QRL move spooks RJC

THEY love their racing in Central Queensland, but one thing Rockhampton Jockey Club (RJC) chairman Justin Doyle and his committee won't do is race into a decision about the future direction of Callaghan Park.

Queensland Racing Limited (QRL) sent two of its high-profile officers, Racing Services manager Paul Brennan and Chief Operations manager Malcolm Tuttle, to Rockhampton recently to address the board of the jockey club.

Fears are circulating within the racing industry that the governing body, QRL, is manoeuvring to assume control of race clubs, including Rockhampton.

Doyle admits he is not too sure what the ramifications of the QRL's tentative proposals would mean to the RJC.

“I'm just a car salesman; we want someone professional to look into it,” he said.

Suggestions that decisions have been made are off the money as the QRL has, at this stage, only produced brief discussion papers and provided two options for RJC consideration.

Doyle also denied the presentation resulted in the RJC board calling an “emergency meeting” saying the matter was discussed at a regular meeting that happened to be the day after talks with QRL.

Doyle said he first got wind of an approach by QRL about three weeks ago.

“I've been swamped with phone calls on the matter,” he said.

“Queensland Racing Limited believe they need better control of their investment; to a certain degree I can understand that.”.

At the heart of the issue is the $6.5 million ploughed into Callaghan Park through the QRL for track renovations.

However, while any board would be expected to be accountable for such an outlay on upgrading a prized asset such as Callaghan Park, the approach has made Rockhampton officials wary of implications.

Doyle said that was why a professional overview is necessary and in the process take the emotion out of the argument.

“We need to gain a full, independent view of all proposals. We want to be 100% open,” he added.

Once the RJC has received professional guidance it would be in a position to offer recommendations to members who would then decide on the direction the club would take.

Doyle said the QRL had indicated it would like answers by the end of the year, but the RJC looks at that time scale as unrealistic with any decision only likely to come during the first half of 2010.

At the meeting the QRL tabled two models for discussion, but Doyle believes by the time a decision is required to be made there could be as many as four. First option would be the rejection of all models, something that could be considered along with the implications of rejecting QRL offers.

“At the end of the day we are a club that is performing pretty well,” he said.

“We have very little wastage. The RJC has put money into facilities for racing rather than spectators.

“We have a core of racing people here and have a great training facility.”

The RJC balance sheet does appear healthy with a profit of close to $180,000, but on the other side of the ledger the depreciation on their asset (Callaghan Park) is close to $300,000.

Then there are the two offers currently a part of the QRL discussion paper.

The Queensland authority has set down its models. The first is the formation of a Unit Trust where the QRL and RJC would form a partnership with the QRL taking care of much of the high-dollar items involving the maintenance of the facility and also provide $1 million on capital outlay.

On the face of it that would appear a good deal, but there are strings as money outlaid by QRL would increase their share of the partnership and, in turn, decrease the holding of the RJC.

Second proposal is the purchase of assets held by the RJC to the QRL, which in turn would result in the QRL providing a long-term lease to the RJC.

This too looks attractive as QRL would again provide a large sum of money for capital work.

A possible snag could come with appreciation of the asset resulting in higher costs for the leasing of Callaghan Park as it is not known whether the cost of the lease would be at a fixed rate.

Also under the models proposed by QRL any damage caused by natural disaster like flood would be the responsibility of QRL while the present freehold arrangement the RJC has meant it is not eligible for government assistance.

Doyle said a fourth option could arise from the independent review the RJC is calling for.

The QRL has indicated there will be no further grants provided to its race clubs, but Doyle said as far as he is aware the $6.5m for the track upgrade was a grant and not a loan.

“With the new track I believe the future for Rockhampton is secure,” Doyle said.

“They are trying to up the ante and there has been a lot of hype, but we now have to leave it to the professionals to sort out for us.

“People will continue to ask what their (QRL) angle is, but my concern is doing what is best for the Rockhampton Jockey Club.”

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