David Haworth has discovered that a year can be a long time in racing.
Twelve months ago, the Foxton horseman, who is also president of the New Zealand Trainers' Association, was admiring his new stable complex and looking forward to the new racing season.
Sadly, the optimism that drove Haworth's $800,000 investment in a new barn at Foxton has largely disappeared.
Instead, he is regularly fielding calls from colleagues who are feeling the financial pinch and is starting to regret his own reinvestment.
"We had had a good year and more people were getting involved [in racing]," Haworth said this week.
"The industry was looking in good heart and we spent a lot of money to cater for more horses.
"But within two months of the barn being finished, things started to go from bad to worse.
"I really do regret building the new barn now. We bought 16 yearlings that year – this season we bought three."
Racing, after being on a high relatively recently, has re-entered a cycle of rising costs and diminishing returns and Haworth is worried.
"There are a lot of trainers out there who are struggling to pay the bills. A lot of them are good mates of mine and good trainers. People who have 20 to 25 horses in work and win 20 races a year.
"GST is going up, ACC is going up. Wages, the cost of feeding horses and track fees are all going up and stakes are going down.
"Premier meetings that used to have stakes of $35,000 are now racing for $20,000.
"People are making no money from the day-to-day running of our business and what incentive is there to keep horses going through the grades? The [winning] percentages should be the icing on the cake. Trainers are entitled to get an honest wage for an honest day's work."
Haworth said that he was having to change his own outlook on racing.
"We went through a period of retaining horses to race and concentrated on that. But now we will be selling anything we can sell.
"We have plenty of horses at the moment – we are full – but those horses are going to go real quick.
"The local industry will depend on developing horses for the Australian and Asian markets and that will weaken our open races."
Haworth said it was not his ambition as a trainer to act as a nursery for richer markets.
"I have spent all my life wanting to be a fulltime trainer and got to the position where I could do that. But the fun's gone out of it now. If things don't improve, I would be better off becoming a fulltime stock agent again."
It had become imperative that the New Zealand Racing Board produce more money for the domestic racing product. "It's not just the stakes, the whole infrastructure needs to be improved."
The date structure needed change and the quality of the tracks in the central districts had become a real concern. "Some of our tracks are in a horrible state and we are losing horses [to injury] left, right and centre.
"Synthetic tracks are not the answer. They are no good. They don't work and punters don't bet on them. The current tracks could be improved at a fraction of the cost of a new synthetic track."
Haworth said that while it was easy to criticise the New Zealand Racing Board and New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, he did have concerns about the quality of the administration.
"A lot of the senior TAB staff are from overseas. We need people running the industry who know the industry.
"I don't think the communication from the Racing Board rates highly when you compare it to organisations like Fonterra and the way they communicate with their shareholders.
"We need much greater transparency and dialogue is desperately needed to sort out a positive way forward. That is going to be absolutely critical.
"The Racing Board has some lofty predictions for 2015, but we won't be here in 2015 if we carry on like this."
- © Fairfax NZ News