“I think it is a healthy sign when a Committee acknowledges and answers questions that are not always friendly. I find it encouraging when people are not afraid to confront disturbing data or answer difficult questions.”

That was how one member, John Godfrey, summed up the latest Members Forum Question Time held by the Perth Racing committee at a Members morning tea on May 10.

One questioner queried why the person with the least number of votes should be the Chairman of Perth Racing.

The attempted ‘wrong-un’ became a ‘long hop’ for the Vice Chairman, Harvey Crossman. In swiping it to the boundary he gave obvious reply: the strength of vote at an election, does not determine who should occupy the position of Chairman. The Chairman was always one who had the confidence of the Committee, for various reasons, but none based on a popularity contest.

True enough. Such a proposal could lead to instability with the potential of a different chairman each year depending on election results. If the proposition was extended to all elections then political leaders would have to come from the safest seats in the country, never marginal constituencies.

On the call for more meetings in Perth, CEO Stephen Wicks said that Perth Racing would host 90 meetings this season (Sat. and Wed.). “This is more than any race club in Australia.”

On redevelopment of the stand Mr Wicks said the focus would emphasise the track with closer viewing and better angling planned.

“Plans will be released when finalised. Local Councils are never impressed if something is released into the public domain before they see it.”

On the question of giving guarantees about not going into debt, in rebuilding Belmont and completing work at Ascot, the CEO replied “this is the goal.”

Some members regard this balancing act as the real challenge. It ties in with the task of growing racing attendance, something the CEO confesses to always occupying his mind. The 15 per cent increase in the Roma Cup crowd this year has encouraged him, no doubt due, in part, to family friendly policies and attractions.

Catering, seating and the racing experience continued to occupy member attention.

There are plans for Alfresco dining at Ascot to take advantage of Perth’s summer weather and a grazing style buffet format is planned for Terrace menu and spring/summer lunch style menu at Flying Colours.

The Pork Burger has proved popular and pork sales had increased. Similarly Amelia Park, the pork suppliers, had increased their sponsorship. An interesting correlation, giving a new dimension to the term pork barrelling!

The club has increased seating by 25 per cent, including on the first floor at Ascot; beverage prices have been reduced with wine tastings at the bar and members bar has extended hours. Gold and Silver members, at Ascot, will have first access to the Promenade Deck 15 minutes before the first race. After that seats will be released to other members.

With the change to a cafeteria style service on March 1, at Ascot, concern was expressed that elderly patrons needed table service as it is difficult for them to carry food and drink to their table.

The CEO said that the Club, in effect, had a policy of no customer left behind. Staff had been instructed to not only help those patrons who requested help but to identify such members.

On the day the CEO made this statement this writer saw staff actively helping an elderly disabled patron down the escalator. This has happened frequently and Security Staff have been very attentive with one, in particular, being very kind. Perhaps the Good Samaritan comes from Kenya?

Plans are also for a new Super Screen at Ascot with improved audio and vision on first floor; RWWA is being asked to provide self service terminals on first floor that handle fixed and pari-mutuel betting. Feature races will see a bigger area for members on the first floor. At mid-week meetings the committee room is open for members.

The art show has prompted the Club to look at doing more such functions and members will be invited, as requested, to the committee room afternoon tea on a rotational basis, except when the room is being used for a private function.

More race day functions for members could also be possible if members were prepared to pay extra.

A suggestion of free entry to all Saturday Belmont meetings was rejected as it devalued membership. Further, free entry for all Wednesday meetings had seen attendance figures decline.

Bored with the Board?

The in-field semaphore board at Ascot has presented some problems with times and the lateness of approximate tote information on the next race being of concern. This will be fixed before the next season, the CEO said.

“While it may appear an easy fix the semaphore board is complex, was installed 15 years ago and the system has outlived its shelf life,” he said.

Consideration of a new board had delayed the decision making process on fixing the problem.

One member thought there was a different type of boring board and asked why there were not more women on the PR committee?

However, this populist opinion has been dealt with previously by PR. Discussions have been on-going for some time with a ladies group on ways to promote the industry to females. Women do have equal rights in running for election.

It is doubtful if there is any demand for quotas to be introduced to Committee elections.

The return of 3200m racing will feature a new race in April with stake money of around $150,000, according to PR Chairman, Ted van Heemst (later corrected to $120,000).

With the Perth Cup being reduced from 3200m to 2400m race there has been a void left for the true test of a staying horse.

With the exception of the Detonator Stakes (1800m), at Ascot in mid February, the other lead up races will be at provincial tracks. The Bunbury AHA Cup (2000m), Bunbury Cup (2200) and Pinjarra Cup (2300m) being the pathway for stayers.

On racing lacking character, with the bookmakers star quickly becoming a falling one, the meeting was told that the Club was committed to the sustainability of on-course bookies.

Accordingly stand fees had been reduced appreciably on Saturday meetings and free on Wednesdays.

The Chairman said that on course betting should not be inferior to what was on offer for the off course bettor. “I am embarrassed at what we currently offer.”

The CEO said that fixed odds on course should be available at all outlets not just one and it was something desired by the Club.

Night Racing is some time away because of the time difference between WA and the Eastern States.

The Chairman said even integration with the region (Singapore, Hong Kong and even Macau) was the objective although this would be longer term.

Committeman Eddie Rigg said lights at Belmont would cost $8m and that BBQ area would be planned at the course.

The new stand at Belmont will also be supported by new travel arrangements with a free bus service from Fremantle to Perth, (half hour service) will be provided.

The Members Forum is proving popular but the proposal to have it half an hour before the first race was deemed to provide inadequate time for members to ask questions.