. His 1,544 runners in 2013/14 pulled in over $22.5 million, leading Waterhouse by over $4 million. By contrast, Waterhouse fielded only 887 runners in the same season, so the conclusion is that she is a big race trainer worth backing when the prestige races jump.
If it is the country tracks that figure into any wagering scheme, horses prepared by Darren Weir are worthy of a look. He has gradually worked his way up to the metro tracks and to such a successful degree that he unseated Peter Moody, who had held the Victorian Metro Trainer Premiership the previous three seasons. Weir worked for Colin Hayes at Lindsay Park for a time before taking out his own license in 1995 and working from Stawell.
A reliable indicator of Weir’s ability and strong work ethic is the 253 first place finishes he produced in 2013/14. Along with 200 seconds and 196 third placings from 1,422 runners, it is obvious that seeing Weir listed as trainer on the form offers good opportunities. He had just one Group 1 win to go along with two Group 2 and two Group 3 wins, so his prizemoney compared to Waller and Waterhouse is a modest figure of just under $9 million.
Of course, Peter Moody is a fixture in Australian racing for just cause. He was sixth in Group racing winners in 2013/14 and third in total prize money despite having about 400 fewer runners compared to Chris Waller. If Moody’s name is on the form, it is reasonably certain that the horses he has prepared will be at the top of their games. His reputation also commands attention from owners who want to realise the best return on their thoroughbred investments. Moody’s long-term experience and results make him a worthy wager.
Others that deserve attention are Peter Snowden and Mick Price. Snowden was firmly positioned in third place for the 2013/14 season with 19 Group level winners, nine clear of Price’s 10. As far as the total number of wins is concerned, Snowden is well clear of Price and trails Waterhouse by just one win. He passes her easily when second and third placings are included. It would seem that he did not fare especially well in the big races though, as his prize money is almost $6 million under what Waterhouse brought in.
Mick Price has been a fixture at Caulfield since 1996 when he moved into the stables formerly operated by Lee Freedman. He has fielded over 100 winners for the past 10 seasons. He had four Group 1 wins in 2013/14, good for fourth position in that category. He occupied sixth positon in earning that season, bringing in over $8.3 million and solidifying his positon as a fixture of Australian racing.
Australian Racing Venues
We conclude our look at Australian racing with some information regarding the different tracks and how those tracks and conditions for any given racing meeting can influence punting decisions.
No two racetracks are identical. If a comparison were to be drawn betwixt thoroughbred racing and human sporting events, racetracks would be closer to golf courses or baseball stadiums than they would be to tennis or basketball courts.
Australian racing uses a grading system introduced in 2014. There are four different categories from firm to heavy on a scale of 1 to 10. There are two degrees of “firm,” two of “good,” three of “soft” and three of “heavy.” There is one other category for synthetic tracks that attempts to prevent injury to horses, present a consistent surface and reduce the need for supplemental watering.
The majority of horses will do their best work on firm tracks, meaning that they should be favoured when the track is rated firm or good. Some horses do exceedingly well in wet and muddy conditions. Racing form guides show track conditions and how any particular horse has fared under those conditions. Australian racing clubs follow the convention of sounding a siren to notify punters if a track rating is changed during the course of a meeting.
The main information to be derived from examining the different dimension of Australian racing courses regards how a horse performs on a course with tight turns versus one that has gradual turns and longer straights.
For example, Belmont Park Racecourse in Perth has a circumference of 1,699 metres with the straight being 333 metres in length. That straight is 36.5 metres in width. The shape is an oval with sweeping bends. The run to the first turn is long, so horses that start from a wide barrier do not experience the same degree of handicap that they would encounter on a course where they run up on a turn sooner.
By way of contrast, the Caulfield racecourse in Melbourne has a circumference almost 400 metres greater than that of Belmont. The straight is slightly longer, but the width along the entire circumference of Caulfield is five metres less than that of Belmont. Horses that prefer a lot of space could find difficulty in a race with a crowded field. The back of the racecourse features a unique rise, putting a bit of a premium on conditioning.
The most famous track in Australian racing is Flemington in Melbourne. At 2,312 metres in circumference, it is far bigger than Belmont and considerably bigger than Caulfield. A 450-metre home straight favours horses that feature a big final sprint. Flemington has a distinctive pear shape. The longest straight is 1,200 metres in length and is called the Straight Six, harkening back to the days when race length was calculated in furlongs.
We hope that this look at the current state of Australian racing combined with the accomplishments of the dominant trainers and how track conditions affect punting decisions is of some value. Anyone who takes a prize as the result of this information is welcome, but not required, to share some niggling portion with us.