THE board of the Sydney Turf Club will today inform the Minister for Racing, Kevin Greene, if it supports a merger with the Australian Jockey Club, thereby creating a new body to run horseracing in the city.
The decision on establishing a new club to run the four racecourses in Sydney is regarded by many as one of the most important in the history of a sport which is celebrating its bicentenary in Australia this year. A new club has already been promised $174 million in funding from the state government if created, with $150 million being used to redevelop Randwick and $24 million to be given as a grant to improve facilities at Rosehill.
Five of the nine-member Sydney Turf Club board met at Rosehill last night, and three executives took part by phone from overseas. One source told the Herald yesterday: "Two members of the committee are against the merger, three are undecided and four are in favour of doing the deal.
"It's going to be incredibly tight and they might even need to raise further issues with the minister in the morning, although he has made clear he wants a decision tomorrow at the latest."
The merged club would challenge the Victoria Racing Club, the home of the Melbourne Cup, as the most powerful in the country. Its supporters say it would be better placed to chase the corporate dollar and claim cost savings of about $10 million a year from areas of duplication.
The funding would allow Randwick to double seating to 14,000 in two new grandstands, creating a world-class racecourse.
Speaking before yesterday's meeting, the Sydney Turf Club's chairman, Bill Picken, said: "We need to discuss the issues that our members brought up at the vote. It's a very emotive topic on both sides of the debate."
It is understood club members were concerned over three aspects of the merger: the future of Canterbury racecourse; ensuring Rosehill kept its feature races, such as the Golden Slipper; as well as the funding for the new club.
The Sydney Turf Club's board is believed to have sought assurances on those issues with Mr Greene's office, as the new club will be created by legislation tabled by the minister.
Officials from Racing NSW, the statutory body for racing in the state, as well as betting giant Tabcorp met with the club's board last night.
The $150 million for Randwick will come from the introduction of an animated horseracing game called Trackside into TAB outlets throughout NSW.