AFTER a turbulent period, the Gold Coast Turf Club is back on track with a rich government grant and big plans for the future. Club chairman Brett Cook (pictured) outlines his vision for the Coast’s thoroughbred racing headquarters and the home of the famous Magic Millions.

The Gold Coast Turf Club (GCTC) has received a $35 million State Government grant for upgrades. How this will be spent and have timelines been set for the works?

The upgrades are significant and will be done across many areas of the club's complex at Bundall. Some will be more visible than others, but all are important. Planned works include a new course proper surface with replacement subsoil and drainage and a new synthetic track to replace the existing “velvetrack” and sand tracks. Other track related upgrades include a new plastic running rail, a new vehicular road between the course proper and synthetic track and a new fibre-optic and communication network connecting camera and stewards’ towers to control room. We also intend to put conduit down during works to future proof the venue for lights on the synthetic track, should night racing become a viable option into the future. Members and patrons also will see a renovation of the second floor lounges, two levels of corporate boxes, construction of additional restaurant seating and upgrades of existing amenities. A horse swimming pool will be built and there will be a major upgrade of the storm water drainage system. The renovation and construction of patron facilities are due to start in June or July of this year with racing and training upgrades planned to commence after the Magic Millions Carnival in January, 2013.

Is it over-ambitious to speculate about  the Magic Millions carnival becoming Australia’s richest event?

I would not bet against Gerry Harvey and katie Paige taking this event to the next level. There is already $4.3 million in prizemoney on offer on race day. Gerry has openly stated to the media his desire to see a $10 million race day. The Magic Millions is now entrenched as a must-attend event in January, its growth not only benefits the Club and the thoroughbred industry in general, it also has significant flow-on effects for the local economy. Its growth and prosperity reaches so many other businesses such as accommodation houses, restaurants and eateries, retail, transport providers and print media.

How divisive for local racing was the period leading up to last year’s GCTC elections, the talk of moving the track, and the former government’s pressure for an equity share in the club?

It was a challenging time for the Board and management. Racing is such as passionate industry and at times that passion can be divisive. However ,we were committed to ending division and promoting positives to pave the way for the great opportunity that has now been presented. The board’s role is to put the best interests of the club and its members first while also being conscious of the needs of all stakeholders including, owners, trainers and jockeys. Retaining full equity was important to achieving our objections. The final deal with the government requiring no equity was a significant achievement for the Club and members. Discussions at times were robust, as they are in racing, but at the end of the day the Club, Racing Queensland and the Government of the time were happy with the final agreement.

Many businesses in the Gold Coast region have been hit hard by a downturn in visitor numbers and a strong Australian dollar. How is the GCTC faring and what steps have you taken to ensure the business has countered external economic factors?

The GCTC is no different to the many businesses on the Coast that face the challenges resulting from the poor economic climate. Trading activity from traditional streams is steady but with little growth. The club has been exploring other revenue streams outside of racing and training. Let’s face it, we derive our revenue primarily from opening one day a week while we incur outgoings seven days a week – not the most ideal business model. The GCTC sits on 44 hectares with significant other parcels of the land located within the Bundall Equine precinct. The possibilities for the site are endless however it will require significant infrastructure upgrades and a change of thinking by various stakeholders.

What vision do you have to ensure that the GCTC has a strong and stable future?

First and foremost we want to retain thoroughbred racing and training as our core business activity. We want to provide the best racing and training facilities available in Australia. To do this we need to develop the site to take advantage of other opportunities outside of thoroughbred racing that come along. Revenues derived from external activities will subsidize the luxury of providing thoroughbred racing and training, both of which are a huge cost burden. I would love to see a precinct developed with significant infrastructure upgrades that could cater for a host of activities through a planned and coordinated event overlay for each activity. All this is possible, you just need to motivate people to embrace the vision. The precinct’s proximity to the major tourist hubs is ideal for some of these things to happen.

Do you support the GCTC having the other tenants like harness and greyhound racing or the Gold Coast Show Society?

We have commissioned a high-level concept plan to identify alternative uses within the precinct. The submission has revealed that a number of uses can be accommodated including the Gold Coast Show and harness and greyhound racing activities. The Club has not set its sight on any one particular activity and investigations are still in their infancy. What I can say is that the precinct has successfully delivered 58 race meetings a year, which includes the hosting of the Magic Millions race day. Any event that requires space, transport routes, parking, infrastructure, venues, bars and catering and a close proximity to Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach is well within the precinct’s capability.

What more can the GCTC do to lift its profile and connection to local and international markets?

I would like to see the Gold Coast recognised as a Metropolitan venue for thoroughbred racing and the planned upgrades will provide that opportunity. The upgrade will allow the allocation of race dates and accompanying prizemoney to attract the best thoroughbreds in Queensland and Australia. We need to promote and refine our point of difference from the other entertainment options on the Gold Coast and that is we provide live thoroughbred racing.

The new LNP State Government has pledged a revised structure for the racing industry. Do you support this concept and what will the proposed changes mean for the GCTC?

Yes. The thoroughbred industry is under stress and prizemoney increases are the starting point. The LNP has pledged $5 million in increases but lets hope this is only the beginning. There are some enormous challenges on the horizon, such as the wagering negotiation in 2014 and the health of the breeding industry. I don’t think there are any quick solutions although the LNP will be under pressure to deliver changes quickly. How successful it is will be determined by not only the structure they put in place, but the quality of people they assign to manage the Queensland thoroughbred industry.

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