Canberra back in $75,000 Highway Handicaps after Racing NSW backflip

Aug 14, 2018

The Canberra horse racing industry has been saved, thanks to three blokes jumping in a car and driving up the Hume Highway.

Racing New South Wales let Canberra trainers back in the Highway Handicaps on Monday, just nine months after they were banned in a move which has "saved the industry".

Highways Handicaps are weekly races in Sydney for country-trained horses, which jumped from $60,000 to $75,000 in prizemoney last month.

ACT horses had been banned since December after country NSW trainers complained their Canberra rivals had an unfair advantage due to the facilities at Thoroughbred Park.

Canberra Racing Club responded by introducing the fortnightly $50,000 Federal. But trainers were still struggling to retain clients and their problems compounded when Racing NSW spiked its prizemoney last month.

Leading Canberra trainers Nick Olive, Matt Dale and Paul Jones decided to plead their case to Racing NSW boss Peter V'Landys and made the trip to Sydney together on July 27.

V'Landys said the trio presented an "exceptional" case and he took their proposal to the board, who voted to reinstate Canberra as a country club instead of provincial.

"The big deciding factor in my view was the fact you had three very good, young trainers in Matt, Nick and Paul come present their case exceptionally well," V'Landys said.

"They were very professional about it and made very good arguments and from our perspective we want to encourage young trainers of their magnitude.

We need to encourage those trainers, not discourage them and the last thing we wanted to see was three great young trainers leave the industry. That was a compelling factor."

NSW horses benchmarked above 50 will get first preference in the Highways, but the races haven't filled in recent months and it's unlikely Canberra horses will miss out.

Olive said the move had "definitely saved the industry" in Canberra, with the changes to come in on September 1.

"It's an awesome result and such a relief for us. You have to commend V'Landys and his board. They really took on what we had to say and took us seriously," Olive said.

"It's definitely saved the industry here. I'm committed to Canberra because I've got kids here, so it probably would have been the end for me.

"I'm just really grateful they worked with us and it was a great example of people working together to find a solution for the good of the industry."

Dale echoed his colleague's sentiments and said just a few weeks ago he was considering his options as the future of Canberra racing looked bleak.

"It's an outstanding result and we're very appreciative to Racing NSW. The last 12 months had caused a lot of concern and it was starting to get pretty grim," Dale said.

"We had a trainers meeting a number of weeks ago and we were in a pretty dire place, the position we were in was unsustainable and the future didn't look great.

"The majority of trainers were looking to move or close their doors, but being reinstated back to country trainers has changed all that and the future looks vibrant again.

"It's a massive announcement for all involved and we're really looking forward to getting back to business as usual and being focused on the game we love."

Canberra trainers remain ineligible for the inaugural $1.3 million Kosciuszko race for country horses at Randwick on October 13, as betting has already begun.

Jones was hopeful they'll compete next year but thrilled with the Highways decision and said all they had to do now was make sure they the distances don't overlap with the Federals.

"They gave us a very good hearing and were sympathetic to our plight. We were on a downhill spiral and with the Kosciuszko announcement it was nearly the final nail in the coffin," Jones said.

"Trainers were looking to move and Racing NSW tracks would have been struggling to take trainers I'm talking about, so it's a win win."

Canberra's status for the 2019 Country Championships and Provincial Championships will be determined in the coming weeks.