Racing’s bold blueprint to knock off rugby league
QUEENSLAND'S racing bosses have unveiled a plan they say will take the three codes to the number one sport in the state.
Under the ambitious plan, Racing Queensland aims to draw one million punters trackside at the thoroughbreds, greyhounds and the trots, knocking rugby league from top spot as the most watched live sport in the state.
The plan includes horse racing under lights at Doomben and the Gold Coast, a new greyhound track near Ipswich and the sale of inner-city Albion Park to fund a new harness racing facility.
The Doomben light fit-out would cost $8 million but could become a major draw for international visitors, as well as a popular night out for Brisbane punters keen to escape the heat and enjoy the spectacle.
CEO Brendan Parnell said Racing Queensland wanted to knock rugby league off its top position for live crowds - where it draws 875,000 fans to watch the NRL, tests and the State of Origin - compared to racing's 833,000 across the state.
As well as improving fan experience, he said animal welfare will be "front and centre" in the design and build of new and redeveloped facilities for all three racing codes.
The industry was rocked last week by horrific vision of the mistreatment of thoroughbreds at an abattoir north of Brisbane.
The State Government this week announced an urgent inquiry into the welfare of retired racehorses, to be overseen by the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission.
"All new tracks will have a very strong welfare focus," Mr Parnell said this week.
"We want to make it safer for animals; from the engineering and design of the tracks, to the facilities they use.
"We're doing that with the Greater Brisbane Greyhound Centre at Yamanto, and we've done that with track rebuilds at Rockhampton, Mackay, Toowoomba and Townsville. It's critical for us."
RQ expects Gold Coast to be racing under lights by the end of 2021 as they prepare to submit a business case for the major redevelopment of the track to the Queensland Government this month.
The racing body will push through plans for the development worth $39 million, with the Government grant expected to be around $28 million, and aim to begin construction by September 2020.
The Doomben proposal needs State Government approval, as well as from aviation regulators to make sure its floodlights do not interfere with the airport.
"The Magic Millions could be raced as a twilight meeting by 2022 and it's the jewel in the crown of the Queensland racing calendar," Parnell said.
"It draws an international spotlight and it's numbers are outstanding so we want to grow and expand that week."
Racing Queensland chair Steve Wilson said Queenslanders loved the track but the industry needed to work harder to get more along to watch live.
"We're both a sport and an industry," Mr Wilson said.
"We already dwarf other sports.
"But there are some areas we are not number one. We're not number one on attendances.
"We're not always number one in (the conversation on) Monday morning at the tea machine in the office.
"Our goal is to take that spirit that we have on Stradbroke Day and Magic Millions Day and broaden it out.
"It's the sport of beating kings, where a battler can beat a billionaire.
"There's nothing people love more than a knockabout knocking off a big toff.
"We've created the Battle of the Bush which has been a huge success. We've also got the country cups. We've got a lot of other ideas we're going to try."