WA's racing industry, a major driver in the State's economy, is in grave danger of folding unless the Barnett Government gives immediate tax relief, according to the sport's leading horsemen.
In a roundtable discussion organised this week by The Weekend West ahead of today's racing return to Ascot, racing legend Fred Kersley and other top trainers Neville Parnham, Dan Morton and Simon Miller all voiced fears for the future of the industry because of its precarious financial status and sub- standard facilities.
Racing and Wagering WA's most recent annual report shows that in the 2011-12 season, the industry paid the Government more than $37.6 million in turnover and margin tax.
A reduction of just 0.5 per cent in the tax impost would return about $10 million extra to the industry - equal to a new track at one of WA's major courses.
Kersley said the state of facilities and general standards within the WA industry had "clearly slipped" in recent years and his optimism was waning for the sport that had made him a national hero.
"It's at that critical point now . . . getting down to the blood and guts of it all, we're underfunded to the point where it's desperate," he said. "From the days we could run a Perth Cup comparable to the Melbourne Cup, you look at it now and see a world of difference.
"So we do need some assistance in the way of relaxation of the taxation because it's barely viable at the minute for owners and trainers to continue with the increases in costs.
"For as long as I can remember when you ask government for relief they say, 'Which hospital do you want to close?' My comment is, 'What about the hospitals we helped to build?' I have real fears for the future of the industry."
Rising costs included some industry participants paying up to $5000 a month for waste disposal.
The four Ascot trainers were united in their concern for the poor standard of training facilities at the State's racing headquarters, which they said was leading to many more injuries during training compared with injuries on race days.
"We see the glamour and glitz in the big racing and on race day, but behind the scenes there are horses who don't make it to the track through injury," Parnham said. "We'd like to think we could get the best surfaces available to train our gallopers (on).
"We have to make sure we keep on at the Government to get a little bit more out of them because they make enough out of us."
Miller, who moved to WA four years ago after working in some of the leading stables in Melbourne and Sydney, said Eastern States training facilities were superior to those in WA.
He said "90 per cent" of injuries in his stable happened during track work.
Morton said another problem was the increase in licensed trainers in WA. He called for numbers to be restricted.
He said stagnating prizemoney had put the racing business "in a world of hurt" and he called for authorities to restrict the number of approved licenses.
Kersley said the annual return to Ascot gave the entire industry an emotional boost.
"I don't think the average punter understands how difficult it is training through the winter, working in the dark and the terrible conditions," he said.
"Coming back to Ascot signifies the change in the seasons where you can see your horses working rather than seeing lights going around in the dark."
Treasurer Troy Buswell said no relief was being considered.
Ascot will mark the opening of the WA racing season with the official unveiling today of a $250,000 bronze sculpture of champion Northerly.
Northerly, which won more than $9.3 million in stake money, died from a colic attack last year.