Shadow Racing Minister John McGrath said stakeholders in Western Australia’s billion-dollar racing industry had been terribly let down by a lack of foresight and action by both the Carpenter government and racing administrators.
After recent heavy rains in the metropolitan area, the track at Belmont Park was declared unfit for racing yesterday, forcing it to cancel its 10-race midweek fixture.
Mr McGrath said racing administrators should have acted before now to install an all-weather synthetic track so that racing would not be halted by bad weather.
“I have been calling for this for more than three years but it has fallen on deaf ears,” Mr McGrath said.
“It is a poor reflection on the administration of the sport when the state is left with only one winter racetrack within a 100km radius of Perth.
“The owners of about 150 horses have been robbed of an opportunity to earn prizemoney and the TAB has missed out on valuable turnover.
“This is not acceptable in an industry that provides employment for so many people across the state.”
Mr McGrath said the industry’s problems had been compounded by the fact that Northam had been shut down for track maintenance after an insect infestation and heavy frosts made it unsafe for racing.
On top of that, meetings at York had been transferred because of safety issues with the track.
He said racing had found itself in a situation of being one track short.
“We can’t afford to lose another winter. I can’t accept that RWWA has not had a contingency plan in place. ”
Mr McGrath said it was up to the industry to decide which was the best location for an all-weather track and whether it should be in the city or at a provincial venue.
“Personally, I think the industry should look at putting a synthetic track on the inside of the main grass track at Belmont Park,” he said.
“That way, any grass track meeting (city or provincial) could be transferred. It could also be used for trials.
“Lark Hill could become the main centre for grass track trials, just like Cranbourne in Victoria.”
Mr McGrath said he had spoken to leading trainers and jockeys at the Sunshine Coast Turf Club’s new synthetic track who agreed the surface was excellent for training and racing.
“Bruce McLachlan, one of the top trainers in Queensland for many years, prefers to gallop his horses on the synthetic track rather than grass. He says it is kinder on their legs.”
Mr McGrath said Queensland racing authorities were also looking at putting a synthetic track in at Toowoomba, which had been suffering from serious water shortages in recent years.
“These tracks are springing up everywhere. In Victoria this week a Kyneton meeting that was washed out by heavy rain was transferred to a new synthetic track at Geelong, which has been an outstanding success.”
Mr McGrath said it would be irresponsible of RWWA not to put in a synthetic track that could be used for racing.
“The industry requires that there are safe tracks for horses to race on in all conditions and at all times of the year. The industry has been going through a boom period but it must ensure that the right infrastructure is put in place for the future.
“When I was elected to Parliament in 2005 one of the first things I did was call on the industry to put in a synthetic track.
“As I said at the time, a synthetic track would have a threefold effect. It would provide a racing surface when grass tracks become unsafe in winter, it would help make the industry more water efficient and it would provide an all-weather training surface that is suitable for both slow and fast working of horses.”
Mr McGrath said the Government, while aware that water would become an increasingly scarce commodity, had failed to lead the industry down the path of synthetic tracks.
“When Mark McGowan was racing Minister he visited Victoria to look at synthetic tracks as an alternative to traditional grass tracks,” Mr McGrath said.
“Racing and Wagering Western Australia are currently exploring the possibility of establishing a synthetic track at the Lark hill training complex and I wanted to see first-hand what the benefits are.
“Synthetic racing surfaces are used at a number of racetracks around the world and are proving to be a popular choice with horse owners, turf clubs and the wider community.
“They require substantially less water, no fertiliser, no pesticides and little maintenance.”
(McGowan, 23 July 2005)
Mr McGrath said when Mr McGowan returned from the trip he reported to Parliament that he had observed fast work on the synthetic training track at Ballarat.
“That was three years ago but what has happened since then? Nothing,” he said.