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Future Of Australian Horse Racing

Any attempt to predict the future of horse racing in Australia presents the same pitfalls as trying to predict the future about anything. There are so many variables involved that the best anyone can hope for is an educated guess.....

There are so many variables involved that the best anyone can hope for is an educated guess.

Any attempt to predict the future of horse racing in Australia presents the same pitfalls as trying to predict the future about anything. 

And, at any rate, what end is served by knowing in advance what future shape racing will take? As long as it remains in existence, which it will for as long as there is a potential for profit, punting will still involve taking a risk on an event with an unknown outcome.

Perhaps the willingness to accept these types of risks is sufficient proof of the existence of the mentality required to consider the subject, so let's proceed with this speculative exercise.

First off, a brief caution on the nature of predictors.

Prognosticators generally share a common trait: They make so many predictions that almost every eventuality is covered. Then, once the actual outcome is apparent, they refer back to the most fitting guess and maintain that it had been their forecast all along.

The only certainty that exists is that change will take place. The exact form is irrelevant. Examining history, the pace of change seems to accelerate, gain momentum, feed upon itself and spawn greater change in what can almost be described as similar to a nuclear fusion chain reaction where the final energy output exceeds the energy of the initial fuel supply.

Australasian horse racing history supplies one of the most apt examples of this accelerating pace of change.

The first Totalisator device was installed in 1913 at a racecourse in New Zealand, so placing the start of organised racing around 1810 means that it was over one hundred years before technology impacted racing by reducing the variances in odds prior.

Depending upon what year you would like to place the evolution from mechanical and electro-mechanical totalisators to digital computers, it remains that this change took place faster than that from human to mechanical wagering.

Next, consider how brief has been the time from computerized betting to the point currently occupied: The ability to instantaneously place multiple wagers for events at venues scattered across the planet via a device that fits in the pocket.

The motivation of profit drove this change, but there were beneficiaries other than racing as well. The totalisator's inventors could easily claim that their device was the direct forerunner to the modern computer that is embedded in literally every aspect of humanity.

The conclusion that may be drawn here is that when you have a societal and culturally relevant subject, such as that presented by horse racing, innovators and entrepreneurs will find a way to capitalise, frequently supplying unintended but positive benefits beyond the original intent.

Apart from technology, other factors have impacted racing in the past, so it's a given fact that these same will affect the future as well.

One of these factors is the environment. Years of drought and the protest of those who support the stance that there are more appropriate uses for scarce water resources than maintaining verdant racecourse turf spurred the development of all weather racetracks. Here it can be seen that the chief goal of water conservation is realised, at the same time providing an optimized, uniform galloping surface that reduces incidents of Thoroughbred destruction brought about by leg injuries. This one simple change provides satisfactions for horse owners, conservationists, and the animal-as-equal-partner-to-human crowd in one swoop.

That last was not intended as an indictment of animal activists. It appears that their desire to ban jumps racing will soon be realized and eliminate this most dangerous form of racing.

A second factor that has in the past and will in the future affect Australian horse racing is the practice of shuttle breeding. The ingenuity behind using this simple reality of equine fertility to move studs to the hemisphere with the currently receptive broodmares is only possible because changes in transportation make it viable. It would be impossible to conceive of New Zealand Carbine's owners engaging in this practice. For one, it would have been far too much risk to assume placing him on a boat to Europe or America, not to mention the possibility of it taking so long to do that the window of opportunity would have passed.

The outcome of shuttle breeding has been a reduction in the number of stallions required, a reduction in the gene pool and economic pressures that imperil smaller stud operations. Is it possible that time will see the tradition of stallions covering mares replaced with artificial insemination?

The final impact of change on the future of horse racing we will examine is directly related to the original premise of change being inevitable and quickening its pace.

The desire for instant gratification that drove the growth of 20/20 cricket that features contests being decided in less than four hours is influencing racing.

While it's hard to imagine this desire being sated by reducing race distances by a few hundred meters, a trend in this direction does seem to be materialising. This would spell the end of the stayer. "The Race That Stops a Nation," reduced to 1600 meters would be re-branded as "The Race That Momentarily Slows a Nation Down."

The current economic climate has obviously had an impact on racing. Spending on discretionary subjects, and horse racing obviously is one of those, suffers when necessity dictates that essentials must receive priority, and encourages wistful speculation about the future of that subject.

Horse racing is not immune from speculation of this sort. Whatever the future reveals, it is likely that the role of horse racing on the collective psyche of Australia is secure. An observer of the cultural impact racing represented for Australia once commented, after attending the Melbourne Cup, "Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me." Those words are as true now as on the November day in 1895, when American author Mark Twain uttered them after watching Auraria take the day.

Will we see champions like Kingston Town, Makybe Diva, Tulloch and others replaced by robotic racehorses? Will studs like Kingston Park Stud and Makybe give way to Microsoft and Apple? Will trainers such as Bart Cummings and Lee Freedman be supplanted by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs? Will hoops like Damien Oliver and Nash Rawiller stand at the rails and watch R2D2 and C3PIO take their rides?

Far fetched? Improbable? Impossible?

Perhaps, but also possibly evocative of the same reaction you would have produced back in 1913 if you had revealed to the inventor of the first totalisator a future that permitted a wager to be placed at a venue 19,000 kilometers distant and starting in several minutes time with nothing other than a small rectangular electronic device no bigger than a deck of cards.

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