Gold Coast Turf Club boss Brett Cook ramps up push for racecourse upgrade
After 11 years of promises, Gold Coast Turf Club chairman Brett Cook says the club’s time for waiting on infrastructure needs to end so a new dawn can be unlocked on the glitter strip. With the introduction of Saturday’s $1.5 million QTIS Jewel meeting, the Gold Coast now hosts three of the nine richest days of racing on Queensland’s calendar, headed by $10 million Magic Millions day. As far back as 2008, former Racing Queensland chairman Bob Bentley announced infrastructure developments for the Gold Coast. The business plan for an overhaul of tracks and tunnels was approved and sent to Treasury in 2011. But changes to the RQ administration and bungled projects at other tracks has seen the Coast stuck in neutral.
With the Ipswich racecourse’s ongoing woes, there has been speculation a renovation of the Bundamba track will supersede plans for the Gold Coast, but Cook said there can be no more delays or excuses.
“The time for talking is over,” Cook said.
“Since that original announcement (in 2008), our club, trainers and owners have been very patient and out of industry necessity have taken a back seat.
“We have supported other track upgrades taking precedence over ours, including the two times at Eagle Farm and Toowoomba getting its grass back. Now the synthetic training track at the Sunshine Coast is getting done again.
“We understood those projects were critical to the sustainability of all those clubs and in Eagle Farm’s case it was critical to the entire racing industry.
“Based on this we need to be the next major infrastructure project off the rank.”
Plans on the table include an equine tunnel, new synthetic training track and overhaul of the B Grass training track, plus Racing Queensland’s desire to install lights at the venue. There is an allocation of $28 million locked in for the Coast. A reconstruction of the course proper is part of the overall works, but Cook said the club would happily put that on the backburner if it meant the other projects could be started earlier.
“We have a master plan for a residential and commercial development which will open up non-raceday revenue for the club, which can proceed when these works are undertaken,” Cook said.
“But more immediately, we need this to be done for our trainers. They have waited a long time for this and they deserve to have the facilities they have been promised. Our training tracks have been under stress for too long.”
The club has offered to put the project out to tender, at its own expense, in a bid to secure the best deal for the industry and get the project moving.
“We think we can get a better deal than what has been mooted at the moment,” he said.
Cook says if managed well, the works could be carried out in a timeframe where the track was closed for racing for just four months.
“Nine months out would cripple this club. We don’t have the luxury of what happened with Eagle Farm, because we’ve only got one track. If you’re out of play for that long, you lose patrons that you just don’t get back.”
Cook said the synthetic training track could be then used for race meetings if the course proper project went ahead after that point, with some meetings also transferred to Beaudesert. The Gold Coast hosts some 50 race meetings a year, racing most Saturdays and several midweeks. Racing Queensland wants to see the venue developed as a night racing mecca for the state, tapping into international wagering pools, while showcasing one of the most picturesque venues in Australia.
Brett Cook has been at the helm of the GCTC for almost seven years. In that time the club has forged a naming rights partnership with Aquis, while the board and Chief Executive Steve Lines have developed a master plan that will future proof the club and sure up its place as one of the best racing venues in Australia.
Here are his thoughts on some of the issues confronting racing in Queensland:
“In my first five years as Chairman we had three new RQL boards, four new RQL Chairmen and five RQL CEOs. Those sort of continuous changes caused a lot of disruption to the industry with wasted revenue and lost momentum.
“The last two years we have seen the steadying of the ship. The current RQ board have a strategic plan and they need the appropriate time to deliver on that plan. New Chief Executive Brendan Parnell is a good communicator but he has a very difficult job trying to juggle three different codes with limited financial resources. While you might not agree with all the decisions being made, at least Brendan will let you know about their reasoning behind those decisions.”
“While industry reform is the catch phrase at the moment, the reality is most race clubs in Queensland have been reforming and changing the way they operate for the last 10 years. If they didn’t do that they would not be in existence today.
“Food and beverage, corporate sponsorship and non Raceday revenue are more important than ever to run a sustainable business.
“But a lot more reform and innovation is needed right throughout the industry for it to prosper. This reform needs to start at the top with RQ undertaking its own reform and race clubs and all industry participants following suit.
“Things like business productivity, race programming, industry operating hours and integrity are just some of the areas that need to be looked at.”
“Horse stabling in the precinct needs attention and the GCTC are willing to invest heavily in that area, by either modernising the current Traintech facility or building another dwelling on another parcel of club land.
“Once this project is complete, we are confident other trainers would relocate or set up stables at the Gold Coast to complement Chris Waller and Kris Lees’ recent moves into the precinct. That can only help the Queensland racing industry.”
“While last year’s industrial action was not what the industry wanted, it did show everyone that by cooperating together it does give you a stronger voice at the negotiating table.
“Lessons need to be learned from that and race clubs in particular have a good opportunity to strengthen these areas. The old days of divide and conquer should be over with clubs supporting each other to be successful. Simply, if the majority of race clubs are financially strong that should be an asset to the whole industry.
“A prime example where cooperation works is the commercial relationship between the GCTC and Beaudesert Race Club, which has been good for both parties. Beaudesert has around 200 horses in work and has done an outstanding job without significant industry support for decades.
“The horse population in that region is very large, comprising racing, breeding and agistment. It’s important for employment and commercially to the whole area and needs protecting.
“We will continue to strengthen our relationship with Beaudesert and are always talking to other clubs with similar challenges.”