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tlb.gif (100 bytes) 04/09/01 Aushorse Revisited trb.gif (102 bytes)

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In 1995 Aushorse was launched by its then Chairman Brian Agnew, at an industry function at the Champagne Bar at Flemington Racecourse. The Federal Small Business Minister at the time, Chris Schact, gave a speech in which he predicted the volume of thoroughbred sales to Asian markets would grow to $420 million in the next 5 years.

Aushorse's mission was to capture a significant slice of this market and provide a springboard for a raft of supporting services, ranging from racecourse design to training in horsemanship, to be sold to the Asian market. The body had a range of other ambitions, among them development of a code of ethics, fostering veterinary research, quality assurance and even marketing Australian thoroughbreds for equestrian pursuits such as showjumping.

To support all of this, a "politically correct" Board was appointed with representatives of the sales companies, Australian Trainers Association, Federation of Bloodstock Agents, Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, Commercial Thoroughbred Breeders Association and Austrade.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Aushorse's high ambitions and diverse Board members' priorities, combined with a limited budget, have led to the position where it was unable to achieve all of its objectives. A rethink on Aushorse's composition and mission has led to the announcement this week of a new slimmed down organisation composed entirely of commercial breeders.

messara.jpg (11069 bytes)Plans for the "new" Aushorse were put in place earlier this year and explained to the larger commercial breeders at meetings held in Sydney during the Easter sales. According to Aushorse Chairman, John Messara, a new Board was recruited and put in place at a meeting in May where a number of Aushorse directors resigned.

The new directors, Messara from Arrowfield, Anthony Thompson from Widden, Duncan Grimley from Coolmore, John Kelly (Newhaven), Mark Pilkington (Collingrove) and Ron Gilbert (Highgrove) represent a cross section of Australia's most influential breeders.

Messara said "our aim is to represent the larger commercial breeder. The annual membership fee for Aushorse is $500 which effectively locks out the smaller breeder". He went on to say "we have invited the top 150 farms to become members and they represent the bulk of the 4-5000 commercial broodmares".

The funding base for Aushorse will be derived from membership fees from these members, together with an annual fee of $5000 for each stallion standing at members' studs. These funds with be supported by funding from both the major sales companies, William Inglis and Magic Millions.

Director Mark Pilkington, brings a much needed Victorian (and he joked a South and Western Australian) view to the Aushorse boardroom by virtue of his industry experience as a bloodstock agent and working for Lindsay Park. As a major buyer of horses for Asian interests, he sees the marketing problem for the Australian industry from both sides of the fence.

Pilkington was quite blunt in stating that "the new Aushorse is the industry's last throw of the dice to create a truly representative body to promote the interests of commercial breeders both at a national and international level". He went on to say that "historically Aushorse had been seen by breeders as being a vehicle to promote the interests of the New South Wales breeders and the new organisation needed to break down that perception".

Prominent breeders are guarded in their response to the new initiative. While Messara claims that Aushorse has been responsible for a large increase in interest from overseas buyers, notably from South Africa and Asia, other breeders claim that much of the interest has been fostered by individuals using personal contacts and business relationships rather than from any industry initiative such as Aushorse.

Whatever its achievements, to date Aushorse has suffered from an exceedingly low profile, to the point where few people in the racing industry have any idea that it exists. Messara admitted that "the organisation has slowed down a bit in past 18 months".

One aspect of the "new" Aushorse which is different from its initial objectives is the aim of targetting increased sales to the Australian domestic market by adopting plans to promote racehorse ownership to business owners and professionals in growing sectors of the economy such as computers and telecommunications.

Messara suggested that " in the US there has been an industry strategy of finding people who have had business success and getting them involved in racehorse ownership". He was critical of the fact that this was not happening in Australia. "We want to 'grow the pie' so we can sell to people who are not currently part of the horse industry", he said.

Pilkington expanded on this theme by stating he would "like to see Aushorse adopt a code of ethics banning the giving of secret commissions". This is the process whereby a prospective owner gives a buying order to a trainer or an agent who bids on the horse and splits the excess over an agreed price with the vendor. In Pilkington's view, nothing diminishes buyer confidence more than the realisation that they have been conned.

Pilkington wants Aushorse to adopt a national approach to marketing the Australian thoroughbred similar to the successful strategy employed by Thoroughbred Marketing New Zealand. He said that Aushorse should also provide industry leadership on issues such as the taxation treatment of bloodstock and aspects of the GST such as those affecting horses which are sold to overseas buyers but remain in Australia for breaking-in and pre-training.

Both Messara and Pilkington were at pains to point out that they didn't see Aushorse as being a competitor to the various state based TBA's. Messara said "We see the TBA as being better able to represent the interests of the smaller breeder although there are many initiatives we can take through Aushorse which will benefit all breeders".

Pilkington mentioned subjects such as sales company commissions, a standard policy for pre-sale X-rays and a rewrite of sale entry terms and conditions as areas where the greater commercial bargaining power of Aushorse could produce changes of benefit to all breeders.

The TBA's were seen by Aushorse as essentially state based organisations and unable to represent the commercial breeders as a national body. Discussions were taking place however, which could lead to Aushorse representatives being   on the board of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia.

With only one full time staff member, former racing journalist Bronwyn Farr, as secretary, Aushorse looks to have a lot of ground to cover with few resources. However if it can get some scores on the board within the next few months, Messara's vision may yet be realised and the Australian breeding industry will have an effective presence in the global marketplace.

Bill Saunders
Bill Saunders and his wife Berni run Cyberhorse. News items and other information can be submitted to them at

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