Messara Criticises Proposed Balding Extension

Breednet - Wednesday November 15

When Arrowfield’s John Messara speaks, the racing industry listens and the former Chairman of Racing NSW and Racing Australia has certainly made people take notice with a front page article covering his comments on the governance and direction of racing in NSW in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

John Messara

As one of the Industry’s largest investors, as both breeder and owner, and also with a large training operation, Messara has strongly criticised the new NSW Racing Minister, David Harris and his proposal to controversially extend the term of Racing NSW Chairman Russell Balding and Vice Chairman Saranne Cook by a further two years after their statutory terms had expired. 

Balding was meant to be a Racing NSW director for eight years which has already been extended twice, serving now 12 years as a director, and the government is proposing to again extend his term to an unheard of 14 years, with Cook’s term being proposed to be extended to 10 years.

The latest extension of Balding’s tenure occurred two years ago in a late-night parliamentary session, creating controversy and drawing strong criticism at the time.


Colourful Racing NSW CEO, Peter V’landys has raised eyebrows in racing circles with his aggressive lobbying of the NSW government to extend the terms of Balding and Cook, with Balding seen as V’landys’ main supporter and patron and as having enabled what many see as his idiosyncratic and iron fisted rule of racing in NSW.

Many major racing investors and participants are very concerned about what they see as an attempted power grab, are not happy with Balding’s performance, and want a new Chairman that is capable of standing up to V’landys. 

They are also concerned that V’landys is being paid top dollar to do a full-time job at Racing NSW and that Balding and his board should never have allowed V’landys to take on the major role at a rival sporting code as Rugby League chairman.

Corporate governance observers cited in the SMH article are also bemused by the actions of Minister Harris, given the recent scandals surrounding jobs given to Labor insiders by the NSW Transport Minister.

 "I find it hard to believe that the State Government would extend the Chairman’s term on the board of Racing NSW and give him 14 years as a director,” said Messara.

“This is in breach of the existing statutory term, which had twice before been extended from the original 8 years maximum.

“I implore the Premier to override the decision which is contrary to any norms of good governance. The existing board needs to be refreshed, as do all boards. In my opinion, new directors will need to have good racing knowledge and experience and be of independent mind.

“As an aside, I note that the challenges, cited by the Minister in his press release, in relation to welfare, training and infrastructure are all enduring matters that should have already been addressed by the current board and will need to be addressed also by subsequent boards.

“I also have concerns, from an industry sustainability viewpoint, about how Racing NSW is allocating funds, with prize money being allocated to wasteful gimmick races, such as a $2m race restricted to 5YO horses and the $3m Big Dance. Such funds should instead be allocated to grass roots country and provincial prizemoney.

“While I appreciate that we need suitable aspirational races, the bizarre array of strange new races undermines the NSW and Australian Racing Pattern and the whole economic basis upon which our multi-billion dollar industry is run.

“This, coupled with the unnecessary conflict with other State racing authorities, Victoria in particular, undermines Australia’s reputation as a leading international racing destination.

“The Racing Minister, David Harris, is new to the job and unfortunately has declined to meet with major industry investors and participants that have approached him with concerns about the proposed extension of directors’ terms on the board and the running of racing in NSW.”


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