Ballarat and Pakenham preferred locations for Victorian synthetic tracks

Racing Victoria (RV) on Thursday announced that Ballarat and Park (Pakenham) are its preferred locations to host synthetic track racing in Victoria for at least the next decade.

The announcement follows an extensive 12-month review, conducted in consultation with industry stakeholders, which considered the number of synthetic racetracks required to service the industry’s current and future needs, along with the most appropriate locations.

The decision to conduct the review was prompted by the scheduled need to replace the current Geelong synthetic track at the conclusion of 2018 due to wear and tear.

The review ultimately established that it is not in Victoria’s best interests to build and maintain three synthetic racetracks due to prohibitive costs. It also noted that the current quantity of synthetic race meetings appropriately services the state’s racing schedule. Park (Pakenham), which commenced synthetic racing in 2015 and conducts an average 22 synthetic meetings per year, remained a preferred location for RV given the large racehorse population in the state’s south east and the track’s relevant infancy.

The review thus considered three locations for the state’s second track – Ballarat, Kilmore and the current location Geelong – before determining that RV’s preferred location was Ballarat. 

Ballarat was chosen due its central location, its proximity to a larger percentage of the state’s racehorse population, its strong local training numbers and the enhancements in track shape and size that it can afford over the incumbent track at Geelong.

As a result of today’s decision, it is planned that synthetic racing will conclude at Geelong in September 2018 following the winter racing season. It is RV’s desire to transition the track to an inner turf track which will host year-round training and a select number of race meetings.

In making today’s announcement about its preferred position, RV also outlined its intention to pursue an upgrade of the Kilmore racetrack to improve the camber, thus enhancing its year-round training and racing capabilities. 

RV Executive General Manager - Infrastructure and Club Support, Jamie McGuinness, explained that RV will now work with all stakeholders to progress its synthetic track footprint, including engaging with the Victorian Government.

“I want to thank all those who actively engaged in our synthetic track review including Clubs, local Government, participant groups and a broad range of stakeholders whose feedback has helped to shape the preferred position we have announced today,” Mr McGuinness said.

“The Ballarat, Kilmore and Geelong clubs have been directly advised of our decision today and we will now work with them on delivering the necessary infrastructure support to help meet the racing and training needs of their local participants and the broader industry.

“Whilst we’re aware that some stakeholders were seeking a third synthetic track, the business case did not support it. Not only would there be an initial outlay of approximately $8 million to build a third track, the industry is committed to spending over $6 million every eight to 10 years to replace the surface of each synthetic track.

“The message also remained clear from trainers that their strong preference is for turf racing.  We currently conduct 8% of our meetings on synthetic tracks and we feel that is the appropriate number to ensure that all meetings can be conducted during winter, whilst allowing us to best manage the workload on our turf tracks throughout the wetter months.

Mr McGuinness said the decision to adopt Ballarat over Geelong as the preferred location for a synthetic track was done in the best interests of racing in this state over the next decade and beyond.

“Not only will we be able to deliver a better track with all the traditional race starts at Ballarat, but the track will better align to our current and future population of trainers and horses. It will also complement the synthetic track at Park (Pakenham) by providing the right geographic balance across the state,” Mr McGuinness said.

“We recognise that this decision will have an initial impact on Geelong trainers which is why we are committed to investing over $1.5 million to transition their synthetic track to an inner turf training track that has the ability to conduct a select number of race meetings each year.”

Mr McGuinness noted that RV’s preferred position means that the request from trainers in the state’s north east for a synthetic racetrack to be built in their region has not been met.

“Given the review determined that a footprint of two synthetic racetracks, one located at Park (Pakenham) and the other at Ballarat, is in the best overall interests of the industry, we understand that the wishes of all stakeholders, particularly some in the north east, cannot be met,” Mr McGuinness said.  

“We have invested heavily in enhancing tracks in the inner north and north east regions in recent years with major upgrades conducted at Seymour, Wangaratta and Wodonga and will continue to do so.

“We plan to make further announcements in relation to additional club infrastructure upgrades in the north east, with the upgrade of the sand training track at Benalla a priority.

“We are also committed to working with the Kilmore Racing Club to progress plans for a course proper upgrade and we look forwarding to discussing with Government the opportunities for funding support to deliver important projects such as this.”

It is expected that construction will start on the Ballarat synthetic track after the Sportsbet Ballarat Cup meeting in November 2018 with a view to commencing racing in May 2019. The synthetic track will replace the current inner turf track at Ballarat.