Ex Racing Victoria boss Bernard Saundry to take the reins at New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing
As racing suffers from a season-long spate of abandonments, expect new New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief Bernard Saundry to order a quick evaluation on building a synthetic track.
Saundry, announced on Monday as fellow Australian Greg Purcell's replacement, is a fan of the benefits of synthetic tracks - and is well placed to know.
He was chief executive of Racing Victoria for four years before stepping down at the end of last year. Racing there has its climate vagaries like New Zealand, but is easily able to transfer meetings to its synthetic tracks at Geelong and Pakenham, while Moonee Valley has long had its StrathAyr track.
"Synthetic tracks certainly take the burden off the grass tracks," Saundry said. "What we saw in Victoria was the regularity of meetings scheduled for synthetic tracks did build a solid wagering outcome and it's certainly something I would like to evaluate," he said.
"I'm not across the numbers, but certainly look forward to getting across them and looking at what may be possible."
Synthetic tracks have been on NZTR's wishlist for well over a decade, but its balance sheet has been the handicap to anything getting beyond the planning stage. Pakenham, the latest synthetic track in Victoria, cost A$9 million.
Saundry, 55, said he relished the challenge of taking on the main thoroughbred job in New Zealand.
"After 14 years with Racing Victoria, I took a break for three or four months, and this came up. New Zealand racing and breeding is recognised on the world stage and I thought it was a great opportunity."
His appointment, which NZTR chairman Alan Jackson said was made after a global search, comes at a difficult time for NZTR, with squeezed revenue and widespread dissatisfaction among owners and trainers over prize money returns.
Saundry says getting the right mix is critical. "Prize money is a key indicator and an important revenue stream back to the participants. My key focus will be building up our relationships to ensure we can get the right commercial returns and right infrastructure. Getting the right track infrastructure, the right horse numbers and improving racing product on the track all leads to improved wagering outcomes. It needs investment and the co-operation of a lot of groups to achieve those types of things."
He said it was too early for him to give an opinion about whether some New Zealand race tracks should be closed.
"In Victoria I was of the view that every track has a role to play and that needs to be called out and properly structured.
"Clearly New Zealand racing has a lot of great assets and I want to make sure every New Zealander has an opportunity to own a racehorse at some point in their life. And if we we can get the numbers of owners up and more people engaged in wagering, that will drive and improve outcomes so we can invest back into infrastructure and back into prize money."
Jackson said Saundry had "the energy, experience and enthusiasm to make a material difference to New Zealand racing".
Saundry was behind the set up of the Racing.com website for Racing Victoria and negotiated broadcasting rights.
"He was instrumental in developing a shared service model for clubs to create efficiencies, something the board believes has potential in New Zealand," Jackson said.
Saundry was well placed to promote New Zealand racing to international markets, he said.
Saundry will take over from Purcell, who has resigned after six years in the job, on June 26.
Saundry and wife Samantha have two daughters, aged 26 and 25, who have jobs in Melbourne, while their 21-year-old son is completing a three-year degree and will decide at the end of the year whether to join his parents in Wellington.