Perth Racing eyes Ascot sale
Wrong track: John Lugg says moving racing away from Ascot is not viable for veteran trainers like him. Picture: Gerald Moscarda/The West Australian

Perth Racing appears willing to sell its traditional headquarters at Ascot Racecourse, the home of the Perth Cup, and move all thoroughbred racing to Belmont Park.

With the entire industry at a crossroads, stockbroker, turf club committeeman and racing powerbroker Eddie Rigg has flagged a radical shake-up amid confirmation that Perth Racing's Belmont Park land development deal with Golden Group has failed to generate enough revenue to fund a proposed rebuild of the track's crumbling spectator facilities.

Perth Racing was paid $51 million up-front for the sale of Belmont Park land to Golden Group, and will receive up to $150 million from future development rights.

With progress slow on the $3 billion apartment tower plan, that revenue is unlikely to flow for at least five to eight years.

The club used $10 million of the proceeds to pay down debt, allocated $10 million for upgrades at Ascot and $5 million in reserves, leaving $25 million for Belmont upgrades.

It now believes at least a further $27 million is necessary to complete the work, including $15 million extra for the grandstand and $8 million for lights that would allow night races to be telecast into lucrative Asian, South African and European parimutuel betting markets.

Mr Rigg, a veteran St Georges Terrace dealmaker whose comments were backed by Perth Racing chairman Ted Van Heemst, said the turf club should rethink its governance structure and questioned whether a members-elected committee remained the best model for a code grappling with declining attendance, collapsing on-course betting turnover and a polarising debate over the possible privatisation of the TAB.

He said it was clear that though two city race tracks were needed for summer and winter racing, two venues were not.

"We can't put two tracks at Ascot," Mr Rigg said. "That Burswood peninsula is going to become the epicentre of sport and entertainment in WA. It will become the best location to be."

Belmont's location alongside the Graham Farmer Freeway and a rail station that is about to get a $300 million upgrade as part of the Burswood stadium works are other key advantages.

Premier Colin Barnett has made clear to all racing codes that the Government is not interested in paying for infrastructure upgrades unless the industry uses its own assets more smartly.

"I am on the record as encouraging the industry to work together on how to rationalise and share facilities in order to make better use of their assets, so I'm pleased to see some debate occurring in this respect," he said.

Fremantle Dockers board member and former Australian hockey international Jenn Morris is one of two Deloitte partners working on a business model review commissioned by Perth Racing.

Talk of quitting racetrack angers trainers

More than 80 Ascot racehorse trainers fear for their futures after Perth Racing indicated the historic racecourse could be up for sale.

Speaking on TAB Radio yesterday, PR committeeman Eddie Rigg raised the possibility of selling WA racing’s biggest training centre soon.

Mr Rigg flagged building a second racetrack at Belmont Park racecourse and a training centre south of Perth to replace Ascot.

The prospect of relocating angered Ascot-based trainers. WA Racing Trainers Association president Michael Grant criticised Mr Rigg for discussing the issue on radio without consulting the industry.

“I feel it was irresponsible to blurt out such a drastic change of direction without talking to Ascot trainers first,” he said.

Grant said the potential sale of Ascot would have ramifications for the value of properties in the area.

Leading trainers such as Neville Parnham, Fred Kersley, Trevor Andrews, Wally Mitchell and Dan Morton have invested millions of dollars into properties in the suburb.

“I’ve got three properties at Ascot probably valued at around $5 million,” Parnham said.

“I don’t know why we would be selling it and I’m not sure if eight committeemen have the right to decide that.”

Kersley said Mr Rigg’s comments fuelled uncertainty in the industry after the State Government’s strong indication that the TAB would be sold.

“It typifies what’s happening in racing at the moment. We’re all wondering what’s going to happen,” he said.

Relocating to a new training centre is not a viable option for veteran trainers such as John Lugg, vice-president of the WARTA.

“I’m 65 years of age, I’m definitely not going to start again,” Lugg said.

“A lot of people have been here for years and years and they have their family homes as well as stables.”

Ascot has been Perth’s racing headquarters since the first meeting at the track in 1848.
Jay Rooney

The West Australian

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